Friday, April 25, 2008
The same question might be asked of the Orioles, Tigers, Indians, Mariners, Marlins, Dodgers, and Padres to start. The open to the season has produced a strange imbalance in the Force. Teams that have been perennial division leaders have underperformed and a number of exciting clubs have overperformed to begin the year. This isn't unique to the 2008 season, but the annual surprises always....well.....surprise.
With that bit of convoluted logic, I want to look at the Yankees slow start and talk about a few interesting things that may slip below the mainstream radar (or not).
1. The Bench
When was the last time we've had this kind of bench. Morgan Ensberg has played very well at both 1st and 3rd, and has produced nicely at the bottom of the order. Bengie Molina did a fantastic job filling in for Jorge before he was hurt and then Chad Moeller stepped in without missing a beat. Gonzalez actually outplayed Jeter while he was in the lineup and in the field, mainly thanks to a slow start and an injury to the Captain, but who thought you'd get a temporary upgrade during that stretch? So far, so good. I'm liking Cash Money's work here.
2. The Young Guns
Everyone knew that Hughes and Kennedy would have their ups and downs this season, but who figured that all the downs would come at the start of the season? I'm not so surprised by Kennedy's struggles since he's really only getting his feet wet, but Phil Hughes pitched in a playoff game last season, and pitched very very well. He almost threw a no hitter against the Texas Rangers in hitter-friendly Arlington. Is he trying too hard to impress? Is he feeling the pressure? He threw more first pitch strikes in his abbreviated start yesterday, which is a good sign, but he'll need 4-5 quality starts to pull his ERA out of the cellar. He is the most important player on this club in 2008 and he needs to get it going. I have some faith that he will, since his promotions have always resulted in a rough patch before he adjusts and dominates. Maybe breaking Spring Training with the big boys was a bigger transition than we thought.
3. Cano's Woes
How does Robbie Cano go from 60 to zero in 2 seconds? He was awful to start 2007 and now he's repeating himself. In fairness, he's had very good at bats lately and has stung the ball for a few loud outs. He'll crank it up soon. I think he must play poorly in cold weather, which he has to work out before October.
4. Giambi is Toast
I thought the Spring might prove me wrong, but we all see what Jason Giambi is now. He's a .230 hitter with a great eye and a gut full of TNT. He's basically Dave Kingman with more walks. That's not an awful thing, but it's not something I want on my club. Especially a club that has a $200 million budget. I can't wait until he's out the door at the end of the year. I don't know if the Yankees plan to go after Mark Texeira, knowing that Boras is his agent, but I'd take a decent glove with 20 home run power and a .280/.370/.475 batting line for half the price. I'm thinking of a Youkilis, Garko, Casey Kotchman type player. Somewhere in that range. Maybe that's easier said than done, but those players were all minor leaguers at one point and there have to be more growing somewhere.
Damon, Giambi, Abreu, Matsui, Posada, Mussina, Pettitte, Mariano
Those players are all getting up there, although some have been good and some have been bad. Giambi and Mussina are off the books in the off season, so I have no worries. Posada and Mariano are locked up for awhile and I have no beef. Damon and Matsui will open the new Stadium with the team, but you have to wonder if they'll be around any longer than that. I'd give Matsui even odds, but Damon is a lock to be gone. Abreu is an intriguing case. He's still good, but you don't want to sign him to anything more than a year this off season, if you don't have to. His decline might be offset by a good eye, but he's no spring chicken and you have some talented outfielders in the system eyeing an opportunity. If he takes a one year deal, I think the Yankees jump on resigning him. If he takes a two year deal, they probably do it. Anything more, and I have to say, "No!"
This is an issue for the 2008 season because our minor leagues may have some answers to the voids in the lineup coming soon. Obviously Montero is mashing in the lower levels and should step in for Posada if he can play any kind of defense behind the plate. Jackson, Tabata, and Gardner will be showing off for Damon/Matsui/Abreu's spots. We might see some of the bullpen futures up with the Yankees as the season progresses. Will we see Juan Miranda?
The face of the team is slowly changing, and there will be a lot more focus on the youngsters if the team is mired in mediocrity as long as they were last season. A youth movement has started since camp broke, but it might explode if the aged vets don't get their asses in gear.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I've been chattering behind the scenes since the end of last season that the Yankees should move Johnny Damon to the bottom of the order. It's not that he's a bad player. Far from it. I simply believe that his best days are behind him and more importantly that the best strategy is to put your best hitters in a position to get more at bats during each game and during the season. Better hitters getting more at bats means more runs means more wins. Every win is precious.
I had a nice back and forth with a friend who believes in Damon at the top of the order, citing his ability to take pitches and foul others off. I suppose the thinking there is that the following hitters will see more pitches prior to their plate appearances. I think that's a secondary consideration at best. The most precious commodity in baseball is outs. You get 27 per game and 3 per inning. Your best players are the guys that make less outs. There's more to it than that of course, but it's a great starting point. Your leadoff hitter's most important job is to not make an out. It may only come up once per game that the inning starts with him, but he will get at least an extra at bat in most contests. If that player ends up making less outs per plate appearance, it follows that your team will score more runs. To that end, I looked at the 2007 Yankees and ranked them according to their Total Outs/PA. Here's how it shook out for the regulars, which excludes any of the first basemen.
Noteworthy is Jorge Posada's historical season last year. The only catcher in MLB history to hit over .330 with 20 home runs, 40 doubles, and 90 RBI at the age of 35+. He was the toughest out among Yankee regulars by a thousandth of a point over the MVP. If you project these numbers, or some representative version of them, to 2008 it's hard to argue for Damon getting more plate appearances than the top 5. I think the ideal Yankee lineup, and I've said this before, is:
The 2nd lineup is my preferred configuration because it sorts out lefty-righty better and puts Cano in a better RBI position, but the 1st lineup gets A-Rod more at bats and puts Posada and Giambi in front of Cano for those same RBI chances. The point, either way, is that Johnny Damon's combination of greater out potential and lower isolated power (.126 to Cano's .182 in 2007) is better suited for the bottom of the lineup. As a #9 hitter (or #8 at best), Damon would still put tremendous pressure on opposing pitchers who have been worked over by the better hitters. By the time they get to the point where there's supposed to be an easy out there's a guy that sees 4+ pitches per at bat and can beat you with a little speed. He's no slouch down there and would probably be the best #9 hitter in the sport. At #1 he's league average at best, and possibly worse.
Bill James has famously noted that batting order makes no difference, but I'd rather have a lineup where the tougher outs get more at bats. Just my opinion.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Friday, April 11, 2008
If Bobby Abreu could jump and Coco Crisp couldn't bunt....well, we might have had a no-hitter against the Red Sox at Fenway. I wasn't thrilled with Wang after the terrible performances against Cleveland in the 2007 ALDS, and even entertained the thought of including him in a trade package for Johan Santana. His 2008 season has started unbelievably well and it's clear to me that, health provided, he should challenge 20 wins again this year. The thing that I've noticed about Wang this season is that he's really able to work a wider arsenal of pitches than at any time since being called up to the Big Leagues. The slider looks great and the splitter looks even better than it did last season. He's too sexy for Fenway....too sexy for Fenway....too sexy todaaaaaaaay.
See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!!!!!
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I'm watching the rainy Game Two against the Royals in Kansas City and Kyle Farnsworth is walking the ballpark. A home run, two walks, and an RBI single have been allowed on an array of really unimpressive pitches. Farnsworth either seems to overthrow or try to be too fine. He never just throws. That's nothing new. He's Kyle Farnsworth and unfortunately he's ours.
My question tonight is....
What hurts more, watching Farnsworth blow a game in reverse or watching Farnsworth blow a game in normal, forward progression?
Your moment of zen.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Nobody likes to lose. I don't like to lose. I don't want to lose tomorrow. Baseball is often graced with subplots in winning and losing efforts, however, and it's important to note them to keep perspective on the marathon that it 162+ games. Here's my stab at Game Two bright and dark spots:
Bright: He looked okay in the outfield and may have stolen a homer from Alex Rios.
Dark: His bat hasn't amounted to much from the start of camp, and he doesn't belong leading off.
Bright: Did his best to get on base twice and is off to a decent start.
Dark: His throws to first have been very bad so far this season.
Bright: Making A-Rod's job easier and looks poised to score 150 runs this season.
Dark: Thrown out with A-Rod at the plate and 2 outs. Ouch.
Bright: Mashing at bats. Great glove at 3rd.
Dark: Struck out as the tying run in the bottom of the 9th.
Bright: Still looks very good at 1st.
Dark: Terrible at bats. He looks lost at the plate. Missing fat HR pitches every time out.
Bright: Still remember Spring Training.....?
Dark: Not a great at bat so far. Not getting good wood on any balls in play yet.
Bright: He's playing.
Dark: No good at bats yet. He looks confused as the DH and that's something to watch.
Bright: Still hitting well. Solid behind the plate.
Dark: Posada's not in the game after one day. Mussina vs. Posada animosity, or injury?
Bright: Still hitting and playing good defense. Plus-plus season in store.
Dark: Missed a tough but catchable ball giving Overbay a triple. (nit-picking)
Bright: Three double play balls and an 11-3 GO/AO ratio.
Dark: .393 OBP against and only 2 Ks. He has nothing left to put batters away.
Bright: Strikes were well located.
Dark: Let hitters off the hook and got hurt. Wearing Paul O'Neill's #21.
Bright: Looks better this season. Decent rhythm and good pace.
Dark: Still has trouble with control forcing him to throw hittable strikes.
Bright: 9 pitches to retire 3 batters. 2 GO and a strikeout. Dominating.
Dark: Hit Scutaro with his first pitch. (nerves?)
There you have it. I think the things to watch going forward are Giambi's first 2 weeks, Matsui's progress as DH, Posada's health, Melky's bat, Mussina's ERA, and Ohlendorf's scoreless innings streak. See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!!
It's exciting to be back. I was so happy to have the Yankees back, playing games that count and that matter, I watched both the live contest and the rebroadcast on YES. I couldn't get enough. I didn't chime in very much during Spring Training, mainly because there's already so much speculation and "coverage" out there during the warm up to the regular season that I just didn't think my two cents was going to add anything. There's nothing worse that being redundant and unoriginal, so I leave the hard work to my good friend Pete Abraham, Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, Steve Lombardi, and the River Avenue Blues boys. Of course there are others, but those are the people that I started out with as a blogger and they've both supported me and produced top quality work on the Yankees that keeps me going. Dave Pinto is outstanding and my colleagues at Baseball Prospectus keep us all on our toes with respect to the overall sport. Of course there is also Baseball America on the case. I'll stop there because I could go on and on. I'm a baseball junkie.
One of the things I'm most excited about this year is Joe Girardi's leadership. I was on my soapbox during Joe G's playing days, shouting to the hilltops that he was a future Yankee manager in the making. I really wanted it to happen then and saw it possibly slipping away as he went to the Cubs and the Marlins and won the Manager of the Year in the tropics. Fortunately, the people who run the Marlins are a mess and we took advantage of their mistake. Joe is enthusiastic and passionate. He's organized, demanding, and powerful. I liked Joe Torre, and wavered between loving him and believing it was time for a change. In the end, I think the time for change was upon us and I think the leadership of the franchise was very smart to put Joe G in a position to spark the roster to life. He's awake during games and actively engaged in every moment. He's hungry to prove himself, and to get that ring.
I'm excited about the youth movement. This is a competitive AL field and the youth may not be up to getting us to the playoffs. I'll stand up and say it before we get into a pennant race. There is doubt. The thing is, I don't care. I firmly believe that this group of young players, and the group waiting in the wings for their chance, are future world champions. If there are growing pains to be had, let it happen. We'll be better off for it as a franchise. That said, there's no reason to believe that a roster as powerful as ours can't storm into the playoffs anyway. Outside the Detroit Tigers, there isn't a lineup as good as ours in the entire sport. Hughes, Joba, Kennedy, Ohlendorf, Patterson, Horne, Sanchez, Jackson, Gardener, and maybe a few others figure to play some role for the team in 2008. That's not even considering Melky and Cano, who are impact players already.
As for the vets, I'm excited about another year of A-Rod excellence. I'm excited to watch the final few years of Posada and Mariano. I'm excited to see what Giambi does playing 1st on a regular basis. I'm excited to see what big moments Jeter can produce. I'm excited about a full year of Bobby Abreu brilliance. I think he's going to have an outstanding season.
What I'm not excited about...I'm not excited about watching Matsui and Damon in decline, trying to cobble together a good left field. I'm not excited about Mike Mussina and the uncertainty he brings start to start. I'm not excited about anything related to Kei Igawa. I'm not excited about anything related to Kyle Farnsworth. I'm not excited about being reminded that Carl Pavano is still on our payroll. I'm not excited about Bob Sheppard's shaky health.
The Stadium is something to be excited about. Which stadium? Both, of course. The retirement of the House that Ruth Built will be a huge highlight this season and a big reason to push for the World Series. It's almost a divine right that Yankee Stadium should be retired after the Series. The All Star Game will be spectacular, whatever happens on the field. The new stadium updates are something to be excited about. What we've seen already is unreal. It's a Romanesque structure with all the gaudy, showy power of an Imperial palace.
Can you tell I'm excited. Well, we're 1-0 and on the right track. See you tomorrow. Go Yankees!!!