Monday, June 29, 2009

Another Quiet Monday Night

Tonight is the last off night before the All-Star break and after that, it won't be until August 3rd that the Yanks get a scheduled reprieve. As we have over the past couple of weeks, here are some options to occupy your time tonight.
  • It's your last chance to catch Bernie Williams filling in for Les Paul at the Iridum Jazz Club on Broadway between 50th and 51st. There are two shows, one at 8:30 and one at 10:30.

  • The Mets take on the Brewers at 7 as Fernando Nieve looks for his fourth win in as many starts. It's not just the Yankees he's done it to so far, if it makes you feel any better. In 12 innings total against St. Louis and Tampa Bay, Nieve has allowed only one run, six hits (but 7 walks). Unfortunately for New Yorkers, this is the game on ESPN as well so that will be your only option for live baseball. There are 12 games on in total, so check your local listings.

  • At 9 & 10 on Palladia HD has two Soundstage specials showcasing a Tom Petty concert in his hometown of Gainsville. Here is the setlist.

  • YES will be running a Yankee Classic at 7:00 from earlier this year. It was the first of the walk-off victories against the Twins, which included a Brett Gardner inside the park home run and the winning hit delivered by the Melk Man.

  • On the Travel Channel, Anthony Bourdain stops by Sri Lanka at 10:00 and Uzbekistan at 11:00.
  • In case you haven't seen it yet, stop by RAB to watch Mariano Rivera's Sunday Conversation.

  • The new seasons of Weeds and Nurse Jackie continue on Showtime. Does anyone else miss the old theme song from Weeds?

  • ESPN2 is re-running the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event from 8 until midnight. Not to long ago, when I spent about as much time playing poker as I do writing for this site, it was one of my favorite things to watch. However, the legislation prohibiting online gambling snuck in under "SAFE Port Act" has largely killed online poker and in turn the fields for major $10,000 buy-in tournaments. Poker is never going to die completely but the days of $12M prize pools and 8,000+ entrants are long gone.

  • In a close three way race for "Show I'd Be Most Likely To Punch Myself In The Face Before Watching In Its Entirety" at 8:00, you have American Idol, The Bachelorette and John and Kate Plus Eight.
That's pretty much all I've got for you, Fackers. For further TV related recommendations, check out Warming Glow.

See you tomorrow.

Cheering For Dummies

Via the Shyster over at his NBC Circling The Bases gig, the guys from Freakonomics have a some complaints about the chants at Citi Field last night, and it's not the one you'd expect to hear from a middle aged guy who took his family to a game:
A pattern quickly emerged. The many Yankees fans regularly broke into their thunderous cheer: “Let’s go Yankees!” (clap-clap-clap-clap … clap-clap). If you are a Yankees fan (we are; but we do not hate the Mets), this was a sign of what might be called prideful hubris, or maybe hubristic pride: we can come into your stadium and rock it very, very hard.

How’d the Mets fans respond? Succinctly. In the space where the Yankees fans did their rhythmic clapping, Mets fans shouted “Yankees suck!”


This pattern was repeated all night. What surprised me is that neither side found a way to improve their effort.
The problem with chanting is that it is, by definition, the lowest common denominator. The more clever or unique the fewer people are going to jump on board with you. If the chant isn't immediately recognizable, it won't spread. Conversely, when someone starts up with "Let's go Yank-ees" invariably, at least a few people will tag along.

As for "Yank-ees Suck!", is it my imagination, or did that only used to be the domain of Red Sox fans? I've heard the chant break out at concerts in the Boston area or pretty much any other public setting where more than 50 drunk people are gathered together. Now the de facto anti-Yankees chant throughout basically every place the Bombers have visited this year.

Regardless of the hollow inanity of "Let's Go Yank-ees" or the falsehood of "Yank-ees Suck" I'm afraid they are here to stay. Aside from "Hip-Hip-Jorge" and other player-centric chants, this is what stadium cheering has been dumbed down to.

Cano's Bad Night

Last night was a great win, and Robinson Cano probably couldn't be happier. His atrocious effort got overshadowed by the Yankees winning their fifth straight game and Mariano Rivera notching his 500th save and doing something Cano couldn't last night - see more than three pitches in an at bat and get on base. But since today is a relatively slow off day, we might as take closer look at just how bad Robby's night was:
  • 1st inning: With no one out and runners on first and second, Robby grounded the third pitch he saw to Luis Castillo, who flipped to Alex Cora who fired to first base. The Mets probably would have had the double play at first base if Daniel Murphy had held onto the ball, but instead settled for the force out. Not content with being on base, Cano was caught stealing to end the inning. In his career, he has 16 stolen bases and has been caught 17 times.

  • 4th inning: After A-Rod led off with a single, Cano rapped a blistering 83MPH fastball again to Castillo, but this time Murphy held onto the relay from Cora for a successful double play. Two more pitches, two more outs.

  • 6th inning: With men on second and third and one out, Hernandez intentionally walked A-Rod to get to Cano. On the strength of the two ground balls Livan had induced from Cano earlier in the game, Jerry Manuel took the risk of loading the bases to create the possibility of a double play. Robby took two balls this time, before reversing the third pitch he saw towards Alex Cora for the DP the Mets were hoping for.

  • 8th inning: Once again with the bases loaded, but this time with two out, Livan Hernandez had seemingly lost his command. He had thrown 18 pitches and only four for strikes. Cano took two balls but grounded the third one to Castillo to end the inning. Had there been less than two outs, it might have been another double play.
Add that all up and what do you get? A -.304 WPA. That means having Cano in the line up yesterday made the Yankees 30% more likely to lose. In four plate appearances, he saw only 14 pitches and made 7 outs (one on the basepaths). A-Rod got on base 4 times in front of him and never made it safely to second. He came to the plate with 9 runners on base and none of them scored. He was the biggest (only?) reason that Livan Hernandez wasn't lit up like a Christmas tree last night.

Cano's biggest strength - his ability to make contact and put the ball in play - can also be his greatest weakness. He rarely works the count because he knows he can hit almost anything that is thrown is his general vicinity. As a result, he's going to have nights like this one, where he chalks up four hits in as many plate appearances, but will also have abysmal outings like last night. When you constantly put the ball in play, you rely on probability, which is why Cano is not only a streaky hitter from game to game, but year to year.

This season, he's on pace for 195 hits, but only 32 walks and 50 strikeouts. Unfortunately that pace also predicts 22 GIDP, will probably put him near the top 5 in the league in that category. Strikeouts are bad, but they are great compared to double plays.

As much as we'd love to see Cano improve his plate discipline, most statistical evidence indicates that patience isn't something hitters develop; they either come into the league with the mindset to get on base or don't. Last night was pretty lucky for the Yanks. They absorbed what might be the single worst night of Cano's season and still came away with the win. And in the end, that's all that really matters.

Where, Exactly, Is The Visiting Bullpen At Citi Field?

Did they temporarily put it in the basement while they finish the actual one off? Is it in one of the chop shops alongside the Stadium? Does that phone even connect to the dugout? Is this what the home bullpen looks like? Why is that electrical box on this side of the fence? What does it look like on the other side of that fence? Was this calculated decision, or did they simply forget about it until it was too late?

So many questions...

Morning Mariano Roundup

I said my piece in last night's game recap, now let's hear what others are saying about Rivera's accomplishment on this Monday Mo'ning.


Shysterball: Mariano Rivera got his 500th save. More impressive: he drew a bases-loaded walk, giving him his first career RBI in 15 seasons. Francisco Rodriguez gave it up, which in some cosmic way illustrates the vast gulf between those two pitchers in my mind. How do you walk Mariano Rivera? Nerves is all I can think, and you can bet your ass that if the situation was reversed, Rivera would never have walked Rodriguez, because Rivera's body temperature runs at a constant 57 degrees.


PeteAbe: If you’ll permit me a personal aside, I’ve been doing this job since I was 17 and Mariano is the best athlete I have covered. He is the model of professionalism in how he approaches every aspect of his job, how he treats his teammates and how he treats those around the team, including reporters. [He's got some audio from the postgame as well].


Emma Span (From Bronx Banter): Rivera closed out the game afterwards with a minimum of fuss for his 500th save, and while I think most everyone reading the Banter would agree that the save is a deeply flawed statistic, this is really just another opportunity to reflect on how freakishly awesome Mariano has been, is now, and hopefully will continue to be - for at least a while longer. You can’t really overhype Mo, and that’s saying something.


David Pinto (As it was happening): If Rivera converts this save, he’ll earn his 110th long save, a save of more than one inning. That will double the next closest total from 1996 on, 55 by Keith Foulke.


She-Fan: After he notched the final out, there was no fist pumping, no theatrics, just his customary classy, humble demeanor. His teammates gathered around to congratulate him, and I sat in my living room sobbing like a sentimental fool.


Tyler Kepner: There was something poetic in the strange walk Mariano Rivera drew with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning on Sunday at Citi Field. It made the score Yankees 4, Mets 2 – the same score as it was in Flushing on Oct. 26, 2000, the fifth and final game of the World Series.

That was the last time Rivera closed out a championship, the last time he allowed himself to show much emotion after a victory. Rivera views everything through the prism of the team. Like Derek Jeter, part of his greatness is in his rigidly simplistic view of his craft. He never complicates anything.


Ben K. (From River Ave. Blues): On Friday, he had just his second career at-bat, and he nearly managed to knock in a few with a line drive. Today, he was more patient. He saw seven pitches from K-Rod — including one foul ball — and the Yanks’ Hall of Fame closer worked out a bases loaded walk. It would be his first RBI of his career, and the timing — coming on the same night as his 500th save — could not be better.


Joel Sherman: "I didn't expect any of this," Rivera said afterward.

How could anyone expect it? He barely made the team in 1996. But slowly -- with one success after another -- he gained then manager Joe Torre's trust, and moved from mop-up to long man to main set-up guy to Wetteland's fill on that May night.


Ken Davidoff: Rivera's career, at a job in which the shelf life of most pitchers is a few years, has been remarkable. The milestone reminds us. Rivera's overall performance makes us look silly for questioning whether he was done.

Diminished? A little, at age 39. Done? Not even close.

Five Straight And Five Hundred

After getting blanked by Tommy Hanson and the Braves last Tuesday, the Yankees had lost three in a row and five of their last six. The bats were dormant, mustering only 13 runs over that stretch. Since then they've ripped off five wins in a row, outscoring their opponents 37-13. Not coincidentally, over that time, A-Rod has seemingly found his groove again, picking up 7 hits, 9 walks and driving in 9 runs during the streak.

The Yanks hit the ground running in the first inning against Livan Hernandez with a double by Derek Jeter high off the wall in left center field, a shot which would have left most other MLB parks. Next up, batting in place of the flu-stricken Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher pulled a ball to the right side which Daniel Murphy inadvisably threw to third in an attempt to nab the lead runner. Instead of taking the easy out at first, both runners were safe. Mark Teixiera took the opportunity to bust a double to left, driving in both Jeter and Swish. Still no one out.

A-Rod worked one of his three walks of the evening then Robby Cano bounced into a force out which moved Teixeria over to third. Jorge Posada brought him home on a sac fly and provided Chien Ming Wang with some room to maneuver.

Wang kept the Mets off the board until the 4th inning. Gary Sheffield worked a lead off walk and was driven home by a Fernando Martinez double two batters later. Luis Castillo then drove home Martinez with a single to left before the inning was over.

Wang wasn't very sharp, but made it to the sixth inning having thrown a reasonable 80 pitches and allowing only the two runs in the fourth. Sheff reached base for the third time in as many at bats against Wang, this time via a single to lead off the inning. In a rather sad testament to the state of the Mets line up right now, their number five hitter Fernando Tatis laid down a sac bunt to advance Sheff to second base down by one run in the sixth inning. Joe Girardi then called on Phil Coke to face Fernando Martinez, ending Chien Ming Wang's night short of that elusive quality start, but in line for a victory nonetheless.

Coke struck out F-Mart at which point Jerry Manuel called on Omir Santos to pinch hit for Brian Schnieder. Joe Girardi countered by calling on Phil Hughes. These kinds of "strategic moves" make me happy that interleauge play is over. I hate pinch hitters and excessive calls to the bullpen predicated on match ups. Managers feel obligated to respond to the opposing manager's moves, lest they open themselves to being second guessed. I personally think that a pitcher striking out the batter before is a better predictor of success than which arm he uses to throw the ball. This season (and pretty much every other one), the platoon splits amount to just a few percent, an advantage that could easily be negated by having to bring in a new pitcher out of the bullpen.

Managers are under pressure to make the decision that is perceived to be rational, not necessarily the one that is rational. If they fail making the conventional decision, it's much more tolerable than if they go against the grain and unfortunately, the former typically happens to be a giant waste of everyone's time. Anyway, the move worked out as Hughes retired Santos and came back out to pitch a scoreless seventh inning.

When people talk about this game months and years down the line, which they certainly will, no one will mention that Brian Bruney's inability to throw strikes set the table for one of the most memorable milestone achievement games I can remember. In the process of getting two outs, Bruney issued walks to David Wright and Fernando Tatis. With men on first and second, Mariano Rivera was called on for a four out save. After an 8 pitch at bat which included four foul balls, Mo caught Santos looking on a strike that just tickled the inside corner.

The pitcher's spot was due up 6th in the inning, but unlike when Mo batted in Atlanta, it was obvious he would stay in when it was his time to hop into the on-deck circle. However, with Jeter facing K-Rod, Girardi sent up Francisco Cervelli to pretend as if he was going to hit for Rivera, which didn't fool anyone. After curiously dropping the first pitch to DJ for a strike, K-Rod threw four straight balls (two intentional) to create the rare match up of a closer facing a closer.

Standing in the box wearing Cody Ransom's batting helmet, Mo took the first two pitches for balls, causing a collective groan at Citi Field. The next pitches were fastballs called as strikes, as Rivera didn't flinch; his clear intention was to get on base the easy way, if possible. With the count level at 2-2, K-Rod dialed it up a bit and tossed a four-seamer down Broadway. Mo unleashed a vicious cut, fouling it back. Perhaps the hack got in K-Rod's head because he failed to deliver another strike and instead walked Rivera to force in a run. It was the first RBI of his career.

Then came the bottom of the ninth, when Mo did what Mo pretty much always does.

In fitting fashion, it was a four out save with two strikeouts and only one hit. Trevor Hoffman might have 71 more saves than Rivera, but he hasn't had an appearance which lasted longer than one inning since 2004 (and that wasn't a save). Fitting too that Mo's RBI came against K-Rod, one of the few active relievers with a chance to compile career statistics anywhere near Rivera's. Even more so when you consider that it came via a walk, a demon that K-Rod can't quite seem to tame and one that is all but a non-issue to Rivera.

Even when it appears to be beyond his control, the moments seem to find Mariano. During the inning, promos for Mo's Sunday Conversation on SportsCenter ran and there was preemptive talk about what it would mean for Rivera to convert his 500th save.

You can tell yourself to savor this moment. You can remind yourself that 500 saves makes 300 wins seem commonplace by comparison. You can try to let the fact that we are watching the greatest of all time do his thing on a semi-nightly basis, but there's no way to fully appreciate someone like Rivera when he's actually in motion. Full reflection requires observation at a distance, something which we all hope doesn't come for quite some time.

Congrats Mo, and many more.