Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Game 120: San Francisco Bay Blues

Back on July 23rd, Vin Mazzaro, a product of Rutherford High in New Jersey came to Yankee Stadium and faced off against CC Sabathia in front of a large gathering of friends and family after a 2:43 rain delay. Tonight, the tables will be turned as Sabathia, originally from Vallejo, California will take the mound at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in front of his own supporters.

Sabathia hasn't had much luck pitching against the team he rooted for as a kid in his hometown. He's made 8 career starts in Oakland, walking away with a 1-4 record and a 7.12 ERA, which is odd considering it's one of the better pitchers' parks in the Major Leagues and he's one of the better pitchers. It doesn't seem to be hometown jitters because across the Bay at AT&T Park, he's put together two great starts against the Giants, giving up just 3 runs in 17 innings.

In the last iteration of this match up, Mazzaro started off strong, holding the Yanks scoreless through three, while Sabathia stumbled out of the gate and gave up three runs in his first four innings. The tables turned, however, and the Bombers touched up Mazzaro for 6 runs before sending him to the showers with one out in the fifth inning. Sabathia lasted seven, didn't walk a batter and picked up the win.

Since then, Mazzaro has had a rough go of it, giving up 19 runs in his last 21 1/3 innings but still managing to go 2-1. Sabathia, meanwhile, has allowed 13 runs in 28 1/3 IP (4.12 ERA). Over his last two starts, though, he's been dominant, allowing just one run and 5 hits over 15 2/3 IP while striking out 19 and walking just 4.

After dropping the series opener against the A's last night, the Yankees look towards their ace to avoid a three game slide. The Yanks have had six separate losing streaks of three games or more this season, accounting for nearly half of their 45 losses. They've also had 11 streaks of 3 or more wins, which sum to represent 55 of their 74 victories.

The Yanks have looked pretty poor in their last two outings, mustering only 3 runs in games started by Doug Fister and Brett Tomko. Hopefully both they and CC Sabathia can shed their respective versions of the blues and chalk up a win tonight in the Bay Area. The game doesn't start for another 5 hours, so try to keep your spirits up as well.

[I'll check back in if there are any interesting pre-game developments or line up configurations]

If I ever get her back to stay,
It's going to be another brand new day,
Walking with my baby down by the San Francisco Bay.


I hope you folks don't mind a little self-congratulatory navel-gazing, but I wanted to take a quick moment to acknowledge the fact that the post on Johnny Damon that went up earlier today was the 1,000th to appear on this site.

The very first post came back in the beginning of last October when for some reason, I decided to reserve this domain name and write down a half baked argument for rooting for Red Sox over the Rays in the upcoming ALCS. I didn't bother telling anyone about the site, or writing anything else until over two and a half months later. On Christmas Day, on the heels of the acquisition of Mark Teixeira, I had some more thoughts ruminating and kicked up a 1,000 word post on the implications of the signing.

I followed that with an email entitled "The Fack Youk Manifesto" to a couple of my friends that said, in part:
I realize that there is like an 85% chance that this never really goes anywhere, then dies a slow death from neglect, but there's that 15% that we can carve out this little space for our thoughts, all contribute and make it interesting/entertaining enough for some other people to check it out. I talk enough sports with you guys and hear interesting stuff worthy of a blog post and it makes me think that we could put that stuff to use and concentrate it here.
It's taken a ridiculous amount of time and commitment to keep a steady stream of content flowing into the site, but I'm quite proud that we've established a readership and have a little niche that people seem to enjoy stopping by. We're getting close to 80,000 unique visitors since we started using Google Analytics and even if there is some double counting going on, that still seems like a lot.

Thanks specifically to people like Jason at IIATM,S, Joe at River Ave. Blues, Ross at New Stadium Insider, Craig at Shysterball, Peter Abraham, Tim at The Sports Hernia in addition to Deadspin, With Leather, Big League Stew, Awful Announcing, The Big Lead, BBTF, Jorge Says No!, and countless others who have linked to the site over the past 8 months. Without links from other blogs, it's basically impossible to develop a readership, so the recommendations are much appreciated.

Anyway, if you are new to the site, here are some of Fack Youk's greatest hits from days and months gone by in case you missed them:
Hopefully these 1,001 posts are only the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned.

Damon Stayin'?

To be honest, I hated the fact that the Yankees signed Johnny Damon when it first happened. It didn't have much to do with the fact that he was 32 years old and was already declining pretty steeply as a defensive center fielder. It wasn't just that the Yanks passed on Carlos Beltran the year before, who, with respect to the five tools, was better than Damon in every way. I couldn't wrap my head around being forced to root for a play that I had spent so much time deeply despising.

There was his impossibly weak throwing arm that make me wonder if he was actually right handed but never figured it out. It was so easy to hate his faux-Jesusy look, the "Idiots" and "Cowboy Up" bullshit and the goofy speech impediment he used to talk about it all. Above all, the grand slam he hit off Javier Vasquez in the 2004 ALCS was far too painful for me to acknowledge the possibility of ever actively rooting for him at the time.

I certainly never thought I would be in favor of the Yankees offering him another contract at the end of this year. However, nearly four years later, Damon has been one of the most durable players on the Yankees and has continued to pull his weight offensively, even after being shifted to left field.

Tyler Kepner talked to Damon yesterday and Johnny had this to say about his impending free agency:
I don’t know where else I would want to go to. Obviously, that’s not the right thing to say when you’re about ready to approach free agency, but I’m very happy with playing in New York, and my family’s happy I play for New York. There’s no bigger place to go. If you play well here, you’re going to get paid. New York has the resources.
It's important to note that Scott Boras is still his agent and if Damon is anything like the other capitalist robots manufactured by the Boras Corporation, you can take that quote with a grain of salt. In fact, if Damon is anything like the 2005 version of himself, we probably shouldn't put too much stock in his stated intentions, either (h/t NoMaas):
There's no way I can go play for the Yankees, but I know they are going to come after me hard. It's definitely not the most important thing to go out there for the top dollar, which the Yankees are going to offer me. It's not what I need.
As with any contractual negotiation, I'd be in favor of bringing back Damon at the right price. UZR doesn't think too highly of his defense this year, but I'm not ready to relegate Damon solely to DH status. Just last year his UZR/150 was 11.6 and this year it's -9.6. Has he really fallen of that sharply? Even with his below average defensive, Johnny has been so good with the bat that he projects to be worth $14.8M over the course of the season, comfortably more than the $13M he's making.

Damon's already knocked 22 homers this year, just two off his career high. True, 15 of those have come at home and every one has been to right field, but that's not an inherently bad thing. If the Yanks sign him again next year he'll be playing half of his games in the same park.

With Hideki Matsui likely moving on after this season, the Yanks won't have someone plugging up the DH slot who can't play another position. The Yanks have stated that they want to keep that position open to be able to rest other position players, which keeps the line up flexible, but Damon is still a somewhat competent left fielder, even if he doesn't rebound next year. His bat more than makes up for his defensive short-comings.

From his comments in Kepner's story, it's safe to say that Damon will be looking for at least 2 years. Should the Yanks bring him back for 2 years/$20M? Would that be enough? Who is going to give him more than that? Given the way the New Stadium plays, it seems that he would be worth more to the Yanks than anyone else. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Cash & Co. cut ties with Damon, but if they keep him around, I wouldn't be surprised to see him lift another twenty-something homers over the short porch in right field next year, either.

World Boogie Is Coming

"If you've got Dickinson, you don't need anyone else"
- Bob Dylan to Harp Magazine, May 2003
This will have nothing to do with the Yankees and little to do with anything previously posted at Fack Youk, but given our musical leanings here, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it. Last week I mentioned how August seems to be a terrible month for deaths, both in baseball and music. Just hours before that post published, Les Paul went to the great beyond. Now, there is another loss to mourn.

Last night, as I was finishing cooking dinner, I logged onto to my favorite music website, jambands.com. It was only then that I learned that Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson passed away Saturday, at the age of 67, following triple bypass surgery.

Even if you're a music buff like Jay or me, you may never have heard of Jim Dickinson, but chances are you've heard Jim Dickinson. The man's music career has spanned the past forty-plus years and has associated him with some of the biggest names in music history.

As a sideman, Dickinson recorded with the likes of Arethra Franklin, Sam & Dave, Ry Cooder, Delaney and Bonnie, Arlo Guthrie, Mavis Staples, and Duane Allman. His Dixie Flyers were the house band during the heyday of Criteria Studios in Miami, where he worked with legenedary producer Tom Dowd.

Dickinson later recorded and toured with the Rolling Stones. He provides the piano on the recording of "Wild Horses". In the Stones documentary Gimme Shelter, Dickinson can be seen lounging next to Keith Richards as the band listens to the playback of the freshly cut track. More than twenty five years later, Dickinson would record with Bob Dylan on his critically acclaimed comeback album, Time Out of Mind.

In the early 1970s, Dickinson returned to the Memphis area, where he'd spent most of his youth. From then until the end of his days, he was at the forefront of the Memphis music scene, the city from which Sam Phillips and his Million Dollar Quartet brought rock and roll to the rest of the nation. He was instrumental in the rediscovery of blues acts such as Furry Lewis, Bukka White*, and Sleepy John Estes, often playing in their backing bands.

*White once played in the Negro Leagues, gifted his cousin B.B. King with the first guitar B.B. ever owned, and was an innovator of the National Steel guitar. One of his steel guitars is currently owned by blog favorite Derek Trucks.

Upon his return to the Memphis area, Dickinson also began a solo career, releasing the critically acclaimed Dixie Fried in 1972 (featuring Dr. John and Eric Clapton). After a 30 year hiatus, he jump started his solo career in 2002, releasing four more albums prior to his passing. During his recording hiatus, Dickinson continued to perform, assembling the legendary Memphis band Mudboy and the Neutrons.

For more than thirty years Dickinson has also enjoyed a wildly successful second career as a producer. He guided the recordings of artists such as Big Star, Toots Hibbert, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, The Replacements, Albert King, The Radiators, and John Hiatt.

In the mid 1970s, Dickinson moved slighly south of Memphis, to the hill country of north Mississippi. There, he established his Zebra Ranch Studios, and along with his wife Mary, raised their sons Luther and Cody. Growing up in that household, and in that region of the country, the Dickinson boys were exposed to a wealth of musical greatness, and were soon taken with the famed blues musicians of the hill country: Otha Turner, R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough. In 1996 the brothers Dickinson and childhood friend Chris Chew formed the North Mississippi Allstars, my favorite band, whose song "The Meeting" I used for our game preview just last Wednesday. The lyric I quoted at the bottom, "If you ain't right you better get right" was an old phrase Jim was fond of using. As father, mentor, and producer, Jim was a guiding force for NMA.

While Jim Dickinson is now gone, his legacy, in the recorded music he left behind as a performer and a producer and in the music that will continue to be created by his progeny, will last. Another phrase Jim was fond of was "World Boogie is coming". Indeed it is, and when it does, Jim Dickinson will be largely to thank for it. Rest in peace Jim.

Hey Joe

Good morning Fackers. Well, at least as good of a morning as you can have after losing to Brett Tomko. Hey Joe: see if you can't wake the bats up for tonight's game.

Forty years ago, on the morning of August 18, 1969, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair finally came to an end. Traffic and weather delays had caused the festival to run long over schedule. The sun had already come up on Monday morning when Jimi Hendrix, who had wanted to be the event's final act, finally took the stage with his newly formed and short-lived Gypsy Sun and Rainbows.

The crowd had dwindled to less than half of its peak size, but those who remained were treated to one of the most historic performances in rock and roll history. Hendrix launched one of the longest sets of his career. The band was somewhat unpolished due to their short time together, forcing Hendrix to play the virtuoso moreso than usual. He didn't disapoint, drawing an appropriately impressive and memorable conclusion to the historic event.

Twice previously we've featured Hendrix performances from Woodstock, including once already this weekend. But as we conclude Woodstock Weekend at Fack Youk, it's only appropriate that we do so with the artist and the performance that closed the festival. Enjoy. We'll be back with far less pleasant music news shortly.

Quick But Not Painless

After Sunday afternoon's game, Matt chose to eat a little crow for what he wrote in the preview, and tonight it's my turn. I spent my post making fun of Brett Tomko for whining about he lack of opportunities with the Yankees this season and for tonight at least, he had the last laugh.

Tomko threw just 78 pitches in his start because he wasn't fully stretched out, but used them efficiently and pitched to contact over his 5 innings of work. He struck out one and walked one, getting the other 13 outs with the help of his defense; five on the ground and nine in the air.

The most influential play, by more than 10% in WPA, came in the third inning when Tomko faced his only real jam of the game. Ramiro Pena and Derek Jeter led of the inning with back to back singles, Johnny Damon flew out to right and Mark Teixeira loaded the bases with a walk. With only one out, A-Rod came to the plate in an extremely favorable RBI situation but instead grounded into an inning-end 1-2-3 double play. A-Rod let Tomko off the hook and the Yankees never got another man to third base.

A.J. Burnett took a complete game loss, his first CG of the year and the Yankees' second after CC Sabathia's outing in Detroit back in April. All of the damage the A's did came in the bottom of the fourth inning. Rajai Davis doubled, stole third and was singled home by Kurt Suzuki to break the scoreless tie. Jerry Hairston, Jr.'s brother Scott followed that with another single and those two were moved over by a groundout courtesy of Mike Sweeney. With two outs, Burnett started his delivery home but stopped in the middle of his delivery and held onto the ball. The runners advanced and Mark Ellis doubled into the gap to make it 3-0 A's.

Aside from the 4th inning, Burnett was one of he lone bright spots in a frustrating game for the Yanks. Over his 8 innings, he gave up six hits and two walks while striking out 5. It only took him 99 pitches and combined with the Yanks absence at the plate allowed the game to wrap up in a tidy 2:15. Jeter went 3-4 and Posada picked up a hit on his birthday.

There isn't a whole lot more to say about this one. A solid pitching performance was wasted by a non-existent offense one. The Yanks have been rolling along so well that it's easy to forget that a lot of the time, things don't go according to plan. The Yanks were supposed to beat up on Brett Tomko, but instead he made people momentarily forget that he's 36 years old and has had one year since 1997 in which he was above league average. Congrats, buddy. Go paint a fucking picture about it.