Monday, August 24, 2009

Off Night Links: Electric Relaxation

After a weekend series packed with high-scoring, long-lasting baseball games, the Yankees get a break today. The schedule makers were kind to the Bombers, cushioning the blow of a 10 game road trip punctuated by a trip to Fenway by bookending that series with two off-days. Per usual, since there is no electrifying Yankees action, we have compiled some links and suggestions of things to watch on this slow Monday evening.

The Little League World Series is on ESPN2 tonight, and the team from Staten Island takes on the crew from the ironically named Urbandale, Iowa at 8PM. The LLWS isn't really my cup of tea, but you can be sure Dustin Pedrioa's brother will be watching intently, scouting for talent.

YES is showing the Game 3 of the 1999 World Series episode of Yankees Classics if you prefer to live in the past.

There is also some preseason football, with the Jets facing off against the Ravens on ESPN. Now that Brett Favre has moved on to some purpler pastures, the Jets have been relieved of all of the distractions associated with him and are left to do what they do best: play mediocre and uninteresting football.

Sorry, Jets fans. For you and others that hate the Giants, here you go.

Plaxico Burress has agreed to an interview with E:60, portions of which will be shown on SportsCenter tonight. (/yawns)

In a battle of Sox, Boston hosts Chicago as they look to widen their lead over the Rangers in the Wild Card standings.

Why does Jim Rice hate America? (h/t BBTF)

Maybe we should ask Peter King. And his baggy shorts.

This can't be true, can it? Derek Jeter would never eat with A-Rod. (h/t to reader Eric Miller)

Via MLBTR, here is the latest on Johnny Damon's, Andy Pettitte's and Hideki Matsui's outlooks for next season.

This may come as a shock to you, but Mariano Rivera actually is aging.

Do the Yanks rely too much on the long ball? Joel Sherman thinks so. He also adds later in the column that the Yanks can finish 17-21 and still win 95 games. Wow.

Main Entry: ten·u·ous
Pronunciation: \ˈten-yə-wəs, -yü-əs\
Function: adjective
Defintion: (3) Having little substance or strength : flimsy, weak. A tenuous connection.

Youk's got a new nickname!

That's all I've got for tonight, Fackers. Feel free to drop your own in the comments, and we'll see you in the morning.

About Those Chickens...

Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus did not heed Matt's advice from this morning when penning this column for New York Magazine, applying BP's "Secret Sauce" for postseason success to this year's Yankees. The formula, developed by Nate Silver and Dayn Perry, isolates three key variables that have predicted team's outcomes in the postseason more accurately than others over the past 30 years:
They found that age and postseason experience had no effect on a team’s chances; surprisingly, they also found no significant correlation between any measure of team offense (including bunting and stealing) and postseason success. What they did find important were three measures of pitching and defense, which they called the “Secret Sauce”.
The best predictors of October glory are a pitching staff with a high strikeout ratio, a strong team defense and a solid closer. Since scoring is depressed in the postseason, it's valuable to have a pitching staff that avoids bats, a defense that can save runs and a closer than can lock down victories. Jaffe does a great job of explaining in detail why these factors increase in importance in the playoffs and concludes (emphasis mine):
None of this is meant to knock the offense, which has helped make them a near-lock for the playoffs. But it’s the Secret Sauce that bodes well for their chances once they get there. The last time the team made such a drastic leap in the Sauce rankings was 1996—which, fans will remember, was the end of their last excruciatingly long World Series drought.
Since Jaffe is a BP guy, he's not concerned with jinxes and is speaking in no uncertain terms because their odds have the Yanks' odds of making the postseason are at 99.4%.

The leap he's talking about comes mainly from a jump from 26th to 3rd in Fielding Runs Above Average and a big boost in K/9. The increase in strikeouts is obviously driven by the acquisitions of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett but the cosmic leap in defense is harder to explain. Even with Derek Jeter suddenly above average at short and Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, and Bobby Abreu out of the field all together it's hard to imagine the Yankees jumping 23 slots in that ranking.

Do I trust the rankings implicitly? No, but it certainly is encouraging to know that the Yanks have a team built for success not only in the regular season, but into October as well. Whether or not that translates into anything this year remains to be seen. Those are the chickens that Jaffe doesn't dare to count either.

Today In Dumb Headlines

"CC Sabathia proves he's a winner by earning fifteenth victory against Boston"

I'm glad that we now have this "proof", because had he earned his 15th victory against the Angels, he still would have been a total loser. Or if it was his only his 14 victory, we would still have to suspend our judgement. We can't blame John Harper for the writing that, but we sure can for this:
On the matter of pitching, after all, regardless of the era there are the Javier Vasquez types, pitchers whose stuff always seems to be better than their records, and then there are the Jack Morris types, pitchers whose records are more impressive than their ERA because they know how to win.

Sabathia gave the Yankees something of a Jack Morris game Sunday night, at least by the pitch-count limits of today's game, going 6 2/3 innings, allowing four runs, three earned.
Harper then cites affirmative quotes from Joe Girardi, but oddly finishes by talking about Sabathia's shortcomings in the postseason, apparently implying that he forgets how to win once the playoffs roll around.

I get the feeling a lot of pitchers "know how to win" games when the guy who they are opposing gives up 8 runs. Craig from Shysterball points us to a Baseball Prospectus article which shows that Jack Morris was not uniquely adept at "pitching to the scoreboard" and shuns the notion in general. Pitchers shouldn't ever want to give up runs, and just like hitters trying to score them, can't really control when it happens, just how often it does in the long run.

Earlier this year, we noted that the Yankees were 11-11 in Sabathia's starts primarily because he was receiving the least run support out of any of their 4 regular starters. Since then, he's ripped off 5 straight victories while the team has averaged just under 8 runs per game in support of him. It's not rocket science or psychology here, folks. The guy is a good pitcher and when he's backed by a strong offensive performance, he's likely to walk away with the win.

Sabathia 1, Ellsbury 0

Amidst what was universally considered an abysmal performance (on Twitter at least) by a typically poor broadcasting team, there was a moment in the first inning when Jon Miller and Joe Morgan were actually -- insightful. (That sound you hear is Ken Tremendous rolling over in his digital grave.) With CC Sabathia ahead in the count 0-2 against Dustin Pedroia, Miller asked Morgan about Sabathia's move to first base because Jacoby Ellsbury was one steal away from breaking the Red Sox single season record.

Morgan responded by explaining how Sabathia was varying his leg kick in an effort to keep Ellsbury off-balance. Sabathia followed by delivering a pitch with almost no wind up, which would have been almost impossible to steal on. On the ensuing delivery, Sabathia raised his knee as if he were starting a wind up, which was exactly what Ellsbury was waiting to run on. Unfortunately for Ellsbury, Sabathia was one step ahead of him and instead of throwing to the plate, he fired to Mark Teixeira at first, who threw to Derek Jeter just in time to beat Ellsbury to second.

What was great about this sequence was the timing. Miller brought up the point, Morgan was spot on with his analysis and two pitches later, something relevant to their conversation actually happened. They didn't belabor the point incessantly only for it never to happen like so often occurs.

I'm a pretty serious baseball fan but I'll admit that I don't often notice the interplay and mind games that occur between a prolific base stealer and the pitcher trying to keep him at bay. Perhaps it's because aside from Brett Gardner, the Yankees haven't had a truly frightening speed threat in the line up since Rickey Henderson. Tim Raines was in his mid-to-late 30's when he joined the Yanks, Alfonso Soriano wasn't on base enough and Steve Sax and Roberto Kelly had their moments, but none of those guys stole more than 45 in a season wearing pinstripes. And the most recent of that group, Soriano, has been gone for 6 years already.

That moment last night represented what broadcasts are supposed to do and what Miller, Morgan and Phillips fail to do with remarkable consistency: convey things to the people who are watching that they didn't already know or wouldn't typically notice. It's difficult to do in baseball, but it shouldn't be as difficult is the Sunday Night Baseball crew makes it seem.

Don't Count Your Chickens...

Good morning Fackers. And a good morning it is. The Yanks have just completed their longest road trip of the year, 10 games and 11 days worth of a pretty unfriendly travel schedule, and they have a 7-3 record to show for it. Not a bad trip.

While we usually bemoan off days in these parts, I'm alright with this one. It was a long trip, and as it always is, the three game set with Boston was likely as physically draining for the players as it was emotionally draining for the fans. Despite having had an off day just last Thursday, I'm sure this one is welcomed and well-earned.

I have two rules of thumb that I follow as it pertains to baseball standings. First, I don't pay much attention to the them until about mid-June. This gives the season some time to develop so one can get an idea of who's for real, and who isn't. Second, I don't consider a team to be in trouble until there are fewer weeks left in the season than they are games back in the standings.

The regular season ends six weeks from yesterday. The Red Sox are now 7.5 games back in the AL East (seven in the loss column). Given the history between the two teams and given what we've seen occur in Flushing the last two years, I'm by no means ready to declare the AL East race over. But despite the overall run differential for the series being zero, the Yanks went in and took two of three, accomplishing what they wanted to. While this series wasn't an emphatic sweep like the September 8-10, 2000 series or the August 18-21, 2006 series or even the fabled Boston Massacre of Septmber 1978, it should be enough to ensure that the Red Sox spend September more concerned about the Rangers and Rays than the Yankees. Baseball Prospectus puts the Yankees' chances of winning the division at 95.73%.

That said, the Sox are still a formidable team, as their offensive outputs Friday and Saturday illustrated. So before we go kicking dirt on their grave, let's remember that the weekend series against them in late September may not be the last the Yankees see of them in 2009. Until then though, we can't be anything but happy about how the last two plus weeks have played out.

Yanks Go Yard, Go Home

Tonight's game was a vintage late summer contest with the gametime temperature sitting at a balmy 80 degrees with the threat of thunderstorms lurking. At one point, the grounds crew was in position to deploy the tarp but it was never necessary. It was far closer to a so-called playoff atmosphere than the either two games before the first pitch was thrown.

However, Derek Jeter quickly quieted the Fenway crowd by ripping said first pitch into the home bullpen in right centerfield. Hideki Matsui did almost the exact same thing to Beckett's first pitch of the second inning.

In the bottom of the 2nd, the Red Sox continued their two out hit barrage that started last night with a double, a single and another double but Mike Lowell, Rocco Baldelli and Jason Varitek to bring the score even at 2-2. The Yanks answered with two of their own in the 3rd on three straight singles by the top third of the order and a RBI ground out by A-Rod. An error by Robinson Cano in the fourth allowed another Sox run, but the Bombers kept their foot on the gas, plating runs each of the first five innings.

Matsui added a dinger in the 8th for his 2nd multi-HR game of the series while A-Rod and Cano each went yard as well. Amazingly, the Yanks only had 3 at bats with runners in scoring position, but didn't need them with all the long balls that were flying.

Sabathia threw 118 pitches and due to the fact that 80 of them were strikes, didn't walk a batter. Nor did Beckett who threw 87 of his 120 pitches over 8 innings for strikes. Beckett gave up all 8 of the Yankees' runs and was tagged with 5 homers for the first time in his career. Allowing 4 runs and 8 hits over 6 2/3, Sabathia picked up his 15th win on the season and fifth in a row. His ERA is now lower than Beckett's, despite being 0.20 higher when the game started.

Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera shut down the Sox for the final 2 1/3 innings and the Yanks pulled out of Boston last night having taken the series, turned a road trip which people were suggesting would test their dominance at 7-3. I'd say they passed that "test".

They boys are rewarded with another day off today, before they begin a 6 game homestand and host the Rangers on Tuesday. Derek Jeter seemed to be nursing some sort of a leg injury he picked up during the third inning and he could probably use a breather anyway. The lead is 7.5 games once again while the Sox edge the Rangers by one and the Rays by 3 in the Wild Card.