Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Down With Doc

Roy Halladay's last loss against the Yankees came on Opening Day, 2008. His career numbers against the Yankees sound like a Cy Young candidate's. Sixteen wins to only five losses with a 2.90 ERA, 223 1/3 IP, 3.4 K/BB and 1.115 WHIP. And that's against the team who has had the most runs scored over the course of his Major League career. He's 7-1 with a 2.10 ERA in his last 10 starts against the Yankees. There are players who seem to have the Yankees number but a statistical analysis doesn't bear that out. Roy Halladay is not one of those players.

The two Bombers who actually have good numbers against Halladay combined to get to Doc in the first inning. In the first inning, Johnny Damon singled and was doubled in by A-Rod, who scored on a throwing error by Kevin fackin' Millah.

The two quick runs apparently did Andy Pettitte quite well, because the Yanks never surrendered the lead from that point forward. The Jays plated a run in the 4th inning on a sac fly by Alex Rios, but that was the extent of the damage on Andy's watch.

With the score still 2-1 after two quick outs in the 7th, Pettitte had thrown only 94 pitches and looked to be headed for the eighth inning and beyond. Instead, a four pitch skirmish with Edwin Encarnacion ended in a double and he walked Rob Barajas on six pitches. Joe Girardi called on Phil Hughes who got Jose Bautista looking to end the inning. Pettitte walked four and allowed more than his fair share of hard hit balls which the defense turned into outs, but walked away with a chance to win.

The Yanks widened the margin to 4-1 on back to back homers by Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira in the top of the eighth but it was not smooth sailing from there. Hughes allowed the first two batters he faced to reach base and the cameras panned to Mariano Rivera loosening up in the Yank's bullpen. Hughes buckled down, striking out both Adam Lind and Kevin Millar looking, but Girardi called on Mo to face Vernon Wells. Grrrrrr. Wells has a career 1.014 OPS against Rivera, but only a .614 OPS against Hughes, albeit in half as many at bats. Why ask Mo for another 4 out save? Wells worked a 3-0 count before ripping a two run double, to bring the Jays within one run. Rivera bent but didn't break and got Alex Rois to ground out to end the inning.

Cito Gaston left Roy Halladay in for the 9th, for some odd reason, and Hideki Matsui led off the bottom of the ninth with a prodigious bast to deep center on the first pitch he saw. Doc finished the inning and took the complete game loss, ultimately throwing 103 pitches, giving up 10 hits, striking out 5 and walking none.

Rivera allowed two singles during the course of the 9th inning, but Aaron Hill flew out to shallow center with men on first and thrid with tow outs and Melky Cabrera caught it to close out the victory for the Yanks and for Pettitte.

Going into tonight, any rational Yankee fan would have jumped at the chance to take a game which Roy Halladay started. Maybe Mo won't be available tomorrow because of the four out save tonight and the impending four game series against the Red Sox (who are still locked up at 2-2 in the 12th as I post this), but let's hope Girardi isn't faced with that decision. The Yanks got all they could ask for tonight.

Game 106: Wasted Words

After the off day and the shift in the rotation, it will be Andy Pettitte on the mound for the Yankees tonight up in the Rogers Centre. Pettitte has a solid run over his past three starts, even though he's taken two no-decisions and a loss. He's thrown 20 innings, given up 16 hits, struck out 23 and walked only 3. His ERA over that span has been 2.70 and as the fine fellows at The Yankee Universe note, his FIP is only 1.86. They attribute some of Pettitte's success over that span to the fact that he's been throwing to Jose Molina, but that won't be the case tonight as Jorge Posada will be doing the catching.

This is the first time the Yanks have played the Blue Jays since the trade rumors about Roy Halladay started swirling. The two teams had just wrapped up a four game series which the Yankees won 3 of when Ken Rosenthal wrote that article on July 7th. One of those contests took place on the 4th of July, when the Yankees scored 5 runs off of Halladay and won in extra innings (in what might be the last game started by Chien Ming Wang as a Yankee, no less). Despite the successful outcome that day, I think most Yanks fans were either excited about the slim chance of acquiring Halladay or at least the possibility that he would be gone from the AL East.

Hundreds of blog posts and columns were devoted to the subject and it generated literally millions of pageviews for sites like MLBTradeRumors.com, but in the end we're right back where we started. Halladay was not "a goner" like Rosenthal assured us and the process did stop even though Lil' Ken claimed it was "nearly impossible" for it to. (Props to Craig from Shysterball who never bought it to begin with.)

Great job, Ken. Think of all the time, thought and writing that was wasted as a result of your breathless speculation. Next time a General Manager says he's "leaning more towards listening", why don't you try not blow blow it completely out of proportion? It would save us all some time.

You seem really sure 'bout something I don't know,
Take that load off, looks like chests about to go.
Your wasted words so absurd,
Are you really Satan, yes or no?

Winning Against Winners

Perhaps you've noticed that the Yanks have struggled against the better teams they've faced this year. You'd be on to something, because they are only 24-29 against teams with winning records. Maybe you think that is a bad thing since those are the teams they are likely to face in the playoffs. Would you be wrong? (h/t Shyster @ CTB)
This actually isn't a bad sign at all, though. In fact, it's the mark of a champion. In recent years, winning the World Series has had nothing to do with being good against good competition. Five of the nine champions this decade posted losing regular-season records against opponents that were .500 or better, including the 2008 Phillies (43-46).

Conversely, teams that excel against tough opponents tend to flop in the postseason. Not since the 1995 Braves has the team with the best record against .500-or-better competition won the World Series that same season. The Los Angeles Angels keep demonstrating this: They dominated such opponents in 2007 (.594) and 2008 (.605), yet lost in the first round both years.
Our pal Craig goes along with this theory and throws out an admittedly "untestable yet moderately-satisfying hypothesis" comparing baseball teams to marathon runners. He proposes some interesting ideas, but I'm not buying the original premise of the article.

First, let's point out the sketchy logic from the quote above.
  1. I wouldn't say winning a World Series has "nothing to do" with how teams play against good competition. Five of the past nine champions is A) a limited sample size and B) only one Game 7 (in 2002) away from saying 5/9 had winning records against opponents that were .500+.

  2. Why would the author, Darren Everson, break it at 2000? What happens when you go back from 1995-1999? Every single World Series Champion had a winning record against winning teams during the regular season. So from 1995-2008, nine out of 14 have fit that mold. Kind of undermines the point of the article, huh? Don't let the facts...

  3. "Not since the 1995 Braves has the team with the best record against .500-or-better competition" - Eight teams make the playoffs and one can have the best record against +.500 competition. Do you know how many times the team with the best record overall has won over that span? One (and a half). The 1998 Yankees (114 wins) and the 2007 Red Sox who, along with the Indians, won 96 games that year.

  4. "The Los Angeles Angels keep demonstrating this..." - By doing it twice in a row? Not much of a trend when looking at 14 years of data, is it?
One further point that I would like to add is that by definition, the entire league plays under .500 ball against teams with winning records.

Starting with 1996 (so as to include only 162 game seasons) 191 out of a possible 386 team seasons have ended with winning records. In total, those teams are 17,321 - 13,611, which equates to a .570 winning percentage. So on average, teams can expect to go 35-46 if they play 81 games against teams with winning records. That makes .500 against those teams look pretty good, right?

Is it imperative that a team plays well against winning teams during the regular season? No, but if you take an objective look at the data and go a little further back, it certainly appears to be a good sign.

It Ain't The Scoops

We all knew Mark Teixeria was going to be a gigantic improvement over Jason Giambi in a number of ways when the Yankees signed him just before Christmas. He figured to hit for a higher average, have an equal or better OBP, hit as many home runs or more, run the bases more effectively and perhaps most obviously, be able to play first base almost daily and field the position well.

In my post about Derek Jeter's defensive improvements this year, here is what I said about Teixeira's positive impact on him:
Teixeria's glove probably helps, but Jeter has never made many throwing errors. He is on pace for 5 this year and has averaged 6.5 per season since 2001.
It was a pretty blunt measurement, and it turns out I might have actually oversold Teix's influence on fielding throws to first.

John Dewan, author of The Fielding Bible II, contends that there isn't much evidence to suggest that Teixeira is better at rounding up errant throws than the Big G: (h/t BBTF)
In fact, in 2008, Giambi's 29 scoops for the Yankees were good for 0.26 scoops per game started, while Teixeira's 2009 scoops for the Yankees are only 0.23 per game.
Dewan's Plus/Minus System keeps track of positive and negative fielding plays made by each player in every game and recently added "scoops" by a first baseman which would have prevented an error by an infielder as a positive play. These stats are tallied by actual people watching the games, so there is a human element involved, but on the whole would figure to be pretty accurate.

The only thing I can think of which would skew the results is that Teixeira can cover more territory with his foot on the bag than Giambi, and this extended range allows his to field balls Giambi would have had to reach for without scooping them. But I don't think that could occur often enough to make much of an impact.

The true difference between Gold Glover Mark Teixeira and Jason Giambi is in handling grounders. In the last two years Teixeira has saved his teams 18 runs fielding grounders, while Giambi has cost his team 18, a 36-run difference in Defensive Runs Saved.
Keep in mind those numbers are over the course of two years, but that is a massive gap in terms of fielding ability. To put it another way, Teixeira's career UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating averaged over 150 games) is 2.2 while Giambi's is -7.2. Giambi might think he's a great defender, but that's obviously not what the numbers say.

Defensive performance is never going to be as easy to put a numerical value on as offensive production, but this should at least help us appreciate what Teix brings to the table on both sides of the ball.

Slim Pickings

Good morning Fackers. The Sergio Mitre Show doesn't take to the hill again until tomorrow night, but I'm plum out of ideas for this morning, so we're gonna get after it a day early. It's only been three starts, but it's looking increasingly obvious that Mitre isn't the answer for the fifth starter spot. That the Yankees used yesterday's off day to shuffle their rotation and keep Mitre from facing Boston speaks volumes as to just how tenuous his grasp on the job is.

Brian Cashman has until August 31st to pick up another starter through a waiver deal, but as Joe at RAB has pointed out, there might not be a lot available that way.

So what are the options amongst the currently unemployed? As you might imagine, they're not too appealing. These guys are the unemployed - or as Homer Simpson called them in Mr. Plow episode, the unemployable - for a reason. (Unfortunately I can only find the clip here, and it's in Spanish - jump to the 8:10 mark - and for the record Fack Youk does not condone copyright infringement, even if it is a crappy overdubbed video.) Here's what's out there:
  • Paul Byrd: In semi-retirement, the former porn addict and HGH enthusiast has not pitched all year. Probably not a good idea. But, he was with the Red Sox last year, so maybe he knows their signs. If nothing else, maybe he could help Godzilla overcome his addiction.

  • Sir Sidney Ponson: By now I'm sure you've heard that the Round Mound of Throwdown has been DFA'd by the Royals. Look, if you can't pitch for the Royals, then you can't pitch (I'm looking at you Tomko). This would be Ponson's third stint with the Yankees. That would be like a Hollywood studio making one really shitty movie, then making another really shitty sequel to it, then inexplicably making a third movie in that series. In an unrelated story, Fast and Furious was released on DVD last Tuesday. I bet Jared Remy is totally jacked up about that.

  • Daniel Cabrera: Nevermind. The D-backs signed him yesterday. Probably a good thing it was them and not the Yanks. Although, he would probably knock A.J. Burnett out of the AL lead for BBs. That reminds me, Victor Zambrano is also out there, and there have been rumors that TB was shopping Scott Kazmir. Maybe lightning will strike twice.

  • Elmer Dessens: He's not really a starter anymore. The Mets DFA'd him last week. Much like the Royals, if you're getting DFA'd by the Mets, you may want to consider another line of work.

  • Brett Tomko: Oh if only poor Brett wasn't treated so badly during his two and a half months of drawing a Major League paycheck from the Yankees in exchange for pitching like garbage. If only. He could easily fill this fifth starter void, but there's no way he'll come back after the indignities he suffered. Who's laughing now Yankees? Maybe you'll be nicer to the next mediocre journeyman pitcher on your roster. At the very least it might have gotten you in good with Mrs. Tomko.

  • Julian Tavarez: DFA's by the Nats. Ugh. Worse than KC, worse than the Mets. Would significantly increase the crazy quotient in the clubhouse though.
I sure hope something halfway decent creeps across the waiver wire.