Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Last Off Night Before The Offseason

First and foremost, huge congrats to a good friend of the blog, Craig Calcaterra.

After graduating from Blogspot to The Hardball Times and leveraging that into a part-time gig at NBC Sports, the Shyster is quitting his day job and moving to NBC Sports full-time. Like many others, I found Shysterball through Rob Neyer and have enjoyed his work for a long time. A while back, I used him as an example of the kind of blogger we would benefit by paying a small monthly fee to, in order free him from the legal world and make his content even better. Fortunately for us, NBC has agreed to foot that bill, so Craig gets the cash and we get the pleasure of reading a talented full-time writer for free.

So from one bald baseball blogger to another, well done, sir.


Okay, back to our regularly scheduled linkaround.

Barring any sort of foul weather, this will be the last off night of the season. Of course, off nights will be in no short supply soon enough, but this is the last one where we are going to have anything immediate to look forward to for a very long time.

If the series goes 7 games, the Yankees will have played 16 games in 32 days since the end of the regular season. As Joel Sherman points out today, the Yankees didn't have their 16th day off during the regular season until after their 147th game. And that includes the All-Star break. It's obviously not the intention of Major League Baseball to ween us off our dependence on the game with the spacing of the schedule (that would be to make as much money as possible) but it's kind that it works out that way.

It's official, Andy Pettitte will start Game 6. That's not much of surprise but the fact that Joe Girardi is apparently toying with the idea of starting Jerry Hairston Jr. in RF certainly is.

Guess who disagrees with the decision to start Burnett on 3 days rest? I'm not going to print his name because he's an admitted compulsive self-Googler.

A list of World Series contributions measured in WPA. Could there possibly be a batter more valuable than Chase Utley? Yes and another Yankee isn't far behind. (via Joe P.)

Rob Neyer wonders if the Yankees' desire to get younger means we're seeing last of Hideki Matsui in Pinstripes. David Pinto speculates that the Yankees might let go of Matsui and Johnny Damon in favor of signing Matt Holliday.

Am I the only one fundamentally opposed to Matt Holliday? I was not high on his prospects at the beginning of this year, and if you'll recall, he wasn't all that great in 400 PAs in Oakland before getting dealt to St. Louis. Yankee Stadium is certainly a hitter's park but he has hit 77% of his career home runs between the left foul pole and center field. That's not where you're going find the easy taters in the Bronx. Oh and Scott Boras is his agent. No thanks.

Dan Levy at the Sporting Blog looks at Chase Utley's chances of winning the World Series MVP if the Phillies lose. Follow the discussion over here. Sean Forman (also of Baseball-Reference) writes a piece for the Bats Blog dissecting Utley's place in World Series history from several different angles.

It looks like Shane Victorino is going to start in Game 6 after his Paul Pierce moment last night. Props to commenter Steve who gave Shane a new nickname today "The cryin' Hawaiian." Jack Moore at FanGraphs tries to determine how much it would hurt (no pun intended!) the Phillies if he had to sit out.

Not an article, but just wanted to point out that Cliff Lee's postseason ERA is no longer lower than Mariano Rivera's and probably never will be again. Ha.

Brett Myers was totally joking with Cole Hamels about saying he quit. I, however, refuse to retract the response I wrote for Hamels earlier.

And finally, on the lighter side of things, Joe Posnanski continues his ABC series which I hope will go on as long as there are mindbendingly stupid advertisements for shitty light beer being shoved down our throats.

Clash Of The Cretins

I didn't know there was a "Daily Show Sports Team", but this is awesome. (h/t Big League Stew)

I'm not sure what they had to tell those people to get them to do so much dumb shit in front of camera (presumably) for free, but it's probably the same kind of spiel that gets girls to take their shirts off for "Girls Gone Wild" or people to interact with Sasha Baron Cohen for Ali G., Bruno or Borat. Apparently it applies to sports as well.

Step 1: Assemble a camera crew. Step 2: Travel to the parking lots of the nearest professional sports arena (preferably football). Step 3: Say you are taping for some sort of a TV show/news program/documentary and, Step 4: Ask a bunch of drunken, idiotic sports fans how much they hate the opposing team. Magic!

Come to think of it, couple this with what we learned in the last post and a small amount of venture capital, and I think we'd have enough content to keep this site running through the end of football season.

How Not To Conduct An Interview, By Mark Grace

On the Bats Blog at the New York Times, Richard Sandomir points out something that never ceases to annoy me about the postgame interviews conducted by network reporters:
Fox needs a question coach for Mark Grace. One of the failings of many sideline/stadium reporters is that they do not jot down good, solid, clear questions to ask the stars of a game.

There usually isn’t much time to prepare, but coming up with three pertinent thoughts to frame as questions, or as leading statements, shouldn’t be as hard as a nervous Grace made it when he interviewed Jimmy Rollins after the Phillies’ 8-6 win against the Yankees in Game 5 of the World Series on Monday.
Sandomir uses Grace as an example and transcribes some example from last night, but you could easily switch his name with Kim Jones, Ken Rosenthal or countless other reporters. (Here's a clip of the Rosenthal & Grace interviews from last night). It seems as though, in the cutthroat world of TV journalism, interviewers are constantly trying use their queries to display how smart they are as opposed to asking questions that lead to good responses.

Since the best baseball players - the ones most likely to be interview after the game - are interviewed so frequently during the season, they answer the questions - or in many cases weak leading statements - with relative ease. The player knows what the interviewer is getting at and usually obliges them with the type of vague and vapid answer they think they are looking for.

ESPN has actually tried to correct this problem by hiring an interview guru named John Sawatsky to conduct seminars on the proper way to interview (sort of like the "question coach" Sandomir suggested). Here is an 8 minute radio segment and accompanying article from NPR from back in 2006 on that very subject.

Sawatsky is a full time employee in Bristol and has his own office, complete with a giant question mark on the door. Max Kellerman used to talk about the "Sawatsky Technique" on his old radio show on 1050AM in New York, but would struggle to take the advice, like he did in his botched interview with Floyd Mayweather after the Juan Manuel Marquez fight.

In the seminars, Sawatsky uses interviewers like Barbara Walters and Larry King as examples of exactly what not to do. Don't ask long-winded questions (or worse, make long-winded statements) or pose inquiries that only demand a "yes" or "no" response. Ask only one question at a time. Try to learn, not validate your own opinion. Don't try to insert yourself into the interview, because the interview isn't about you:
The best questions, argues Sawatsky, are like clean windows. “A clean window gives a perfect view. When we ask a question, we want to get a window into the source. When you put values in your questions, it’s like putting dirt on the window. It obscures the view of the lake beyond. People shouldn’t notice the question in an interview, just like they shouldn’t notice the window. They should be looking at the lake.
Makes sense, doesn't it? No one wants to hear Ken Rosenthal or Kim Jones awkwardly attempt to interject their observations on what just happened. They want to hear what the player was thinking. Typically the athletes don't really have anything interesting to say either, but maybe if the people interviewing them could put some effort into crafting questions that would provoke some thoughtful responses, that wouldn't be the case.

Quotes From Last Night: Game 5 Edition

A.J. Burnett: I just couldn't get the ball where I wanted to. Everything was up, I had no hook tonight and strike one is huge, especially against a lineup like that. You've got to get ahead and I didn't do that... It's just a matter of throwing strikes. You guys saw it — there's really no rest issue. I felt strong and felt great. I just didn't get it done... Oh, I mean, it's the worst feeling in the world. I let 25 guys down, I let the city down. Pretty much says it all.

Phil Coke: I want the ball again (in Game 6). That's the only thing I'm thinking about.

Joe Girardi
: If we would have pitched today, we probably would have won. That's the bottom line — A.J. struggled today. He felt good, he just struggled today. That's something that happens in the game of baseball... Those were tack-on runs that hurt us, obviously. We ended up with six runs tonight. We still had a chance in the ninth inning to possibly come back and tie it up or take the lead, but when you look back at it, those runs hurt us.

Derek Jeter: I can't do anything about it now. I would have loved to have gotten a hit, but it's over with. We're going home with an opportunity to win, so I like the position we're in. [...] We came here and played well. We won two out of three here and now we’ve got to come back and, I don’t know what today is but two days from now — Wednesday? — come out and hope we play a good game.

Kevin Kaduk, Big League Stew: So great of Jeter to take the Series back to NY to win it in front of the fans. Now that's a captain.

Shane Victorino: Two thumbs up, everyone. That's all you need to know. No broke, no fracture.

Mark Teixeira, on the final at bat of the game: He threw a fastball away first pitch — perfect pitch, got a strike. Threw three good changeups, I swung at two. [...] Every game's a new game. I'm just trying to chip in and help us win... I think I've done a lot to help this team win (in the postseason), and I'm going to do the same (Wednesday).

Charlie Manuel: I wanted to bring Madson in. I wanted to see how he goes, and I kind of wanted to just give Lidge a break tonight if I could.

Cliff Lee: Thankfully we scored a lot of runs. As far as my availability [for a potential Game 7], I'm available.

Brett Myers, to Cole Hamels: What are you doing here? I thought you quit.

Cole Hamels, in response to Brett Myers: What are you doing here? Shouldn't you still be in jail for beating your wife in public, you fucking scumbag? [Ed Note: I made that one up.]

We Didn't Think It Would Be That Easy, Did We?

Good morning, Fackers. That's not one of you on the left with your head down, is it? If it is, we'll just assume that the glass of white wine is there because your girlfriend got up to go to the bathroom. Either way, cheer up. It was a tough loss but let's just take a deep breath.

It's funny how no one picked the Yankees to sweep this series (well, except Iracane) but we still feel like they should win every time they play, isn't it?

The same thing happened against the Angels in the ALCS. We nodded along with all the predictions saying how the series could be "one for the ages" and knew the Halos were a formidable foe, but were still shocked when Vlad Guerrero hit that homer off of Andy Pettitte and when Nick Swisher popped out to end Game 5 (another miserable A.J. Burnett outing with an unlikely comeback) against Brian Fuentes. Similarly, we applauded the notion that the Fall Classic featured the two best teams in baseball and assumed it would be a great series. Unfortunately, for the series to be great, both teams have to lose some games.

Did anyone assume that we were going to take all three games in Philly? I highly doubt it, but after the Bombers took the first two, our expectations completely changed.

After the top half of the first inning, it was easy to imagine Cliff Lee finally realizing that he was human and A.J. Burnett pitching well enough to beat him. Even when Derek Jeter came to the plate in the 9th, it was hard not to picture him poking a hit through the infield and bringing the go-ahead run to the plate with no one out.

Unfortunately, both of those fantasies were squashed almost immediately by a homer off the bat of Chase Utley and a double play turned by he and Jimmy Rollins, respectively.

As for Burnett, he threw 56 pitches and exactly half of them were strikes. He faced 15 batters but retired only 6. He walked twice as many men (4) as he struck out (2). IIATMS ran down the gory details of his outing via pitch f/x. Judging by the charts, it becomes even more apparent that Burnett had all the accuracy and precision of a greased up fire hose.

There will surely be the temptation to point to the fact that he only had three days of rest as the reason his command was so poor but we've seen this plenty of times from Burnett on 4 and even 5 days of rest. In fact, we just saw it early in Game 5 in Anaheim. As much as we don't want to realize it, his dominant performance in Game 2 of the series was about as likely as his meltdown in Game 5.

But the Yankees knew what they signed up for when they inked Burnett to that $82.5M deal: Incredible stuff with so-so command. If they wanted a guy who they thought could be consistently average all the time, they would have went after Derek Lowe instead. So we take the good with the bad and move on.

Too Little, Too Late

For a fleeting moment in the first inning, it appeared that the Yankees might actually steal this one. Cliff Lee didn't look so invincible, giving up some sharp contact and struggling to locate his fastball. After Game 1, Cliff Lee said it had been a long time since he's been nervous playing baseball. I doubt he'd admit it, but he looked a little tense on the mound to begin the game.

Derek Jeter chopped one up the middle that Chase Utley just barely got to. Johnny Damon followed by dropping a single in front of Shane Victorino. And then Lee promptly ran the count to 3-0 on Mark Teixeira. Lee was taking deep breaths. He looked like he was trying to gain his composure. It appeared as though the Yanks may have gotten to him.

Teixeira took one down the middle for strike one. He fouled off a tough pitch for strike two, but then popped out to right. As A-Rod has so many times this postseason, he stepped up and delivered in a big spot, slashing a double down the right field line that rolled all the way into the corner, scoring Damon and putting the Yankees on top 1-0.

Lee proceeded to walk Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano sliced a line to left, but it was right towards Ibanez. The Yanks didn't get all they wanted out of the inning, but it was clear that this wasn't last Wednesday. Cliff Lee could be had. Unfortunately for the Yanks, their starter could be (and was) had far easier.

A.J. Burnett got ahead of Jimmy Rollins 1-2, but Rollins fouled off three straight pitches before singling to center. On the next one, Shane Victorino squared to bunt but got hit on the hand as he was pulling away. At full speed it looked like he was offering at it, but third base umpire Jeff Nelson said he wasn't trying for it. The injury seemed to nag the center fielder for the rest of the game but he wasn't removed until the 8th inning for defensive purposes.

Now, with runners on first and second and no one out, Chase Utley swung at the first pitch he saw and cranked into the seats in right field, putting the Phillies up 3-1. Just like Burnett did against the Angels, he put the Yanks in a hole without recording an out. It would be the last lead change of the game.

The Yankees brought the tying run to the plate with one out in the top of the 3rd, but not again until the 9th. A.J. Burnett lasted just 2+ innings and gave up 5 earned runs when he was in the game but left with men on 1st & 3rd and no one out. The sixth run charged to him came when David Robertson was on the mound but D-Rob did an admirable job of squirming out of the predicament with minimal damage.

Staked to a comfortable lead, Lee began to settle in. He retired 9 out of 10 batters in a stretch beginning in the top of the 2nd inning. The Yankees scratched across a run in the 5th but still trailed by 4 scores.

Robertson was replaced by Alfredo Aceves, who pitched two scoreless frames before turning the ball over to Phil Coke. The first batter he faced was Chase Utley. Utley worked the count full, forcing Coke to put one over the plate and stroked that fastball over the wall in right once again, his 5th home run of the World Series, tying the record set by Reggie Jackson in 1977. Two batters later, Raul Ibanez took Coke deep as well, expanding the Phillies' lead to 8-2. They seemed like tack-on runs at that point, but they would come in handy later.

Cliff Lee came out to start the 8th inning and gave up a single to Johnny Damon followed by a double to Mark Teixeira. Lee was left in to face A-Rod, who mashed a double off the glove of a diving Raul Ibanez in the gap in left center. The substitution for Victorino - which the FOX camera captured Charlie Manuel executing quite clumsily - loomed large as Ben Francisco took over in center for Victorino instead of in left for Ibanez, who has limited range as a defender. Clearly, the scenario might not have played out the same way, but Francisco almost certainly would have made the play that Ibanez botched.

Lee came out of the game and Chan Ho Park got out of the inning after allowing A-Rod to score on a sac fly by Robinson Cano. Lee's final line was 7 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3K, a far cry from the untouchable force he was in game one against a far weaker line up. When the top of the 8th came to a close, the margin was trimmed to three runs.

It seemed an attainable deficit - but only briefly - in the 9th inning. Ryan Madson came on to pitch and began the inning by doing his best Brad Lidge imitation. Jorge Posada led off the frame with a double, which was followed by a single by Hidkei Matsui, placing runners on first and third and no one out for the tying run, Derek Jeter.

Jeter got ahead 2-0, took a strike, and then did nearly the worst thing possible: grounded into a double play. Posada scored from third, but the tying run was no longer at the plate. Johnny Damon battled through another tough at bat, eventually singling to center but Mark Teixeira struck out swinging on three straight change ups to end the game.

The late near-rally made it tougher to stomach, but his game was pretty much over when A.J. Burnett was yanked. Six runs in 2+ innings is a surefire way to blow a game and the two homers given up by Coke didn't end up helping much either. In the end, the Yanks just couldn't overcome Burnett's implosion. Final score 8-6 in favor of the Phillies.

If the Yankees are going to win the World Series, they're going to have to do it at home.