Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sorry A-Rod, They Can't All Be Hotties

In and of it itself, the 58 minute rain delay was quite annoying, but this totally made up for it.

What did we learn guys?

Professional Athletes + High School Girls = Aaaaaaawwwwkwarrrrd

Game 76: Got Me Wrong

The Yanks square off against the Seattle Mariners tonight, one of two AL teams they've yet to see this year. Last year, the M's finished an AL worst 61-101. This year, it would appear that Seattle, with a new G.M. and new manager, has made improvements, as they currently sit at 39-36, 3.5 games out in the wide open AL West. Things aren't always as they seem.

Seattle is outplaying their pythagorean record by a whopping six games. They have a negative run differential, having scored a league low 291 runs, making them the only AL team to average under 4 per game. Amongst their regulars, they have just two batters - firstbaseman Russell Branyan (166) and rightfielder Ichiro (144) - who have an OPS+ over 100. Four of their regulars have an OPS+ below 80, with catcher Rob Johnson at 41. Outside of the 1906 "Hitless Wonders" Chicago White Sox, no team is contending with that sort of offense.

The M's saving grace has been their pitching. They lead the the AL in R/G (4.08), ERA (3.64), ERA+ (116), HR/9 (0.9), and H/9 (8.5), and place second in WHIP at 1.33. Ace "King" Felix Hernandez (166 ERA+) is amongst the top young pitchers in the game, and he's backed by a rejuvinated Jarrod Washburn (131 ERA+), a currently disabled Erik Bedard (172 ERA+), and the surprising former Met and Marlin, Jason Vargas (112 ERA+). The Seattle bullpen has also been stellar, with the second best ERA in the league at 3.16.

One pitcher who has not been part of the success of either corps is tonight's starter, Brandon Morrow. Much like his opponent tonight, Joba Chamberlain, Morrow's role has been the subject of much debate. Morrow worked exclusively in relief in his rookie season of 2007, and for the early part of 2008. He served as Seattle's closer through June and July last year, recording 10 saves in 12 opportunities. A shoulder injury put him on the shelf for most of August, and when he returned in September, he was placed in the rotation. He made five starts, the best being a victory over the Yanks on September 5th in which he tossed 7.1 innings of 1 run ball, fanning 8.

Morrow was ticketed for the rotation in spring training, but lingering arm strength issues stemming from last year's injury left him in the bullpen again. He quickly pitched his way out of the closer's role, walking nearly 7 per 9 and blowing back-to-back saves on May 13th and 14th. He was moved to the rotation on June 13th, and has been better in his new role, cutting his walks to 4.5 per 9 and posting an ERA of 4.50 as a starter. Tonight will be his fourth start, and his first without any pitch count restrictions.

For the Yankees, newly-acquired Eric Hinske may or may not make it to the park tonight. Pete Abe reports his plane is delayed in Pittsburgh. As such, no roster move announced yet, but if there is one you have to figure Ramiro Pena is on his way to Scranton. With interleague play now over, Hideki Matsui gets his first start since June 18th. Ice-cold doubleplay machine Robinson Cano stays in the five hole, while Nick Swisher, he of the fourth best OPS on the team, is relegated to eighth in the order. Brett Gardner grabs some pine despite outplaying Melky Cabrera over the past several weeks. Not good lineup construction if you ask me.

So who are the real Seattle Mariners? Contenders or pretenders? With the trade deadline now just thirty-one days away, they'll have to determine the answer to that question very soon. Some may say that given their division, they're contenders. But if you ask me or Seattle's most underappreciated band of the grunge era, those people got the M's wrong.

As of now I bet you've got me wrong.
So unsure you run from something strong.

Say Goodbye To The Kid

In 1989, a fledgling baseball card company card named Upper Deck issued its first set. In an unorthodox move for the time, the prestigious #1 card in the set was reserved for a 19 year old kid who had played all of 17 games above A ball. That card, shown above, would become an iconic baseball card at a time when the market was flooded with a multitude of brands and series. That company would become the premier card company amongst collectors, driving several competitors out of business. And that kid would become the iconic and premier baseball player of his generation.

Ken Griffey Jr. made his Major League debut on April 3, 1989. The Seattle Mariners were beginning their thirteenth season of Big League ball. The franchise had never won more the 78 games in a season, those coming in 1987, the same year they chose Junior Griffey with the first overall pick of the Amateur Draft. It would take the M's three years with Griffey to top that mark, but Griffey's arrival in 1989 was the first step to changing the organization's culture of losing.

Griffey's had his share of signature moments against the Yankees through the years. In his first series against the Yankees, Griffey went 3 for 11, hitting the fifth and sixth home runs of his young career. A week later, in his first trip to Yankee Stadium, Griffey went 5 for 12, blasting two home runs in the second game, the first multi-HR game of his career.

The next year, Griffey made what still may be his signature defensive highlight in a career that's been filled with them. Jesse Barfield blasted one deep to Death Valley, ticketed for the Yankee bullpen. Griffey sprinted towards the fence, leapt, and reached over the wall, hauling it in to end the inning before he sprinted in holding the ball aloft like a trophy. Video here.

Griffey beat on the Yankees throughout the first six years of his career, but in 1995 he took it to new levels. After breaking his wrist making yet another spectacular catch in late May, Griffey returned in mid-August. He hit just .265 in his first nine games back. When the Yankees came to town on August 24th, the M's were a game under .500, in third place in the AL West, and 11.5 games behind the Angels.

In the series opener, the Yanks were up 7-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth. The M's had tied the score with two outs, when Griffey came to the plate. He yanked the first pitch he saw from John Wetteland over the rightfield fence to give the Mariners the win. From that game on, they went 24-11, forcing a one game playoff against the Angels for the division. Seattle took it, setting up an ALDS match up with the Yankees. Griffey had only begun to inflict his damage upon them.

In Games 1 and 2, Griffey went 5 for 11. Hit 2 homers in Game 1, and added a third in Game 2, a go ahead shot in the 12th inning that would later be negated by a Ruben Sierra double and eventually a Jim Leyritz game winning homer. Griffey's exploits were somewhat negated by the two Yankee victories, but he wasn't done yet and neither were the M's.

As the Series moved to Seattle, Griffey stayed hot. After an ohfer in Game 3, he went 2 for 4 in Game 4, blasting his fourth HR of the Series. In the deciding fifth game he'd rip the Yankees' heart out. He went 2 for 5, with his fifth and final HR. His HR came in the eighth and pulled the Mariners within a run, They would tie it later in the inning. In the eleventh, Joey Cora led off with a single. Griffey singled him to third, leaving runners on the corners with no one out. Edgar Martinez then unleashed a double to left, Griffey sliding across the plate ahead of the throw and ending the Series. For the Series, Griffey hit .391/.444/1.093. He was a one man wrecking crew.

That series probably saved baseball in Seattle and pushed the vote to construct Safeco Field over the top. Shortly after Safeco opened in 1999, Griffey engineered his way out of the Great Northwest. I never particularly cared for Griffey. Much of it likely had to do with how badly he beat on the Yankees through my youth. Some of it has to do with how he pushed his way out of Seattle. Some of it has to do with how I thought he was a punk when he was younger, then a surly prick as he got older, capped by his dismissive, uninterested interview after winning the 1999 Home Run Derby.

But now, as Griffey is on what is both his welcome back and (likely) farewell tour of the American League, I can't help but feel bad for him. Griffey is amongst the greatest two or three ballplayers I've seen. While the events of the past few years have left no one above suspicion of PED usage, Griffey has to be as close as one can be to being above suspicion. As he tore apart the Yankees in that 1995 ALDS, it was very easy to imagine him rewriting the record books. Instead, inferior ballplayers and inferior human beings have attained the accolades for which Griffey once seemed destined. After leaving Seattle Griffey made into 140 games just three times in nine seasons, and three times failed to reach ninety games. Still, he reached the 600 HR milestone last season and is an assured first ballot Hall of Famer. Enjoy his visit to the Bronx this week; it'll likely be his last.

Yanks Acquire Hinske

Back in the 1950s, the Yankees and the Kansas City A's traded with each other on a weekly basis it seemed. Half a century later, the Pittsburgh Pirates are the trading partner of choice.

Following last year's six player deal that brought Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Bronx, this year saw the Bucs have Andy Phillips in spring training, claim Stephen Jackson off waivers, and trade for Eric Hacker.

Today came another deal between the two clubs. Multiple sources are reporting that the Bucs have sent Eric Hinske to the Yanks in exchange for minor leaguers Eric Fryer and Casey Erickson.

Hinske will provide depth for the Yankee bench. The 2002 AL Rookie of the Year can play the corner spots in both the infield and outfield. While not a major bat, Hinske can provide some pop off the bench when needed and may offer a more appetizing option at third base than Cody Ransom, which could lead to A-Rod receiving more frequent days off as planned. Hinske spent the last three seasons with the Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, so he knows the AL East well.

Hinske's acquisition likely means that Ramiro Pena will play AAA ball for the first time in his career. Pena did well for himself, particularly considering that he hadn't played above AA before. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him, and in the long run, he'll likely benefit from getting regular ABs at Scranton for now. Pena's demotion leaves Ransom as the backup SS, a position he has played extensively, if not spectacularly in both his minor and major league careers (career UZR/150 of -8.4).

Fryer was playing for High-A Tampa. He was acquired from Milwaukee this past offseason for Chase Wright. After a hot start, he's leveled off to .250/.333/.344. He's played predominantly in the OF, but can also catch.

Erickson was at Low-A Charleston and was 3-3 with 2.25 ERA in 3 starts and 18 relief apperances.

Checking In On AJax

Chad Jennings of the most excellent Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees blog has a story on and a Q&A with Austin Jackson.

The story leads in with a quote from Keith Law in an ESPN.com chat in response to a question about Slade Heathcott, that was rather unflattering towards Jackson:
"He'll sign," Law wrote. "Five-tool guy, chance to be the player that Austin Jackson ... well, that Jackson probably isn't going to be now."
Jennings went around to various members of the organization including teammates and coaches who of course were more than happy to sing Jackson's praises.

Funny that Law would pick this year, when Jackson is hitting .320/.385/.421 in International League play to give such a lukewarm forecast. The reasons for the sentiment behind Law's statement are that Jackson hasn't hit for power, he strikes out too much and his BABIP indicates he's gotten lucky with the placement of his hits.

True, Jackson is averaging more than a strikeout per game, and has only two home runs on the season. Sure, his BABIP is .433, but that isn't quite as high as it seems, since his career average is .366. Furthermore, the increase in strikeouts decreases the denominator in the BABIP equation and the absence of home runs not only inflates the numerator, but also means that his hardest hit balls are landing in play. So perhaps that number isn't as inflated as it seems.

His line drive rate is also quite high at 24% and perhaps some of those balls that are hit hard enough to be home runs are falling into the gaps for doubles. Jackson also has four triples and is 12 for 12 on stolen base attempts.

Jackson made the leap to triple A this year and responded by increasing each of his slash statistics to this point, even if the home runs aren't coming. That would be impressive, even if he weren't just 22 years old.

It seems the Yankees are going to be patient with Jackson and give him time to develop, or so says Joel Sherman:
Interestingly (to me at least), the Yanks are in no rush to bring Austin Jackson to the majors in 2009. They feel he needs the full season of Triple-A experience and might even need some more minor league seasoning next year.
Matt and I had a discussion about whether or not to bring Jackson up to the big leagues if Melky Cabrera needed to spend time on the DL after he ran into the wall in Texas. Matt though he should stay down in Scranton and it appears that is the Yankees' plan, at least for the time being. It's commendable that the Yanks are taking the patient approach, but I think a large part of it is due to the fact that he is essentially the same type of player as Brett Gardner. He's fast, can get on base but has hardly any power. There are clearly some parts of his game that still need to come together, and it seems like Jackson is well aware of that:
Q (Jennings): On the whole, we're about halfway through the year, how do you think it's gone so far?

A (Jackson): I'm happy with how it's been so far. I'm not satisfied. I still think there's always room for improvement and I feel like I could always be doing better.

I Don't Want To Speculate, But...

Tim Marchman, who's writing I truly enjoy, put up an... interesting post last night. Apparently there's another list of the supposed positive tests from 2003 floating around, and Tim, a respected mainstream journalist linked to it.

He goes out of his way to say that he's not "passing any judgment on whether the list is accurate or not" and adds parenthetically:
Maybe some time when I'm about to stick my head in an oven I'll cobble up a 2,000 word post on journalistic ethics and the 'it's out there' principle, but I think for now it's enough to say it's out there.
And by "out there", he means that it was proudly displayed on RotoInfo.com. Not exactly on Deadspin, you know?

I didn't go to journalism school, and I know it's just his blog, but when you link to something, you are giving it a new audience. And when you say things like...
A thorough but not comprehensive spot check reveals that these players all seem to have been in the majors in 2003, for instance, and if it's fake someone did some real work on it. I note, as an example, that in one of the multiple similar but not identical versions floating around one player is listed twice, in among two different teams he played for that year. That's detail. (Or really shoddy work, of course!) This also is not the fake list that got out the morning the Mitchell report was released, by the way—that's here and is entirely different.
...it sounds like you are trying to give it some credibility.

Marchman also wonders aloud:
Should this list or something reasonably close prove real—and there are some names on it that would genuinely shock and even disappoint me, which is saying something—it would be a good thing for baseball.
He spends the rest of the post, dare I say, speculating what it would mean for baseball if this list turned out to be accurate.

Here's what Marchman said about the whole Jerrod Morris/Raul Ibanez/John Gonzalez/Ken Rosenthal fiasco when it came up:
I should really add that as far as I can tell, 99.9999% of the time when you see professional journos talking about 'controversy' that's arisen because some random guy no one reads has said something, it's a backdoor way of bringing up something they don't think they're allowed to bring up but think is worth talking about.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this doesn't fall into the other .0001%.