Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Start Spreading The News

Update 12:53: For tonight, I'm just a fan. Matt will be here in a second with his take. There will be plenty of time to recap tomorrow. Just some quick thoughts:
  • Congrats to Hideki Matsui. With the three separate 2 RBI hits he had tonight - a homer, single and a double - tied the record for most RBIs in a World Series game previously in possession of Bobby Richardson (Game 3 in 1960) and supplanted his legacy with an incredible effort in the biggest game of his MLB career.
  • How appropriate that Mariano Rivera (with the greatest non-save of his career), Derek Jeter (with three hits and two runs scored) and Andy Pettitte (benefactor of the official decision) all played major roles in the clinching victory.

  • How about Damaso Marte, who threw six pitches and got two strikeouts against the Phillies' 3 & 4 hittters?

  • Sorry to Mike Mussina who found the worst possible 8 years to be a Yankee. (h/t Mike)

  • And last but not certainly least, good for A-Rod. He carried the Yanks to the World Series and made his hits count when they got there.
Thanks a lot for reading this season. Feel free to commiserate in the comments.

World Series Game 6: Bring It On Home

Tonight the World Series shifts back to Yankee Stadium. This was a position that pretty much any Yankee fan would have signed up for when the season began, at any point during the season, when the playoffs began, at any point during the playoffs, when the World Series began or anytime before the Yankees won Games 1, 2, 3 or possibly 4. To paraphrase Louis C.K., "How quickly the World owes us something that we didn't know was going to exist 3 days ago".

Nevertheless it's feels like a bit of a let down to be in this position after taking three straight from the Phillies and having the tying run at the plate in the 9th inning of Game 5. Going to sleep Sunday night and then sitting through an off day filled with rehashing and second guessing and going to sleep again last night and waiting another 12-13-14 hours after you got up this morning was pretty excruciating. But that's almost over now.

There's a good chance that the Yankees are going to do something tonight that you're going to remember for as long as you live. There's also a decent chance that the Phillies are going to ruin our plans and take hundreds of years off our collective lives with a Game 7. Either way, don't forget that we are in a better position than fans of any other team in baseball right now. Twenty-eight teams have already packed up their lockers for the season and the other one not named "The Yankees" is starting Pedro Martinez tonight and praying their season doesn't end before they get a shot at the World Series.

Martinez wasn't great in Game 2, but he was a lot better than most (objective) people expected him to be. Had Charlie Manuel pulled him at the beginning of the 6th inning like most armchair skippers would have, Pedro would have had more strikeouts (8) than baserunners (7). Had Hideki Matsui not taken his 9 iron to a 1-2 curveball with two outs in the 6th, it might have been even better than that.

Pedro has had an unbelievable career and has put up statistics that would be remarkable even if they weren't accumulated during one of the greatest offensive eras of all-time. It's very possible that we see his very last outing this evening; only fitting that would be on the biggest of stages: At Yankee Stadium, in a possible deciding game of the World Series against the best offense in baseball. Will Pedro squeeze one more memorable performance out of his magic right arm? I sure hope not, but I wouldn't bet against it.

For the third time in his career, Andy Pettitte takes the mound in Game 6 of a World Series. Neither of those turned out particularly well, but as they say, the third time is a charm. Ben K. at River Ave. Blues examined all 4 of the Game 6's Pettitte has started in his career (World Series or ALCS) and the results aren't too inspiring, save for the most recent one.

If you are the superstitious type, which we all are at this point in the postseason to some extent, this next part probably won't provide you with much comfort. Pettitte has started two World Series-clinching games, but both have been on the road: Game 4 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in 1998 and Game 5 at Shea Stadium in 2000. But who better to be the first to do it at the New Yankee Stadium?

Also at River Ave. Blues today, Mike broke down how Pettitte rebounded from the high stress starts he has made this season so as to guess how he might fare on short rest tonight. Andy's numbers are pretty close to his season marks, so that should be of some comfort to those like me who are somewhat nervous about a 37 year old on three days rest.

So here were are. Back in the Bronx and back on the doorstep of baseball glory; hopefully only 17 half innings away from the ultimate prize. A whole season of observation and dedication and subsequent analysis - and nine more of waiting - all piled up behind us, ready to be expunged with elation.

Come on boys, it's time to bring it on home.

Let's go Yanks.

Baby, baby
I'm gonna bring it on home to you.
I've got my ticket, I've got that load.
Got up, gone higher, all aboard.
Take my seat, right way back.
Watch this train roll down the track.
I'm gonna bring it on home, bring it on home to you.
Watch out, watch out, man move.
Try to tell you baby, what you tryin' to do?

Why Did Bobby Richardson Win The WS MVP in 1960?

Given the lack of newsworthy items yesterday, one of the hotter topics of conversation in the baseball blogosphere was whether or not Chase Utley should win the World Series MVP even if the Phillies lose. I linked to Dan Levy's post at the Sporting Blog last night but wanted to take a closer look at the idea today.

We're only 5 games into the Fall Classic and Utley has already smacked 5 home runs - 2 in each of the Phillies wins. He's hitting .333/.429/1.222 in front of Ryan Howard, whose OPS isn't much higher than Utley's OBP. There's little question that Utley's has had the best World Series so far. Cliff Lee singlehandedly won Game 1 but was mediocre in Game 5. A-Rod has had 6 huge, tide-turning RBIs but a meager batting line otherwise. Mariano Rivera's most important innings have yet to be pitched. Utley's showing comes with no asterisk.

As Levy points out, the only other player to win the World Series MVP from a losing team was also a second baseman - Bobby Richardson of the 1960 Yankees. In the first 11 years that the World Series MVP was awarded, Richardson was the only position player to win the award. It was an unlikely honor perfectly fit for one of the most improbable World Series ever played.

The Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27 in that 7 game series. They out-hit them 91-60, out-homered them 10-4 and had a team ERA twice as low (3.54 to 7.11). But nonetheless, the Yanks lost on Bill Mazeroski's walkoff home run, still the only one in a Game 7 in World Series history.

Richardson's performance was pretty spectacular. He had a batting line of .367/.387/.667 which included a grand slam, 2 triples and 12 runs batted in. But he wasn't even the best offensive player on his own team. Mickey Mantle hit .400/.545/.800 with three homers and drove in 11 runs. By all accounts, Richardson was an excellent defensive second baseman, but Mantle was a legendary defender in center field and a much more recognizable figure at the time.

Richardson was in only his second year as the Yankees' primary 2B and Mantle had just made his 10th consecutive All-Star team. For regular season awards like Gold Gloves and MVPs, voters usually lean towards established stars over one year flukes (see: Zobrist, Ben), but that doesn't seem to be the case with World Series MVPs. In recent years, for example, writers have chose guys like David Eckstein (2006), Troy Glaus (2002) and Scott Brosius (1998); scrappy underdogs (slightly above average baseball players) who saved their best for the big stage.

The timing of the RBIs in the 1960 Series was a major contributing factor to the result of the voting. All but one of Richardson's 12 RBIs came in Yankees' victories. It's hard to stand out offensively when your team wins 3 games by an average of nearly 12 runs, but that's exactly what Richardson did when he drive in 6 runs in a 10-0 victory in Game 3. By comparison, Mantle blended in by knocking in five in the 16-3 domination in Game 2 and two on top of Richardson's 6 in Game 3. He added 2 more in Game 5, which the Yankees won 12-0 and two more in Game 7, which they ultimately lost.

But the reason that Richardson won the MVP over a more worthy teammate isn't the reason that it's still cited today. That's happened plenty of times (Eckstein in '06, Manny in '04, Livan Hernandez in '97, Darrell Porter in 1982, Bucky Dent '78 to name a few) It's because he won it on the losing team.

There is some precedent for giving the MVP to a player on the losing team of a postseason series. There were Mike Scott for the Astros in the '86 NLCS and Jeffrey Leonard for the Giants in '87 for example. It's happened once in the NBA Finals, once in the Super Bowl and five times in the Stanley Cup Finals. It just hasn't happened in the World Series since 1960.

It should have in 2002 when Barry Bonds had an OPS of 1.994, more than 1.100 higher than the winner, Troy Glaus. The fact that he was Barry Bonds certainly didn't help, but Glaus did drive in the tying and go-ahead runs on a double off of Rob Nen to force a Game 7.

But back to Richardson. Perhaps there is a simpler explanation as to why he is the only World Series MVP out of 53 to come from a losing team. The writers thought they were picking a guy from the winning team.

According to Mike Emeigh over at Baseball Think Factory (post #39), World Series MVP ballots had to be turned in before the beginning of the 8th inning of Game 7. Well, at the end of the 7th inning, the Yankees were leading 5-4. They had turned a 0-4 deficit into a 5-4 lead in the 5th & 6th innings and appeared to be in line for the victory.

But they didn't win. The Yanks expanded their lead to 7-4 in the top of the 8th, but gave up 5 runs to the Pirates in the bottom half. It might not have happened if a grounder that hit shortstop Tony Kubek squarely in the throat took a more predictable hop and ended up as a double play. However, the Pirates rallied to take the lead 9-7. The Yanks plated two in the 9th inning to barely stay alive, with Richardson scoring the 8th run.

It was their last breath, however, as the first batter Ralph Terry faced in the bottom of the 9th was Bill Mazeroski.

As another poster at BBTF (#43) argued, it doesn't really matter that the 1960 World Series MVP vote might (or might not) have been skewed by a procedural issue. The precedent for the writers select a an MVP from the losing team exists and it's unlikely that the people voting on this year's award know or care about that.

Does Chase Utley deserve to win the MVP at this point? Yes, in terms of value to his team, he probably does, although WPA thinks otherwise. But there are still games left to be played and there are a couple of Yankees who, if they factor directly into a victory, have a good chance to take it from Utley. But if push comes to shove, I'll give Utley the MVP in exchange for the Yankees' title. Deal?

For Your Listening Pleasure

Here is Jonah Keri on "something called Dave Dameshek's" podcast. It's a a few minutes of circumcision talk, and about 40 more of breaking down what's left of the World Series. Dameshek is a little insufferable but Jonah is good enough to make you forget that.

After a day off, the boys at On The DL are back at it after a day off. They talk about Game 6, Gus Johnson's questionable description of Chris Johnson's speed, Steven Colbert's decision to sponsor US Speedskating and the current seasons of Mad Men and Dexter.

Go. Listen. But come back around 3:00 for the post I've been working on all day about Chase Utley, Bobby Richardson and the 1960 World Series. It's not like anything else you've read on the subject. I promise.

Too Bad I'm Not A Parent...

Or else I could teach my children the virtues of hating the Yankees (h/t Joe P):
My mom, Michele, is one of the nicest people in the world (I'm admittedly a bit biased, but this is true). She finds the good in everyone. Well, just about everyone. She cannot stand the New York Yankees! This does not make my mom unique. Throughout the Major League Baseball playoffs, I have encountered only one person who wants the Yankees to win the World Series.
With an tiny niche fanbase like the one the Yankees have, I find this statement to be totally believable.
The Yankees have the highest payroll every year. This year their payroll is nearly 50% higher than the 2nd highest payroll (the New York Mets)! They play in a stadium built two years ago [sic] for more than one billion dollars. During the offseason, the Yankees signed C.C. Sabbathia [sic], A.J. Burnett, and Marx [sic] Teixeira for nearly half a billion dollars in long-term contracts. It's clear that rooting for the Yankees is roughly the same as cheering for the bully down the street to bloody another nose.
Except that bully hasn't won a fight in 9 years. It's clear that picking on a pop psychology piece for baseball inaccuracies is like picking on a baseball piece for trying to use pop psychology. But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.

But how should we tell our children to hate the Yankees?
"I hate the Yankees" does little to teach our children lessons about hope, persistence, and teamwork. We ought to focus on the positive characteristics of the underdog, rather than the negative qualities about the evil Yankees. Below are five suggestions for what parents can say to kids about the Yankees while staying away from negativity:
Get your notepads ready:
1) "The Twins never quit, even though they don't have the same amount of money to spend on players as the Yankees." (a message about doing the best with what one has)
Or about making excuses.
3) "Even though the Yankees make a lot of money, watch their players. They hustle, encourage each other, and play great baseball. To win, a team must hit, field, and pitch better than their opponent." (a message that money doesn't get hits, and that substance wins over style)
Except the players on the Yankees make a lot of money because they play great baseball, not despite the fact.
4) "Notice how focused all of the players in the World Series are on each play." (a message about concentration, and how all players can work on this skill)
"But not the Yankees who are only calculating how much money they are making with each passing out".
5) If all else fails, remind your kids that the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and that the Yankees have not won a championship since 2000.
An important lesson in sportsmanship: It's not whether you win or lose... it's whether you win or lose.

Please, folks, educate your children about the virtues of hating the Yankees. Their fragile little brains can't handle the realities of "free agency", the "size of the market they play in", or " the desire to win being more important than making profit on a sports franchise".

Lessons In Advanced Hindsight, With Mike Lupica

Good morning, Fackers. I think most rational people understand that one of the fundamental concepts of decision making is that you have to make your choice based on the information which was available at the time. Of course, Mike Lupica doesn't fall under the umbrella of "most rational people".

You surely know Lupica from his columns in the Daily News, his Matt Christopher-esque children's sports books, or as the wildly-gesturing smarmy douche on The Sports Reporters who sits on the edge of his seat partially because he feels that he's far too important to be seated in a semi-circle and partially because if he leaned back, his feet wouldn't touch the ground.

Anyway, in today's Daily News, Mike conveniently smothers Joe Girardi's decision to use only his three best starters in the World Series in a thick coating of hindsight, two days after any other course of action could have been chosen:
Joe Girardi knows the deal as well as he knows his way out to the mound. He's right about using only three starters in the postseason if the Yankees win, tonight or tomorrow night.
I love how Lupica sets up the scenario by saying "Girardi knows the deal". Yeah, he knows that if the Yankees lose, he's going to get second guessed by assholes like Lupica who were so convinced that the Yankees should throw Chad Gaudin in Philly that they... didn't write a word about it despite having a column in a newspaper dedicated to writing about sports.
He's right if Andy Pettitte does the job in Game 6 on three days' rest that A.J. Burnett didn't do Monday night. Or he's right if this thing plays all the way out and CC Sabathia carries everybody across the finish line. Girardi just better be right about three days' rest for these guys after being up three games to one.
So was Charlie Manuel right for holding Cliff Lee back to give him his normal rest even though he gave up 5 earned runs because the Phillies won Game 5? Of course! What did you want to judge the outcome based on his "performance" or "availability in a possible Game 7"? Fools.
Because if the Yankees blow this Series, if the Phillies come all the way back, then Yankee fans are going to wonder how the Yankees could spend $206 million on baseball players and not have enough left under the bed to buy a reliable fourth starter.
No, Mike, they're not. That's what they'd be wondering if the Yankees missed the playoffs. Like they did last year. When they spent $209M.

The Yankees have had a payroll over $184M since 2004 and that year none of the 4 guys who started more than 20 games for them had an ERA under 4. In 2005, their 4th starter was either Jaret Wright or Kevin Brown who both had ERAs over 6 and they needed Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon to patch together their rotation. The following year it was Cory Lidle. In 2007, it was Roger Clemens and we all remember how well that worked out in the playoffs!

You have to be a special kind of stupid to wait until the team is one win away from their first World Series in 9 years to start complaining about their lack of a #4 starter.

Oh by the way, the reason they don't have a #4 starter isn't because they "didn't have enough money left under the bed". It's because Chien Ming Wang, who had been their best pitcher over the previous three years, suddenly decided to suck. And Joba Chamberlain, who everyone wanted to go back to the bullpen (including Lupica, obviously), is back in the bullpen.
They will wonder at the same time about how much they think they could get for a copy of "The Joba Rules" on eBay about now.
How much are your books selling for on eBay, Mike? Let me check. One dollar.
There are still a lot of smart, passionate, grudge-holding Yankee fans who want to talk about all the pitching mistakes that Joe Torre made when the Red Sox started to come back on the Yankees in 2004. But when Torre came home in that American League Championship Series, the way Girardi's Yankees come home now, here were Torre's starters:

Jon Lieber, Game 6.

Kevin Brown, Game 7.
Right, so why are you complaining about the rotation this year?
Josh Beckett went on three days' rest in Game 6 of the 2003 Series, Marlins against the Yankees. Everybody screamed that Jack McKeon was making a huge mistake, that he should wait and pitch Beckett on full rest in Game 7 if it came to that. The Marlins manager went all in with Beckett and he pitched one of the most dominating close-out games in the history of the World Series.

He made McKeon right because he won.
Mike Lupica's decision making rubric: Win = Right, Lose = Wrong.

So Mike Lupica's son is dribbling down the court in a CYO game two minutes into the game and decides to fire up a short from half court. It goes in. From the stands, Mike yells "GREAT DECISION, BUDDY!"

Mike Lupica is playing in a poker tournament. Someone raises in front of him. He looks down at the 2 of hearts & the 4 of clubs and pushes all in. His opponent calls with pocket aces but the board reads 3-5-6-K-8. Mike sees that he made a straight and screams "I OUTPLAYED YOU!"

The best decisions are the ones that are most likely to succeed if the scenario is played out over and over again. And guess what. Feeding Chad Gaudin - who lefties have hit .293/.389/.433 off in his career - to the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park isn't one of those decisions.