Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Game 72: Hotel Arizona

In the world of Major League Baseball, particularly for a player of his skill level, Javier Vazquez is something of a transient. He's never made it to free agency but since he left the team he was drafted by and debuted with (which no longer exists), he's been traded five times between four different franchises - the Yankees, Diamondbacks, White Sox and Braves. His opponent tonight is perhaps the one of those clubs he is the least synonymous with.

Vazquez was of course dealt in the aftermath of the 2004 ALCS, along with Dioner Navarro and Brad Halsey to Arizona in exchange for Randy Johnson. Fresh off a horrific 51-111 season in '04, the D-Backs took a major step forward in 2005, improving by an incredible 26 wins and finishing second in the (albeit weak) National League West. There's only one way to go from a season in which you win less than one third of your games, but that's still pretty impressive considering they gave away 245 innings of 2.60 ERA starting pitching when the Big Unit headed to New York.

As was the case in New York the year prior, there were high hopes in Arizona for Vazquez. After all, even though he was already 40 at the time, they gave up a guy who won four straight Cy Youngs for them and had just finished second in the voting the year before. But just like with the Yankees, Vazquez's results were disappointing. Javy got the Opening Day start in front of the home crowd but allowed seven runs in 1.2 IP, en route to a football-like 16-6 loss to the Cubs. He followed that with another outing in Phoenix and surrendered six more runs and didn't pretty much nothing to endear himself to the fans.

Vazquez went on to throw 215 innings and made 33 starts that season but had an ERA just about league average and a record of 11-15. At the end of the year, he requested to be traded and was flipped to the White Sox for El Duque, future Yankee Luis Vizciano and current D-Back center fielder Chris Young.

Tonight's starter for Arizona is becoming a bit of a baseball vagabond himself. Dontrelle Willis is on his third team in four years, having been traded from Florida to Detroit, who extended him mid-season in 2008 for no apparent reason and are now literally paying the price for that after they flipped him to the Diamondbacks for Billy Bucker. This will likely be Willis' last year in the desert because his contract is up at the end of this season.

Vazquez's deal expires when the year ends as well and he will probably have to find yet another team too. Maybe these two pitchers will never have true baseball "homes", but feeling like they are perpetually on the road is something they'll just have to get used to.

Well I guess there's some direction maybe you can't see,
Even at the interview,
That's not something that I'm gonna get used to,
That's not something I'm gonna get used to,
Hello, can you hear?

Hello, that's all there is, that's all there is,
I guess all this history is just a mystery to me,
One more worried whisper right in my ear.
[Song Notes: I never really got into Wilco for whatever reason but last year, my friend who is a flight attendant told me that "wilco" is pilot's shorthand for "will comply" and that piqued my interest just enough to download some of their music. I listened to it and I am now an Aquarium Drunkard of sorts, you might say.

This isn't one of my favorite songs of theirs (this one that we used for Game 1 of the ALDS last year is), but these previews have always been more about what works for the storyline than our absolute favorite tunes, musically.]

As was the plan heading into the series, Cervelli returns behind the plate today and bats sixth. Nothing noteworthy other than that.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Francisco Cervelli C
Curtis Granderson CF
Brett Gardner LF
Javier Vazquez RHP
Kelly Johnson 2B
Stephen Drew SS
Justin Upton RF
Miguel Montero C
Chris Young CF
Adam LaRoche 1B
Mark Reynolds 3B
Gerardo Perra LF
Dontrelle Willis LHP

Wednesday Linktacular

During his recap of last night's game, Hank Waddles of Bronx Banter really did justice to Colin Curtis' first Major League hit, something that we only mentioned in passing because of its limited significance to the game. Money quote:
There are a lot of reasons why I love baseball, but moments like these are high on the list. Basketball players don’t care much about their first basket, and I’m guessing that even quarterbacks forget their first touchdowns, but there seems to be something magical about a player’s first hit. Every once in a while, like Tuesday night in Arizona, we get to share in that moment.
Chad Jennings has more, including some audio from Curtis.

We also neglected to mention Joba Chamberlain's stellar inning last night but Mike from River Ave. Blues picks up that slack. We've seen these standout, stand-alone innings from Joba a few times this year and the hopeful reactions to them but remember that he was pitching with a seven run lead, in unusually warm weather against a team that's prone to striking out. A good inning is a good inning, but Joba has to rip off a bunch of them in a row before we have a legitimate reason to get excited.

Katie Sharp at ESPN's "TMI" Blog (still hate that name) looks a little deeper into Robinson Cano's improvements this year (subs. req'd), confirming what you probably have noticed about his approach at the plate:
One key change for Cano is that he’s finally learned to be patient and swing at more hittable pitches. Last year, he swung at 54% of all pitches and chased 35% of pitches out the zone with runners in scoring position – both of which were well above the major league averages of 46% and 24%, respectively. This year, he’s lowered his overall swing rate to 47.1% and his chase percentage has fallen to 29.1%.
Pending Pinstripes asks whether or not the Yanks should DFA Chan Ho Park. Judging by Joe Girardi's comments, it looks like the Yanks are going to stick with him for the time being. I certainly don't feel comfortable when he enters the game in a high leverage situations but his ability to throw multiple innings means he can still be useful on the roster.

The Yankees are playing better against bad teams than good ones? You've gotta be shitting me!

I don't have anything to link to just yet, but how about that USA soccer victory?!!

A Mickey Mouse sculpture adorned with Red Sox logos prepared for the All-Star Game was vandalized out in LA. Some may assume it was a group of Yankee fans who did it, but my money is on the Crips. Those folks don't take to kindly to people who wear red and display body language which seems to pose the question "What, bitch?"

The Sports Hernia inarguably has the greatest headlines.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs argues that the only way to shorten the length of the games is to enlarge the strikezone. That or trim down the commercial breaks, but we all know that's not going to happen.

Over at U.S.S. Mariner, Cameron checks on with Lou Pinella's record seven years after he was traded to Tampa Bay along with Antonio Perez for Randy Winn, and hits on what I think is a fundamental truth in baseball:
The fact of the matter is that Piniella, like pretty much every other manager on earth, wins with teams that have talent and loses with teams that don’t. He doesn’t get more out of his players than anyone else. He doesn’t inspire his men to greatness. He doesn’t make brilliant tactical decisions or teach bad players how to become good ones. Right now, in fact, he’s making a debacle of the Cubs catching situation by benching Geovany Soto (who is really good) in favor of Koyie Hill (who is really bad).
Here's a cool interview with the founder of Baseball-Reference, Sean Foreman. It's on the Bleacher Report, but don't worry, it's not stolen from somewhere else or ridden with grammatical errors.

A site called Snippets used Google Maps to look at every baseball field in the MLB. They came up with some interesting facts that you may or may not be aware of and created some sweet graphics. It's a bit like the one Craig Robinson did for his site (Flip Flop Fly Ball) but with way more words.

Speaking of Mr. Robinson, the fine gentlemen of Pitchers & Poets did an excellent podcast with him a while back that I've been meaning to link to. For those familiar with Craig's work, you'll be unsurprised to find that he's an illustrator by trade. The interview runs about a half hour and I assure that it will hold your attention for that whole time.

Mark Teixeira's mom told the world that he started referring to himself as "Kurt Teixeira" after the lead singer of Nirvana killed himself back in 1994. Yeah, that's kind of embarrassing, but on the bright side, maybe he can pick a song other than Twisted Sister now that the cat's out of the bag.

I don't mean to end on a sad note, but death seems to churn up some decidedly poignant writing. First, J.C. Bradbury wrote about what will likely be the last Father's Day he spent with his dad. And secondly, during Monday night's blowout, from over the loudspeakers in Chase Field, Marc Carig was reminded of his sister, six years after the unthinkable happened. Both of those will choke you up a bit, but are well worth reading.

Belated Father's Day Post

Good morning Fackers. In our gross absenteeism over the past several days we've neglected to mention a handful of things that have happened over that time. One of those was Father's Day this past Sunday. So three days a late and a buck short, we'll extend our best wishes to all the fatherly Fackers out there.

After Father's Day last year, we ran a couple posts about former Yankees who are part of two generation baseball families. While Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano remain second generation Big Leaguers on the Yankees roster, the team has spent the past two series playing the sons of former Yankee pitchers.

Father's Day weekend was spent playing the Mets and their rookie first baseman Ike Davis, the son of former Yankee reliever Ron Davis. The elder Davis was drafted by the Cubs in 1976, and was shipped to the Yankees two years later in exchange for Ken Holtzman. After making just four appearances that season, Davis established himself as a reliable bullpen arm. He spent the next three seasons as Goose Gossage's primary set up man, posting impressive numbers. He won fourteen games in 1979 without making a single start and made the All-Star team in 1981. He also made headlines that year by working as a waiter during the players' strike.

That post-season, he worked 9.1 scoreless innings in the ALDS and ALCS, before getting knocked around in the World Series. The following spring he was part of a three player package sent to Minnesota for Roy Smalley, himself a second generation Major Leaguer.

Meanwhile, Diamondbacks' first baseman Adam LaRoche, just like his positional counterpart on the Mets, is the son of a former Yankee reliever. Lefty Dave LaRoche was at the tail end of his career when the Yankees signed him as a free agent early in the 1981 season. He spent the following two seasons, plus a one game cameo in 1983, as a member of the Yankee pen, going 8-3 with a 3.12 ERA. His time was probably most notable for employing his eephus pitch, dubbed "La Lob". Following his retirement after the '83 season, he spent three years as a pitching coach in the Yankees minor league system.

It won't be long before the sons of players I grew up watching will be populating MLB rosters, at which point I will feel really old.

Game 71 Recap

[WE data via FanGraphs]

The last two games that the Yankees played collectively form a great example of why it's better to avoid letting yourself take every up and down of the baseball season. Watching a loss causes you to project it forward so that every downturn seems like an impending freefall and every triumph makes the game seem easier than it really is. Clearly, Monday night was the former and last night's victory was the latter.

If you weren't looking at the Win Expectancy chart, I'd be obligated to inform you that the final score wasn't a good indication of how close the game actually was. But you can see for yourself that the Diamondbacks had a nearly 50% chance of winning the game as late as the sixth inning.

The Yankees jumped out quickly, though. Derek Jeter led off the game with a single and after two flyouts, was still standing on first when Alex Rodriguez came to the plate. A-Rod looked at two curveballs from Dan Haren, one for a ball and one for a strike, before ripping a fat two-seam fastball over the wall in left-center field to put the Yankees up 2-0.

Haren would get his revenge, although not against A-Rod, specifically. Andy Pettitte gave up a single to Justin Upton to lead off the bottom of the second but looked to be out of trouble when he struck out Chris Young on a cutter at the knees, caught Upton going on first motion and picked him off trying to steal second.

However, after throwing a first pitch strike, he tossed four straight balls to Adam LaRoche, gave up a double to Mark Reynolds and walked Chris Snyder after a grueling 12 pitch at bat to load the bases. That brought up the pitcher's slot which, when Haren is in the game, has not been a soft spot this year (he came into the game hitting .425/.425/.575 in 41 PA's). Haren took an awkward, reaching cut and slashed a ball down the right field line, driving in two runs to tie the game up.

Rodriguez would have an answer for that at well. After Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira singled in front of him in the top of the fourth, Alex added a base knock of his own, scoring Swisher and giving the Yankees the lead 3-2.

The score remained the same until the eighth inning when Dan Haren had exited the game, having thrown 109 pitches. Lo and behold, once the Yanks got into the bullpen, they blew the game wide open. I think that means I actually made a decent prediction in the preview. That's a first.

Against Esmerling Vasquez, the top of the Yanks order went single-double-single-walk, scoring a run and loading the bases for Robinson Cano. Chad Qualls came out of the 'pen next, allowed a single to Cano, a sac fly to Jorge Posada and before it was all over, an RBI single to Curtis Granderson and a two run double to ASU alum Colin Curtis. The good news for Qualls is that it only raised his ERA from 8.87 to 8.88 (not kidding). When the dust settled, the score was 9-3 and the Yanks were all but home free.

Thankfully, last night's game gave us a reason to stay up past the first inning. Heck, watching the first inning made me want to stay up for the whole game. Even if you didn't make it the full three hours, you still had something nice to wake up to this morning, right?

It's another 9:40 start tonight as the Yankees look for a series victory. Javier Vazquez faces his old team (he had two good outings against them last year) and squares off against Dontrelle Willis.