Friday, August 21, 2009

Game 122: All That You Dream

After the nightmare that was the first eight Yankee-Red Sox meetings this year, we couldn't have dreamed up anything better than the four game sweep two weeks ago. It had a little bit of everything: a blow out, an instant classic, some bad blood, and plenty of late inning heroics.

Tonight the next chapter begins. We've seen nothing but the two extremes thus far; will this series fall somewhere in between? Time will tell, but as it usually is when these teams meet, it will be interesting. How this weekend plays out will have a major impact on the remainder of the season. The Yanks enter the game with a 6.5 game lead in the AL East, giving them a 92.3% chance of winning the division. Come Monday that lead can be as much as 9.5 or as little 3.5 games with six weeks to go. Regardless, it's still too early for the Yankees to start counting their chickens. The unlikely and the unprecented have happened between these teams too many times before.

Brad Penny gets the start for the Red Sox. Despite entering the game with 5.85 ERA through 60 IP, Penny baffled the Yankees on June 11th, the last time these teams met at Fenway. Penny went six shutout innings, giving up six hits, a walk, a hit batsman, and striking out five, but was no longer the pitcher of record when the Sox took the lead for good. That start notwithstanding, Penny has had a poor season, with a 5.22 ERA (90 ERA+) and a WHIP of 1.50. In his last four starts he's 0-3 with a 7.54 ERA, a 1.68 WHIP, and a batting line against of .300/.375/.589. Let's hope that run continues tonight.

He'll be opposed by Andy Pettitte. As we've mentioned the last several times he's gotten the ball, Andy has been on a tear since the All-Star break, with a 2.04 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and .218/.268/.275 batting line against in six starts, but he only has one win to show for it. Included in that run are seven shutout innings with just five hits and two walks against the Sox two Sundays ago. He'll look to keep his hot streak alive tonight and erase the memory of a so-so start in Fenway on April 26th that saw him take the loss. He'll be well rested, having last started a week ago.

George A. King III and Peter Abraham are both reporting that Damaso Marte is in the house. Bryan Hoch tweets that Pena is in fact the one to go. My head will now explode. Michael Bowden is up for the Sox.

I'll be following from the iPhone tonight, as I'll be taking in a Little Feat and Hot Tuna concert. The last time I went to a show during a Friday night Yanks-Sox game, things didn't turn out too well. That last time I went to a show that Little Feat was playing, I skipped their whole set while I watched a Yankee game in the theater lobby. That didn't turn out too hot either. So if some malady should befall the Yankees tonight, you know who to blame.

After the sweep two weeks ago, with a nice lead in the division, and a 98.7% chance of making the post-season, it's tempting to enter this series with chests puffed out and an eye towards October. That would be a fool's errand. Things can change awfully fast in a head-to-head series, and storm clouds can quickly change a sunny sky. The Yanks have been down at the hands of the Sox already this year. The best bet is to stay focused on the game at had; that road will take the team where they want to be.

All, all that you dream
Comes through shining silver lining
Clouds, clouds change the scene
Rain starts washing all these cautions
Right into your life, makes you realize
Just what is true, what else can you do
You just follow the rule
Keep your eyes on the road that's ahead of you

Now That The Yankees Are Winning, Stop Rooting For Them!

Yesterday, Jeff Pearlman, who is a great writer but a marginal blogger (at best) wondered how anyone could be a Yankee fan:
This offseason, the Yankees purchased the two best pitchers on the market (C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett), then went out and bought Mark Texiera, the in-his-prime, top-of-the-league first baseman superdooper stud. In other words, how can anyone with a human head actually attend, say, a Yankees-Royals or Yankees-Orioles or Yankees-Rays or Yankees-A’s or Yankees-Mariners or Yankees-Rangers or Yankees-Twins or Yankees-Anybody Except The Red Sox or Mets game and truly, strongly, lovingly, audibly root for the Yankees to win?
Notice that he waits until now to say this. Not when they were 15-17 on May 12th. Not last year, when they had a higher payroll and missed the playoffs or in any of the previous three before that when they were bounced in the first round. But now, after some great offseason acquisitions, no one can be a fan? All of a sudden they are unlikable because they are playing up to their potential?

If the Yanks won 100 games every season and 8 out of the last 12 World Series, he might have a point. But the thing that's great and maddening about baseball at the same time is that you can stack the deck in your favor as much as you want but you won't necessarily come out on top.

Pearlman an "unabashed" fan of the Mets of all teams should know this. (Not a dig about journalistic integrity by any stretch, so I don't care if he claims not to be one anymore like every sports writer does.) The Mets had an Opening Day payroll of close to $150,000,000 and they'd have to get scorching hot to even sniff .500. This isn't basketball where, if one team got LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade next offseason they'd be a virtual lock for an NBA title.

I never thought I'd read Jeff Pearlman and Lou Merloni write about the same topic and agree with the latter, but here is a rare voice of reason from fackin' WEEI (h/t BBTF):
Isn’t it good to have the Yankees in the mix again? Did you have fun last year when you were more concerned with the Rays than the Yanks? I didn’t. I want to hate [the Yankees]. I want to fear them. It’s just more fun that way. You had to know that this year was going to be different for the boys from New York. [...] This year, yeah they spent some serious dollars, but they were spent wisely… for once.
That's coming from a guy who grew up in Framingham, Mass., went to Providence College and was drafted in to the Sox organization. You've gotta love Merloni's competitve spirit because the summer is a lot more interesting when both teams are in the race.

You're not going to stop the Yankees by whining about how much they spend in the offseaon. And I'm not going to stop Jeff Pearlman from whining about the Yankees by writing about it here. As you were.

More Marte Machinations

Prior to Tuesday's game, Joe Girardi said there was a possibility Damaso Marte could be activated for tonight's game. This took me by surprise, since the news came just three days after the Yankees announced Marte, whose rehab assignment had expired, was being excused indefinitely for "personal reasons". I speculated at that point that the timing was somewhat dubious. Because of their rotation shuffling with Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin, the Yankees didn't really have a roster spot to open for Marte. This latest possibility of Marte being activated tonight is even more suspect, almost as if the "personal reasons", which haven't been expounded upon by any media, were concocted to buy the Yankees some time to make a move.

This morning on RAB, Joe Pawlikowski wondered if a Marte return would mean the Yankees would carry a 13 man pitching staff until rosters expand on September 1st. In my eyes, such a move would be a big mistake.

As a matter of principle, I'm totally opposed to the 13 man pitching staff. I don't even like a 12 man pitching staff, but I concede that it's pretty much a necessity in today's game. But given the Yankees current roster construction and upcoming schedule, moving to a 13 man staff right now would be a very poor strategical move.

Joe rightly points out that if the Yankees do bring Marte back as part of 13 man staff, the only possible roster move would be to demote Ramiro Pena, which would have his ten day minimum minor league stay expiring conveniently on September 1st. However, demoting Pena would leave Jerry Hairston Jr. as the lone utility player on a three man bench. While Hairston is certainly capable of the job, this would make him the only back-up at 3B, SS, 2B, CF, and potentially even LF. With Brett Gardner still on the DL, Hideki Matsui's knees potentially being day-to-day, and A-Rod still being promised a day of rest weekly, I'm just not comfortable carrying that inflexible of a bench for ten days. This roster alignment nearly burned the Yanks just over two weeks ago.

More than the needs of the bench, the Yankees schedule and rotation make a 13 man pitching staff completely unnecessary right now. With the off days yesterday and Monday, the Yanks rotation is set for the next week, with a fifth starter not needed again until Saturday that 29th. As such, both Mitre and Gaudin are in the pen until the Yankees announce who will get the nod for that game, leaving them with a virtual eight man pen already. Furthermore, the bullpen is well-rested at present. In addition to the off days, a complete game from A.J. Burnett on Monday, eight innings of work from CC Sabathia on Tuesday, and Alfredo Aceves eating up half of the 4.2 innings the Yanks needed out of the pen Wednesday, the Yankee relievers should be ready to go. With Andy Pettitte, Burnett, and Sabathia slated to start this weekend the Yanks could get lucky and not have to tax their bullpen too much anyway.

Further, Girardi's bullpen usage patterns, particularly in big games like these next three will be, makes carrying an extra pitcher completely useless. In Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, and Alfredo Aceves, Girardi has four relievers he trusts implicitly. In the rising David Robertson and the apparently rejuvenated Brian Bruney, he has two more relievers he can confidently deploy. Ditto for Gaudin once he has another day or two of rest. Activating Marte tonight would leave him no better than seventh in the bullpen pecking order. That, combined with his spotty track record this year and underwhelming rehab assignment, means he'd see nothing more than extended mop-up work. And it was exactly that sort of outing that started his downward spiral to begin with.

Lastly, Marte is currently on the 60 day DL, meaning someone would have to go from the 40 man roster in order to activate him. While Anthony Claggett and Juan Miranda, and maybe even Edwar Ramirez could be cut, I don't see any particular advantage in losing any of them just to add Marte. If the Yankees insist upon adding Marte for tonight's game, then Sergio Mitre should be the guy to go. DFA'ing Mitre would open the necessary spots on both the 40 and 25 man rosters, leave the bench the flexibility it needs at present, and not hamper the bullpen in any way.

In the end, we're really discussing a move that would affect the 24th or 25th spot on the roster. Chances are whatever is done won't have a major impact anyway. But I'll be tremendously disappointed and will feel that the Yanks have put themselves at a competitive disadvantage (however slight), if they go to a 13 man pitching staff for the rest of August.

Dennis Hopper Is Warren Spahn

No, Hopper isn't going to be playing him in an upcoming movie about Spahn's time managing the Tulsa Oilers.

If you are the type who clicks though links on this site then you probably know, is where I go to get stats. Especially since they redesigned the site before the season started, it's great to work with for basic stats and even more complicated stuff like the Mariano Rivera post I did yesterday.

They also have some fun tools such as The Oracle of Baseball which allows you to play The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (which should currently be named for Dennis Hopper) with baseball players. (h/t to the comment thread on the B-R blog post on Tuesday that brought this up.) It makes sense that Bacon wouldn't actually be the most connected actor, since he's relatively young. He's not even close, actually, as he checks in at #507 on the most connected list. Towards the top are guys like Harvey Kietel, Donald Sutherland, David Carradine, Michael Caine and Martin Sheen, all of whom were born in the 1930's and started their acting careers in the 50's or 60's.

The difference between the acting and baseball version of the game however, is that actors have far longer careers and the top of that list consists (mostly) of people who are still alive and forging new connections. There isn't anyone in baseball's top 100 that's even close to active. In baseball, you need someone who came along in what is currently the middle of baseball history (when there were fewer teams and players) and can make quick steps to players from the 19th century as well as the 21st.

That's how Spahn, who got his first call up before WWII and threw his last pitch in 1965 ends up at the top of the heap. With that four game stint in 1942, Spahn was briefly teammates with guys like Ernie Lombardi, Paul Warner and Johnny Cooney on the Boston Braves, all players who were towards the end of long careers which began in the 1920's and weren't around when Spahn was called up in earnest in 1946.

The way Hooks' career ended was also beneficial because after playing with the Milwaukee Braves in 1964, he pitched for both the Mets and the Giants in 1965. On the Braves in '64, he played with a young Joe Torre, Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, Sandy Alomar, Eddie Matthews and pitched alongside Phil Neikro. With the Giants in '65, he shared the locker room with Matty and Jesus Alou, the Willies Mays and McCovey, Ken Henderson (who's career spanned 18 seasons and 7 franchises) and pitched with Gaylord Perry, Bob Shaw and Juan Marichal. He was with the Mets for Eddie Kranepool's only All-Star campaign, Yogi Berra's final season as a player and Tug McGraw's rookie year but missed Nolan Ryan's Major League debut by just 11 months.

It's hard to tell if Spahn will ever be replaced at the top of his list. He only had 359 teammates, which when compared to Kenny Lofton's 604 or Ron Villone's 595 is not that many, but those more recent guys are 9 steps away from some of the 17,088 players in MLB history while Spahn is 5 steps or fewer from all but 81. Early Wynn, who is second on the list played for longer than Spahn (1939-1963) and had more teammates (408) but comes up just short in terms of connectivity.

It looks like Spahn just had the right combination of longevity and coincidence that allowed him to barely touch different generations at both the beginning and end of his career. It's fitting that the winningest lefty of all time and pitcher in general outside of the Deadball Era would occupy this unique place in baseball history, connecting the past to the present.

[Images via]

Moore, Manuel, And Making Poor Decisions

Good morning Fackers. I don't know about you, but I'm certainly glad this week is coming to a close. I mean, I'm glad when every week comes to a close, but this one in particular. The Yanks were out on the west coast, meaning late starts and screwed up sleep patterns. Yesterday was another barely bearable off day. And work has completely, totally, and utterly kicked my ass this week.

In completely unrelated news, this year has been a good one for bad baseball. Entering play yesterday, six teams had winning percentages under .425, the most since 2004 (7), and nine teams had winning percentages under .450, again the most since 2004 (11).

The Nationals, despite a fairly recent eight game winning streak, are playing baseball that has bordered on historically bad. Their winning percentage entering yesterday would be the worst since the 2005 Royals. They've also endured botching the firing of their manager, as well as the resignations of their General Manager and his top assistant as a result of an illegal scheme skimming Latin American signing bonuses.

The Pirates are 12 losses away from ensuring their 17th consecutive losing season. Currently in year 10 of a 5 year rebuilding program, they've traded every saleable arbitration eligible player on their roster with the exception of Zach Duke and Ryan Doumit.

But with all the bad baseball going, no two teams have hit the trifecta of poor on field play, incompetent front office management, and public relations disasters quite like the Royals and Mets.

We've already had a little fun at both their expense when they both pulled off poor trades within hours of each other last month. This week they decided to go head-to-head in the public relations arena.

On Tuesday, the Royals optioned Alex Gordon to AAA Omaha. The second overall pick in the 2005 draft, Gordon made his Major League debut after breaking camp with Royals to start the 2007. Earlier this season, Gordon required the same labrum repair surgery that A-Rod had during spring training. He suffered the injury against the Yankees on April 11th, played through April 15th, and underwent surgery on April 17th. He began a rehab assignment in early July, but rather than taking the full 30 days, the Royals activated him after just 13 games and 53 plate appearances. In the month after his activation until his demotion, Gordon hit just .227/.310/.333. Maybe he could have used the full rehab assignment after all.

Where the impropriety comes in is in that by optioning him down for at least 20 days, the Royals ensure that Gordon will end the season without three full years of Major League service time, pushing his free agency clock back a year. While this isn't all that different from what Tampa has done with Mrs. Tony Parker and David Price or what Baltimore has done with Matt Wieters, all in an effort to keep them from Super Two arbitration status, Gordon's case seems somewhat seedier in that it's happening after he's been established as a Major Leaguer rather than before he was ever brought up.

It may well be a smart move by Dayton Moore and the Royals. But, they were the ones who decided to break camp with Gordon in 2007 after he had just one year and 576 PA of AA ball. They started this clock when they did. While Gordon certainly has struggled this season, the Royals elected to activate him after only half of his allowable rehab time expired. They made these decisions; they have to deal with the criticism that comes with this latest one.

Meanwhile, over in Flushing, the circus continues. In the wake of David Wright's sickening beaning Saturday, the Atlanta Braves just happened to be coming into town. As you may recall, the Braves are the team to which the Mets traded Ryan Church last month. As you may further recall, Ryan Church had a couple nasty concussions last year that the Mets medical staff handled very, very poorly. You may also recall that Jerry Manuel facking hates Ryan Church. Hmmm. I wonder what possibly could have happened next?

When giving his pre-game press conference Sunday, less the 24 hours after Wright has hit, and so soon after Wright was discharged from the hospital that he likely hadn't yet cut the bracelet from his wrist, Manuel had this to say (h/t Neyer):
You have to be careful into stereotyping individuals. David is a different animal, so to speak. How he is made up is a little different than, say, Ryan Church, in my opinion. That's not to say that one is better than the other, but they're different. With Ryan, there was always something thrown from leftfield - 'We need to check that.' That made it somewhat difficult to evaluate that particular situation.

Translation from jive talk: David Wright's a tough guy; Ryan Church is a pussy.

Let's back up the train a second here Jerry. Just because you elicit memories of the "Doctor of Style" Slick, doesn't mean that you are a doctor of neurology. Church, of course, knows this, and took exception. What a mess the Mets are. Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and now Daid Wright - their four best offensive players - are on all the DL and all likely out for the year. Meanwhile, the men in high profile leadership roles: Manuel, Omar Minaya, and until recently Tony Bernazard, continue to heap insult on top of the injuries.

So I suppose I could have had a worse week. I mean, I got it better than Moore or Manuel. And I haven't been concussed as badly as Church or Wright. Plus we have Yanks-Sox to look forward to tonight. Either way, I'll still feel a helluva lot better when that five o'clock whistle blows.