Monday, August 17, 2009

Game 119: Tears Of Rage

The Yankees' West Coast road trip continues tonight, with the first of three 10PM starts. Three of the games in the last series in Seattle had late starts as well, which kind of sucks for us back here on the East Coast, but apparently not for the team, as those were the three games the Yankees won against the Mariners.

After dropping Sunday's matinee with Joba Chamberlain on the hill, the Yanks look to reload with A.J. Burnett taking the ball this evening. Burnett's last start against the Blue Jays, which Matt and I witnessed from the upper deck, was technically a quality start, but only by the slimmest of margins. He went six innings and allowed three runs, but was lucky to do so as the Jays tallied up 10 hits and two walks while Burnett was charged with three (albeit questionable) wild pitches. He ultimately coughed up the lead in his last inning and received a no-decision.

Opposing the Yankees will be an artist with a vendetta. When the Yankees DFA'd Brett Tomko earlier this year, he voiced his displeasure with not being given enough opportunities to succeed with the Big League club:
I don't think I got a fair shot. I pitched great in spring training and didn't make the team. I pitched great in the minors, got called up and didn't get much of a chance. I understand other guys are pitching great. But it could have been different. I can't see the point in coming back.
This is amusing because Tomko had a 5.23 ERA in 20 2/3 MLB innings this year, tallied a K/BB ratio of less than 2:1 and gave up 5 HRs. Sure, his numbers in 14 innings at AAA were very good, but that should be expected from a 36 year old journeyman who has years if not a decade of experience on his competition at that level. The A's picked him up off the scrapheap for whatever reason and are trotting him out tonight even after his three appearances in Sacramento for them consisted of 5 2/3 IP, 9 hits and 5 earned runs.

The Yankees have a chance to prove Tomko is not deserving of a starting pitching gig in the Major Leagues when they face him tonight. Hopefully they give him something to really cry about.

We pointed you the way to go,
And scratched your name in sand,
Though you just thought it was nothing more,
Than a place for you to stand.

I want you to know that while we watched,
You discovered no one would be true,
And I myself was among,
The ones who thought,
It was just a childish thing to do.

Feliz Cumpleaños, Jorge

Jorge Posada turns 38 today. Having watched Jorge throughout his entire career might prevent that number from resonating the way it should. We saw him come up through the system and insert himself first as a back up in 1997 and then as the primary catcher during the Championship seasons of 1998 and 1999 with Joe Girardi making 50-60 starts behind him. He shouldn't be that old yet, though, should he?

Perhaps it makes us feel old as Yankee fans to think about the fact that Jorge is damn near 40, but it should make you appreciate what he is doing at his age when you take a look at the rest of the league.

There are only three other active catchers in the Majors right now older than Jorge: Brad Ausmus, Mike Redmond and Gregg Zaun. Of those three, Redmond has the fewest innings behind the plate with 5,146 mostly because he's never played 88 or more games in a single season. He's got a .347 career OBP but only a 89 OPS+, dragged down by a .362 slugging percentage.

Ausmus was actually drafted by the Yankees in the 48th round of the 1987 draft but didn't make his debut until six years later, after being picked up by the Rockies in the expansion draft and and traded to San Diego shortly thereafter. He hasn't been an above average hitter, even for a catcher, over the course of a season since 1995. He's logged 15,606 innings behind the plate in his 17 years in the Majors, the only player other than Pudge Rodriguez with more than the 11,993 that Jorge has compiled.

The illustrious Zaun is now playing for his third team in two years and ninth in his career.
He's played more than 110 games in exactly one season, 2005, and has only been league average while making more than 300 plate appearances twice (1996 & 97).

Amazingly, Jorge has only been below average at the plate in one year of his career, in stark contrast to the three above whose very best season between three of them is still well short of Jorge's career averages.

Historically, there have only been 43 seasons with more than 200 plate appearances in the history of baseball turned in by catchers over the age of 38. Seven of those were played by Carlton Fisk with the White Sox and twenty others took place before 1947. The only Yankees to appear on the list are Elston Howard for a season he split with the Red Sox in 1967 and Deacon McGuire in 1904 & 05.

Of the 43 seasons, only 12 included above average offensive production, with Fisk accounting for one-third of those.

Although this year won't qualify as his age 38 season, Posada is hitting .273/.346./.495 with 15 home runs, good for a 118 OPS+. When the Yanks signed Jorge to his 4 year $52M extension they likely knew that they weren't going to get anything close to the .338/.426/.543 line he was coming off, and understood the uncertainly involved with signing a 36 year old catcher to a deal that long. But if they didn't give him that fourth year, someone else (the Mets) was certainly going to. Before that deal, he hadn't spent a day on the disabled list in his career. Since then, he missed more than two thirds of the '08 season and spend time on the DL earlier this year, but has still been able to produce at the plate and defend competently behind it when healthy.

The last time a catcher finished a season with an OPS+ over 100 at the age of 38 was when Fisk did it in 1990. He did it in 1989, '88 & '87 as well, and the last guy to do it before that was Ernie Lombardi in 1946.

Will Jorge be able to accomplish this rare feat in the next two years? Is he a physical freak like Pudge who can continue to simultaneously squat and rake well into his 40's? It's commonly stated that Jorge has less wear and tear on his body because he was signed as a second baseman, but he's been a catcher almost exclusively since he was 20 years old. 18 years behind the plate has to take its toll.

As much as we love Jose Molina's skills behind the plate and Frankie Cervelli's youthful spunk, Posada brings a combination of skills to the table surpassed perhaps only by Joe Mauer at the current moment. As evidenced by last year, the Yanks need Posada badly.

Happy birthday, Jorgie. Keep it rolling.

Draft Signings Update

Today is the last day that teams have to come to an agreement with the players they selected in the Amateur Draft back on June 10th & 11th. After signing their fifth round pick, Caleb Cotham, a right handed pitcher from Vanderbuilt for $675,000, nearly 4 times above slot, the only Yankees top 8 picks left unsigned were their first and second rounders.

Slade Heathcott, the lefty-hitting outfielder who we've talked about around here pretty extensively has now finalized his deal with the Yanks. His bonus is reported to be $2.2M, which is roughly double the $1.1M that recommended for the 29th overall pick. After losing Geritt Cole, their first round choice last year, the Yankees were obviously reluctant to see the same thing happen again lest they not be compensated with an additional pick next year, and saddled up with some serious loot for the young man from Texarkana.

Their second round pick, number 76 overall, was J.R. Murphy, a high school catcher from Bradenton, Florida. Keith Law and Lane Meyer (via RAB) have both confirmed the signing but no dollar amount has been announced. $478,000 is the recommended bonus for that slot, but Mike from RAB guesstimates that he'll receive upwards of twice that much.

Given that the Yanks have signed their 14 highest draft picks, with the exception of 9th rounder Tyler Lyons, this draft can be a successful one as of now. We won't know for quite some time how good it really was, though.

Oops Upside Your Head

Saturday saw two very scary incidents take place on the diamond. In the afternoon, a 93 MPH fastball from Matt Cain drilled David Wright in the ear, knocking him senseless. He left the park on a stretcher and was taken to the Hospital for Special Surgery for overnight observation. The Mets placed him on the DL Sunday, and Jerry Manuel conceeded it's possible that Wright could be done for the year. The Mets now have their four best offensive players on the disabled list. They may want to consider encasing Johan Santana in bubble wrap.

On Saturday night and even scarier incident took place in Phoenix. In the bottom of the sixth Rusty Ryal smashed a line drive up the middle that smacked Hiroki Kuroda square in the temple. The ball rebounded off his dome and landed on the warning track by the third base on deck circle on the fly, before one hopping into the stands for a ground rule double. Despite writhing in pain on the ground, reportedly the first think Kuroda asked was "Did anyone catch the ricochet?", which he off course prononuced "lick-o-shay". Kuroda was released from the hospital Sunday and flew home with the Dodgers (so it's clearly appropriate for me to make an insensitive joke at this point).

These two incidents happened just one day short of the 89th anniversary of the most notorious beaning in baseball history. On August 16, 1920, the Cleveland Indians faced the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. It reportedly was an overcast day. In the fifth inning, Yankee pitcher Carl Mays, a submariner, unleashed a fastball that plunked Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman in the temple. He was knocked unconcious and taken to a hospital, where he died the next day. Mays had a reputation as a head hunter, but until his death in 1971 he claimed the beaning was not intentional. Mays purported that the ball was wet and scuffed - not uncommon in those days - causing it to sail high and tight. Given Mays' arm angle, the likely condition of the ball, and the overcast day, it's probable that Chapman never even saw it coming. It remains the only on-field fatality in Major League history.

As scary as things were for Wright and Kuroda on Saturday, they are both far luckier than poor Ray Chapman.

Matsui Has Knee Drained

When Hideki Matsui was out of the line up on Saturday, I assumed he was just being given a night off against a lefty even though he's destroying southpaws this year. When he was out of the line up again on Sunday, I figured something was up - and there was. Just before game time it cmae out that Matsui was day-to-day with fluid on his left knee.

After the game came the news that Matsui had his knee drained during the game, and that it will keep him out of the line up tonight as well. Matsui had a similar procedure performed on the same knee in mid-April, but this is the first attention it's required since then. It's the same knee that was operated on last September. He had surgery on his right knee in 2007.

Matsui's knees have limited him to DH duty for the entirety of this season. He looks like an old man as he hobbles around the bases. Yet he's been a very valuable bat all year, hitting .266/.361/.509 (126 OPS+). The Yankee line up is much stronger with him than without him. Matsui claims that he isn't concerned about this latest situation given his recovery from the draining in April. I hope he's right; the Yanks will need him down the stretch.