Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ugueth Urbina!

Has anyone seen this? I vaguely recall hearing about this story, but the following quote from ESPN had me stunned. The details are outrageous:

"The 33-year-old free agent was accused of joining a group of men in attacking and injuring workers with machetes and pouring gasoline on them at his family's ranch, located about 25 miles south of Caracas."

14 years in prison for his role in the murder of 5 men on his ranch. They say he'll appeal, but the very story is horrifying.

Ain't Pitching a Bitch?

So here we are, in the final days of camp. Who makes the team? Who doesn't. I've been talking about this a lot recently, but it's been largely filler. Enjoyable speculation with no real concrete basis. Spring Training is generally an exercise in "going through the motions" for a team like the Yankees, who have most of their key positions spoken for. The one sticking point that we have is the last rotation spot and a few bullpen seats.

That's what we need to talk about today. The 5th starter is Carl Pavano until another pitcher is acquired or brought up from SWB. Wang's injury and Karstens' situation move that 5th starter issue into a bit brighter spotlight. Not that we need a 5th until late April, but rather Carl Pavano is now our 4th starter. If Wang is back sooner than expected, it's a non issue. If we have any problems with health going forward (knock wood) then we have this situation in our face more urgently. Who is the 5th and 6th starter on this club?

Pavano and Karstens are probably the short term answer to that question. When all is right in the world, health-wise, it's hard to argue against that. You may want to argue that those players are holding roster spots for far more talented players (Clemens and Hughes?), but they are the right answers at this point. Without Wang and Karstens, we are looking at Rasner as one of the players, and perhaps Phil Hughes as an emergency #6, although I doubt it. Rasner just blew up against the Astros, surrendering 7 runs in 4.2 IP. Hideous. He won't come up, hopefully, as we don't need a 5th now, but it's not a good sign. We may need to enlist our more talented AAA guys sooner than later if this happens in May. That's not a bad thing, but it's something Joe and Cash will have to be open to without much hesitation. The AL East could hinge on a handful of games, and I'd hate to think we left a loaded gun (Hughes) in the drawer, as the lesser talent blew games.

The other thing is bullpen seats. It looks safe to assume that the pen will feature:

Mariano Rivera
Kyle Fansworth
Luis Vizcaino
Scott Proctor
Mike Myers

I'm guessing that Bruney will get a spot, as Britton has been bad and the Beam/Bean duo aren't in Joe's clubhouse. He didn't help his case today though. The pen is breaking down as camp wanes. The other spot is for a lefty, and we've talked about it ad nauseum. Henn should be the guy breaking camp rather than the $2.5 million Ron Villone. Villone is not good, and just choked up a storm in today's game. 2 hits a walk and 3 earned runs to go with several inherited runners allowed to reach home plate. That was in 0.0 innings of work. He faced 3 batters and allowed all three to reach safely. All he needed was one out. Henn came in and got that out. He did give up a hit and a walk in doing so, but he has a Spring ERA of 3.00 to Villone's 14.40 after a successful 1.1 innings of work today!! You can't take a guy to New York with a 14.40 ERA, regardless of his veteranosity quotient or his belly full of gutsiness. Villone must not be allowed to come to New York and I'll contact Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Homeland Security to keep him on the "No Fly" list if I have to.

How soon do we see Phil Hughes? How long will Joe go with Rasner/Karstens? Does Sean Henn make the roster, or are we doomed to pay $2.5 million for an ERA that looks like it ate Tampa? Maybe the answer to the last question rests with COH favorite, Tanyon Sturtze.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Omar and Carlos Sittin' in a Tree...

Anyone who reads here regularly (Ted in Ft. Lee) knows that I have hopes that the Bombers will be able to lure Carlos Zambrano to the Bronx. It's not the most popular roster move in Yankeedom, but I think there are more than a few people who share my dream. It looks like that dream is more than a longshot these days. This from the Chicago Tribune:

"With six days left to reach a contract extension before Opening Day, Carlos Zambrano is discussing the possibility of wearing a New York Mets uniform next year. Asked by if he'd consider the New York Yankees, Zambrano said: "I like the Yankees, but I don't see myself pitching at Yankee Stadium. Too many rules. If I play in New York, it's going to be with the Mets.

"First of all, because I get to hit. And I love hitting. I can't say . . . that I would never play for the Yankees. Hopefully no, but you never know. This is a business."

Negotiations on a five-year extension have been ongoing, with little movement from either side. Zambrano has said that if he doesn't sign by Opening Day, negotiations are over until the season ends. Though the Cubs are his first choice, don't be surprised if the White Sox enter the picture if Zambrano hits the free-agent market. Sources said Zambrano would be interested in playing for Sox manager Ozzie Guillen if it doesn't work out with the Cubs."

I would be doing cartwheels if I was Omar Minaya right now. I'd be seen in public with a Mets uniform sporting Zambrano's name and number on the back, and I'd open a Venezuelan restaurant at Shea Stadium. I don't think you can ever rule out Cashman and the Yankees if they are willing to spend, but I don't think they'll outspend the Mets if Minaya gets serious. It's just not that kind of team anymore. The Yankees will spend silly, stupid, outrageous money if they can get Johan Santana, but Zambrano is not Santana (as good as I believe he is). Cashman's Yankees will spend more than most teams nowadays, but they won't get into a pissing match with other clubs unless the player is a first ballot Hall of Famers (yes, I'm talking to you Rocket). So much for Zambrano in the new Yankee Stadium, unless the Subway Series counts.

Koshien @ Baseball Japan

Atori Ota
Make sure you head over to Baseball Japan to read up on my coverage of the 79th Spring Koshien event. I was a bit late on the first entry, but it will only get better and more detailed from here. Pay particular attention to the Teikyo High School pitcher Atori Ota. He is legit and will become a household name in the future. Mark my words.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Amazon Associate

Hey, COH readers. (all 4 of you)

I've gone semi-commercial here, having joined the Amazon Associates program. I'm hoping that my loyal readers will support this blog by purchasing something from the featured items in the right margin. I don't have any wild ideas about getting rich from this program, but a few extra dollars will help me to buy diapers if all goes well.

If you have plans to buy any an authentic Yankees home jersey this year, or if you're looking for a good book to read, I would be more than grateful to you if you'd consider purchasing it from the links I provide here. I get a very small percentage of each purchase, so if you like what I do here and happen to be in the market for something, why not click and help me to make a few extra dollars for my efforts? Most items are found just below the "Archives" in the right margin. I'll update periodically (with some less expensive items as well) so check back to see what new recommended reading I have for you.

Your patronage is much appreciated.

Mike Plugh

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Position Battle Update

The coverage of MLB Spring Training in Japan is virtually non-existent on television, much to my chagrin. The funny thing is, there's more coverage of MLB camps than there is of NPB. Go figure. I feel like I'm in limbo with the lack of visual contact with my favorite club, but I'm following to the best of my ability on-line and via highlights. Soon this will all be remedied when NHK becomes wall-to-wall baseball. That begins today with the Spring Koshien event. Next week will be NPB Opening Day and the MLB explosion to follow. Just hanging in there.....tonight my HDD recorder will be brimming with Koshien!!!

For now, I thought I'd give my thoughts on the position battles in Yankees camp. This is less an analytical post, and more a fan's opinion.

The backup catcher spot is not something that I'm up in arms about, but I think it needs to be resolved in a more satisfactory way than it is being handled now. I don't like any of the options as we prepare to break camp. Part of me wants the aged Todd Pratt, simply because he HAS performed in the past. There is some hope that he could put together a few good weeks to make his spot on the roster a plus, rather than a huge rancid minus. Wil Nieves has shown himself to be the best defensive guy in camp, by most accounts. I don't know by what margin he's been the best defensive catcher in camp, but I can't imagine having him behind the plate everyday if Jorgie were to (God forbid) miss any time. Pratt would be my choice, with two eyes frantically searching the horizon for a better option by June.

First base is a no-brainer to me. Josh Phelps may end up being a complete bust, but he's won the job in camp. Hands down. He's been the best first baseman on the roster, including Giambi, in the Spring. The tragedy is that we will watch Mientkiewicz starting at first. I know that Phelps is in a position to win a platoon with Minky, but I think Mientkiewicz' only real value in 2007 is as a late-inning defensive replacement. His bat is awful. People who support Mientkiewicz point to last year's .283/.359/.411 as an indicator that he can contribute given the chance. As fans, we will have to hope so at this point because he's a lock to start the season at 1st, whatever the ST games have looked like. His splits were even last year, so he may even get the job exclusively until he flops and the Yankees lose a game or two in a low scoring series of games.

I know that people around the Yankees and many optimistic fans point to our stacked lineup and argue that we don't need a superhero bat in every slot. His glove saves runs and therefore is of value to the team. I have to disagree with this line of thinking a bit. Yes, we have plus guys at short and catcher and center field. The left side of the defensive spectrum is full of plus offensive players so we can afford a weak bat at 1st. I have to wonder why we would settle for that though. If I can get analytical for a second, how many Win Shares does Minky earn on defense that would override a league average bat and glove at 1st?

In 2006, Minky was attributed 0.7 Win Shares for his glove. I don't know how accurate this is in evaluating his contributions via the saves on bad throws and diving stops on would-be RBI singles through the infield, etc....but it's one way to look at it. His 0.7 is 18th in the AL and tied with Sean Casey (Detroit version) and Baltimore's Chris Gomez. His bat posted a surprising 8.0 Win Shares in 2006, for 11th place in the AL. The 9 Total Win Shares that Minky2006 managed tied him with Ben Broussard and Chris Shelton. The names above were unavailable to the Yankees and are generally household names. To expand this to the entire Major Leagues, Minky is fairly far down the list and is tied, ironically, with the Pittsburgh version of Craig Wilson. I'm not saying that Mientkiewicz is a bust, but rather that he should never be used as anything but a platoon. If Torre can do this in 2007, maybe it's not so bad after all. If he plays everyday, I will self-immolate by June.

The utility infielder situation is also a funny thing. Chris Basak is the best infielder in camp, everyone included. We all know that he's just hot now, but were it not for Miguel Cairo's 316.32 rating on the TBFG chart, he'd be starting the year in the Bronx. I'd be all for that. By the way, TBFG is only a rough measure of a player's ability. The Torre Belly Full of Guts chart is only designed to rate veterans with more than 37 years of service time. I kid. Cairo has done enough in camp to earn his job, and he'll probably be the good baserunner and solid defender that has kept him around for all these years. I just like the idea of a younger guy with a higher upside getting his chance by winning it in camp.

The starting rotation is up in the air, but I like Igawa for the #4 spot. He's been wild, but that's Kei Igawa. He is lights out good, and can strikeout hitters with the top names in the game, but he walks too many hitters to be a Top 3 guy in the Majors. If he could ever figure out how to stop walking batters, he'd crack that front of the rotation barrier. Pavano stinks. I actually have been cheering for Pavano between wisecracks. I wanted him to come back and earn his teammates respect. If he could be good, we'd be very tough. The thing is, he's never been good. Ever. It's not so much that he's trying to come back and reclaim some great reputation as a top flight pitcher. He's simply trying to come back. He did. He's bad. He should find his way out of town. To this point, he has a 5.63 ERA in 8 innings of work. During that time he's given up 10 hits, walked 5, and only struck out 3. That's a WHIP of 1.875 and a 16.875 baserunners/9 mark! There are better options and I think we should try them.

Pavano will be the #4 starter, I'm guessing. It just works that way in baseball. He'll get his chance for longer than he should because he gets paid a lot, and he is "working hard". I think it will hardly matter though. I would be shocked into a coma if he finished the year with the club, as I'm guessing that both Clemens and Phil Hughes will be on the team by June 30th.

The pen is a funny situation. I like the idea of giving Colter Bean his shot to make the club. If any player in the history of the Yankees has earned a chance to start the season with the big boys, it's Bean. He may be trash in the end, but he's pitched more games in a Columbus uniform than anyone in history and his stats are nutty. Why he can't get a shake at a run with the Major League club is beyond me, but there must be something to it. Still, give him a chance. If he fails, it's over for him. I don't want any part of Villone. Oddly enough, I think Cashman won't keep him on the big club either. Unlike Cairo and Minky, Villone is a disposable guy for the Yankees. I don't think they signed him with the intention that he's got a spot locked up like the aforementioned veterans. Sean Henn has been good, and I bet he gets the job. I'd be happy about that.

Look for my recaps on Koshien at Baseball Japan for the next week+. I'll be here as often as possible, and at Matsuzaka Watch. I'll be at Yuki Saito Watch, Yu Darvish Watch, Koji Uehara Watch, BP......just keep reading and I'll keep writing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Roster Battle 2007

So, I got to wondering. What if every position was decided by Spring Training? What if past performance meant nothing? What if the money meant nothing? Which of the Yankees would be starting based on the 2007 Spring games, and which would be off the roster? (Of course, if this was a real scenario you'd probably see different results, but it's just for fun.) This exercise is really only valuable for entertainment, and perhaps as a guide to those positions which should really be up in the air. Here we go.

Jorge Posada, Todd Pratt, Ben Davis, Wil Nieves, Raul Chavez

Posada gets the starting nod, without any real competition here. That's no surprise. The other guys, in a mad scramble for the BUC spot, are all generally poor, but Raul Chavez has the best hitting line of the group with 8 total bases and a .294 average. Slim pickins, but congratulations Jorge and Raul.

First Base

Jason Giambi, Doug Mientkiewicz, Josh Phelps, Andy Phillips, Juan Miranda

Giambi, Mientkiewicz, and Phelps have had the chance to show themselves more than Phillips and Miranda. Giambi hasn't exactly set the world on fire at the plate, but he is tied with Phelps at 12 total bases. Phelps has been the star at this spot hitting .400/.481/.600 in 20 at bats. Doug Mientkiewicz has been good in the field for the most part, but it's really hard to use a roster spot for a gold glove defender who is only hitting .045/.233/.045 in 22 at bats. Not at first base anyway. At this point Phelps gets the nod at first. (I'll revisit Giambi later.)

Second Base

Robinson Cano, Miguel Cairo, Andy Cannizaro

Easy. Cano leads the team in hits, RBI, and Total Bases. Cairo has also been good, so we'll come back to him for the utility infielder spot later. Congrats Robbie Baseball.

Derek Jeter, Chris Basak, Alberto Gonzalez, Angel Chavez, Ramiro Pena

Jeter is the logical choice here, obviously, but this is a little game and Basak has been the best player at the shortstop position in camp. He's got 18 total bases and a batting line of .458/.500/.750 to Jeter's 12 and .333/.381/.361! Gonzalez has been booting the ball around the infield, and the rest are non-factors. Congratulations Chris Basak. Maybe you'll be named Captain next.

The Third Baseman!
Alex Rodriguez, Eric Duncan, Marcos Vechionacci

A-Rod has had a good Spring at .323/.425/.355, but has lacked power. It's evident by the lack of at bats for the other two players, that Alex is the king at third base.

Left Field
Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera Kevin Reese

Matsui is tied with Basak with 18 total bases to lead the Yankees, and has posted an impressive .333/.366/.500 line to lead the other two players by a wide margin. Melky has been at the Mendoza line all Spring, while playing a very good outfield. Reese has impressed while hitting .308, all but knocking Melky off the club. We'll have to wait to see who plays 4th outfielder, but it ain't the Melk man.

Center Field
Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, Bronson Sardinha

Damon hasn't done all that much to hang onto his job in center. He's a funny guy, and lightens up the clubhouse, but Sardinha has hustled his way into the starting center field job on the Yanks. Gardner was highly thought of coming in, but Bronson is not going to be denied at .345/.355/.483, 7 strikeouts to only one walk or not. Damon hangs in with Kevin Reese for the 4th outfield spot.

Right Field
Bobby Abreu, Kevin Thompson, Jose Tabata

This spot is a tough place to compete. Abreu is Abreu, but he hasn't had a single Spring Training at bat to this point. He's the incumbent starter, and you don't usually replace a guy like that when he's injured. Well, this is my game and I'm replacing him. Both Thompson and Tabata showed nicely at camp. Thompson hit .333/.379/.625, while Tabata was also impressive at .462/.563/.692 in fewer at bats. Abreu remains with an asterik in the right field mix, but he's going on the imaginary DL to make room for your new Yankees right fielder, Jose Tabata.

We have room for a DH, a utility infielder, a 4th outfielder, and one other bench position that I intend to hand to the best remaining bat. Here goes:

DH Jason Giambi - He's the best hitter in camp that can't field.
UIF Derek Jeter - Apologies to Miguel Cairo who also played well.
4OF Kevin Reese - The best outfielder in camp without a starting job.
PH Bobby Abreu - He needs to be here to get a chance at his old job.
BUC Raul Chavez - See "Catchers"

Starting Pitchers
Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Chien Min Wang, Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano, Phil Hughes, Humberto Sanchez, Tyler Clippard, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner, Steven Jackson

Let's get right down to it. Hughes, Jackson, and Ohlendorf were both young and ineffective so it's an easy decision to send them down. Sanchez was hurt, but unlike Abreu he had no job to lose. He goes down. Tyler Clippard deserves a shot at the bullpen, but he didn't get enough innings at this point to see his stuff. He didn't particularly impress with the Ks, but he also kept the opposition from scoring. Still, no starting job for you. That leaves Moose, Pettitte, Wang, Igawa, Pavano, Karstens and Rasner.

Igawa and Pavano allowed 19.3 and 16.9 baserunners per 9 innings, respectively. That's not a recipe for success. Gone. This is easy.

Karstens has 9 Ks and no walks in 9 innings and joins Pettitte at the front of the rotation holding opponents under .200 at the plate. Rasner, Wang, and Moose round out the rest of the spots.

The Bullpen
The pen goes Clippard for the long man role, plus Vizcaino for the strikeout rate, Chase Wright for the .087 BAA, Colter Bean for the team leading 3.2 baserunners allowed per 9, Sean Henn for being the most effective lefty in camp, Scott Proctor for being ready everyday, and Mariano because you don't leave off Mariano even if he has no arms or legs.

There's your 2007 Yankees.

C Posada
1B Phelps
2B Cano
SS Basak
3B Rodriguez
LF Matsui
CF Sardinha
RF Tabata
DH Giambi

UIF Derek Jeter
4OF Kevin Reese
PH Bobby Abreu
BUC Raul Chavez

SP Andy Pettitte
SP Mike Mussina
SP Chien Min Wang
SP Jeff Karstens
SP Darrell Rasner

RP Tyler Clippard
RP Colter Bean
RP Chase Wright
RP Sean Henn
RP Luis Vizcaino
RP Scott Proctor
CL Mariano Rivera

That was fun.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Doping vs. Dopey

I have done my best to stay out of the blogger wars that have seen several of my favorite blogs flaming each other, being flamed by angry fans, and generally engulfed in chaos over Alex Rodriguez. I guess it pays to run a blog that gets an average of .07656 comments per post. For my part, I know that it's tabloid journalism that is behind the whole thing. The tabloids love to make someone their whipping boy because it sells papers, and there is an entire cross-section of fans that love the drama of the off-field news as much as they love the game itself. I love the game. The game is above all else the driving force for my work. I like to poke fun from time to time, and I like to keep it light. The A-Rod cult of personality issue is something that is hard to ignore or not chime in on, because it is pervasive. I debated long and hard about posting at COH about it again, but I think I've found a way to do it, while still keeping the focus on the game.

Where many people want to devote entire pages and columns on A-Rod's contract, his relationship with the Captain, or whatever other goofy thing he's said in the press, I want to keep it in perspective based on performance. I think Alex is an easy target. He's not particulary likable, and I would draw a parallel between his image and Kobe Bryant's. Both are supremely talented, and should be celebrated for their performances. Bryant comes off as arrogant and egotistical, where A-Rod comes off as fake or self-aggrandizing. Are these reputations deserved? Maybe, yes. I could care less actually. It's a matter of perception. I think the perception of a player is often unduly generated by his "likeability" factor. Since no one has found an accurate way to translate that statistically (except maybe Madison Avenue or Fire Joe Morgan), I'll stick to the on-field statistics to create my overarching perception of a player.

I've chosen two Yankees with monkeys on their backs as my test case here. "Doping" is Jason Giambi, who was on the outs with Yankee fans for his slow start in pinstripes and then his steroid scandal later. He seems to have regained his fan base to a degree thanks to improved performance on the field and a Rock and Roll personality that seems to draw people in. "Dopey" is A-Rod, who occasionally puts his foot in his mouth in the media, and has the big contract and the corporate image that doesn't sit well with the lunch pail crowd at Yankee Stadium. It's almost as though people have it in their craw that Alex thinks he's better than them. He won the MVP as a Yankee, but his poor October performances have made people forget about all that, and many fans revel in his failure. Let's see what each of these guys has done on the field, for the Yankees.

Jason Giambi

Games: 669
Batting: .270/.418/.535 (.953 OPS)
HR: 163
TPA: 2825
PA/HR: 17.33
WARP3: 33.9 (32.1 -2004 season)
WARP3/Season: 6.78 (8.10 -2004 season)

Alex Rodriguez
Games: 471
Batting: .299/.396/.549 (.945 OPS)
HR: 119
TPA: 2087
PA/HR: 17.54
WARP3: 30.3
WARP3/Season: 10.1

If you look at these numbers, you see right away that the batting isn't all that different. Alex hits better and slugs a bit more, but Giambi knows how to work a walk. I made an error in my HR/PA calculations, and I actually determined that the HR rates are almost identical for these two players in pinstripes. Both players hit home runs at a rate of roughly one every 17.5 times they stride to the plate with a bat in their hand. I also initially wrote the metric in reverse as HR/PA instead of PA/HR, which is not a useful measure of anything really. I must have been sleepy when I worked all that out.

The WARP numbers are interesting because it shows the value that a glove will play in raising someone's value to the team. A-Rod plays 3rd base, sometimes well, sometimes not so well, but he plays. Giambi plays 1st base poorly, and rarely at all these days. The average WARP3 numbers show that virtually equal batting success, plus a fair glove at a tough position is more valuable to the team. Take into account that Giambi has put up a better per season OPS+ number for the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez won an MVP award in 2005, Giambi missed half a season due to "physical problems" and spent the better part of two seasons struggling mightily at the plate, and A-Rod has been awful in the post-season. I don't see how one guy can be forgiven his performance enhancing drug use and another routinely booed for being self-absorbed. It makes no sense.

Both of these players wear Yankee uniforms and both of them are perennial MVP candidates. We need both of them healthy, well-adjusted, and focused to succeed. I leave the drama to All My Children, General Hospital, The Young and the Restless, and whatever new drivel Aaron Spelling has dreamed up. The Yankees are a baseball team out to win games. If they do that, and maintain the reputation of the team in their off the field life, I'm a fan. Go Yankees.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Little Reading

My first contribution to Baseball Prospectus went up today (subscription only). The piece is about baseball in Japan, the status it's afforded, and the importance of accounting for cultural factors in analyzing the style of play when compared to the Majors. It's more of a narrative piece to introduce my work there, but you may enjoy it. If you don't have a subscription, I highly recommend it. I don't say that because I now write for them, as I was a subscriber and a big fan long before this relationship ever began.

Also, I recently posted at Baseball Japan a background piece on Japan's next big hitter. No, not Kosuke Fukudome (MLB ETA: 2008). No, not Norichika Aoki (MLB ETA: unknown). This is a 17-year old phenom named Sho Nakata of Osaka Toin High School. He is a home run machine with size, power, and a rifle arm. He's in the rotation as a sometimes starter and features a 94 mph fastball, a curve, slider, and palm ball.

His favorite player is Daisuke Matsuzaka, but he toured the US a few years ago for the Continental Amateur Baseball Association's 15-Year Old World Series, winning the MVP, and announcing that he wanted to come back in a few years to pitch for the Yankees. With the posting of Matsuzaka, maybe he has his eyes set on the Red Sox now, but the Twins and Mets have scouted him, and he's on the MLB radar. Make no mistake, he's no pitcher, as good as he's been. He is a power hitting right fielder with a super high ceiling. One way or another he'll be a professional next season, either as a starter in the NPB or a farmhand in the US. Watch as this unfolds at Baseball Japan....

Monday, March 12, 2007

Round One

Oooooh. I hate losing to the Red Sox. I don't care if it's Spring Training. It burns. I'm going to try to look on the bright side of things though. That way I will keep this game in perspective. Yeah. That seems like a good idea. So, nothing negative. Only positive. Here we go. Phew.

1. Carl Pavano pitched. That's good. He took the mound. 2 runs and 5 baserunners in 3 innings. Meh. Not bad. Keep taking the hill big fella.

2. Hideki Matsui was 2-4 and is now hitting .320 in Spring Training. Like Steve Lombardi over at Was Watching, I think Godzilla is in for his best season. I'll have more on that in my AL East Preview sometime in a week or two. In the meantime, he posed for pictures with Daisuke and Okaji. Where was Igawa? There's no picture without Iggy!

3. The Pratt/Davis platoon went 2-4 with a run and an RBI. Can anyone say Javy Lopez? Apparently, neither can the Rockies. Ouch.

4. As the perpetually annoying Ahmad Rashad would say, "My main man Josh Phelps continued to tear it up." (Was that too negative? Sorry.) Phelps went 2-4 with 2 RBIs and is at .420 on the Spring. Sweet. Keep him.

5. Former Mets minor league infielder Chris Basak had a couple of hits and is at .444 for Spring Training.

6. Free Colter Bean.

7. Andy Pettitte is ready to go. Just keep him on the hot plate in Tampa until they all head North. Bring Rocket with him.

That's all. The rest isn't all that nice, so I'll stick to my Johnny Damon grin after writing the info above. Gotta stay sexy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Baseball Prospectus

I've been a bit sluggish throughout Spring Training when it comes to writing at COH. The fact is, I haven't seen a single at bat of a single Yankees game yet. They simply don't show the games all that much in Japan. Of course Matsuzaka's starts have been aired, but the Yanks....not so much. That will all change when the Yanks and Red Sox hook up, as the rivalry heats up in the both the AL East and the Far East.

One of the things that has kept me very busy is writing about Japanese baseball for my various blogs, and now.....for Baseball Prospectus.

This season, I will be writing for the brightest and best baseball think tank in the world, Baseball Prospectus. My coverage of the Japanese game will include everything from player profiles, technical differences between the Japanese and American styles of play, Koshien coverage, and general NPB reviews and hot issues.

I will continue to write away at COH and the other blogs you've come to know and love, but more good stuff will be at BP, along with the rest of their fine writers and analysts. If you haven't picked up your copy of BP2007, do so now. Thanks for all your support here over the past year. Keep coming back, and drop by BP often to look for more.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

How High is John Schuerholz?

I just heard the news. Mike Hampton is down, and the Braves went out and signed Redman to replace him. Who knew he could pitch? Brick City!!!! He had the following comment on his new job in Atlanta:

(Yo Red, kick that hype shit on who you had a fight with!)
I had a fight with Chuck, the punk motherfuck
tried to stab me in the gut, so I dazed him with a uppercut (BING!)
Snapped the neck on Michael Myers then I freaked it; cause it was August
and he was talkin this trick or treat shit (Trick or treat!)
Jason my man slangs rocks like up the block
143rd and Amsterdam by the smoke shop
Norman Bates work the night shift late
Since he dresses like his momma, I pimp him and his hoecake
Bust a maneuver Freddy Kruger, dreamed about
me havin him scooped, he woke up with his dooks up
That caused me to cut the hands off the man with the chainsaw
Plus I got his brain pickled in a jar

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Spring Stars

One of the fun things to watch in the Spring is the determination of some players to make a roster. For me, it's not a Yankees thing. It's more universal. It's no guarantee that a guy who tears up Spring Training is going to produce in the regular season, but it is a good indicator if there's also some prior history. Last season, the A's Mark Ellis was goofy good in the Spring, but he fell apart as soon as the games counted and one had to wonder if he'd just had a short hot spell and reverted to the norm. On the other hand, we saw the Reds' Encarnacion blow through camp and carry his success over throughout the regular season. The Yanks have a few guys of their own trying to get a roster spot, or guarantee their place in line when the time comes, but for the most part the roster is decided. It's the other teams, with more holes, that interest me. With no further ado, here's my list of guys turning heads so far in camp:

Hunter Pence (Astros OF)

Holy Roger Clemens, Batman. This guy is leading all hitters in Total Bases and is mixing it up with a variety of hits. Singles, doubles, triples, and a home run. He is sporting a nice .750/.786/1.147 batting line over 14 plate appearances, and is looking to break in the Astros outfield in 2007. They were such a bad offensive club that you have to believe this soon-to-be 24 year old is 2 weeks away from a Major League position. According to CBS Sportsline "In three minor league seasons, Pence is hitting .302 with 67 homers and 222 RBI. At Double-A Corpus Christi last season, Pence had 28 home runs and 95 RBI." Good luck, kid.

Brad Eldred (Pirates 1B)

The Bucs had both Sean Casey and Craig Wilson on their roster last season before sending them off at the trade deadline. Eldred is hoping to win a job at the ripening age of 26.5 and has come out of the box swinging. In 4 games and 12 plate appearances, he has 5 hits. 4 of those 5 hits have left the yard. The problem with Eldred is that he's never been able to consistently hold his value at any level, and while he's always showed very good pop in his bat, he has proved very capable of running hot and cold. I don't like him to continue this pace for the rest of Spring Training, let alone the regular season, but he is after a job and you have to admire his timing at the very least.

Josh Hamilton (Reds CF)

You have to feel good for this kid. Yeah, he got fooled by a Mariano change up in the last game, but he's done just about everything else right since being reinstated to baseball. His debilitating drug addiction is well documented, but we all like second chances after all, especially when there's some genius lurking in the darkness behind all the troubles. Hamilton has never been a lights out minor league producer, but the talent is something that has had scouts after him for years. One has to wonder how much his drug problems led to his uneven play. For now, he's off to a fast start for the Reds and has people talking about Ken Griffey, Jr. making the permanent move to RF. In the season when he turns 26 Hamilton will get his chance. To date he has produced a .563/.611/.875 line over 18 plate appearances. Here's to those second chances. Keep it going Josh.

Ryan Braun (Brewers 3B)

Look out Corey Koskie. Here comes 23 year old Ryan Braun. Doug Melvin has his cheap replacement at the hot corner if he's prepared to hand the job over. Braun is a classic Athletics prospect (in the Brewers system) with a track record of good OBP, nice pop in his bat, and it appears as though he runs very well. This Spring he's only appeared in 2 games, but what a 2 games it's been!!! In his first go around he managed a 4-5 with a 3-run shot and a grand slam for 7 RBIs. The next game he put up a 2-5 outing with a walk and a run batted in. Keep an eye on him, especially if he gets the starting nod. Fantasy baseball fans will see good things from this guy late in the draft if they're willing to take a gamble.

Josh Phelps (Yankees 1B)

I know there are other hot players out there, but this position battle is a hometown one. Phelps has a leg up on Andy Phillips, as much for Phillps family misfortunes as his own bat, but the hitting can't hurt. The former BP poster boy has never had a really full opportunity to show his stuff, and he probably won't get it with the Yankees either given the 1B logjam, but if he can mash left handed pitching and play solid defense we might just see a very successful platoon. At this point in Spring Training it's worth comparing Phelps to Mientkiewicz to see who is producing more. (This is a loaded analysis, as we all know the answer to this already.)

4 for 8
2 walks
1 K
1 run
1 HR

0 for 9
2 walks
1 K
0 runs

If Phelps can even play a marginally good first base, I'd rather see him in there everyday that Mientkiewicz, but it won't happen. Minky is virtually guaranteed the starting job even though we're super left handed and Phelps is potentially the better player. Torre will stick with Mientkiewicz and platoon the guys. It's not going to be easy getting used to this situation, especially if the lefty takes an 0-fer the Spring, and the righty is hot.

In the end, any of these guys may follow through for a breakout season, and any one of them could thud. It happens. I predict that Pence will be solid, Eldred will be below league average, Hamilton will be good in 2007 and very good in 2008, Braun will be a big story in Milwaukee, and Phelps will successfully platoon with Mientkiewicz, but see fewer at bats than he should.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Baseball vs. Basketball

This is only marginally related to the Yankees. Extremely marginal connection here. I was looking at a feature article in the NBA section of, and was struck by how stone aged the analysis of basketball is when compared to baseball. I know there are people who are doing more advanced metrics for hoops, but it hasn't come anywhere near the mainstream in either the journalistic sense or even in the realm of fantasy geekdom, where people like me would revel in all the statistical glory of shots made/missed in the primary circle, or some such thing.

The conversation is about the 10 greatest centers of all time. They list a distinguished group of names and begin compiling the ranked list of players for all of us to gobble up and discuss. I see that Abdul-Jabbar is one, and Wilt is two, with Russell at number three. I began to ask myself how they came up with these rankings? I know Bill Russell, for example, was considered one of the greatest players of all time, but he didn't stack up favorably against the other more offensive minded players of his own generation. Most people rate him highly for his contribution to the Celtics one billion championship banners and his uncanny defensive prowess. That's all fine, but is there a statistical way to measure his performance compared to, say, Moses Malone or David Robinson? Is it so easy to say that Russell is better than Hakeem Olajuwon? How did they rank these guys?

The answer is, they got 20 writers together and had them rank the players from 1-10, giving the top player 10 points, the next player 9, and so on down to 1 point for 10th place. Is that arbitrary enough for you? The thing that made me take notice about how stupid that system is, beyond all the very obvious reasons, was that one guy gave Dwight Howard a vote. Howard is in his 3rd season in the league and sports career averages of 15 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks. What's more, he barely played a lick of center until this season. This is almost the David Eckstein thing in a basketball medium, except that Howard may actually one day belong on this list. No evidence whatsoever exists as to why one guy is deserving of #1 and the next guy #7. Where is VORP? That seems like the most basic and easy way to calculate this argument in a quantifiable way. It's at least a good start to the argument, before diving into All Star appearances, scoring titles, and womanizing binges (Way to go Big Dipper!).

The other thing they need to do is adjust the numbers across eras. There has to be a way to discuss the 22+ rebounds a game that Chamberlain averaged for his career in a way that makes sense next to Hakeem Olajuwon's 11.1 per. I refuse to believe that Wilt was twice the rebounder that Olajuwon was. It just doesn't make sense. It's like comparing Bob Gibson's 2.18 ERA in 1969 and Johan Santana's 2.77 in 2006. Both players had ERA+ numbers in the 160s, so we can more easily see what the two seasons were in comparison to the league average. It's possible that the numbers that Wilt put up in those days were so nuts even when evening the playing field that the list doesn't change, but it should be done. It should also be more closely examined, the average height of an NBA player in each era. Certainly, Wilt would not have put up the crazy numbers he did if there had been a 7-footer opposing him every night. Quite often he was defended by guys standing 6'7" or maybe 6'9". Olajuwon was defended almost every night by a guy at 7-foot.

If you can start the conversation by telling me that Wilt Chamberlain posted career adjusted averages of 28 points, 15.5 rebounds, and 4 assists and averaged a 75.5 VORP over his career and compared that to the rest of the field, I would then be able to put the fact that he never fouled out of a game and forced the league to create a goaltending rule into the conversation. It would certainly be better than pulling names out of a hat and ranking them 1-10.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It's About the Pitching, Man

So far we've seen the Yankees in a number of Spring Training games, and we've been around the rotation. As I considered the most recent game, the team's first loss, I realized that I had been glossing over the batting lines in favor of a much heavier scrutiny of the pitchers. I think this is natural, given the fact that, A, pitching is the most important aspect of the game and, B, we all believe the Yankees are going to hit when the season begins. It's the pitching that we want to feel out. Will it be better this year than it has been in recent seasons? What do we have in all our young arms?

I read somewhere that Chien Min Wang was off against Cleveland. Looking at his pitching line, I see that he game up 5 hits and 2 runs over 3 innings of work, and I know Grady Sizemore took him deep in the 1st. With no walks, the hits are not such a big problem to me. It's going to happen. If we stretched out Wang over 7 or 8 innings, I doubt that he'd continue to give up hits at the same pace. I'm really not worried.

To me, the most interesting observations in camp have to be about Igawa, Pavano, Hughes, Clippard, Ohlendorf, and Sanchez. Sanchez is ailing, which is worrisome, but he should get out there sooner or later. In the meantime, we have seen the following ST lines for the other 5 guys.

Igawa (1 IP, 2 hits, 2 runs, 2ER, 3BB, 3K, no HR)
Pavano (2 IP, 2 hits, 1 run, 1ER, 2BB, no Ks, no HR)
Hughes (3.1 IP, 2 hits, 1 run, 1ER, 3BB, 2K, no HR)
Clippard (2 IP, no hits, no runs, no BB, 1K, no HR)
Ohlendorf (2 IP, 4 hits, 3 runs, no ER, 1BB, 3K, no HR)

Only Hughes has pitched twice, following Wang both times. I'm anxious to see how Clippard follows up his excellent debut. As the innings mount, we'll begin to get a sense of the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation based on this group (plus Sanchez). It may not matter out of camp, but we're watching the beginning of an arms race for the Yankees that is likely to sort itself out by June. I'll keep a tally and some running commentary on these guys as soon as I see a game. I haven't caught a single one of the Yankees outings yet, as I've been either sleeping or at work. My "Tivo" is warm now with two Matsuzaka starts in the books and the Yankees' games are ready to begin at a breakneck pace. Here we go. All aboard.

Yuki Saito Watch

This blog has been a long time in the making, and there is perhaps no player I am more excited about in Japan than the star of the 2006 Summer Koshien, Yuki Saito. The Waseda University season is about to start, and so is my intense coverage of Saito's young career. In 2011, he will be a free agent at 23 years old and perhaps open to the market in the United States. Keep an eye on him and support Yuki Saito Watch.

Monday, March 05, 2007


ESPN has created a section of coverage dedicated to the Asian arena. Eric Neel's latest piece on who to watch is now available, and yours truly gets a little mention at the bottom of the article. Thanks to the always informative and enjoyable Eric Neel for the mention. Look for more from me very soon at Baseball Prospectus. More on that to come.....

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Pavano vs. Beckett

Carl Pavano and Josh Beckett were both important pitchers on the 2003 Florida Marlins championship teams. In recent years both have joined the most insane rivalry in sports, and have seen very disappointing results in doing so. Pavano's poor showing has as much to do with injury and the perception that he isn't serious about his work. Beckett's problems stem more from his skyrocketing HR rate and big mouth. I thought it might be interesting to look at their comparisons for both career and in their first season in the AL East. For Beckett that would be 2006, while Pavano would be the 17 games he managed in 2005 before sitting out with an assortment of odd ailments.

Josh Beckett (Career vs. 2006)

K/9 (8.46 vs. 6.95)
BB/9 (3.29 vs. 3.25)
H/9 (7.96 vs. 8.40)
HR/9 (1.01 vs. 1.58)
WHIP (1.250 vs. 1.295)
ERA (3.85 vs. 5.01)

The change in performance for Beckett, a young pitcher with a very live fastball, was most noticeable in the reduction of K-rate and jump in HR-rate. A blazing fastball in the NL East doesn't necessarily translate to the same success in the AL East, hence the big ERA last season. More often than not, Beckett challenged batters with that bread and butter heater and saw the ball land in the stands. The positives that you can take from his other ratios are the similar walk rate and WHIP. It's expected that he'd give up a few more hits, but he still stayed within himself enough to avoid the deadly walk. It seems as though the key to his success in 2007 will be to keep the ball in the park and diversify his arsenal enough to make sure he's ahead. If he gets behind in the count, and is intent on not walking anyone, that fastball has a bullseye on it.

Carl Pavano (Career vs. 2005)

K/9 (5.84 vs. 5.04)
BB/9 (2.51 vs. 1.62)
H/9 (9.66 vs. 11.61)
HR/9 (.971 vs. 1.53)
WHIP (1.352 vs. 1.470)
ERA (4.27 vs. 4.77)

Pavano's line is very different as would be expected given the differences in style between his younger, harder throwing former teammate. Pavano relies on ground balls for his success, and is likely to give up hits as he goes. He isn't ever going to overpower anyone, and you can see that his K-rate has never been remotely outstanding. The pitfall for Pavano is the slugging that batters were able to put up against him. His career mark of .427 turned into a big fat .513 when he joined the Yankees. This is evident in the big jump in HR-rate, although his ERA didn't take too big a hit. His BB-rate remained very good and helped him to perhaps avoid the even bigger inning that comes from 3-run home runs. Only once in his 17 appearances did the combination of walk and home run really bit him.

The positive to take for Pavano in 2007 is an improved defense behind him, especially at second, first, and CF. The Yankees had Rey Sanchez at 2B in a lot of Pavano's 2005 starts and his error cost Pavano one of his worst outings. Giambi and Tino split time at 1B, but you have to think that Mientkiewicz will contribute something to the starts that Pavano makes where the ball is scooting around the infield. Bernie and Tony Womack spent plenty of time behind Pavano that season as well. Damon's arm won't be an upgrade, but his instincts and legs certainly will. Melky could also see some time out there, and that would most assuredly be a big upgrade vs. Woe-mack. This is an optimistic outlook for Glass Carl, but I think there's at least some good reason for it should his health questions dissipate. No one expects him to be a front of the rotation guy, but in the 5th spot he might just be a big boost for the Yankees, especially considering the trouble we had in 2006 with names like Erickson, Ponson, Aaron Small, and Shawn Chacon.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Back in the Saddle

My parents were in Japan for 10 days to meet their new grandson. He's their first, and we made sure to spend a lot of quality time together. My posting took a bit of a hit, with the exception of my bizarre take on the Carl Pavano storyline, and I managed to miss a few ST games while otherwise occupied. Just a few hours ago, I put the parents back on the Shinkansen and I'm at the laptop ready to rock and roll for 2007. This post probably marks the beginning of a ridiculously busy season of writing ahead.

It was a year ago that I started this blog, give or take a week or two. At that time, March was the domain of the World Baseball Classic and my writing was heavily geared towards coverage of that event. It spawned the beginning of both Matsuzaka Watch and Uehara Watch, both of which merit their own blogs these days. Choosing to cover various topics related to Japanese baseball has led me in an interesting direction with my writing. I have met a lot of interesting and influential people for having begun work in this niche, and 2007 brings even more important opportunities. I'll have more on those in the very near future.

This season, there will be very little related to Japanese baseball here at COH. I have built other outlets for that part of my work. The Yankees take front and center with Spring Training in full swing, and plenty to talk about with regard to the roster and the surrounding competition in the AL East. It's easy to get whipped up over the roster spots being decided in these pivotal days of early March, but what may escape Yankee fans is the relative stability that exists on our team this year. Let's look briefly at what I mean.

CF Johnny Damon
SS Derek Jeter
RF Bobby Abreu
3B Alex Rodriguez
DH Jason Giambi
C Jorge Posada
LF Hideki Matsui
2B Robinson Cano
1B Doug Mientkiewicz

Only Mientkiewicz is new to the lineup. While Abreu slides in for Sheffield, that was the case for enough of last season that it's hardly a big shift to start this year. He's also such a good fit with the team that it's almost impossible to remember that he only joined at the deadline in July. Let's look at the bench:

OF Melky Cabrera
1B Josh Phelps/Andy Phillips
IF Miguel Cairo
BUC Todd Pratt

Unless Torre and Cashman decide to take an additional outfielder, there probably won't be much deviation from this group. Phelps replaces Bernie for all intents and purposes, but the quadruple 1B platoon that is potentially set up with this is problematic. I would rather drop Andy Phillips and bring along Brett Gardner as a base stealer. Cairo is that guy now, and generally does a fine job, but Gardner is better and could be the difference in an important game a la Dave Roberts. All of that is nitpicking though. The bench is a weak point, but with the roster of juggernauts that we throw out there it shouldn't matter. In the case of injury to a key player in the infield, we'll have problems, but nothing that a creative GM with tons of cash can't fix. The changes from last season are largely superficial, with the lone exception being the huge gaping hole in Bernie's locker. That hole is only large because of the legend that is Bernie Baseball. The level of play should either be a push or improve in the end.

The starting rotation looks different, but there are some reasons to feel familiar with what's there.

Mike Mussina
Andy Pettitte
Chien Min Wang
Kei Igawa
Carl Pavano

It's important to consider a bunch of minor leaguers in this mix as well. Karstens, Rasner, Hughes, Sanchez, Ohlendorf, and Clippard are all names that could appear for the Yankees under the right circumstances. Pettitte and Igawa are in red letters above, but only Igawa is really new to the team. No one can look at Andy Pettitte and think that he's somehow new to the team. It's almost as though he was on an extended leave of absence. Pavano looks new because he's been invisible for the most part since joining the team, but we know him and look forward to at least a league average performance while he's afforded a spot in the rotation. Even adding Clemens to the team won't feel all that new. It almost seems like we have a HOF rotation with great fallback options when we consider adding Clemens and Hughes sometime down the road.

The bullpen is the area of most uncertainty, but let's think about what we are likely to see come Opening Day:

Chris Britton/Brian Bruney
Mike Myers
Ron Villone
Kyle Farnsworth
Scott Proctor
Jose Vizcaino
Mariano Rivera

In the end, what you see is a big change involving a starting 1Bman, one bench position, a back up catcher, a new guy in the rotation, a new set up man, and potentially one long reliever. One new pitcher is actually an old one. All the core players are the same. The rotation is more or less the same dynamic. The pen is hardly altered. The club won 97 games last year, and should at least hold even in 2007. If injuries can be avoided to any of the key roster guys, and we can add either Clemens or Hughes later (if not both) we should improve on that total. 100+ wins looks like a reasonable outcome if the chips fall right. Considering that we had the best record in the sport last season, 100+ wins this year should merit the same prediction. I'll get into that more later in Spring Training when I do my AL East preview, but I think this post may illustrate just how stable and defined our team is already.

The things to discuss for the remainder of the Spring are such fine tuning that it's hardly earth shattering news one way or the other. The only things that exist to throw the season into turmoil for the Yankees are injuries (God forbid), more A-Rod crap, more Pavano drama, any Clemens news, any word from Bernie, or UFOs landing in Tampa. Barring any of those things, it should be dull as a butter knife until Opening Day. Just the way I like it as a fan, no matter how it affects the quality of my blogging. Stay tuned for more Yankees related posts on an almost daily basis from here on out, and some very exciting business related to my work with Japanese baseball in a week or so. See you tomorrow. Go Yanks.