Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Game 52: You Enjoy Myself

Taking the mound tonight, at least as far as I'm concerned, will be Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Paige McConnell and Jon Fishman at the Jones Beach Ampitheater. They are pictured above after jumping the bump at Fenway Park to sing an a Capella version of the Star Spangled Banner before the show they played there on Sunday.

I don't care if Phish wore Red Sox jerseys when they sang the National Anthem, just as I don't care if A-Rod listens to Madonna, Hideki Matsui likes Menudo, Nick Swisher blasts Kenny Chesney, or A.J. Burnett rocks out to Godsmack. For all the melding of music and sports were do here at Fack Youk, they are still very separate pleasures.

Today also happens to be the anniversary of my emergence from the womb (in case you were wondering why I wrote this post), so the title of the song below is as self-indulgent as it is apropos. It represents everything people dislike about Phish songs: The extended composed sections and jams make it so long that almost every version on YouTube had to be split up into two, if not three parts. There are hardly any lyrics and the ones there don't make any sense. Odds are you won't like it, and chances are I don't really give a shit. Not today, anyway.

Matt is still away in the land of the Canucks so there won't be a game recap, either. Fear not, Fackers, we will be back in full force tomorrow. 

June 2nd In Yankee History

When you have a franchise with as much history as the Yankees, nearly every day, at least during the season is going to be littered with significant occurrences, birthdays, deaths and the like. There are a few interesting ones today:
  • On this day in 1925, Lou Gehrig stepped in for Wally Pipp went 3 for 5 and never looked back. The day before he had pinch hit for Peewee Wanniger in the eigth inning, and would never pinch hit again. June 2nd started Gehrig's career at first base for the Yankees and his legendary consecutive games streak. (Almost: On June 3rd, 1932, hit hit four homers in the same game.)

  • Sadly, Gehrig also died the evening of June 2nd, 1941 at age 37. Gehirg's playing career lasted only 13 full seasons and he fell just shy of hitting 500 homers (493) and driving in 2000 runs (1995). His RBI still places him at 5th on the All-Time List, behind only Aaron, Ruth, Cap Anson and Barry Bonds (who has 1996). 

  • On June 2nd, 1935, Babe Ruth announced his retirement from baseball. After a poor age 39 season with the Yankees, Ruth had been sold to the Boston Braves after the 1934 season. the Babe played in 28 games in 1935. Even as a shell of his fromer self, Ruth got on base at a .359 clip and had an OPS+ of 118

  • Stick Michael was born on 6/2/1938, Horace Clark on 6/2/1940, and Mike Stanton on 6/2/1967. Johnny Mize, who spent parts of 5 seasons at the end of his career on the Yanks passed away on 6/2/1993 at the age of 80.
From the semi-Yankee related department, tHeMARksMiTh over at Way Back and Gone revisits a game from this day in 1959 that has an fun tie-in to Joba Chamberlain's start in Cleveland last night. 

The Erroneous Streak

Errors might be the most flawed statistic in baseball. Wins and batting average don't paint nearly the complete picture they are given credit for, saves are arbitrarily defined, RBIs are greatly influenced by a hitters place in the line-up and a catcher's caught stealing percentage is badly skewed by the pitcher who is throwing to him. Still, I think errors tell you the least of any popular metric about what happens on the field.

Bill James famously broke down the difference between a good and bad defensive shortstop for John Dewan's Fielding Bible and his analysis purposefully removed errors from the equation. An error only measures when a player makes a mistake on a ball that they got to. It can't take into account the difference in range, which is the most important overall defensive factor. 

Your baseball career wouldn't last very long if you did this, but a shortstop could theoretically stand in the same place for the entire game and as long as they caught every ball within their reach, they would never be docked with an E6. 

It's great that the Yankees just set the Major League record for most consecutive games without an error. It means that everyone has performed their position somewhat competently over that stretch. At least that's what you would assume, right?

Just as one example, take Brett Gardner's play during the fifth inning of Sunday's game on Asdrubal Cabrera's line drive. It was a ball that he easily could have caught, had he read the ball correctly off the bat. Instead he misjudged it, took a step forward, then retreated and reached towards the ball as it sailed past him for a double. Ironically, had he been slightly closer to making the play, and it tipped off his glove, it would have been scored an error. While not an error in official baseball scoring, it still made the game recaps and highlight reels and was cast as an obvious mistake. 

Since defensive statistics are relatively new and difficult to quantify, we can't go back and see what the best 18 game streak of defensive play in the history of the MLB was. Dewan's plus/minus system has only been around since 2004. UZR only goes back to '04 as well. I did a pretty entensive search for a study looking into the best fielding teams of all times and came up empty aside from straight sorts based on fielding percentage. The nature of batted balls and the dimensions of parks have changed throughout the years, making it even more difficult to quantify. 

If you had a Retrosheet Database, it would be easier, and more to the point to find the lowest amount of runs allowed by a pitching staff over that same time period and adjust for era. During the last 18 games, the Yankees pitchers have allowed only 3 1/3 runs per outing, a feat which I find far more remarkable.

An Easy Flight Home

A plane ride from Cleveland to New York City takes about an hour and fifteen minutes in the air. Coming off a 5-2 road trip after a confidence-inspiring victory like the one last night will probably make it seem even shorter.

The Yankees hit the ground running in the first inning, as Jeter and Teixeira both extended their hitting streaks, to 15 and 14 games, respectively. With one out and men on first and second, A-Rod flew out to center and Jorge Posada struck out swinging to kick start a frustrating night with men in scoring position. Going 3-16 w/RISP isn't typically a recipe for success, but the Yankees overcame those shortcomings, mostly on the back of Joba Chamberlain.

The eight innings he tossed tonight marked Joba's longest outing as a professional. What he lacked in dominance (only 5Ks) he made up for in efficiency (106 pitches). In addition to inducing 12 groundballs he certainly made the highlight reel in the fifth inning.

Joba allowed a walk and a single to start the frame, and had men on first and second with no one out. Kelly Shoppach came to the plate and popped a bunt in the air down the left foul line. Joba charged the ball and made as spectacular of a catch as you will see made by a pitcher. He laid out with full extension and snatched the ball just before it hit the ground, and at the behest of Jorge Posada, took to his feet and double Ryan Garko off of second base.

It didn't just look good on film. If that ball had fallen in, the Indians would have had the bases loaded with no one out. Instead, they had a runner on first with two outs. Although it's not highlighted on this chart, you can figure out the damage that play did to the Indians' chances at victory (FanGraphs does't mark defensive plays on their WPA charts). With the next batter, Asdrubal Cabrera up, Jamey Carroll tried to steal second but was nabbed after a correct guess on a pitch out and the threat was deterred.

The Yankees mounted their own threat in th top of the 6th on the strength of three walks from Jeremy Sowers. Eric Wedge went to the mound and Sowers' night was over after 85 pitches, as he was replaced in favor of Eric Aquino. Jeter, Swisher, Teixeira packed the bases with no one out as A-Rod stood at the plate. As it seemingly so often does in big spots, Alex got behind 0-2.

In 97 plate appearances entering last night's game A-Rod had been in two strike counts in 41 of them. Four of his home runs have come with two strikes and he is well above league average, with a 213 sOPS+ (OPS in comparison to league average with two strikes), even with a .190 BABIP in those spots. However, this time he was called out looking on a back-up slider up and in. One out. Jorge Posada chopped out to second. Two down. Robby Cano flew out to left. Inning over.

At this point, the score was still tied 1-1 and any coherent observer was left to wonder if the Yankees had squandered their chance to bust the game open.

Joba sat the Indians down in order in the bottom of the inning and the Yanks picked up right where they left off in the seventh. Acquino took his turn walking the bases loaded with one out, which brought up the slumping Nick Swisher. But for all of the confidence he inspired early in the season, he certainly wouldn't be the consensus choice among Yankee fans to be up in a big spot at the moment. Swish stepped up and sliced a near home run into the left field corner, driving in two.

Our old pal Luis Vizciano was brought into face A-Rod. The count quickly fell to 0-2 again, but Alex slipped a single past Asdrubal Cabrera and knocked in two runners of his own. The score would end 5-2 with Cleveland getting one back in the bottom of the 7th on an RBI ground out.
Joba allowed only four hits and two walks before handing the ball to Mo in the ninth. What now, Chris Shearn?