Thursday, May 6, 2010

Baseball Loses Another HoFer

Less than forty eight hours after the passing of Ernie Harwell, baseball has lost another Hall of Famer, as former Phillies ace Robin Roberts died this morning at 83.

At just 23 years old, Roberts was already in his third Big League season when he had a breakout year for the 1950 Phillies. The Whiz Kids emerged atop a tight N.L. Pennant race, thanks in no small part to Roberts starting three times in the season's final five days (h/t BLS). Roberts started and won the clincher against the Dodgers on the season's final day, going the full 10 innings and allowing just one run.

The Phillies went on to be swept by the Yankees in the World Series, a meeting we recapped in two parts prior to last year's Fall Classic. Due to his heavy workload down the stretch, Roberts was unavailable to start the opener, but came back to start Game Two, yet another start on short rest. In a forgotten pitcher's duel, both Roberts and the Yankees' Allie Reynolds held their opponents to a single run through nine. Roberts finally buckled in the tenth, allowing a solo shot to Joe DiMaggio. Two days later, Roberts returned with an inning of scoreless relief, but it was too late, as the Yankees swept the series.

That 1950 season served as a springboard for Roberts, who remained one of the NL's top starters for the remainder of decade. He led the NL in wins every year from 1952 through '55, starts from '50 through '55, complete games from '52 through '56, innings pitched from '51 through '55, and strikeouts in '53 and '54. He was an All-Star from 1950 through '56, and in the days before the Cy Young Award, finished in the top seven in MVP voting five times.

Roberts began to decline in the late fifties, and after a dreadful 1961 season, the Phillies sold him to the Yankees. Roberts pitched well for the Yankees in Spring Training, but the team elected to go with the rookie Jim Bouton rather than the 35 year old Roberts. He never appeared in a game for the Yanks and was granted his release in May. He immediately latched on with the Orioles, and enjoyed a bit of a career renaissance, lasting five more seasons with the O's, Astros, and Cubs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

The Phillies retired Roberts' number 36 during a Spring Training game in 1962, while Roberts was with the Yankees. It was the first number retired by the Phillies and the first time in history an active player's number was retired by his former team. The Phillies will remember Roberts for the remainder of this season with a commemorative patch on their jersey and by hanging his uniform in the dugout during games.

The Obligatory Andy Pettitte & Injuries Post

Entering his start against the White Sox last Friday, Andy Pettitte was cruising through the early goings of the 2010 season. He took the mound that night at 3-0 through four starts, with a 1.29 ERA. He had allowed just 31 baserunners through 28 IP, hadn't surrendered a home run, and was holding opposing batters to anemic .216/.287/.258 line.

Clearly Pettitte was due to come back to earth a bit, and that he did. The White Sox touched him up for four runs in the first two frames. He settled down from there, shutting the Pale Hose down the rest of the way and exiting with the score tied after six innings. It was his first non-quality start of the season.

Pettitte made his next start yesterday, and while he held the O's to a lone run, he pitched in and out of trouble all afternoon. He allowed eight baserunners through five, and was the beneficiary of a pair of inning ending double plays. His outing was done after just 77 pitches.

While I certainly won't complain about Pettitte's result in either game, both Yankee wins, but the two starts share a common bond beyond not measuring up to the standards of Pettitte's first four starts. In warming up for last Friday's outing, Pettitte felt stiffness in his forearm. Clearly, it wasn't enough for him to miss the start, and the Yankees responded by lightening his workload between Friday and yesterday. He had pain again during his warm up yesterday, this time more in the elbow and triceps area than in the forearm.

Pettite underwent an MRI following his exit. The results are encouraging for the most part, showing no structural damage, just inflammation in the elbow. As precautionary measure, Pettitte will likely miss his next scheduled start; Brian Cashman implied as much before the test results were even known. At this stage in the season, there's no reason to push it. Pettitte is going to be needed in September and October (and hopefully November too); may as well give him the rest and rehab he needs now.

The next scheduled start for Pettitte is Tuesday in Detroit. Relievers Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre are candidates for spot duty. Scranton starters Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez are on the 40 man roster, though the Christian Garcia injury could conceivably open a spot for other starters Zach McAllister, Jason Hirsch, or Dustin Moseley. Currently, McAllister, Moseley, and Sanchez are lined up Monday through Wednesday.

Most likely though, the start will go to Mitre, and I think it should. As the long man in a seven man bullpen, Mitre hasn't been getting much work, particularly with how well the Yankee starters have been. Alf, coincidentally or not, suffered from arm issues and ineffectiveness after his spot start in Minnesota last July, and right now he's too important a piece in the bullpen to take him out of play for the upcoming Boston series.

Of course Pettitte's elbow issue is the latest in a string of bumps and bruises for the Yankees over the past week: Jorge Posada's knee and now his calf, Curtis Granderson's groin, potentially Alex Rodriguez' knee, Mariano Rivera's side, etc. There are rumblings throughout the media and blogosphere about the Yankees collective age, or even more tenuously, the SI Jinx.

As for me, I'm far from panicking at this point. Aside from Granderson's groin pull, none of these appear to be major issues, and since Granderson is the only one of the bunch on the right side of thirty, there's likely to be less concern about him moving forward. As for the others, these are the occupational hazards of professional athletes in their mid-thirties. None of this should be surprising or alarming. Yes, the Yankees have been extremely lucky that all these key contributors have remained relatively healthy through the years. But as unlikely as it is for all of these veteran players to avoid major injury year after year, it's equally unlikely that all will simultaneously suffer major setbacks.

And for that matter, all of these guys have dealt with injuries at one point or another, most within recent years. Posada missed nearly all of 2008 and spent a month on the DL last year. A-Rod spent time on the DL in 2008 and missed the first six weeks of last season. Mo seems to need to shutdown for a series here or there at least once a year; don't you remember his "cranky shoulder" early last September? Pettitte has dealt with elbow issues since early in his career, so yesterday's events aren't necessarily the product of his advanced age. None of this is anything new.

With an older roster like that of the Yankees, injuries are always going to be a looming concern. But there's nothing that has happened in the past several days that should ratchet up the level of concern all that much. If anything, perhaps we should be relieved that everything appears to be a minor issue. Of course, with the team currently sitting at 19-8 with the second best record and run differential in baseball, the tabloids need something to create alarm.

(Photo from Getty Images)

Thursday Morning Linkarooski

Joe Girardi would have split the last 4 links up into their own posts.
R.J. Anderson at FanGraphs examines Robinson Cano's season to date and finds that the only part of it that's definitely not sustainable is his home run rate.

Moshe from TYU directs us towards a glowing profile of pitching prospect Jose Ramirez written by a fan who goes to a lot of Charleston River Dogs games. The post includes video and some detailed scouting and is certainly worth scoping out.

On Tuesday, Rob Neyer looked at the first month of results from trade that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. With Granderson on the DL, it's obviously not looking very good on our end, but neither Austin Jackson nor Ian Kennedy would be on the Major League roster right now and Phil Coke would probably be the 10th man in the bullpen. The players that the Yankees gave up didn't have the potential to be as valuable to them so far this year as Granderson did. Maybe this goes down as a bad trade eventually (especially if Austin Jackson has magically learned how not to strikeout), but there's pretty much no chance it ends up looking as bad as it does right now.

Speaking of Martha Stewart's favorite Yankee, Curtis Granderson wrote a tribute to Ernie Harwell over at Big Leage Stew.

Also at BLS, author Jason Turnbow lists 10 unwritten rules of baseball that you may or may not have heard of. Most are pretty intuitive but I didn't know you weren't supposed to swing at the first pitch after back-to-back home runs.

"Maybe we already are seeing the beginning of The Core Four morphing into The Sore Quad." ~ Guess Who

In the NYT, Karen Crouse wrote about the connection between Mark Teixeira and PGA Tour pro Ben Crane.

Over at The Hardball Times, Josh Levitt thinks that the likelihood of the Yankees signing Carl Crawford has gone down since the beginning of the season, mostly because of Brett Gardner.

Dallas Braden is still chirping about the incident with A-Rod, talking about how they do it "in the 209", waxing all philosophical about "respect for the game", intimating that he's going to throw at him and that they will probably fight before this is all over. Dude, your 15 minutes is up. You had it rough on the mean streets of Stockton, we get it, but you're the only one who is still upset about this. So if you need A-Rod to beat some sense into you before you let it go, that's your problem.

Also from the farm system, Greg Fertel offers up some sabermetric-style Yankees MiLB leaderboards.

Via Pinto, the story of a player who was selected twice in the 1970 draft (one of those times by the Yankees).

You know what the Yanks need? A washed up, left handed corpse who can't hit or play the field and every fan of the team despises. If they didn't want to sign Barry Bonds when he was looking for a job and probably still productive, something tells me that they aren't going to sign Big Sloppy after the Red Sox decide that he's not even worth a roster spot despite being owed the remainder of his $12.5M salary.

Even though it involves the Red Sox, I enjoyed this story from WoW.

Via Jason, Jesse-Douglas Mathewson takes a methodical look at the length of games and finds some interesting correlations including, curiously, attendance (although that might be swayed by Yankees-Sox games). That post is part three of a four installment series, so here are one, two and four.

Meech from the Fightins' discovers the real problem with the Phillies bullpen. Let's just say that a high walk rate isn't the only thing they have in common with Al Leiter.

Rinku and Dinesh got their new "cards of baseball" from Upper Deck (and are looking forward to seeing Ironman 2).

You know you're old when you are leaning on the halcyon days of 100 years ago to make a point about what's wrong with baseball today. Players used to make about 50 times less back then they do now, even after adjusting for inflation. The game done changed.

Here's a short interview with Larry from Wezen-Ball from USA Today's website that went along with his appearance in the actual paper.

I'm with Tango, I think WPA is just fine the way it is.

A Yankees-Mariners game will be broadcast in 3D this July. That would be great if anyone actually had a 3D TV.

The Angels have the fourth worst run differential in the league, notes Dave Cameron, and while they aren't truly that bad, it doesn't bode well for the rest of their season.

Hey look, Milton Bradley has already gone off the wagon. The "Kanye West of baseball" bought him a spaceship and flew away from the ballpark after striking out with the bases loaded on Tuesday night.

The assumption that Tiger Woods makes his competition play worse? It's actually true.
And that's that. The Yankees might be off today, but we are not.