Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Game 65: Papa's Got A Brand New Bag

Chien-Ming Wang became a father yesterday as he and his wife Chia-Ling Wu welcomed their first child. Justin Jesse Wang checked in yesterday morning at 7 pounds, 12 ounces. Word is he already has the best sinker in the nursery.

In Taiwanese culture, the birth of a child is said to bring good luck to the parents. CMW can certainly use it today. His struggles this year have been well documented. This could be his last chance in the rotation for the foreseeable future.

The good news for Wang is that he'll be facing the lowly Washington Nationals. The bad news for Wang is that, as we detailed yesterday, they feature an above average offense despite being an epically bad team. Further compounding issues for Wang is that the Nats are slightly below league average in groundball to flyball ratio (0.72 vs. 0.79) and in groundouts to airouts (1.04 vs. 1.08). The Nats trend slightly towards being a flyball team, and flyballs in Yankee Stadium often turn into home runs. If Wang's sinker isn't sinking tonight, he could find himself in more trouble than usual.

Wang will be opposed by Washington's default "ace" John Lannan. The young southpaw has not faced the Yankees in his year plus in the Big Leagues (uh oh). He enters his start tonight with an impressive ERA+ of 124, but his peripherals suggest he might be getting lucky. His FIP of 5.06 is far above the league average of 4.35. His K/9 is low (4.4); his BB/9 (3.6) and WHIP (1.42) are somewhat high, and his BABIP of .278 is far below the league average of .301. In short, the numbers suggest he's due to get rocked at some point soon. Let's hope it happens tonight.

As Jay suggested this morning, Derek Jeter and his gimpy ankle will get the night off. According to Pete Abe, Jeter wanted to play (of course) but has been sent for an MRI. Having Ramiro Pena at short to scoop up some groundballs maybe helpful in getting Wanger right. And the poor guy needs all the help he can get right now.

In his two starts since returning from the disabled list, we've selected songs connected to the theme of Wang righting his 2009 season. It hasn't happened so far. Tonight, we try one more time as the new papa looks to start a brand new season for himself. So as CMW tries to break his funk, we turn to the song generally credited as giving birth to funk. Here's hoping the Godfather of Soul can bring some good mojo for tonight's start.

Come here sister
Papa's in the swing
He ain't too hip now
But I can dig that new breed babe
He ain't no drag
He's got a brand new bag

The Bethpage Report

Yesterday, for the second Tuesday in a row, I headed out to Bethpage State Park. This time, however, I wasn't planning on playing 18 and we didn't get rained out. I love to play golf, but couldn't care less about the PGA Tour on a week to week basis. Like many of you, however, if I'm trying to take a nap on a Sunday, golf is the perfect backdrop. It's almost as if the announcers know you are trying to sleep.

That said, I love the US Open. I think I only like the British Open because it's on when you wake up in the morning and I'm not captivated by the Masters or the PGA Championship. But the US Open winds my clock. I love the fact that they take an incredibly challenging course and make it impossibly hard. Having the winning score end up around par every year is also a refreshing change from tour events like last week, when the winning score was -18.

As is the case with all of golf's majors, the early part of the week leading up to the US Open is reserved for players to play practice rounds, get a feel for the course, and fend of all the annoying autograph hounds. Despite the practice being explicitly forbidden by the tournament, even on practice days, it's still wildly prevalent.

Every time a player goes from a green to the next tee they have to walk past dozens of people sticking out US Open hats, flags, posters, shirts and other memorabilia for them to sign. It's the reason that Tiger sneaks out at 7am and only plays 9 holes. It's probably cool to walk away with a US Open flag with a bunch of signatures on it, but in order to do so, you have to constantly pester the players for them. Not my cup of tea.

My friend Mike got our Trophy Club passes on Craigslist for half of face value including shipping. Why they were $60 to begin with is beyond me, but we got a pretty good deal. We took the LIRR from Penn Station out to the Farmingdale stop. It was $14 a person, with shuttle service right to the course and took a little over an hour both ways. Highly recommended if you are going out to the course from Manhattan. I promise it's faster and less of a hassle than driving.

We checked out the driving range and short game area when we first got there. One thing that was truly amazing is that each player practices with the same kind of balls they play with. As a result, there is a staff of 3-4 volunteers at all times taking the balls off the practice green and sorting them by brand. The entire tournament is staffed by volunteers. It's too bad the USGA doesn't make any money off of this thing or there isn't $7.5M in prize money given away, cause you'd think that these poor schlubs sorting the fucking golf balls might deserve to be compensated for their efforts.

We walked the entire course in reverse, and below you can find some of the better pictures I took. You can check out the entire layout here.

#5 - 478 Yard Par 4

# 6 - 408 Yard Par 4

#10 - 435 Yard Par 4

#17 - 207 Yard Par 3

#4 - 517 Yard Par 5

What's amazing about #4 is that #7 is 525 yards... and it's a Par 4. Even for the pros, that's pretty ridiculous. At a certain point, it's not a two shot hole anymore. There are 3 par 4's over 500 yards at Bethpage. That ain't right.

The total length of the course as the players will take it on this weekend is 7,426 as a Par 70. To give you an idea, that's about 200-400 yards longer than most tour stops and about 1,000 yards or more than the tracks your average Sunday slashers call home. And most of those are par 72's.

I'd be willing to bet two things I noticed yesterday are going to lead to somewhat lower scores this year than when Tiger won the Open here in 2002. #1) It was wet. This might make it more difficult for your average Joe, but wetter conditions allow the pros to hold fairways and greens and they'd gladly trade the distance they lose off their drives to be hitting from the fairway and have their approach shots sit softly on the greens. #2) The rough is graduated. This means that right off the fairways, there won't be the six inch rough that vexed the players last time. The rough is still long, no doubt, but it's not nearly as punitive as it was in past Opens, namely when it was at Winged Foot in '05 the winning score was Geoff Ogilvy at +5.

I doubt I'm going to make it out for any of the actual tournament days, but it's probably for the better. As Malcom Gladwell said in a conversation with Bill Simmons a few years back, golf is probably the sport that has the most to gain by being televised live. You miss a ton when you are on the course but watching on TV, they can omnisciently bring you all of the best action.

Runnin' On Jorge

Entering this season, before everyone was questioning whether or not Jorge Posada could call a game, the biggest concern was whether or not his shoulder would be healthy enough to throw out potential base stealers. Given that Posada is 38 years old, there was no guarantee that his shoulder would make a full recovery from the surgery he underwent to repair a tear in his rotator cuff and damage to his glenoid labrum. It seems that opposing teams still aren't convinced that he is healthy.

Last year, in 241 innings behind the plate, teams attempted 41 steals against Posada. He was run on in 10.3% of the plate appearances where there was s stolen base opportunity, which was second in the the American League only to Toby Hall (11.2%). Kevin Cash (9.3%) was the only other catcher with significant playing time to be tested more that 8.4% of the time. The attempts against Posada were successful 34/41 times, and of the seven times they were caught, five times the runner was picked off before the pitcher delivered the ball. That left Jorge's percentage of actually throwing out runners at a horrific 5.5%.

This year, one of those trends has reversed dramatically. Teams still are running on Posada, in fact, at an even higher percentage than before. They have attempted to steal in 11.2% of stolen base opportunities, far and away the most in the AL. Jason Varitek has been challenged next most often, but at only 8.5% of the time.

Here is the good news. Despite teams running on Jorge at an even higher rate than last year, they are successful far less often. Would-be thieves have been nabbed in 15 out of 47 attempts, 10 by Posada. That's 32% caught stealing and 21% by Jorge himself. It's still early in the season, but judging by this metric, the results of his surgery appear to be pretty incredible.

Frankie Cervelli gets run on 7.4% of the time (7th among the 21 AL catchers with 200+ SBOs) but has thrown out 31%, and sports a total CS% of 38. Here are the top 10 by Run %.

Theoretically, caught stealing percentage and run percentage would have an inverse relationship because in aggregate, managers should be less likely to test the catchers most likely to throw out the runner (obviously). But a lot of managers still rely on their gut or other instincts as opposed to hard numbers, so the list doesn't really bear that out.

It would seem that opposing managers and speedsters are underestimating Posada pretty drastically. Since a pitcher picking a runner off in the process of trying to steal a base has little to do with who is behind the plate, the best way to determine who gets the least respect for throwing out runners would be to juxtapose Run % with the Catcher's Caught Stealing % (CS% by C above).

Using this method, here are the three most disrespected catchers in the AL, sorted by the differential between the two rankings:

Kenji Johjima has the highest caught stealing and caught stealing by catcher, yet he ranks in the top half in Run % (8th). Talk about No Respect... Kenji is a very low key player, stashed away up in Seattle which must work to his advantage because this is one of the cases where flying under the radar does you a lot of good.

Figure this one out: A.J. Pierzynski only gets run on 5.5% of the time (18th out the 21), but has only thrown out one runner this season. Attention AL Skippers... you might want to start running on A.J. Pierzynski. Navarro and Suzuki are far less egregious cases, but it should be noted that they haven't quite earned the respect they have been given.

These Aren't The Washington Generals

The Nationals are a bad team. I think we can all agree on that. Being 30 games under .500 at this point in the season puts them on pace to lose roughly 120 games. That is mind-bogginglingly awful. But it doesn't mean that anything less than a sweep against them is a disgrace.

Beat writers don't play the "sweep or die" card very often, but they have in spades for this series.

Ken Davidoff:
Big-picture usually dominates this column. No game, or series, exists in a vacuum - at least, before September. But this week at Yankee Stadium, we're tossing the big picture in the garbage.

The Nationals are so horrible that a Yankees loss to them is virtually inexcusable.
Joel Sherman:
I try hard never to talk about must wins unless games truly are must wins or to apply weighty proportions to games in June. However, I will say this: The Yankees can't just win a series against Washington starting tomorrow. Anything less than a sweep is abject failure.
Pete Abe:
It’s tough to say the Yankees need to sweep. The Nats do figure to show up, after all. But winning two out of three won’t be satisfactory against this team.
In 21 series this year, the Nationals have "only" been swept seven times. Not doing something that only one out of three teams that has faced them this year have been able to do would be an "abject failure"? Remember when the Pirates top prospects lost to Manatee Community College? It's still baseball, guys. I understand the temptation to demand a sweep, but as last night goes to show, it only takes one bad pitch (especially in the New Yankee Stadium) to turn a game around.

After last night's loss, the Nationals' record is 16-46. A wining percentage of .258 is a lot closer to .333 (1-2) than it is to .000 (0-3). As you might expect is the case with any historically terrible team, their Pythagorean record (23-39, .370) indicates that they have been somewhat unlucky in their run distribution, meaning that their current wining percentage sells them a little short.

Tonight the Nats send their best pitcher, lefty John Lannan to face Chien Ming Wang. Even if Wang turns in by far his best performance of the year, the Yanks could very easily lose.

If the Yankees won two out of every three games, they would finish with 108 wins. Taking two out of three in this series is not a failure... it would improve their winning percentage on the year. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. As CC said after the he notched his sixth win of the season last night, "This is the big leagues, you can't take anyone lightly."

Nice Try Kyle

You remember Kyle Farnsworth, don't you? Farnsworthless. Relief pitcher. Never really offered much relief. Makes the late Jose Veras seem reliable. Inspiration for the "Anyone But Farnsworth" t-shirt. Guy that often showed up his teammates and/or manager. That guy.

Perhaps you'd remember him if you saw his name as it's usually posted in the box score: Farnsworth, BS

Well, Kyle is now in Kansas City and up to his old tricks. Namely being an extremely frustrating pitcher to watch. Joe Posnarski had a spot-on piece on Farnsworth last week.

But the latest news on Farnsworth is that he required four stitches in his non pitching hand yesterday after getting bit while breaking up a fight between his dogs. That sounds like the punch line to a Jeff Foxworthy joke. Farnsworth bites and his dogs do too.

Nice try Kyle, but just because David Cone suffered a bite from his mother's Jack Russell Terrier on his way to a twenty win season in 1998 doesn't mean that this will make you any less of a crappy pitcher. A dalmation can't change his spots and an inflammable relief pitcher can't help but blow saves.

Given his recent use and reading between the lines of manager Trey Hillman's quotes in the dog bite article gives me the impression that Krazy Kyle may have already worn out his welcome in KC. Which is too bad since, despite his track record, Farnsworth signed a two year, $9.25M contract this past off-season. $4M+ per year for a relief pitcher. A relief pitcher who isn't the closer. A relief pitcher who is Kyle Farnsworth.

Next time you hear some KC fan bellyaching about how they can't compete financially with the Yankees, point to Kyle Farnsworth's contract (or Jose Guillen's for that matter). Having limited resources is one thing, deploying them in an idiotic manner is quite another. As friend of Foxworthy Bill Engvall Ron White is given to say: you can't fix stupid.

CC & Cano Carry

For the first four innings of last night's game, everything went accoring to plan. The Yankees pushed across a run via a Melky Cabrera sacrifice fly in the second inning and another on a single by Robinson Cano in the third. CC Sabathia mowed through the Nationals' line-up, who collectively looked like they'd much rather be somewhere else. It only took 46 pitches to get through the four frames and CC never used up more than 5 pitches on any single at bat. He gave up three hits, but his efficency and dominance made the outcome of the game seem like a forgone conclusion.

Anyone who bought into this notion was in for a rude awakening in the fifth inning, however. Former Yankees Alberto Gonzalez and Wil Nieves got on via back to back one out singles, the latter the result of a tough 9 pitch at bat, setting the table for the legendary Anderson Hernandez.

Owner of a .309 career slugging percentage and one home run in 356 plate appearances, Hernandez was clearly not cause for much concern. But down 1-2, he reversed a floated change up into the most unlikely of home runs, just of the the reach of Johnny Damon in the left field corner. A shocked crowd at the Stadium watched in relative silence as Hernandez rounded the bases and the Nationals pulled ahead 3-2.

The circumstances were similar to the three run homer Sabathia gave up to Willy Aybar in his last start against the Rays. In the sixth inning of that game, Sabathia looked dominant aside from a hiccup the inning before, but allowed two quick baserunners, and in a flash, Aybar turned the game on it's head with a three-run homer to left.

Not to fear, because another Yankee castoff would factor into the decision. Good old Ron Villone (or should I say bad old Ron Villone) entered the game with a 0.96 ERA for the Nationals on the season, allowing just two runs in 18 2/3 innings pitched. Memories of Villone's 120 or so innings with a 4.90 ERA for the Yankees foreshadowed what was about to happen next.

In the top of the 7th Villone came into to replace Sharion Martis, who had allowed only one earned run despite walking 5, giving even more creedence to the rookie starter conspiracy. Ronny V promptly served up a single to Johnny Damon and a towering double off the wall in left center to Mark Teixeira to tie the game at 3. A-Rod struck out to a chorus of boos, but the player of the night, Robinson Cano stepped in finish the deal.

Robby laced a line drive over the head of Elijah Dukes in centerfield who made two mistakes on the play. His first was misjudging the ball off the ball, which allowed it to fly over his head and roll back to the wall. The second was casually flipping the ball to the relay man, which Cano read as a green light to try and take third. The second and third legs of the relay were much more efficient and Cano was busted trying to stretch. The damage was done however, and the Yanks never looked back.

Sabathia forged ahead into the top of the 8th and had retired the last ten batters before Nick Johnson stepped into the box. With two outs, he walked on 10 pitches, and that was it for the big fella. Joe Girardi, working an incredibly sort leash, came out to get Sabathia in favor of the recently activated Brian Bruney, taking him off the disabled list and throwing him directly into the fire. The move worked as Bruney got Ryan Zimmerman to ground out to second base. Touching 96 with his fastball, it looked like Bruney hadn't missed a beat. Funny how having effective releivers can make a manager look smart.

The Yanks put up another run in the bottom half of the frame and Mo did what Mo does in the top of the 9th.

Sabathia and Cano were the two centerpieces to this victory. The walk to Johnson was the only one Sabathia allowed in his 7 2/3 IP, to go along with 6 hits. He only struck out two, but that could be chalked up to the fact that most of the guys on the Nationals came up hacking. Being on a last place team doesn't provide a whole lot of incentive to be patient at the plate. Cano went 4-4, factoring in three of the team's runs by driving in two and scoring another.

One odd/end: In the sixth inning, after hitting a soft grounder to third, Derek Jeter was noticably limping down the line to first. He was removed from the game with "stiffness in his left ankle" or something vague to that affect and he is listed as day to day. You never know with Jeter, but one would assume by how gingerly he was treating it, he is going to get at the very least a day off.