Thursday, June 11, 2009

Game 60: Start All Over Again

If there's one person who bears no blame for the Yankees' inepitutde against the Red Sox this year, it's C.C. Sabathia. Joba and Burnett have made two starts against the Sox, along with one each for Hughes, Wang and Pettitte and all have been unsucessful.

Sabathia's numbers against the Red Sox are pretty good, but at Fenway, they are excellent. He has a 3.92ERA in 48.1IP against Boston, but on his 3 vists to Landsdowne St., he's gone 23IP with a 2.35 mark. These are certainly small sample sizes, and Burnett's fine numbers against the Sox didn't do a whole lot for him on Tuesday night, so take them for what they are worth. Which would be a Yankees blogger trying to find ways to cope with the fact that his team has gawtten fackin' dawnimated by the Sawx so fahh this yee-ah. His new career stats against Boston start accumulating tonight.

Frankie Cervelli makes his sixth start behind the plate with CC on the mound tonight. The first one was the complete game shut-out the big fella threw down in Baltimore on May 8th. The only game since then Sabathia hasn't been caught by Cervelli was against the Indians on May 30th.

If you were only judging by won-lost records, CC Sabathia (5-3) wouldn't seem to be having as good of a season as Brad Penny (5-3). But upon further inspection you would find that Penny's ERA is 2.2 runs higher, and despite pitching 26 more innings, CC has allowed 7 fewer hits, just to scratch the surface. The Yankees haven't faced Penny this year, and in fact, the starting line-up only has a grand total of 15 career plate appearances against him. Who knows what that will mean.

As anyone who is familiar with the basic principles of economics could tell you that you shouldn't make decisions based on sunk costs. The seven games in the loss column against the Sox are long gone. There is virtually no chance the Yanks will even tie the season series, but that doesn't really matter. A win tonight and the Yankees walk out of Fenway with a share of the lead in the AL East, and we are back to square one.

The video below was shot at a concert at the new House of Blues in Boston, which happens to occupy the space where Avalon used to be on Landsdowne Street. What are the karmic implications of using a song by a Boston band performed in the shadow of Fenway Park for a game post on an interwebstation devoted to the Yankees? Only time will tell, Fackers.

I've had some good times,
Good times before,
You're love hung me up once baby,
It can't happen, anymore,
I'm gonna start, all over, over again.
I've been through these times before,
I'll go through these time some more,
Gonna start, all over, over again.

As Good As It Gets

The photo of Chien Ming Wang above was taken on June 15th , 2008, just before he stepped into the batter's box against Roy Oswalt in the fifth inning. With men on first and second, Wang squared to bunt and laid it on the ground in front of Oswalt, who threw Jorge Posada out at third base for the second out of the inning. Wang took his place on first after the unsuccessful sacrifice.

Comfortably the best pitcher in the Yankees' starting rotation to that point, Wang had cruised through the Astros line-up that Sunday afternoon, having not allowed a run in 5 innings and the Yanks sat atop a comfortable 3-0 lead. The win they would notch later in the day would bring them to 4 games over .500, their high water mark on the season at the time.

Next up was Johnny Damon who hit a grounder towards Miguel Tejada at short. Wang, not the fastest of runners, would have been out comfortably at second, but Tejada mishandled the ball and everyone was safe. This in turn brought up Derek Jeter, who hit what might have been the costliest three run single in Yankee history. Cano scored easily on the play, but as he rounded third base, Wang came up limping and the rest was history. They were tack-on runs in what turned out to be a 13-0 blowout and it probably wouldn't have happened if Miguel Tejada had fielded Damon's ball cleanly.

The Lisfranc injury sustained by the sinkerballer not only struck a huge blow to the Yankees chances of making the playoffs in 2008, but has seemingly since submarined his career.

When I look at the picture above, I think about the scene they have in a lot of movies, where things reach an obvious high point and the characters are blissfully unaware of the demise that is sure to follow. Like in Casino where Ace and Ginger are cutting the cake at their wedding. Everything is wonderful until Ginger sneaks out during the reception to call her old pimp of a boyfriend, Lester Diamond, from a pay phone in the hallway. Similar to Blow where they buy the house in Mexico and everyone jumps in the pool right before George gets knocked for the first time. Or during the The Beach when they take a photo of everyone jumping in the air at the same time to symbolize how perfect and in-sync everything is. Of course when the three Swedish guys get attacked by sharks shortly thereafter, their little utopia dissolves quite quickly.

I'm not trying to say that Wang's wife is going to drive her Mercedes up on the lawn and steal the key to the safe deposit box. He won't serve any prison time. I don't think the Yankees are going to make him stand guard on the edge of the island waiting for the tourists who he gave a copy of the map to, only to watch them gunned down by marijuana farmers protecting their crops.

I do however, think that picture represents a freezeframe of the high water mark of Wang's career and that makes me really sad. The guy was an extremely valuable and inexpensive part of the Yankees for parts of 4 seasons and over 600 innings pitched. He has the support of an entire country. Now he's a guy with no clear role and a 14.34 ERA who can't catch a break.

Baseball can be a cruel game sometimes, can't it? Damn you Miguel Tejada!

More Worthless: Wang Or Papi?

The parallels between these two didn't become apparent to me until I read this post on Mass Hysteria, which seemingly took just as much pleasure in Chien Ming Wang's demise as we have in Papi's. They have more in common than just their names being euphemisms for one's penis.

In the first inning of last night's game, we saw a clash of fallen heroes: Papi, the populist champion of Red Sox Nation and Wang, the most revered athlete in the island nation of Taiwan. The Dominican native has long dominated the battle between the two. In 44 plate appearances against Wang, Ortiz was hitting .432/.523/.703 with 7 walks. He worked another base on balls and won the symbolic battle of two stars wrapped in momentarily coinciding downward spirals.

Both have been a terrible detriment to their teams this year, but in different ways. If these two were actual methods of torture, Wang would be more like waterboarding (brutal for short stretches) whereas Ortiz is the equivalent of Chinese water torture (a slow drip that eventually drives you insane). So which is worse?

According to FanGraphs, Papi is far less valuable than Wang. He clocks in with a value of -$4.7M and a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of -1.0. Surprisingly, Wang is "only" costing the Yankees $600,000 and one tenth of a win. It would seem that the formula FG is using is letting Wang off the hook since he only pitched 21 1/3 innings so far this year. This should instead count against him, since his lack of length taxes the Yankees bullpen and has stranded them in every one of his starts. You can do a lot of damage in 21 1/3 innings. And Wang certainly has.

A starting pitcher has the ability to sabotage a game in a way no other player does. A starter giving up 6 runs in two innings is less valuable than anything a position player could do. Yes, even going 0-7 with 3Ks and leaving a small army on base (while DH'ing).

Here are Wang's 5 starts this year:

There's no way those only cost the Yankees 1/10th of a win.

In order for the Yankees to win any of those games, they would have to score more than the number of runs he allowed, obviously. Based on the Yankees offense this year, here are the probabilities that they score X or more runs in any given game.

Of course, this assumes that the bullpen is going to be perfect throughout the rest of the game, which is extremely unlikely when Wang averages only 2 2/3 innings per start and the Yankees bullpen has an ERA of 4.91. That number might even be a little favorable considering when you need to get 6 1/3 innings from the pen, you are using mop-up men or overtaxing your competent relievers.

So if you project how many runs the bullpen is likely to allow on top of Wang's performances and line those up with how probable it was for the Yankees to score more runs than that, you'd come away with a much better estimate of just how bad Wang has screwed the Yanks in his starts so far this year.

SPW% is the likelihood that the offense would score more runs than the pitching staff allowed in any given game. The most runs the Yanks have scored this year is 12 and that was only once, hence the 0% chance of winning the game against the Indians (which of course they lost 22-4) and the 1% chance against the Rays (2% chance they score 12 runs and 50% they win in extra innings).

Add those percentages up and you get a 54% win probability out of a total 500%. That's not costing the Yankees 1/10th of a win, friends, it looks a lot more like negative 4.5.

This obviously isn't overly scientific or definitive, so what do you think? Who would fetch the ham sandwich on the trade market and who would come with chips? Which one of these guys would you rather not have?

Two Sport Yanks

Yesterday we talked a bit about Dave Winfield, a man who came out of the University of Minnesota in 1973 and was taken in the MLB, NFL, NBA, and ABA drafts.

Though Winfield wasn't drafted by the Yankees, the team does have a history of taking multi-sport athletes. Part of that is a function of the fact that the players in question are world class athletes than can play multiple sports. Part of it could also be George Steinbrenner's well-documented fascination with football. As we are now in the final day of the 2009 draft, let's take a look back at some past Yankee draft picks who were multi-sport stars:

  • Bo Jackson. Drafted in 1982 out of high school. Did not sign, and went on to Auburn University where he became one of the best college football players in history.
  • John Elway. Arguably the greatest QB in NFL history, the Yankees spent their first pick on him in 1981. He spent the following summer at short-season A-ball in Oneonta, where Elway hit .318/.432/.464
  • Deion Sanders - Taken in the 30th round in 1988, Sanders spent 71 unspectacular games with the Yankees in 1989 and 1990. Both years he departed the team mid-season to join the Atlanta Falcons. He would go on to decent success with the Braves, but is best remembered as one of the best shutdown corners, kick returners, and tackle-phobic players in NFL history.
  • Tony Meola - The former goalie for the US national soccer team also had a tryout with the Jets as a place kicker in 1994. has no record of him being drafted by the Yankees, but Wikipedia does.
  • Shea Morenz - First round pick in 1995. A descendent of hockey Hall of Famer Howie Morenz, he was briefly the starting QB for the Texas Longhorns.
  • Drew Henson - Third round pick in 1998. Henson was given a huge bonus to play baseball, and was still allowed to attend the University of Michigan, where at one point he was ahead of Tom Brady on the depth chart. He was part of the package used to acquire the hooker-loving Denny Neagle from the Reds in 2000. Eight months later the Yankees re-acquired him for Willie Mo Pena and gave him a huge contract to give up football. He was an absolute bust as a baseball player, and proved to be a bust when he attempted to return to football as well.
  • Andrew Brackman - The 2007 First Rounder was also a center on the basketball team during his time at NC State.
  • C.J. Henry - The 2005 first round pick was on the University of Memphis basketball team last year (no word on the legitimacy of his SAT scores) and has transfered to Kansas for this year.
  • Charlie Ward -The Yankees drafted the 1993 Heisman winner in the 18th round in 1994, despite his not having played baseball since high school. He never signed. Knicks fans may wish he did.
Jay already talked about Slade Heathcott's football pedigree and I'm sure there are more still; feel free to leave them in the comments if you can't think of others.

Of course there are also those who have gone back to other sports after leaving baseball. Both Chris Weinke and Josh Booty returned to D1A college quarterbacking after washing out as baseball players. That was on my mind yesterday as Boston College announced they received a commitment from former Twins and Blue Jays minor league pitcher David Shinskie.

BC has exactly zero QBs on their roster who have thrown a pass at the collegiate level and Shinskie is not guaranteed anything. Still, I'd rather see Shinskie or any of the other untested QBs under center in the fall rather than the recently departed Dominique Davis. Save for a few drives, Davis was horrific in relief of Chris Crane last year, resembling a real life Willie Beamen, minus the repeated vomiting in the huddle and actually becoming good at some point. I hope Shinskie turns out to be more Weinke than Booty (sounds like there's a joke in there somewhere).

A Look Back at the Off-Season

Since the Yankees seemingly can't beat the Red Sox on the field, let's take a look back at the last time the Bombers bested the Olde Towne Team - the 2008-2009 off-season. After kicking the tires on CC Sabathia, presumably to drive the price up for the Yankees, the Sox made a real push for Mark Teixeira, only to have him surprisingly sign with the Yankees after some shrewd and stealthy negotiating by Brian Cashman.

The Teixeira signing capped an unbelievable off-season spending spree for the Yankees. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira were 3 of the top 4 free agents on the market (Manny Ramirez being the other). When all was said and done, the Yankees had committed 20 years and $423.5M to the three players.

Predictably, and perhaps somewhat deservedly, the Yankees took a lot of heat in the media and from the other clubs for spending what amounts to roughly the gross domestic product of the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa, and doing so in the midst of the country's worst economic crisis in more than seventy years. However, the Yankees operated within the context of the rules and were essentially leveraging the significant financial resources they have at their disposal.

Meanwhile, after losing out on Teixeira, the Sox made a series of lesser moves. Now I'm not one to believe that there's a media bias against the Yankees or towards the Red Sox. But, the way that the Sox off-season was framed as smart and economical in opposition to the Yankees gluttony was more than a bit hypocritical. Let's look at the Sox off-season moves with economic data courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts:
  • John Smoltz signed 1 yr, $5.5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $5.5M
  • Brad Penny signed 1 yr, $5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $3M
  • Takashi Saito signed 1 yr, $1.5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $6M
  • Josh Bard signed 1 yr, non-guaranteed. Reported value $1.7M, with an additional $0.8M bonus potential
  • Junichi Tazawa, signed 3 yrs, $3.3M
  • Rocco Baldelli signed 1 yr, $0.5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $7M
  • Mark Kotsay re-signed 1 yr, $1.5M, with potential bonuses totalling an additional $1M
  • Jason Varitek re-signed 1 yr $5M

All told, that's $23.3M guaranteed with bonus potential of an additional $25M. That's a drop in the bucket compared to what the Yankees paid out, but the potential $47.25M in 2009 for the Sox isn't all that far off from the $64.5M (signing bonuses included) the Yankees will pay their three free agent signees in 2009. These are some good high risk, high reward signings for the Sox. But what did they get for their money?
  • In Smoltz and Penny, two pitchers coming off injury who combined for 122.2 IP in 2008 and a combined 5.43 ERA in the NL. Smoltz has yet to pitch; Penny has been average at best. And it's heavily rumored that Penny will soon be flipped for prospects.
  • In Saito they picked up a good reliever who has been very effective in his career, but who has also been beset by injuries. So far this has worked out pretty well.
  • Josh Bard, who the Sox traded very early in the 2006 season when they realized he couldn't catch a knuckler, had an even shorter stint this time. He was cut before Spring Training was over, leaving the Sox on the hook for $283K of his salary.
  • Tazawa, who was signed through a potentially improper loophole in the Japanese system, is pitching at AA Portland.
  • Baldelli has a lengthy injury history and has spent time on the DL this year. Ditto for Kotsay. Together they give the Sox two talented, but highly injury prone, back-up OF/DH/1B types.
  • Varitek is 37. He hit .220/.313/.359 (73 OPS+) last year. He's doing better this year, buoyed by a SLG over .500, but his AVG and OBP are below league average.

Now the John Henry ownership group has done a tremendous job of squeezing every last penny out of the Red Sox brand and decrepit (charming?) Fenway Park. And good for them, it's remarkable that they've done so and it's commendable that they reinvest that money back into the team. However, before John Henry shoots his mouth off, making comments like "we have to be even more careful in deploying our resources"as he did in the wake of losing Teixeira, he might want to consider how few teams in MLB could afford to take on one or two of the above contracts, let alone all eight of them.

The Sox aren't some poor small market team. They may not have the financial resources of the Yankees, but aside from the Mets, Cubs, and possibly the Angels and Dodgers, no other MLB franchises can match the financial clout of the Red Sox. Perhaps the media should keep that in mind next time they want to laud the smart, shrewd signings made by the Sox this past off-season.

Hey, Zero Out Of Seven Ain't Bad...

Okay, I'm sorry. I lied. It's pretty bad.

In and of themselves, the 2 2/3 innings of 4ER ball Chien Ming Wang threw last night weren't as bad at the 2 2/3 wherein A.J. Burnett gave up 5 runs the night before. Unfortunately for the Yankees though, baseball games don't occur in a vacuum and the latest in a series of slow motion trainwrecks for the formerly dominant sinkerballer could have far-reaching implications.

All signs pointed to the Yankees turning it around last night at Fenway. They were due. Going winless in their last six appearances against the Sox was fluky and it was about time they got on the board. After a marginal outing against Texas, Wang seemed poised to right the ship. Neither of those things happened.

CMW stumbled right out of the gate. He walked J.D. Drew and Youk back to back in the first inning setting up an RBI single by Jason Bay. What was probably worse than the fact that he allowed a run was that he faced seven batters and used up 29 pitches. For a pitcher that still wasn't fully stretched out, it was an ominous beginning.

Jorge Posada tied it with a solo shot in the top of the 2nd, but the Sox opened up their half of the inning by going single, double, double and driving in two more runs. Wang retired the next three batters in a row, but a 9 pitch battle with the Fackin' Youkstah helped drive his pitch count to 58 after only two innings. Wang gave up a homer to Mike Lowell to lead off the 3rd which most likely sealed his fate. He was pulled in favor of Phil Hughes despite having just struck out Nick Green for the second out of the third inning.

69 pitches, 39 strikes, 5 earned runs, six hits and three walks marked CMW's second best start of the year. It's truly hard to believe that this guy was once a dominant pitcher in the Major Leagues. It pains me to say this, but Kei Igawa almost certainly would have done better than Wang has so far given the same opportunities.

Last night might be the last chance Wang gets in the starting rotation for a while, but that question alone is worthy of another entire post. His probable replacement, Phil Hughes, wasn't perfect either, but was a lot better than Wang allowing two runs in 3 2/3 IP. Those two came in the fourth on a two run shot by Youk and put the Sox up 6-2.

The Yankees did manage to claw their way back in the game and make it interesting. Back to back homers by Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira against Ramon Ramirez in the 7th brought the Bombers within one, but Okajima and Papelbon stifled the rally in the 8th and 9th. Teix continued his hot hitting, picking up nearly half the Yankees' hits, and was the only Pinstriper with a plate appearance to not leave a man on base. The Yanks left 20 men on in total (2 for 15 w/RISP). They are .141 in those situations for the season series.

The Yanks are averaging 4.0 runs per game against Boston this year, which wouldn't be bad if the Sox weren't scoring 7.3.

It could be worse. The Yankees could be floundering with a marginal record despite having played like the Rays are. They are still only one game back on the Sox after dropping all seven head to head meetings this year. It's a pretty incredible feat in its own right. A win tomorrow brings it back to square one.

The lesson for tonight is that due don't do shit. The same goes for tomorrow night. Just as a streak of coin flips ending up as tails doesn't alter the probability of the next flip, the victories piling up on the Red Sox' side of the ledger don't change the fact that tomorrow night's game is still about a 50/50 proposition.

Okay, make that 60/40 Yanks.

Seriously... tomorrow will be the night. It has to be, right?