Sunday, May 31, 2009

Game 50: You Don't Know Me

Who is Carl Pavano?

I pose this pseudo-existential question because he was on the Yankees for four years and I don't feel like I actually know anything about the guy. I'm aware that he at one time drove a Porsche, dated Alyssa Milano, and at various points injured his ass, elbow, shoulder, neck, back, ribs, collarbone, big toe, inner ear, heel, scalp and gall bladder.

All of his defining moments for the Yankees came in The Post. After a while, even his teammates supposedly despised him. If the Yankees had dated Carl Pavano, they would have vast sums of money on him ($40M) and had sex roughly once every two months (26 starts in 4 years). And only a handful of those times (8 wins) would have been any good. Please see the Sports Hernia's heartfelt adieu for some more poignant thoughts on the matter.

After spending so much time on the DL and becoming a complete pariah to the team, he wasn't even allowed to have a personality. If he seemed happy or outgoing, everyone in the clubhouse probably would have wanted to punch him in the face. He was openly maligned by the media, the fans and became such a punchline that if he did avoid pitching towards the end of his contract, I would almost understand it. Almost.

It's okay though, because now were on to bigger and better things. Carl and the Indians look like they are happy together as they have won five of their last six starts. If you are of the vindictive ilk, perhaps you will take solace in the reality that the Indians are destined to suck this year and even if Pavano has a good season, it won't really "count" for shit. 

Opposing the face of all that went wrong with mid-to-late-2000's Yankees baseball will be Phil Hughes, who has already had his fair share of injury issues as well. Since being summoned from Scranton this year, Hughes has been great at times, decent at times and downright terrible once. Here are his earned run totals in order of appearance: 0... 3... 8... 3... 3... 0. Predict the next number in that secquence there Fibonacci. Even with two short shutouts, Hughes' ERA still sits at 5.16 due to that 8 run blow up against the Orioles and the fact he's averaging just under 5 innings per start.

Our understanding of Phil Hughes is still pretty fuzzy, but the anecdotes that the beat writers dig up always frame him as a pretty cool kid who seems to "get it". We don't know you yet either, Phil, but hopefully that will change over the decade or so.  

I wanna ask, you,
Do, you, ever sit and wonder,
It's so, strange,
That we could be together, for,
So, long, and never know, never care,
What goes on in the other one's head?

Winning Comes First

[No game recap this morning. If you want one, go here, or here, or here.]

You know that magical moving target that sports teams always search for? The secret elixir of success? It's the mystical ingredient that has lead to every single championship in the history of competitive sports. You can't manufacture or force it. It just has to naturally occur within the clubhouse/locker room/sidelines. If organizations could just unlock this one riddle, it would almost guarantee success every season.

Ahh, yes. Chemistry.

Our pal PeteAbe checks in last night/this morning with a report of the Yankees cohesiveness as a unit:
Baseball is a game of individual performance. Being friendly with your teammates doesn’t mean anything when you’re standing at the plate and Jonathan Papelbon is throwing 97 mph on the outside corner.

That said, these Yankees are a good bunch of guys who really do seem to get along.
He details Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher's video game contests, Teixeira and Posada making nice after a nasty collision they had back in 2006, a laser pointer that everyone likes to fuck around with and the two suites that CC rented for everyone to go see the Cavs vs. Magic game (guess I was wrong about it being LeBron's time, btw). 

One point he doesn't bring up, though: Chemistry is easy to come by when you've won 14 of 17 games. Everything looks peachy looking through a victorious lens. That's why every single time a team wins a championship, they look back and talk about what a "great group of guys" they had and explain how the way they got along spurred them to victory. It's always going to look that way in hindsight.

I would say it was a "chicken or egg" situation, but it's obvious which one comes first. Winning breeds chemistry, not vice versa. It's a simple fact of life; when things are going well, it's easier to interact with people, even those you don't really like. Let's see how amusing that laser pointer is after the next time they get swept in a series. 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Game 49: Look Out Cleveland

When CC Sabathia was traded to the Brewers early last July he bid his hometown of 10 years goodbye by taking out a full page ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer thanking the fans for their support. The $12,870 the black and white ad cost was just a drop in the bucket compared to what he had already made in his career, much less what he was about net on the free agent market. Still, lots of guys get traded from a team and don't bother to offer such a thoughtful gesture. Hopefully the fans at Progressive Field tonight will be a little more accommodating than those at Thursday's Cavs game where the crowd actually booed CC. 

Knowing that there was almost no possibility of resigning Sabathia before he reached free agency and wanting to get something in return, the Indians dealt him to Milwaukee for highly touted, power hitting outfield prospect Matt LaPorta along with pitchers Zack Jackson, Rob Bryson and third baseman Taylor Green. The Hardball Times evaluated the trade at the time and called it dead even.

The Brewers probably got more than they expected from their three month and one week rental of Sabathia. He made 15 starts, seven of them complete games, totalling 130 1/3 innings pitched at a 1.65 ERA. His start in the ALDS against the Phillies left much to be desired, but from a Yankee fans' perspective, that was a good thing, as it ultimately limited the abuse points the Brewers were able to put on our future commodity. 

LaPorta made his major league debut this year, but struggled in his 13 games in The Bigs. He's currently down in AAA and hitting well, but hasn't shown the power he was rumored to have when the Indians acquired him. Taylor Green is at AA Huntsville, and Rob Bryson is still with Lake County in A-ball. The last piece of the deal, Zach Jackson, has spent most of the year in AAA, but made two starts and one relief appearance (against the Yankees) for the Tribe.

Sabathia's opponent tonight is Fausto Carmona, who was seemingly less affected by the midges in the 2007 ALDS than Joba Chamberlain. Carmona threw nine innings of one run ball that night using only 113 pitches, but it wasn't enough to net a complete game, as it took a walk off single by Travis Hafner in the 11th to snuff out the Yankees. 

2007 was unquestionably Carmona's finest year in the Major Leagues. Despite operating in CC Sabathia's shadow, he finished 4th in the Cy Young voting behind his teammate on the strength of a 3.06 ERA, but more importantly, a 19-8 record. The year before, the Indians tried to convert him to a reliever, but that experiment failed miserably as he collected 8 losses out of the 'pen. 

Last year, Carmona spent two months on the DL with a left hip strain and was ineffective in the 22 starts he did make, accumulating a 5.44 ERA. This season, he's picked up right where he left off. In 10 starts, his ERA is sitting at a smooth 6.42, and he was lifted from his last outing against the Rays after only 1 1/3 IP. He's walking nearly 6 batters per nine innings (up from 2.6 in 2007) and has a WHIP of 1.665. Many comparisons have been made between he and Chien Ming Wang in the past since both are tall, hard-throwing, right-handed sinkerballers who keep the ball in the park and have low strikeout rates. Allowing too many balls in play makes it tremendously difficult to have extended success against Major League hitting and both of these guys are facing that reality.

The Yankees enter this game winners of their last two against the Indians and 13 of their last 16 overall. Mark Teixeira has hit 12 home runs in May and has an OPS of 1.113. They say momentum is only as good as the next night's pitcher? Sabathia has averaged 8 innings over his past four starts and only given up a total of six runs.

Look out Cleveland, 
The storm is comin' through,
And it's runnin' right up on you. 
[H/T to Emma from Bronx Banter for the idea for the song.]

Saturday Links

There's not going to be anything in the way of content until the game preview tonight, so here are some links from around the Yankesphere to keep you busy:
And if you're really desperate... from the Post: 
  • Mark Teixeira as said that Joe Girardi is the "best manager [he's] had, by far". Interesting how winning casts a warm glow on everything, isn't it? I didn't hear anyone saying that when they were under .500 a few weeks ago. Teix has played for Buck Showalter, Ron Washington (briefly), Bobby Cox and Mike Scioscia. Three of those guys are top notch managers and Ron Washington is only 6 games under .500 in his 2+ seasons in Texas. I think was Mark meant to say was "favorite".
  • Joel Sherman tries to compare Don Mattingly's willingness to be dropped in the order in favor of Paul O'Neill in 1994 to Jeter's reluctance to move off of shortstop, concluding that Jeter is all un-Captainy and stuff. Here's the difference: Moving down in the batting order doesn't necessitate learning an entirely new skill set. Had Mattingly been asked to shift to left field, I imagine his reaction would have been quite different. 

The View From On Top

For the first time since October 1st, 2006, the Yankees are in sole posession of first place in the American League East. It's the only time it has happened in the Joe Girardi Era. Chew on that for a moment.

For the fifth straight game, Derek Jeter led off the game with a hit, setting the tone for another comfortable victory. 

The margin of victory was only two runs, but the Indians never had the tying runner in scoring position. 

Andy Petttitte had held the Indians scoreless when he was lifted with runners on first and second in the fifth inning and had only tossed 84 pitches. The main reason for his early departure was an apparent back problem which surfaced in the fourth inning.

Pettite doubled over after delivering a 3-1 slider to Ben Francisco and was visited on the mound by Joe Girardi and Gene Monahan. He stayed in the game but retreated to the clubhouse for treatment during the top of the 5th. Andy allowed a lead off single to Asdrubal Cabrera to being the bottom half of the fifth inning, but then recorded three straight outs. After taking the hill for the sixth, Pettitte was yanked after giving up a single and a walk.

Alfredo Aceves allowed one of Pettite's baserunners to score on a sac fly by Shin-Soo Choo, but that was all the offense Cleveland could muster. Aceves, who is emerging as a versatile late inning bullpen option for the Yanks, surrendered only a walk and a single in three innings of work.  

In his first game back, Jorge Posada went 2-3 with a walk. He saw 17 of Cliff Lee's 112 pitches, a contribution which certainly helped send the Indians' starter to the showers in the 6th inning for only the second time in his last 8 starts. 

A-Rod picked up a single and a walk at the plate but the most encouraging signs of the night for him won't be found in the box score. 

In the top of the second, Ben Francisco tapped a nubber down the third baseline, and A-Rod made a great effort charging in on the play, although the out wasn't made at first. Then, during top of the fifth, Alex hit a weak grounder to third base and sensing the possibility of an infield hit, he busted ass down the line and made it a closer play than expected, but was out by a nose. Hustle has long been a trademark of A-Rod's game, and regardless of your feelings about him, it's encouraging to see that he is feeling comfortable and healthy enough to go all out. 

Mo gave up a hit to Choo, but otherwise it was an uneventful and non-threatening ninth inning. The save moved Pettitte and Mariano as the starter/closer tandem with the most wins/saves together (58), passing Dennis Eckersley and Bob Welch (57).

The Yanks are in first. I'm not sure if I remember what that was like. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Game 48: Ohio

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own,
This summer I hear the drummin',
Four dead in Ohio.
[Yankee related sidenote: This song is about the infamous Kent State Massacre back in 1970. KSU is the alma mater of both Stick Michael and Ohio native Thurman Munson and the baseball field there is named in Michael's honor.]

While the Yankees were down in Texas this week, the Indians did a commendable service to everyone in the A.L. East, save from the Rays, that is. Heading into the series with a record of 17-28, the Indians pulled off a four game sweep which included a 7 run, 9th inning comeback, a dominant outing by Carl Pavano, overcoming a 5 run first inning defecit, and a mix and match pitchers duel where 4 hurlers combined to hold the Rays to one run

As it stands now, the Rays are tied for last place in the AL East and have lost much of the preseason shimmer that had carried over from their World Series run last year. Their "ace" Scott Kazmir has a 7.69ERA in 9 starts and is currently on the 15 day DL along with closer Troy Percival who was also quite ineffective (6.35ERA). They've scored the most runs in the AL, and as a result, their Pythagorean W-L record says they should be 28-22 instead of the 23-27 they find themselves at as opposed to last year, when they outperformed their run differential by 5 games.

The Indians are also underperforming their Pythag of 24-25, but that is clearly inflated by the 10-2 and 22-4 wins against the Yankees in their first meeting of the year. They are at 11-11 against the AL East, which is pretty impressive considering they are 10-17 against the rest of the league and they haven't even faced the Orioles yet!

Tonight's pitching match-up squares off lefties Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte. It is the third such southpaw showdown the Yanks have been a part of in the past six days. 

Lee, last year's Cy Young Award winner stumbled out of the gate but has seemingly righted the ship. In his last eight starts he is averaging over 7 1/3 innings pitched and has a 1.86ERA. During that stretch, he lowered his ERA from 6.75 to 3.04. Pettitte, on the other hand has exactly one quality start in his past five outings, but despite all of that has a record of 4-1 as opposed to Lee's 2-4. Lee has already lost more games than he did all of last year - 3.

The most significant note for the Yankees is that Jorge Posada has returned to the line up. Amazingly, since he went on the DL on May 5th, the Yankees have gone 14-7, but he will be a welcome addition to the batting order, nonetheless. As Matt suspected, Kevin Cash has been optioned to Scranton to make room.

Yesterday morning, Joel Sherman had this to say about Jorge behind the plate:
Posada's defense has regressed in recent years, and we are not just talking about his throwing after shoulder surgery. Pitchers do not generally enjoy pitching to him for a variety of reasons, including his inadequacy at framing pitches and his sketchy game calling.

But the general point here is that the Yankees are playing a cleaner, crisper game than they have over the past few years. It is probably not coincidence that it happened with Posada out with injury.
No, Joel, it probably is just a coincidence. Welcome back, Jorge. Let's go Yanks. 

"Bring Your Z-Game"

Via Craig from Shysterball over at Circling the Bases today, please check out Gregg Zaun's website, and definitely don't skip the intro (watch the volume, however).

He's got "Z-Tunes" from Rush and System of a Down, and would like to inform you that his uncle Pat competes in the World Long Drive Championships and is available to build you a driver if you would like to as well! Take a look "Behind the Mask" or become a member of the "Zaunbie Nation" (approximate enrollment: +/- 7).

Friday Injury Update

"It's Friday. You ain't got no job; you ain't got shit to do"

It is Friday. But I do have a job and I have a ton of shit to do, so I'm left counting down the hours to a weekend that won't really even exist for me. How about some good news regarding the Yankees walking wounded?
  • Jorge Posada will be activated from the DL for tonight's game. Sayanora Kevin Cash!

  • Melky Cabrera will rejoin the the team today. His injury is just a bruise and will supposedly keep him out 5 to 7 days, but he will not need to go on the DL. At least that's what the team says. They've been wrong (or lied) before.

  • Brian Bruney got a clean bill of health from Dr. James Andrews. There's no ligament damage; his problems are being caused by the same flexor muscle that landed him on the DL in the first place. The bad news is there's no timetable for his return.

  • Xavier Nady got into his first extended spring training game yesterday. As the DH, he went 2 for 5 with a HR and a BB. He's slated to start throwing on Monday.

  • Molina, Ransom, and Marte worked out at the minor league complex. Marte did not throw.

A Hypothetical Ponderance - How Much For A Year Behind Bars?

This one comes to you from a follow-up post Jason at IIATM,S did about his new site "Vote For Manny". The original post suggested that people vote Manny Ramirez for the All-Star Game mostly to promote chaos and see what would happen if Manny did work his way into the top three vote-getters. I wholeheartedly support the movement, mainly because I'm in favor of anything that makes Bud Selig uncomfortable. Get out there and vote, friends. 

In under one day, the site got some serious publicity and with that came lots of people who took the name of the idea at face value and left a lot of stupid anonymous comments and probably some angry email in Jason's inbox. All of that caused Jason to put up this post Wednesday night, clarifying his intentions. (Of course, some people are still missing the point.) 

As so often happens, I found a really interesting nugget in Jason's post. Trying to frame the usage of PED's in over the years in baseball, he asks:
Here's my question: If you were promised $200 million once you were done serving a 1 year jail sentence, would you serve the time? Would you risk the shame and embarrassment for generational wealth?
This is an extreme example, obviously. For most players the question would have been closer to "several million dollars if there was a chance of being sent to prison for a year", but I like Jason's hypothetical better. 

How much money would you need in return for one year in prision?

Let's assume that it's a maximum security joint and you go in a week from now. There are no TVs. You have a roommate and it's not John Coffey. No conjugal visits. You are in with the regular inmate population, and they all think that you committed, say, armed robbery or whatever crime you choose. We've all heard about the terrible things that happen in jail and you get no guarantees on your safety and no special treatment. Odds are you will make it out alive, but there's no promises you do. 

You eat the slop they serve you. Your toilet is right in your cell. You have to listen to whatever inmates who are serving life sentences scream throughout the cell block to each other at night. You can't chisel your way our behind a Rita Hayworth poster and you don't have the Squirrelmaster to protect you. Michael Scofield isn't bailing you out of this one. You are locked up in the clink, behind bars for one full year, no getting out early for good behavior. 

How much would it take for you to trade in one year of your freedom and dignity? 


I'll go first - For me, $200 million would be an absolute no brainer. Lock me up! But I think it's more interesting if you treat it like the Price is Right: You can't go over. Make your lowest offer and if it's too high, it doesn't get accepted. 

I'm going with twenty five million United States Dollars, after taxes. I'm 24 years old and single, so I don't have a family I would be pining to see on a daily basis when I was locked up. It would be like doing all the work you would ever have to do in your life in a one year span. Except instead of "work", you'd be reading books, doing a shitload of push-ups and trying to steer clear of dudes named "Roach" who could potentially shiv you in the courtyard.  

I took three one week intensive courses in college where you take the same class for 5 days from 9-5 and receive full three credits upon completion. Sure, listening to a professor drone on about fucking Discrete Probability for two three and a half hour sessions a day was mind numbing. However, every memory of those classses were blocked from my memory within about a week and during the following semester, I didnt have any classes before 10:30 and had every Friday off. 

Money can't buy you happiness, but it can certainly buy you freedom. $25 million bucks isn't that much money, when you consider that 11 guys on the Yankees are in the middle of deals with higher total values (and they get to play baseball, not go to jail). But even if you could get a 1% a year return on it, that's a $250,000 per annum, and you would be able to take advantage of it 24/7/365. Travel, write, golf, get a couple graduate degrees, take a badass baseball road trip, whatever. 

Your turn. 

Not A Bad Place To Be On A Night Off

(Photos via Yahoo)

Man, being a professional athlete sure has it's perks, doesn't it? They may have gotten shut out of the Ritz Carlton last night in favor of a Saudi princess, but several Yanks caught the Cavs vs. Magic game in style. That's Robby Cano and CC checking in with Jay-Z pictured above. Even some of the beat writers got in on the action.

In addition to the Yanks, Jigga and the LoHud of the Rings"Ben Roethisberger", errr, Brady Quinn (the real Big Ben was there too), Kerry Wood and Carl Pavano all saw the Cavs crawl back to 3-2. Only 4% of NBA teams who get down 3-1 in a playoff series come back to win, but I can't bet against LeBron. I think it's his time. 

Sager: CC, the year you won the Cy Young, your team, the Indians, were up on the Boston Red Sox 3-1 but couldn't close them out. How much do you think a championship would mean to this city?

Sabathia: I'm sorry Craig, could you repeat the question? I couldn't concentrate because I was fighting the urge to strangle you with your ridiculous tie.  

Isn't it amazing how often A-Rod gets a picture taken of him where he looks like a complete and total douche? Would you even want to hang out with him for a night if you could? I'm assuming he'd pick up the tab which would make it significantly more tempting. 
 Mo, on the other hand, looks like he's walking in to "Enter Sandman" no matter where he goes. I would kill with hang with him for a night at his restaurant and talk baseball. 

Which Yankee would you most like to chill with? One night out, on them, your choice of activities. Ladies, it can't be Derek Jeter and "rolling around in bed", okay?


Thursday, May 28, 2009

What To Do Tonight...

The Yankees aren't on, and we are all lost... I know. Here are some options:
  • Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee - ABC, 8-10PM - Bathe in the social awkwardness, bask in Erin Andrewsocity. If that's too boring, watch Cheap Seats make fun of a bunch of them from the mid 90's.

  • Game 5 of the Cavs vs. Magic series - TBS, 8:30 - 11-ish - Do or die for Lebron, should make for some interesting television.

  • Jeff Beck: Live At Ronnie Scotts - Palladia HD, 7-9 - Oh, it's almost over? Get lost in his clips on YouTube. There's an hour and a half special on the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival on immedately following as well. The movie Woodstock is on from 8-12 on VH1 Classic if that doesn't suit your fancy. 

  • REAL Sports - HBO 9-10 - Interview with a rep from the NFLPA, a piece on some afeminte bull riding brothers form Spain. You might want to turn off before the horse slaughtering part at the end, though.
  • Dodgers vs. Cubs - MLBHD, 8 - 11-ish - Two great franchises squaring off at Wrigley and... aw, fuck. Bob Costas calling the game? Nevermind. 

  • An hour long re-run of The Office - NBC, 10 - 11 - Hey, it's better than a first run of 90% of the other bullshit that's on TV.

  • Hit some golf balls at Randall's Island - That's where I'm headed, anyway. See you tomorrow, bright and early. 

Walter Sobchak Approves

"3,000 years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax, 
you're damn right I'm living in the fucking past!"

Perhaps we should have changed Sandy Koufax to Ron Bloomberg for this one.

This press release from the Yankees yesterday. (h/t Pete Abe)

The New York Yankees have announced the addition of strictly kosher food offerings and Shabbat accommodations at their November 2009 and January 2010 Fantasy Camps.

Glatt kosher food will be provided by Weberman Foods with OK supervision, and a Friday “Dream Game” will be played so Shomer Shabbat Jews can participate.

Campers who keep kosher will be able to fully participate in all regular camp activities and have three strictly kosher meals served daily. The camp will offer traditional Shabbat services Friday night and Saturday, as well as special Shabbat speakers and programming.

For six days and seven nights, Yankees Fantasy Campers live the life of a big league player, dressing in full Yankees uniform and using the same Spring Training clubhouse and fields as the New York Yankees. All campers get their very own locker and a staff of clubhouse attendants and professional trainers to create the authentic Yankees experience.

Former Yankees Chris Chambliss, Bucky Dent, Tommy John, Mickey Rivers, and Ron Blomberg, among others, are scheduled to attend.

Founded in 1997 and located in Tampa, Fla., the New York Yankees Fantasy Camp has hosted over 1,500 campers and 50 former New York Yankees players. For more information on the New York Yankees Fantasy Camp, and the addition of strictly kosher and Shabbat accommodations, please call (800) 368-2267.

"Saturday, Donny, is Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. That means I don't work, I don't drive a car, I don't fucking ride in a car, I don't pick up the phone, I don't turn on the oven, and I SURE AS SHIT DON'T FUCKING ROLL PLAY AT A FANTASY CAMP! Shomer Shabbat!"

We'll see you in Tampa, Walter.

The Supposed "Rookie Starter Difficulties"

Every time the Yankees face an unheralded starting pitcher who they have never seen before, a sentiment echoes throughout Yankeedom. There's a collective "here we go again", as it has become a popular notion that they Yankees can't handle these types of pitchers. Last night, during the top of the sixth inning of the YES broadcast, Ken Singleton dropped a stat that is undoubtedly going to surprise you if you subscribe to that idea:
  • In the past two years (since 5/27/07) the Yankees have faced 31 rookie pitchers for the first time. In that span, those pitchers have a combined record 3-18 in those games (after the Yanks beat Derek Holland last night).  
Wins and losses are never going to tell the whole story, but 3-18 paints a pretty clear picture. Singleton was about to say who the three pitchers were, but Brett Gardner dropped a drag bunt, which Derek Holland proceeded to throw away, just before he was pulled from the game and tagged with the loss. Ken didn't continue the thought after the commerical break, so I went back and looked them up. 
Matt Harrison - August 5th, 2008 - Harrison didn't completely shut down the Yanks, but did hold them to two runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched while Andy Pettitte let up 5 runs in 5IP.

Koji Uehara - April 8th, 2009 - The 35 year old Japanese transplant is not your typical rookie, and he had the luxury of facing Chien Ming Wang in one of his first three starts of the season. 

Matt Palmer - May 2nd, 2009 - Palmer, a 30 year old journeyman, slayed CC Sabathia with 6 1/3 innings of one run ball for his second of five straight wins. Despite an ERA of 4.76 with the Angels this season, Palmer still has a 5-0 record. 
So, why the perception that the Yankees are doomed when they face a rookie they have never seen before, especially a lefty?

For one, the stat that YES came up with is heavily caveated. It only looked at the past two calendar years, so it didn't include John Danks' victory on May 16, 2007. It consisted of only guys who the Yankees hadn't faced before, so it didn't acknowledge games like Scott Feldman's win on June 30th, 2008 because they faced him in relief on May 16th, 2006. 

Also, and I think most importantly, it only accounted for actual rookies, not just "guys who we think should suck". Baseball is unique because guys can linger for years on the periphery of the game, ducking in and out of the minors and changing organizations only to emerge at 29 or 30 years old in a starting role for a team in need. So when the Yanks lose a game to a guy like Dustin Mosely, Ryan Feierabend, Paul Maholm, or Jorge de la Rosa, it might not factor into that stat, but it registers in our consciousness. 

The underlying reason that we percieve the Yankees to have problems with rookie starters is our expectations. We see that the opposing pitcher is some no name journeyman and assume the Yankees should pummel him. When they do, we think nothing of it. But when they don't it tends to stick in our craw. When something goes according to plan, it's easy to forget about. You can eat sushi 100 times from the same place and hardly be able to tell each one apart, but if you ever get sick from it, you will remember the exact order for years to come.

Although the Yanks have losses to Uehara and Palmer this year, they have also disposed of Horacio Ramirez, Anthony Reyes, Anthony Ortega, Brett Anderson, Scott Richmond, Brain Tallet, Dana Eveland, Rick Porcello, Brad Bergesen, and the aforementioned Derek Holland. How many of those games did you remember?

Texas Two Step

In a game that featured both what's right and what's wrong with the Yankees at this stage in the season, the Yankees defeated the Rangers 9-2 to take the rubber game of the series and hold a share of first place for the first time since April 16, 2008.

In the first inning, the Yankees jumped out to a lead they would never relinquish, as Mark Teixeira launched a two run homer to left, his 15th of the season, good for second in the AL. Teix would add a hot shot single in the third and just miss a second long ball in the fifth when he tomahawked one to the centerfield warning track. Over his last 15 games Teixeira is hitting .426/.486/.918 with 8 HR and 22 RBI.

Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano would also get in on the homer act, with Matsui homering to right in both the sixth and seventh innings and Cano crushing one to right in the ninth. The other Yankee runs would come on an RBI double by Derek Jeter in the second and a Kevin Cash two run single in the sixth.

Cash, getting his second start in the series, went 2 for 4, raising his average to a robust .231, and leaving him at 5 for 9 in the series. He also threw out 1 of 2 would-be base stealers on the night. After entering the series 1 for 17 on the year, and entering the game having caught just 1 of 9 on the bases, Cash is probably sad to leave Texas. With Posada set to come off the DL as soon as Friday, Cash may want to consider staying there.

All told, Jeter, Teixeira, Matsui, Cano, Gardner, and Cash all had multi-hit games. Every starter save for Johnny Damon recorded a hit. Damon gave the team a scare in the field, crashing into the left field wall at a time when the team can scarcely afford to lose another outfielder. Angel Berroa made another ninth inning pinch running appearance and got doubled up at the plate for the final Yankee out when he tried to score on a Jeter flyout.

From the mound, A.J. Burnett earned his first win since April 14th, and did so in an unusual manner. He went 6 scoreless innings, allowing only 3 hits, issuing 4 walks, and striking out 7. But, he threw under 60% of his pitches for strikes and needed 117 pitches to get through 6 innings, a whopping 19.5 pitches per IP.

With Burnett done after six, the Yankees needed three innings from the bullpen. Despite a comfortable eight run lead, Joe Girardi would not let Brett Tomko pitch for the first time since Sunday. Nor would he immediatley turn to Chien-Ming Wang, who hadn't pitched since Friday and desperately needs innings.

Instead, Jose Veras got the ball for the twenty-first time this season, and turned in yet another representative performance: double, groundout, homer, walk, showers. David Robertson came on to clean up the mess Veras left and illustrated why he should have been on the roster ahead of Veras a long time ago, using six strikes on eight pitches in retiring both batters he saw.

Wang pitched the final two innings, and looked far better than he did against Philly on Friday. He needed just 26 pitches in working two perfect innings, throwing 69% of his pitches for strikes. He recorded two outs via strikeouts, two on the ground, and two in the air. The GB/FB ratio isn't quite what you'd like to see from Wang, but looking at it over a two inning outing isn't very telling.

What is telling is that his sinker looked good. It was staying down in the zone and his velocity was good. Wang looked like a far more confident pitcher last night. He's not where he once was, nor is he where he needs to be in order to be trustworthy again. But let's hope tonight was step one on the path to recovery.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Game 47: Texas Flood

Tonight matches the best home run hitting offense in the American League with its 4th least effective pitcher at keeping the ball in the park. In 9 games, A.J. Burnett has been tagged for 10 long balls, including three in his last start against the Phillies. The Rangers have hit 76 dingers in 45 games, three more that the Yankees in one fewer outing. What are chances A.J. can keep the flood gates closed?

Burnett has always worn the tag of "inconsistent" but with each passing start, he's inching closer and closer to "bad". He hasn't sported an ERA under 5.00 since his third start of the season and hasn't been on the winning end of a decision since his second. He's allowed at least two runs in every start this year, but has given the Yankees something they've sorely needed: over 6 1/3 innings per start. 

The Rangers counter with 22 year old lefty Derek Holland. This is only Holland's second start of the year, after making seven appearances in relief. He needed only 76 pitches to get through 5 2/3 innings in his last start, and based on his GM's attitude towards starting pitchers, he should be looking to take this one a little deeper. 

Lately, much has been made of Nolan Ryan's philosophy concernign managing the Ranger's pitching staff. Ryan has been amping up their pitcher's training regiment with the intent having them throw more innings and cope with the sometimes oppressively hot nights that accompany Summers in Arlington:
Pitchers, Ryan said, would be expected to last deeper in games. To handle the Texas heat, they would train harder, emphasizing sprinting over distance running and throwing live batting practice all through camp. Pitchers would do more long-tossing and coaches would pay more attention to the stress of each outing, not simply the number of pitches.
It sort of sounds like your typical crowing from old timey baseball folks who say that pitch counts are for pussies, but this has seemingly worked so far, even in one of the better hitter's parks in all of baseball. The Rangers lead the league in innings from their starting staff and were the last team in the AL to ask for 100 innings from their bullpen. Maybe that tough talk from Ryan, a Refugio, Texas native is really starting to pay off. 

When fellow Texan (Dallas born, to be exact) Stevie Ray Vaughan wrote the lyrics to the song below, he was probably talking about a night like last night. May is the rainiest month in Dallas, but if there's any "floodin' down in Texas" tonight, the radar indicates it will be contained to the San Antonio area. 

Well there's floodin' down in Texas... all of the telephone lines are down.
And I've been tryin' to call my baby... Lord and I can't get a single sound.

Joba's Off Night

"I could go on for days and days to tell you how bad I was. Plain and simple, I was terrible. There's no getting around it. I've got to do a better job of keeping my team in the game and not try to battle myself the whole time." ~ Joba Chamberlain, talking about his performance last night
If you want to take a pessimistic look at what happened last night, there's plenty to get riled up about. Coming off of a game where a line drive hit his shin, Joba's fastball velocity was down, and he gave up nine baserunners in four innings. Scarsely more than half of his 84 pitches went for strikes. For the sixth time in nine starts, he allowed a home run. 

On the bright side, however, just as his career line would have predicted, Joba struck out more than one batter per inning. Joe Girardi could have very easily let Joba come back out for the bottom of the 5th, but chose the cautious route, allowing critics to point to the fact that he only lasted four frames. It wasn't like he was getting torched or had already hit 100 pitches. 

What's important to note is that Joba's bad outings are rarely that bad. He gave up 5 runs in 4 2/3 innings in his second start of the year and 4 runs in 5 2/3 against the Red Sox. Of course, neither of those two are going to pass for solid outings. But if you are going to have a bad start, it's obviously better not to give up many earned runs, regardless of how few innings are thrown. That way, the bullpen theoretically has a chance to keep the other team from scoring, even given how unlikley the Yanks' relievers have made that seem recently.

It's also heartening to hear a 23 year old take responsibility for a bad performance like he did in the quote above, something one Yankee prospect seemed to have quite a bit of trouble with. He didn't make excuses about the rain delay, the umpires' strike zone or bad luck. Even when things go wrong, Joba says the right things. After last night, his ERA is still 3.97 and he's been the second best starter on the Yankees. 

Deconstructing Roster Construction

As I did last week when I ripped into Joe Torre, I'm going to start off positive. I like Brian Cashman. I think he's the right GM for this franchise. I think he does a good job with his resources, has revitalized the farm system, handles the media well, and has maintained both a level head and his dignity through eleven plus years in one of the most demanding jobs in sports. I think he has a vision for the future of this franchise and has a plan for how to execute it.

I also like Joe Girardi. Sort of. When it was clear that Torre was gone, Girardi was the guy I wanted to get the job. Despite his hokey "aw-shucks" routine, penchant for dishonesty with the media, a sometimes prickly relationship with his players, and his making of head-scratching moves on a nightly basis, I still think he's the right guy for the job. No sense changing horses mid-race - he still needs time to accomplish what he's here to do.

That said, I'm reaching the point of exasperation with how these two are constructing both the 25 and 40 man rosters and how Girardi is utilizing the former. These things are easy to miss when they're winning, but tough not to ignore when they're losing.

So without further ado, here's a look at some of the fat taking up precious roster spots. For an detailed explanation on how the 25 and 40 man rosters work, check here.

Honorable Mention: 40 Man Roster Division
Andrew Brackman and Juan Miranda

I'm not suggesting that neither Andrew Brackman nor Juan Miranda isn't valuable or isn't good. The problem however is that both these individuals were given Major League contracts when they first signed, meaning that they immediately had to be added to the 40 man roster.

Andrew Brackman is currently pitching in Low A-ball after missing all of last year following Tommy John surgery. I can't see him reaching the Bronx until September 2010 at the earliest, and likely later than that. Which isn't to say that he can't be good, because he certainly can. But right now he's taking up a precious 40 man spot. Had Brackman not been signed to a Major League deal, he wouldn't need to be added to the 40 man until after the 2010 season. Thank you, Scott Boras.

Had it not been for his Major League contract, Juan Miranda would not need to be added to the 40 man roster until after this season. The guy can hit, posting .275/.366/.468 over his minor league career. He cannot field however, being a first baseman exclusively and not a very adept one at that. Since the Yankees are set at that position for the next eight years or so, Miranda is stuck. He can't play the outfield, hasn't been tried there even, and the Yankees already have two guys who are exclusively DHs at this point. Miranda has value; why he isn't being actively shopped for a more usable player doesn't make sense to me.

The 40 man roster allows you a reservoir of 15 reserves for replacements and injuries. These two men represent greater than 13% of that. So right off the bat, the Yankees are in a hole. Add to that the five guys currently on the 15 day DL and the Yankees have exactly 8 of their 15 reserves that they could reasonably use right now.

Active Roster Division
Listed in Order of Ascending Value to the Roster
1) Brett Tomko
Brett Tomko has no business being on a Major League roster. None. Yet here is, representing 4% of a team that's supposed to be contending for the World Series.

He's terrible. He's 36. He's been in the majors for 13 years. He's turned in 9 different stints with 7 different organizations. He's been released three times in the last twenty-one months, each time by a team far, far out of contention. He's turned in an ERA better than league average only twice in 12 seasons, and not once since 2004, despite playing the majority of his career in pitcher's parks. What in the world makes the Yankees think he's a more compelling option than any number of younger pitchers they have in AAA? Because he can fool minor league hitters that he has a dozen years of Big League experience on?

Not only is he awful, he has no defined role. The former starter apparently can't be used as a long man because he's been a short stint reliever this year. Yet he couldn't be trusted to pitch the ninth in a laugher against Baltimore last week, or hold an 11 run lead for an inning against Texas Monday. What the hell do you call the guy who's lower than the mop-up man? Meanwhile the Yankees cut loose Eric Hacker to add Tomko to the roster. Great work guys.

2) Angel Berroa
Angel Berroa is quite possibly worse than Brett Tomko. The only reason Tomko is worse on this list is that the organization has any number of better options to do what Tomko does. They don't have those players who can do what Berroa does. Or what Berroa is supposed to do, at least.

Let's recap. The Yankees wisely chose Ramiro Pena over Angel Berroa to be the utility infielder coming out of spring training. When Cody Ransom went down with a torn quadriceps, Berroa was added to the roster. Not ideal, but I could at least understand why they move was made. Another IFer was needed, even if he had hit .231/.272/.322 (54 OPS+) over his last 772 MLB PA. The Yanks didn't really have any other viable options in the system. Maybe Kevin Russo, but he can't play short. Neither can Berroa - but at least he has played short.

"What's the worst that could happen?" I figured. Berroa was added to the roster on 4/25. A-Rod returned to the roster on 5/8. I figured Berroa was gone. Nope. Both catchers went down necessitating a 40 man move. I figured Berroa was gone. Nope. Brett Tomko was inexplicably added to the roster necessitating a 40 man move. I figured Berroa was gone. Nope.

The company line is that the Yankees want another infielder around until they're sure A-Rod is healthy. A-Rod has not looked 100% in the field nor on the bases. Yet, he has started all 18 games since returning, 16 of them at 3B. He's completed all but 5 of those games, never being removed before the 8th nor before the outcome was all but settled. Are you sure yet?

Meanwhile, the biggest thing of value Berroa has done has been to warm up the pitcher when the catcher makes the last out of an inning. Since May 4th, he has appeared in five games, never earlier than the eight inning. He has zero plate appearances in that time. Zero. In that same time frame Brett Gardner has been used as a pinch hitter four times.

So basically the Yankees are saying that saving A-Rod 5 innings in the field over the past 3+ weeks has been worth sending Brett Gardner up as a pinch hitter rather than Shelley Duncan, John Rodriguez, Todd Linden, or Juan Miranda. The Yankees value their washed-up second back-up infielder more than they did the careers of young pitchers Stephen Jackson or Eric Hacker.

Pete Abe likes to joke about how old Berroa looks. I think the guy may actually be a cockroach, because it appears it'll take a nuclear winter to get him off the roster.

3) Jose Veras
Here's the thing about middle relievers: There's a reason they're middle relievers. They're not good enough to start and they're not good enough to close. With a few exceptions, anyone below the third guy in a pen is essentially a replacement level player. If he's not doing the job, chances are you have someone else behind him in the pen or below him in AAA who can.

Despite a high WHIP (1.41) and high BB/9 (4.5) last year, Veras was pretty effective over 57.2 innings, with a 124 ERA+ and a K/9 of 9.8.

This year he is not effective at all. The WHIP is up (1.45), the BB/9 is way up (6.1), the ERA+ (82) and K/9 (7.0) are significantly down. He's worse in every conceivable way and seems to go 3-0 on the first batter every time he's entered a game.

Yet the Yankees won't get rid of him because he's out of options. They can't send him down without exposing him to waivers and are afraid they'll lose him for nothing. I say "so what?". They got lucky, catching lightning in a bottle with him last year. He's no good this year. Relievers are volatile like that. That's how it works. Meanwhile Mark Melancon, Anthony Claggett, and until yesterday, David Robertson, rot away in Scranton.

As with Berroa and Tomko, Veras is a waste of a 40 man spot that could be better used on someone else who could give them more roster flexibility and at least equal performance.

4) Kevin Cash
Here's the catch-22 about being the Yankees. When you trot out a waste of a uniform like Kevin Cash and his career OPS+ of 36, people say things like "You're the Yankees. How in the world can you spend $200M and still have to resort to Kevin Cash?". And in a way, those people are right.

But at the same time, if you're the Yankees, how do you lure a decent catcher to sit in AAA and be an insurance policy behind Posada and Molina, and maybe even Cervelli, without paying him an arm and a leg, and having everyone bitch about how much money you spend?

With Posada coming off surgery and Molina being a zero offensively, Cashman should have had a better insurance policy lined-up, preferably one who wasn't a worse hitter than Molina. But I can understand at least, why that may not have happened.

This shouldn't matter much longer. Posada could be back by the weekend and Cash should immediately be DFA'd. If they send Cervelli down first I'll flip my lid. Who cares if they lose Cash? Number 1, he's awful. Number 2, what are the chances of needing a fourth catcher again this year? Number 3, they still have Chris Stewart and PJ Pilittere at Scranton if such a situation arises. And Number 4, last year's emergency catcher, Chad Moeller, will likely be DFA'd Friday when Baltimore activates uber-prospect Matt Wieters. I would not be surprised at all to see Moeller sign a minor league deal with the Yanks.

I can't wait to be rid of Cash.

5) Chien-Ming Wang
I almost feel bad putting him on this list. I'm very confident that Wang can return to form. However, as I stated last week and as RAB put far more eloquently, I think the Yankees have botched his return very badly.

He is clearly not right yet. But in order to get right, he's going to have to do it at the Major League level, because there's no way he gets through waivers and there's very little chance of DLing him again after the first one was kind of suspect. But because Joba took a liner and the Yankees apparently hate the other pitchers on their 40 man, they panicked, deviated from a course of action they had planned just the day before, and foolishly rushed Wang back into a role for which he is neither suited nor ready.

What's more is he has to fix his problems working out of the pen despite having relieved just four times in his entire professional career. And much like Tomko, I have no friggin' clue how Girardi intends to use him. Last night Joba was pulled after four innings and Girardi went to Aceves for the second straight day. If you're not going to use Wang when your starter only goes four, when are you going to use him?

Now, Wang has gone four days without pitching. He's a sinker baller. Sinker ballers need work and they even tend to pitch a bit better when slightly fatigued. Wang's sinker is not sinking, which is a big cause of his problems right now. I have no clue how he's going to get straightened out. I fear 2009 may turn out to be a total loss for him.

If you're keeping score at home, that's five of the twenty-five men on the active roster. Twenty percent of the active roster offering little or no value to the club right now. Throw in an injury that will likely sideline Melky for a few days and the Yankees essentially have a 19 man roster. A lot of this can be fixed by players getting healthy, but much of it is of Cashman's and Girardi's own making. I hope that once players start returning, the Tomkos, Berroas, Verases, and Cashes of the world are finally exiled and some players that offer a little more flexibility are added to the roster.

The Jackson Report: 5/27

(Picture via Chad Jennings)

After Melky Cabrera was taken out in the first inning of last night's game, Matt and I pondered the implications of a DL stay for Melky. Obviously, one of the first courses of action that we discussed was whether or not the Yankees should call up Austin Jackson.

(Click to enlarge) 

Jackson has had a great deal of success against AAA pitching this year. His BA, OPB, and SLG are all higher than his minor league career numbers (which all of, save for one game, were accumulated at AA or lower). He's hit safely in 34 of 41 games, had 15 multi-hit efforts and is currently riding an 8 game hitting streak.  Since we last checked in, Jackson has raised each of his slash stats and tacked on 5 more doubles and 5 more RBIs. His numbers are better with men on base than with the bases empty, and better yet with runners in scoring position.

There are some glaring holes in his game, however. During that stretch, he struck out 11 times (more than once per game on the year) and still has yet to register a home run at AAA. Both of those weaknesses project to be exacerbated by a jump to the Bigs. 

Being that a couple weeks without Melky would leave Brett Gardner as the only competent defensive CF on the roster it seems as though Jackson would at least have to be considered for a promotion. Matt and I agreed on this assessment but differed on the course of action. 


Jay says: I'm favor of the promotion, provided that it would only last until Melky was able to come back. Just in terms of a roster move, the alternative would be keeping only one capable CF on the 25 man roster, thus hamstringing Joe Girardi pretty severely. Damon or Swisher could play center in a pinch, but neither have manned the position at all this year and represent significant defensive downgrades. Jackson's offensive numbers project to be better than Gardner's at the MLB level and it would be had to imagine someone this side of Little League hitting worse that Swish is right now. 

In terms of Jackson's development, I feel like in most aspects of life, taking on a challenge is usually a positive thing. I wouldn't want him to languish on the bench, but one would assume that making his debut on the big stage and getting some at bats against major league pitching would probably make AAA seem a little easier by comparison when he went back down. 

Matt Says: I'm opposed to a promotion. There's no question Austin Jackson has been playing well at AAA. He's 4th in the IL in AVG and 2nd in OBP. However, he has not yet accomplished what he needs to in AAA in order to move on. While his slugging percentage is good, he's yet to homer. He's shown continued improvement with his BB rate (up to 11%), but his K rate has also jumped up to 28.4% after being under 22% each of the last two years.

I agree with Jay in that you need to challenge players, but Jackson is already being challenged. He's been fast-tracked through the system. This is only his fourth year of full-season pro ball and he is one of the youngest players in the IL. Give him the full year in AAA and don't make another ill-advised knee-jerk reaction.

Further, 40 man roster spots are in short supply right now (more on that later). I'd hate to DFA another player to add AJax for a quick fix. If a CFer is needed in Melky's absence, add Todd Linden. AJax needs to play everyday; Linden could be a usable bench piece. If he isn't, there's no harm in cutting him loose and adding someone else. Once AJax is added though he isn't going anywhere. And once he's called up that arbitration clock starts ticking.

In Melky Cabrera, the Yankees already have a CFer whose development may have been stunted by rushing him to the Big Leagues. I hope they don't repeat that mistake with AJax. 

The commenters say: (...leave your thoughts below)

That Was Kind Of Painful

When Kevin Millwood threw out the first pitch of last night's game, it was already 10:30 EDT and there was still a faint drizzle coating the field. Ken Singleton first estimated that the delay would only last about an hour when the game was scheduled to start and a thunderstorm cell was moving through the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but as I periodically refreshed the radar, it seemed to have stalled out right over the park. It didn't start raining for more than an hour, but when it did, chunks of hail and bolts of lightning caused the Rangers to ask fans to clear the upper decks. The final length of the delay: 2:24.

Derek Jeter busted a single to left-center to start the game, but the Yanks failed to get anything going in the first. The bottom half of the inning was significantly more eventful, and not in a good way for the road team. 

Ian Kinsler, the first Ranger to come to the plate, took a 2-2 pitch out to deep center field. Melky Cabrera tracked it, came close to making a nice catch, but couldn't slow down and face planted into the wall. 

He came away clutching his shoulder as his right arm hung limp. He still managed to throw the ball back towards the infield with his left hand, but Kinsler had already reached third with a stand-up, lead-off triple. It seems as though the Yankees simply can't make it through a series in the state of Texas without suffering an injury. Brett Gardner came in as a replacement, and the latest word on Cabrera is that he had sprained his shoulder and is day to day.

With Kinsler standing on third, Michael Young came to the plate and pulled one to A-Rod, who was standing about 10 feet from thrid base. Alex looked at Kinsler, who stutter-stepped over towards home, and instead of throwing to first, A-Rod made a dash and narrowly tagged out Kinsler at third. 

The aggressive, heads up play gave Joba some breathing room, but it was short lived.

There were two outs and a man of first after Chamberlain retired Michael Young on a force out to second base and it looked like Joba was poised to escape the inning unscathed. But Nelson Cruz laced a double to left, then David Murphy worked a walk. With the bases loaded, Marlon Byrd knocked a base hit and the Rangers grabbed the lead 2-0. 

In the second, Brett Gardner hit a one out single and proceed to steal second and third with Hideki Matsui at the plate. Matsui stuck out, Swish worked a walk and Gardner was stranded after Frankie Cervelli grounded out to second. 

The Rangers plated another run in the bottom of the 4th via a Chris Davis homer, his tenth of the year. True to his nature, Davis also struck out twice last night, bringing his league-leading tally to 66 in only 162 plate appearances. Joba made it through the fourth, but that was where his night would end. He had only thrown 84 pitches, but the combination of having to wait out the rain delay and his obvious ineffectiveness (4H, 4BB) cut his night short.

Mark Teixeira finally put the Yankees on the board with a deep blast in the the right field upper deck in the bottom of the fifth that the announcers somehow estimated at only 391ft. I demand a recount. It was his 14th of the year putting him in second place in the AL

Trailing 3-1 entering the 6th inning, Brett Gardner led off with a single and promptly swiped second, Gardner's third and Yankees fifth base nabbed from the battery of Millwood and Saltalamacchia last night. 

Matsui capitalized on this robbery and drove Gardner home with a double. Godzilla scored two batters later on a Cervelli single. 

Appearing for the second night in a row, Alfredo Aceves came on in relief of Chamberlain. He worked a scoreless fifth inning, but coughed up the lead in the sixth. AA allowed a single and a double to begin the 7th and was replaced by Phil Coke, who allowed both inherited runners to score. Coke served up Chris Davis' 11th homer of the year in the 8th before David Robertson pitched a scoreless frame in his first outing since being recalled from Scranton. Final score: Yanks 3, Rangers 7.

Between the rain delay, the injury to Melky and Joba's struggles, this was a particularly excruciating contest to sit through. Play was sloppy and the contest didn't wrap up until 1:39AM, although the outcome felt like it was decided when Coke couldn't clean up for Aceves about a half hour earlier. You win some, you lose some, and some kind of suck. I think we know which two apply to this one. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Game 46: T for Texas

Give me a T for Texas, give me a T for Tennessee
Give me a T for Texas, give me a T for Tennessee
Give me a T for Thelma, woman made a fool out of me.

One of the unique things about Lynyrd Skynyrd was their three guitar line-up. Initially it was Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, and Ed King. When King departed in 1975, one of the band's back-up singers, Cassie Gaines, recommended her younger brother as a replacement. Steve Gaines first played with Skynyrd on May 11, 1976. The 26 year-old was brought into the band, and just three months later they gave the above performance of Jimmie Rodgers' Blue Yodel No. 1, or T for Texas as they called it, in front of 120,000 people at Knebworth Fair. Gaines is the tall bearded fella standing to Ronnie Van Zant's left, playing a black Les Paul.

Steve Gaines was a revelation and a revitalization for Skynyrd. Despite his relative youth, Gaines was at ease amongst the road-weathered band, routinely outplaying Collins and Rossington. He began co-writing with Van Zant for material to be on the Street Survivors album and Van Zant even let him take lead vocals on one of the tracks. To my ears, the Gaines material on Street Survivors represents the finest work on the album, if not Skynyrd's whole catalog. He was a prodigy, and Van Zant predicted a very bright future for the young guitarist.

Then came the plane crash. And just like that, at 28 years old, Gaines was dead, as was his sister, Van Zant, and Skynyrd's assistant tour manager. There's no telling what the artist could have gone on to had he been lucky enough to survive.

Talent and potential are funny things like that. As a fan of music or sports, you can see certain people that just seem to have "it", and it's one of the true pleasures of being a fan to watch that talent displayed and to see that potential fulfilled. On the flip side, as A Bronx Tale taught us, there's perhaps nothing more disappointing or saddening than seeing potential go unfulfilled, to see talent wasted or snuffed out.

Just as Skynyrd featured three guitarists, the Yankees have featured three young starting pitchers in recent years, all of whom have sufficient talent and potential to excite the fan base. One, Ian Kennedy, had a disappointing 2008 and it now appears that his 2009 is lost thanks to an aneurysm. A second, Phil Hughes, spun a gem yesterday, and a third, Joba Chamberlain takes to the hill tonight.

This is the Yankees only trip to Texas this year, and I'm sure they're happy about that. Chien-Ming Wang suffered his lis franc injury in Houston last year and has not yet displayed anything close to his pre-injury form. Meanwhile, up in Arlington the Yankees have seen the two crown jewels of their young arms suffer injuries in each of the last two years. In 2007 it was a pulled hamstring for Phil Hughes, derailing his no hit bid. Last year, it was a shoulder injury to Joba Chamberlain, suffered in the same game that may have begun the demise of Damaso Marte as well.

It was an unfortunate injury for Chamberlain. That game would mark the 12th and final start of 2008 for him. Despite a relatively poor performance that night, his numbers as a starter for the year were outstanding: 3-1, 2.76 ERA over 65.1 IP, 1.30 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, and 2.96 K/BB while opposing batters hit only .245/.319/.322 against him. That my friends, is scary good for anyone, let alone a 22 year-old rookie. If you want to talk about wasted talent, just kick up the old "Joba to the bullpen" argument.

Hughes exacted some measure of redemption yesterday in his return to Texas, turning in his second impressive start in row with eight innings of shutout ball, allowing just four base runners while fanning six. Chamberlain looks to follow suit tonight in his first Texas appearance since his injury last year and his first start since taking a liner off the shin last Thursday.

I for one look forward to watching these two young pitching prodigies fulfill their potential and display their talent in the Yankee rotation for several years to come.