Monday, September 21, 2009

Game 151: Thorn In My Pride

Andy Pettitte returns to the mound tonight, having been skipped due to shoulder fatigue following his start 10 days ago. Pettitte has thrown two bullpens since then, reportedly pain free. He does seem to have some lingering concern that the shoulder could cause an early exit for him tonight, as the comments he made to the media following his Friday bullpen session seemed to vary by writer. Thankfully, Sergio Mitre took one for the team and did an excellent job in five innings relief of Joba Chamberlain yesterday, leaving the Yankees with their full bullpen to back Pettitte tonight.

Pettitte is a pitcher with a lot of pride, and as we've examined earlier this year he's also a pitcher with an incentive laden contract that rewards him with each start he makes. Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman reported last week that Pettitte begged the Yankees to let him pitch through his shoulder issues. Given the source, I'm not sure if that's true or not. Pettitte's been around long enough to know that the post-season is what matters, and that given some of the other issues in the Yankee rotation right now, a lot is riding on his left shoulder.

In two starts against the Angels this year, Pettitte has been pretty bad, allowing 11 ER and 22 baserunners in 10 innings of work. His last start against them came in the disastrous pre-All-Star break series, after which both Pettitte and the Yankees as a whole went on a very impressive run.

Joe Saunders will go for the Halos. The lefty is 13-7 with a 4.75 ERA and 1.46 WHIP on the year. He's also allowed 27 longballs, tied for second most in the AL. He faced the Yankees once this year, in the July series, and allowed 11 baserunners and surrendered 5 ER in 5 innings of work. He did not factor into the decision. That start included, Saunders is carrying a 5.31 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, and .864 OPS against in his last 11 starts, yet he's 5-2 and the Angels 7-4 in those games.

As Jay touched on earlier today and Ben Kabak at River Ave. Blues also pointed out, much will be made these next three days of the Yankees' struggles against the Angels. With home field still up for grabs, the media will place emphasis upon these games that will likely go beyond their actual importance. Nevertheless, the numbers aren't pretty. The Yankees are 13-23 against the Angels over the last four seasons, and are 4-14 at The Big A. The Angels, particularly in their home whites, have been a big thorn in the Yankees' side for a number of years now. Nothing that happens these next three days will be life or death, but it would sure be nice for the Yankees to erase the memory of that awful July series and take steps towards ensuring that a potential ALCS match-up will have no more than three games played in Orange County.

Does it make you want to scream?
Did you ever like a bad dream?
Sometimes life is obscene.

My angels, my devils, my thorn in my pride

Pitching From The Pyrenees

This one isn't Yankee-related just yet, but it's pretty interesting nonetheless.

Cuban prospect Aroldis Champan has taken one step along the road to becoming a Major Leaguer. The 21 year old flame-throwing lefty defected from the Cuban National Team in the Netherlands back on July 1st and has now established residency in the principality of Andorra:
“Andorra is a beautiful country and has provided an ideal setting for me to prepare myself for professional baseball without distractions,” Chapman said in a statement. “I look forward to becoming a proud advocate for my adopted country.”
As you can see in the picture to the right, Andorra is a beautiful country, indeed. Nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, it's fairly temperate but due to it's higher elevation, it receives more snow and is slightly chillier than the countries it borders. At 181 square miles, it's roughly the size of seven CC Sabathia jerseys sewn together.

The country was formed in 1278, and is the last remaining sovereignty created by King Charlemagne of France to keep the Islamic Moors of Spain from entering his country. With such beauty and history, how could Chapman not move there?

Oh, minor detail: Andorra has no income tax, so the massive signing bonus he figures to get from an MLB team will be his to keep.

The bonus has been universally assumed to be higher than $32M given to Jose Contreras by the Yanks. It would seem to be a virtual lock because that was 7 years ago, Chapman is 10 years younger than Contreras was, and he's a left hander who has been clocked at over 100MPH. Even if he was 26, like some sources have suggested, he still represents significantly more upside than El Titan de Bronze.

Chapman hasn't been especially successful in either Cuban or International play, but his age and skills are obviously quite tantalizing. Keith Law even suggested that the Cuban team was forcing him to pitch mostly fastballs to limit his appeal to MLB clubs. Here is some more analysis from FanGraphs.

Is anyone intrigued by this guy? There is a lot of risk and uncertainty but also a lot of undeniable talent and potential. I think it's safe to say that neither Kei Igawa nor Contreras gave the Yanks anywhere the value they were looking for, but the $6.6M they signed El Duque for is certainly a different story. The problem is Chapman might cost 10 times that much.

The prospect of a young lefty with that kind of heat is captivating, and all 30 teams are said to have some level of interest, but I would be reticent to commit that kind of money to an international signing. Dice-K has been hot and cold for the Red Sox, at times looking like he was a good deal and at others like a total bust. There is a huge chance that Chapman ends up not living up to the contract and a relatively small one that he exceeds the value given. I say let someone else take the risk.

(Sidenote: What is stopping U.S. prospects (i.e. Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper) from taking up residence in a country tax shelter such as Andorra or the Cayman Islands and avoiding the draft as well? I love America as much as the next guy, but for the difference between what the top tier guys get for signing bonuses and what they would get on the open market, I think I could officially reside somewhere else.)

Calm Before The Storm

The next two series for the Yankees, separated by yet another off day Thursday, should serve as a nice tune up for the postseason and will represent the last meaningful games before the playoffs begin. During this six game stretch, the Yanks will certainly clinch a playoff berth but can go a long way towards securing the division and home field advantage as well.

The Yanks would have to falter badly while one of the other teams gets extremely hot to lose HFA or the AL East. If the Yanks go 5-7 over their final 12, the Red Sox would have to go 11-3 just to tie them and the Angels 11-2. Keep in mind that the Yanks have 3 games against the Royals and 3 against the Rays mixed in there as well.

So even though the Yanks just went 3-5 against the Orioles, Blue Jays and Mariners, and Pettitte is hurt and Joba sucks and Mo blew a save and Ian Snell just shut down the offense... let's try not to hit the panic button.

Expect both the series in Anaheim as well as the one in the Bronx against the Red Sox to extrapolated to predict the Yankees' success or failure in the postseason. There will be much talk about "playoff atmosphere" and possibly "must-win" games. Plenty will be said about the Yanks ability to get it done in the clutch and judgments will be made about whether or not they can get it done under pressure.

In reality, the outcome of these games has hardly any predictive value in looking towards the playoffs. Did the 8 consecutive games that the Red Sox won against the Yankees to begin the season do a very good job of predicting the Yankees sweep of them in early August? Then why would they dynamic change when the playoffs roll around? Answer: It doesn't, it's just a function of the media attempting to take the temperature of the team after every game in order to foreshadow what's going to happen when the games really matter.

Right now, teams are playing with house money and expanded rosters and as we know all too well, anything can happen in October. So whatever happens over the next six games, let's try to keep things in perspective.

Joba And The Media

Much has been said about Joba Chamberlain's reaction to his start yesterday. It's a rare occasion when the tabloids pass up a good opportunity for fear mongering about the Yanks 5.0 game (gasp!) lead to point out just how delusional Joba has been in regards to poor performance. This is nothing new. Back in early July we compared his comments to Ian Kennedy's shortly before he was demoted in August of 2008.

However, the difference now is that Kennedy's was a one-off incident and Joba has made these types of comments over and over again, every time he's grilled about his poor starts.

If you listen to the audio that PeteAbe provided, Joba first starts off by acknowledging that other people are going to be disappointed with him start, "I let my teammates down, you know, pretty much embarrassed them with what I did. You know, not being able to pick my teammates up and get out of here with the series win. That's the frustrating part." But then immediately says, about his stuff "You know, it was all working, surprisingly" and claims that if you take away one or two pitches, it's one or two runs.

With each question, you can hear the incredulous tone in the reporter's voices starting to sharpen. "When you say it was all working, but you give up 7 runs, how does that work in your mind?" Kim Jones said. PeteAbe then asked, "Joba, you said you want to take a positive out of everything. What positive can you take out of today?"

Like we've acknowledged before, there isn't a perfect correlation between throwing the ball well and having good outcomes on the mound. The batter, luck, the defense and the home plate ump all have a lot to do with it. That said, Joba's inability to take responsibility for his poor performances makes him seem even younger than 23. Like 12.

Joba treats the media like prying parents, demanding contrition for the mistakes he's made. He admits that he let his teammates, who are his peer group, down but sees the media as the authority figure in this case, the one who wants him to be accountable for what happens.

Is this a media story or a baseball story, though? Are we saying that Joba's refusal to face his failures head on makes him a poorer pitcher? Is it necessary that he admits his mistakes in order to pitcher better? Perhaps the fact that he doesn't let his bad starts bring him down is actually an asset. Maybe the fact that he's getting smeared in the papers is more of a personal vendetta against him by the writers whose questions he won't answer directly.

Along with the media, the fans also want their pound of flesh. They've been embarrassed too, and when they see or hear or read comments from the pitcher who just ruined their chance to watch their team win, it's not very endearing to hear him compliment the other team's batters and say how great his stuff was. The media is the conduit to the fans and some of the blame has to go to the organization for not conveying this dynamic to him better.

Let's just hope Joba pitches better against the Red Sox at home the next time out. He's much less delusional when he doesn't suck.

Number Crunching

Good morning Fackers. In case you missed it in Saturday night's late innings or in Peter Abraham's Friday game post, Brian Bruney, who had switched from #33 to #38 when Nick Swisher arrived, switched from #38 to #99. It led to this text message exchange between my buddy Gripp and me:
Gripp: Bruney switched to 99? Who does he think he is, Rick Vaughn?

Me: Vaughn has better control

Gripp: Maybe Bruney needs glasses

Me: Maybe he needs to bang Kate Hudson
With Bruney switching to 99, he joins Alfredo Aceves as current Yankees with numbers in the nineties. They are two of only three people in all of Yankee history to wear a number in the nineties. The third is Charlie "King Kong" Keller.

Keller is a forgotten star of the 1940s Yankees. While he was a perpetual second banana to Joe DiMaggio, from his rookie campaign of 1939 through 1947, Keller never posted an OPS+ lower than 141, and led the AL with a 168 mark in 1943.

Age and a bad back began to sap Keller's skill in the late forties. He played just one complete season after returning from World War II, and was released by the Yankees after the 1949 season. Keller spent the next two seasons as a useful pinch hitting specialist with the Tigers, until they released him after the 1951 season. Keller returned to the Yankees in September 1952, but by then his former number 9 had been claimed by Hank Bauer, prompting Keller to switch to 99.

The Yankees currently have 37 players on their active roster. They have two more on the 60 day DL. They have a seven man coaching staff. They have fifteen retired numbers. Joe Torre's #6, Paul O'Neill's #21, and Bernie Williams and #51 are unofficially out of circulation, and Mike Mussina's #35 hasn't been issued in the first year after his retirement. Numbers are getting tough to come by.

In the next several years we'll assuredly see #2 and #42 come off the board, probably #13 as well, and there's a good chance we could see #20 and #46 disappear too. High numbers are fairly uncommon in baseball. To date, the tradition rich Yankees have had only six players wear numbers in the seventies or above, three this year and all but Keller within in the last ten years. In the future though, that will probably be far more common out of necessity. We may end up seeing triple digit numbers in spring training one of these years.

Check out Cliff from Bronx Banter's Yankees by the Numbers post where he explains the origin of uniform numbers in baseball and lists the greatest Yankee to ever to wear each integer. is also a great resource if you need to look up anything related to the subject.