Thursday, October 8, 2009

Closing Out The Day With Some Odds & Ends

The longer ALDS might be good for the team but it kind of sucks for the fans. At least we've got a victory to sit on. Off days are still tough, but enjoy that there are some other games to watch now, because they will the thinning out as the postseason wears on.
- A quick Yankee item first. Joel Sherman reports that the Yanks are leaning towards start Chad Gaudin for Game 4 of the ALDS, should that situation arise, knock on wood and all that. The Yanks are beginning to view Joba as an asset out of the bullpen and were 6-0 in Gaudin's starts while he put together a 3.19 ERA. Not much of a surprise - we've been advocating this move for a while now. The not-so-Ragin' Cajun will obviously be on a short leash and backed by Alfredo Aceves should things go awry. Joba seems to like being back in the bullpen anyway.

- The Phillies lost today, as Cole Hamels gave up 4 runs in 5 innings and then left the Stadium because he wife went into labor. Trailing 4-0 at that point, the Phils fought back to 5-4 and had the tying run on second base in the form of pinch runner Cliff Lee in the 9th inning. They came up short, however and will be heading back to Colorado with the series tied at one.

- Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright are currently tangled up in a pitchers duel out at Chavez Ravine. Matt Holliday clubbed a solo homer in the second and Andre Ethier answered with one of his own in the fourth. Albert Puljos also picked up his third intentional walk of the series already and just reached base for the first time otherwise on a single. [Update 9:20: The Dodgers just pulled off the win 3-2 after trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs and no one on. Matt Holliday dropped a fly ball that would have been the last out and cost himself about $10M on the free agent market in the process. Kidding. Sort of. Now the Cardinals head back to St. Louis down 2-0. Can't wait to hear what Leitch has to say about this.]

- Also out in L.A. starting around 9:30, the Red Sox and Angels will be the last teams to begin their postseason series. FanGraphs has a quick scouting report on Jon Lester, and wonders why Jeff Mathis is getting any playing time. Jonah Keri thinks it's because Mike Scioscia (like Joe Girardi with Jose Molina) is overvaluing a back up catcher since he used to be one. MGL over at The Book doesn't think switching Molina for Posada is likely to make much of a difference anyhow.
Back to the Yanks...
- Rick Chandler wonders if the Twins partied a little too hard after their win on Tuesday night. Rob Neyer doesn't see how it could have gone down any other way.

- Neyer also looks back at the trade for Johan Santana that never was.

- Some commentary about the broadcast on TBS, including the obligatory shots at Chip Caray.
See ya tomorrow.

Our Skewed View

Here is a great breakdown by Slate of how and why our perceptions of pitching are skewed by the positioning of the cameras which capture most of the action (h/t Tommy Bennett).

TBS only operates with the off-center views that are responsible for the deceiving angles, but Fox says they will have some dead center cameras for later rounds. The one question I have after is watching this is whether the dead center angle is deceptive in regards to pitch height. And my first inclination would be "yes", but it's probably still far better than not being able to define the sides of the plate from your couch.

Enough With The Mauer Speculation, Already

That's what Mike Vaccarro is saying, except, since he works for the Post, he's speculating anyway.
Hell, the Yankees have never been shy about raiding their foes. They took Tommy John away from the Dodgers, took Luis Tiant and Johnny Damon and Wade Boggs away from the Red Sox, took Jason Giambi away from the A's after he nearly wrecked them by himself a couple of times in the playoffs. Until they announce they're out with Mauer, they always will be in, and that's an awfully enticing thought.
Are people really "yearning" for Joe Mauer as Vaccarro also says in the article? Giving out another $200M contract or whatever it's going to take to sign Joe Mauer isn't enticing to me at all. The guy is an incredibly great player - a catcher with 3 batting titles, who's just starting to hit for power - but can we keep it in our pants for once?

The Yanks are in the middle of a postseason run and people are speculating about who they are going to sign two fucking years from now? There will be plenty of cold winter months to dream about Joe Mauer or Felix Hernandez or a bunch of other ridiculously expensive marquee players that the Yanks have been developing their farm system specifically to avoid signing.

That's why the Yanks have spent top 10 picks on catchers like John Murphy, Kyle Higashioka, Austin Romine and Chase Weems (although they traded Weems for Jerry Hairston, Jr.) and signed Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez and high upside arms Andrew Brackman, Gerrit Cole, Phil Hughes, Joba, Dellin Betances and Brett Marshall. The Yanks can spend big money on free agents, but would much rather not have to.

Sorry Mike, smart Yanks fans know we got our presents this year. They were the contracts given to Sabathia, Teixeira, Burnett and less recently, A-Rod. Derek Jeter's gonna need a new one after next year. Cano is due to make $14 and $15M in 2012 and 2013, respectively and the organization is going to want to cut payroll if at all possible. We can think about the future during the offseason, right now, we're just enjoying the moment.

I Guess That Scout Was Right...

From the Post a while back (h/t Sports Hernia):
Another talent evaluator believes Chamberlain’s persona changed for the worse when he was converted from reliever to starter and it still affects his mechanics.

He is a grunt-and-fart guy, he’s Joba,” the scout said. “As soon as he tries to pitch, he moves around and loses his delivery.”
Seems like a pretty apt description of his demeanor in that picture right there, doesn't it?

In related news, can someone please try to locate the bird that shit on Joba's hat?

Seriously, all toilet humor aside, what was on that thing? That's not where sweat stains go. It looked okay against the Red Sox, a little bit worse and in his start against the Royals, and a little more noticeable in Tampa Bay.

Joba, that thing isn't bringing you any luck. If George Steinbrenner knew who you were, you'd be on his shitlist, big time. These are the playoffs, kid, trade it in for a freshie.

TBS PitchTRAX: Informative or Infuriating?

Those of you watching the game in HD last night were exposed to a new feature on the TBS broadcast. On the right hand side of the screen, for the view in from center field only, the displayed a sort of pitch tracker like you see on ESPN and FOX, except it was on the screen at all times.

As the pitches come in, they show up as little numbered balls corresponding to the location they are thrown. It's the type of thing I hate in principle - a flashy graphic imposed on us by a network that doesn't really know much about broadcasting baseball - but I don't totally despise it (yet, anyway). Anything that makes you pay less attention to Chip Caray, you know?

The one thing I wonder about is whether this is computerized like MLB Gameday and PitchFX or they have someone on the production team manually assigning locations. If it's the latter, then we might as well be judging balls and strikes from the couch, but if it's the former, I can see some utility in it. Regardless of the accuracy, it does show you the approach being taken by the pitcher and displays it a lot more clearly that your mental record could.

Aesthetically, it looks kind of terrible, even though the portion of the screen that it's blocking is never really going to show anything, save for a flash of a grounder to third. It's certainly no yellow first down line in terms of value add, but it does give you some interesting context. For instance, when Phil Hughes faced Orlando Cabrera, you could see that every pitch he threw was either high or outside, nothing close to down or in:

It tells you that A) Cabrera is a low/inside, pull type of hitter and B) Hughes was consistently hitting his spots. I watch the games pretty closely but I've gotta admit that some of the pitch sequencing gets lost to me.

I wouldn't want to see this on every YES game, but for the postseason, I guess I don't really mind it. Ideally you'd like to be able to turn it and off via remote, but we're obviously a little ways down the road from that kind of functionality. I'm trying to look at the bright side here, but I'm sure there are a bunch of you who are going to vehemently hate it. I'd be willing the bet the umps do.

Haters? Appreciators? Agnostics?

Getting A Couple Monkeys Off Of A Couple Backs

Good morning, Fackers. Last night's was obviously a pretty big win, but mostly because a loss would have been so devastating. Being that it's a short series and Games 3 & 4 are going to be played in the Metrodome, where the Twins were 49-33 this year, it's good to get the first one under our collective belt. The old dome in Minneapolis is going to be supercharged for the inevitable Game 3 and possible 4 given that they could be the last baseball contests ever staged there and they'll be packing them to the rafters and handing out hankies.

Last night was also huge for both CC and A-Rod. I was a little concerned after the egg he laid in Tampa Bay looking for win number 20, but Sabathia stepped up last night, getting some big outs, striking out 8 and allowing hardly any solid contact. He needed 113 pitches to get through 6 2/3, but he kept the Twins offense, which been so hot of late, at bay under very tough conditions.

A-Rod's not one but two hits with runners in scoring position broke a massive postseason drought spanning all the way back to Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS. He was hitting .143/.314/.214 with 1 RBI and two extra base hits in 70 plate appearances. In that span left 38 runners on base and was 0 for 27 with RISP. We don't give a whole lot of credence to the concept of clutch hitting around here, but it's undeniable that A-Rod wasn't just falling victim to bad luck.

If those 70 at bats had occurred in a row, there's no chance that his numbers would have been that bad. He would have kept swinging and worked out of it. But they spanned years and happened in small doses since the Yanks hadn't played in more than 5 postseason games in any season since then. The pressure began to build and he began to press, striking out in almost 1/3 of his at bats.

While it makes for a convenient tabloid story to talk about how Alex has some sort of a new-found focus since he admitted to using steroids, or is more comfortable in the clubhouse, the reality is that he's just too good of a hitter to slug .214 for very long, under any circumstances.

Arguably, or at least potentially the Yankees two most important players for this postseason, Sabathia and Rodriguez got off on the right foot last night. They've already cut themselves some slack, even if it's just in their own minds, so when A-Rod digs in on Friday night, the urgency of having to drive in a run will be gone. When Sabathia takes the hill next, whenever that might be, he won't have to prove that he can have a good outing in the postseason, because he already got that out of the way.

We can downplay the impact of pressure, but I think we can agree that those who perform well regardless of the level of pressure are the ones that don't change their approach. The feeling of urgency is unfamiliar to players who are constantly looking out for the long haul - that 162 game mega-marathon. The postseason might be a sprint, but the key is to keep running the same speed. Derek Jeter's OPS is almost exactly the same in the regular season as it is in the postseason (.847 & .850), yet he's perceived as a clutch god. The reality is that he's the same great player that he always is.

That's all the Yankees need right now. Not everyone can be Mariano Rivera and actually elevate their performance on the biggest stage. If Sabathia and A-Rod can just be their usual excellent selves, we'll be well on our way to a satisfying October.

Yanks Too Tough For Twins

We all knew the storyline coming into Game 1 of the 2009 ALDS. The Twins were too tired and had to starting a rookie pitcher. The Yanks were well-rested, starting their ace and should have won easily. But the Twins didn't look like a tired team last night and Brian Deunsing pitched pretty well, they just looked over-matched. Tired is going to dissipate over the course of the series, the disparity in talent won't.

CC Sabathia was put to the test in the first inning after allowing a lead off double to Denard Span. He struck out Orlando Cabrera but the very next pitch to Joe Mauer crossed up Jorge Posada, putting Span on third with one out anyway. The Yanks played the infield back, prepared to give up the run, but CC beared down and struck Mauer swinging on a sweeping slider. It was a big moment for the big man, who got out of the inning with a pop up by Michael Cuddyer.

The Twins did get to Sabathia in the third, even though he erased a lead off single by Nick Punto with a double play ball from Denard Span. Cabrera singled and this time Joe Mauer won the battle, lacing a double to center. Cuddyer then blooped a single to first, driving in the run and moving Mauer to third. There was yet another miscommunication between the Yanks battery, and although it was Sabathia's fault, the ball hit Jorge's glove and he took an unusually long time to track it down, allowing Mauer to score although he hesitated badly before coming home.

As has been a trademark of the Yankees throughout the season, they wasted no time in answering the bell. After the first 8 hitters mustered only two hits and no runs, the Yanks broke through against Deunsing. Melky Cabrera hit a one out chopper up the middle and advanced on a wild pitch. Derek Jeter followed that with a rare homer to left field - only his second in the New Stadium - tying the game at 2 and awakening the crowd.

Sabathia settled down after the third, getting the Twins in order in the top of the fourth. Jorge Posada led off the bottom of the inning with a single then was forced out by Robinson Cano. This turned out well, because the next batter up was Nick Swisher, who ripped a double down the left field line, which rolled around long enough for Cano to score from first (with the help of weak throws by Delmon Young and Cabrera), giving the Yanks their first lead of the game.

The Yanks were back at it in the top of the fifth. Jeter led off with a walk, and was moved over on a grounder by Johnny Damon. Mark Teixeira - who had a rough night - popped out, bringing up A-Rod with a runner in scoring position and two outs. Alex responded by poking one into the gap and expanding the lead to 4-2. That ended Deunsing's night as Ron Gardenhire replaced the lefty with another lefty (Francisco Liriano) to face a lefty who mashes lefties. Hideki Matsui did not disappoint, lofting one that seemed to carry forever to straightaway center, which was the only ball noticeably affected by the wind all night.

Sabathia sat the Twins down in order in the sixth but ran into some trouble and was pulled with two outs in the seventh in favor of Phil Hughes, leaving runners on second and third. Hughes stepped up and struck out Orlando Cabrera leaving CC's solid outing intact.

The final tally was 6 2/3 IP, 2 R (1 ER), 8 hits, 8 strikeouts and perhaps most significantly, no walks. Sabathia threw 71 of his 113 pitches for strikes (62%) and seemed to be ahead of hitters all night. The doubles to Span and Mauer were the only extra base hits.

A-Rod added another knock with two outs and runners in scoring position in the seventh, rounding out his night at 2-4 with 2 RBIs and a run scored. He was second only to Derek Jeter who went 2-2 with two walks, 2 RBI and 3 runs scored.

Joe Girardi used three pitchers in the 8th, Phil Hughes for two batters and then Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain for a combined three pitches. He then dropped the hammer by calling on Mariano Rivera to nail down the 5 run lead in the ninth. Mo did his thing, but was actually the only Yankee pitcher to issue a walk all night.

The Yanks got all they could have asked for: a strong start by CC, a perfect night from Jeter, a long-awaited solid effort by A-Rod, scoreless work from the bullpen and most importantly, the win. It was a bad night for those waiting for Alex and Carsten Charles to choke and the Yanks to boot this one.

It all went according to plan, so it's easy to shove aside the fact that the Twins jumped out early, but it was all Bombers from there on out. Oddly, in 4 out of 5 past ALDSes, including two against the Twins, the series winner has lost Game 1. I think the Yanks will take the "W", though. Feels pretty good, doesn't it?