Friday, September 11, 2009

Game 142: Who'll Stop The Rain

[Update: The game is scheduled to start at 8:20]

As the Yankees return from a rare day off in the middle of a homestand, they start their final series against the Orioles this season. It's the first team in the division they will complete the requisite 18 games against which is appropriate since they opened the season at Camden Yards.

Despite dropping the first two against the O's, the Yanks have roundly dominated the season series, going 11-1 since. The last time the O's took a game from them was on May 9th, back when the Yankees were 14-16, A-Rod had just made his triumphant return, and Phil Hughes was still in the starting rotation. Since then, the Yanks have been on the good side of 3 three-game sweeps in a row and have won 10 straight dating back to the series before.

Andy Pettitte allowed four runs in six innings against the Blue Jays his last time out but didn't derail his streak of 4 consecutive wins. The Yankees have won in each of Pettitte's last 7 outings dating back to the beginning of August. Since the All-Star break, he has an ERA of 2.88, a record of 5-1 (Yanks are 8-2 when he's pitched), and has held opposing batters to an anemic line of .208/.267/.305. To give some perspective, that .573 OPS is notably lower than Zack Greinke's .612 over that same period.

Taking on Pettitte will be the ninth starting pitcher the O's have thrown at the Yankees this year, Chris Tillman. A part of the package sent from Seattle in return for Erik Bedard (which apparently is the gift that keeps on giving), Tillman is only 21 years old and was called up from AAA at the end of July. He threw 96 2/3 IP for the Norfolk Tides of the Eastern League this year, posting a 2.70 ERA and striking out 99 while walking only 26. Since he's been up in the Majors, Tillman as made 8 starts to a decent 4.66 ERA but has only struck out 17 while issuing 13 free passes in 35 1/3 IP leading to an ugly FIP of 6.23.

Johnny Damon is scheduled to take a breather tonight with Melky Cabrera taking his place in right field and Brett Gardner manning center. However, if someone doesn't stop the rain that's currently blanketing the NYC area, everyone might be getting the night off.

Long as I remember,
The rain been coming down,
Clouds of mystery falling,
Confusion on the ground.

Good men through the ages,
Trying to find a sun,
And I wonder, still I wonder,
Who'll stop the rain.

Friday Afternoon Link Party

It's Friday and I'm pressed for time, but here are a few links to explore before the preview for tonight's game goes up. You don't want to see how they were made:

Our pal Joe at RAB explores the tendency for people to criticize the effort baseball players seem to put forth, inspired by this post at the Yankee Universe.

Tim Marchman takes a pretty thorough look at how many hits Derek Jeter might end up with when it's all said and done. Craig Calcaterra reacts to the final two paragraphs of Marchman's article which implies that Jeter still has something left to prove and suggests he doesn't.

Big League Screw has a great piece on Alfredo Aceves that tracks his journey from Mexico to the Majors and declares him "The Most Interesting Man in the Bronx". Well worth the read.

"My feeling is you ought to be ashamed of yourself if you get physically tired of playing baseball because it shouldn't be that physically taxing" If this doesn't illustrate the difference between baseball and football, I fear nothing ever will.

There are a lot of ways to show how awesome the Yankees offense has been this year. Here is one. And here is another.

Be glad you didn't have to sit through "The worst hall of fame speech... ever".

The Yankees will be honoring those who lost their lives during the attacks of September 11th with a ceremony before the game tonight.

New Stadium Insider has the low down on the weather and how it might affect tonight's game.

Hardball & Pigskin: A Meandering Musing On My Two Favorite Sports

It's hard to believe that only about 1/8th of the baseball season remains, isn't it? We've spent over 5 months drilling down into the minutiae of the Yankees' season for about 700 posts, give or take. Previews, recaps, updates, analysis, extrapolations, musings, dissection and ponderance. I'm not a big NBA fan so during that stretch, my focus has been pretty squarely set on the Yankees and if not them, other teams in the MLB or baseball in general.

Well, since we had the first game of the NFL season last night, I start thinking more about the differences between the two on a general level. I skirted around it in the last post I put up yesterday but wanted to take a deeper look today, while the Yanks' season is still in suspended animation. It's a bit long and winding, but there's no turning back now.

I'm sure you know the George Carlin bit where he looks at the a some of the quirkiness of baseball in relation to other sports then discusses the differences in language between the two, which color baseball as pastoral game and football as a deadly war.

A while back, when he was riffing off Carlin, Joe Posnanski said, about the language of baseball:
Just about every word or phrase — can of corn, bang-bang play, dinger, tater, gopher ball, round-tripper, sinker, slider, — sounds like something a small child came up with long ago.
I think Pos hits on something here. Baseball is childlike in a way, because you have to accept failure as a part of it. You can have the most well-behaved children in the world, but despite your best efforts, they are still going to mess up sometimes and you could get mad at them every time, but that would make you kind of an asshole. Likewise, you can have a great baseball team and they are still going to lose, at the very least, about 30% of the time. You can get pissed, but that probably means you are a little unstable.

The moment of impact baseball ultimately boils down to is when a round ball traveling at 90 or so miles per hour collides with a rounded bat being swung at about about 65. It's an impact that takes place so fast and is altered by such minuscule increments that neither the batter or the pitcher could ever hope to control it precisely. Being great at baseball is like excelling at poker or golf; regardless of how good you are, you're still going to ground into double plays, get busted on the river or make bogeys. You have to defy the odds over the long term by making solid contact, putting your money in with the best hand or hitting fairways and greens.

There isn't that kind of failure rate built into football because there is far less probability involved. There's no precise moment of impact that change drastically in a matter of millimeters. Players are held accountable for almost everything that goes wrong. If a pass is intercepted, it's usually because the quarterback made a poor decision or a bad pass. If a running back gets dumped in the back field, it's because someone missed a blocking assignment or he hit the wrong hole. Sure, fingertip catches first downs are missed by inches or less, but it's clear that the Football Gods have far less of a hand in the outcome of the game than do the Baseball Gods.

The upshot is that football meets our expectations far more often than baseball. The best team in the NFL is almost never going to lose one game to the worst team, let alone two out of three. However, the Yankees did just that to the Nationals when they played them earlier this year. The probability aspect is what makes the 162 game schedule necessary in baseball and a season only 1/10th that long the norm for the NFL.

So between the length of the season and the level of randomness inherent in each of the sports, it's obvious why football follows a much more predictable narrative arc; the season is distilled into fewer games played with less deviation from expectations. And people love predictable storylines (h/t Joe P). You can make sense and draw conclusions out of individual football games, and have a better idea of where things are going as result. You can't even do that with any degree of reliability after watching an entire series in baseball.

The reason for this, I believe, is the fact that football teams compete against each other, but in baseball it's really a team's offense squaring off against one pitcher at a time, with a giant expectation of probability wedged in between.

I think those things start get down to why the NFL is much more popular than the MLB. Sure, it also helps that the time in between downs is perfectly conducive for replays to be shown and dissected. It doesn't hurt that the game is physical and eye catching. The advent of HDTV has certainly made football more enjoyable to watch at home.

But watching a football game is inherently more satisfying than watching a baseball game. I love both and obviously watch more than my fair share of baseball games, but like I said yesterday, I almost never watch a game from beginning to end that doesn't involve the Yanks.

The NFL schedule is easier to digest, to follow and to understand. You feel like you know more about the league as a whole from watching a single game. It's a lot easier to be a knowledgeable football fan that it is a baseball fan because your assumptions based on small sample sizes are true more often.

And this is kind of odd, because in football, you get the feeling that almost all of the people with the greatest knowledge of the game are those working in it. In baseball, you've got a ton of outside observers coming up with interesting theories and new ways to look at the game. The nuts and bolts of the in-depth strategy is really only know to the coaches and players in football, while in baseball, even the most advanced maneuvers are fairly transparent.

So in a way, baseball is simpler, because so much of the information available is right there for you. But at the same time the elements of random chance and probability that are so fundamental to the game ensure that there will always be an elusive blind spot in our understanding of the game; certain things that can't be figured out. And that makes it more complicated. And that's why it's more of an acquired taste than football.

It's not that baseball is better than football, or vice versa. But as we progress into the time of year which the two sports cohabitate, it's interesting to explore why each sport is enjoyable in it's own right. At least for me and the three other people who made it to the end of the post.

Rest And Rehab For Robertson

Good morning Fackers. We have some good news to start off this final day of the abbreviated work week. David Robertson's visit to Dr. James Andrews went about as well as it could have. A second MRI did not reveal any structural damage. Andrews recommeds 10 to 14 days of rest before starting a throwing program, which should have D-Rob throwing again some time next week if we count the downtime he's already accrued.

The minor league playoffs will be over by then, so Robertson will certainly work his way back on the Major League level. Robertson has been one the Yankees' top bullpen arms in recent weeks, so he will be given every opportunity to work his way back into form.

The construction of the post-season roster will be one of the main storylines as we head through the season's final three weeks. Robertson's recovery and return will be something to keep an eye during that time, as his performance will affect not only his post-season status, but that of the other relievers vying for spots. Rest assured we'll be taking a more detailed look at this in the coming weeks.