Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday Night News And Links

It's Thursday, and the Yankees once again have the night off. Former Yankees General Manager and Hall of Famer George M. Weiss has some suggestions to keep you occupied in the meantime.

The Red Sox play the Royals out in Kansas City tonight, which means they will be making a pretty late arrival to NYC tomorrow morning. The magic number is currently at 5 after a Sox win last night, but it could drop to 4 if they lose tonight. This means that the Yanks would have to take just two out of three to clinch the division at home against Boston. Something called Anthony Lerew would have to out pitch Clay Bucholz for that to happen, however.

The Twins and Angels are off, but Tigers are playing the Indians tonight and sending Justin Verlander to the hill. Detroit still holds a 2.5 game lead over Minnesota but those teams have 4 head to head games remaining against reach other, so anything could happen.

In college football, #4 Ole Miss (the highest ranking the school has had since Archie Manning played there) takes on South Carolina.

Peter Gammons has sure elicited some strong reaction after suggesting the MLB might want to "think" about adding one Wild Card team to each league. Craig Calcaterra thinks the system is fine the way it is. Kevin Kaduk concurs. Jason thinks it ain't broke neither. Joe from RAB would actually prefer the playoffs to be scaled down before they are expanded.

Joel Sherman is just about the only person I've heard agree with Gammons, citing the fact that it's nearly impossible for a team other than the Yankees and the Red Sox to make the postseason in the current format.

In related news, since the Blue Jays won't be contending any time soon, Joe from RAB suggests that the Jays trade Roy Halladay and get some value for him while they still can.

Fangraphs takes a look at A-Rod in the postseason since he's joined the Yankees and points out that over the same span, Derek Jeter hasn't been any great shakes either. An astute commenter points out that saying A-Rod "doesn't" hit well in the playoffs (like the post did) is much different that saying he "hasn't" which implies that he still could.

Speaking of FanGraphs, they released their iPhone app today. For $2.99, you get live WPA and most everything you'd expect to be available from the website. Yes, I've already downloaded it.

Via Baseball Musings, Rays Index points out that before the Daily News crowns the Yankees' infield the best ever, they might want to take into consideration that the Rays' IF put up better numbers this year.

Jim Rice: Still an ass.

Our boy HowFresh calls out Plaxico Burress for the last meal he ate before he went to prison and shows him how it's done.

Terrible news for Giants fans.

And finally, this is pretty damn cool. (via Schiff on Google Reader)

Remembering Bobby Cox As A Yankee

Yesterday the Atlanta Braves announced that manager Bobby Cox, who recently had been pondering his managerial future, signed a one year contract extension and will retire as field manager at the conclusion of the 2010 season.

Cox is a fixture with the Braves. He'll have completed 21 consecutive seasons at their helm by the time of his retirment, as well as an additional four seasons as their skipper at the start of his managerial career. He was also the Braves' General Manager from 1986 until returning to the dugout in June of 1990. When he retires after next season he'll have a five year contract waiting for him to serve the Braves as a baseball operations consultant.

But before Bobby Cox became so inextricably linked with the Braves, he had a lengthy history with the Yankees organization. After the 1967 season, Cox was a twenty-six year old with no Major League experience who had already washed out of the Dodgers, Cubs, and Braves systems in an eight year minor league career. On December 7th, the Braves flipped him to the Yankees for two bit players, one of whom would never again appear in the Majors.

The Yankees had fallen on hard times by 1968, and Cox was able to break camp with the team. Two weeks into the season he won the third base job, replacing Charley Smith (who incidentally had been all the Yankees received from St. Louis in exchange for Roger Maris just a year earlier). Cox had a fair season (91 OPS+) and the Yankees, who had finished ninth in the ten team league the year before, turned in a surprising 83-79 record and finished fifth.

In 1969 Cox lost the third base job to Bobby Murcer, who was returning from two years lost to military service. When Murcer was moved to the outfield thirty games into the season, it was Jerry Kenney, not Cox, who took over at the hot corner. Cox stuck with the team as a reserve through the year, but that was the end of his Major League playing career.

After spending 1970 at the Yanks' AAA team in Syracuse, the Yankees gave Cox a start on his second careeer, appointing him manager of the single A Fort Lauderdale team for 1971. The next year he moved up West Haven (CT) in the AA Eastern League, and then spent four seasons as the skipper for AAA Syracuse. In six minor league seasons, Cox compiled a 459-387 record (.543), and won the EL Championship in 1972 and the IL Championship in 1976. Cox then joined the Yankees' Major League coaching staff for the 1977 season, picking up his first World Series ring in the process.

Following the season, the Braves hired Cox and save for a four year stint as the Blue Jays manager from 1982-85, he's been there ever since. Cox ranks fourth on the all-time managerial wins list with 2,409, sandwiched between contemporaries Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre. However, LaRussa has compiled his victories with three different clubs, Torre with four. Cox's 2,054 wins as Braves skipper rank third behind Connie Mack and John McGraw for the highest total with a single club.

The Fallacy Of A Hot September

In the beginning of every season, we are forced to look at extremely small sample sizes in order to evaluate performance, which grow larger as the year progresses. It takes a while, but over the summer months, trends become realities and we begin to see who the best players and teams are. But before those positions can be solidified, the schedule winds down and heads into the postseason. Then, broadcasters, analysts and fans all try to identify who the hottest teams are heading into October and the big picture is viewed in terms of increasingly small sample sizes once again.

But does being hot heading into the playoffs really forebode success once you get there? The 2007 Rockies were the most recent poster child of this theory, skyrocketing from 6.5 games back and only 5 games over .500 as late as September 16th and finally sneaking into the postseason via a play-in game against the Padres. From there they swept their way to the World Series but were ultimately dismantled by the Red Sox.

Of course, the '07 Rockies are just one end of the spectrum. On the other hand, you have the 2000 Yankees who turned into a train wreck down the stretch, going 2-12 over their final 14 games, ending the season on a 7 game losing streak and nearly blowing the division. That Yankee team of course went on to beat the Indians, Mariners and Mets and unlike the above mentioned Rockies, actually won the World Series.

Today at The Faster Times, Lisa Swan from Subway Squawkers looked at how every playoff team since the year 2000 performed in September and how it correlated to their success in the postseason. Surprise, surprise... there is essentially no connection at all. Click through for the details.

In a season bereft of any really close pennant races, but the same amount of articles to be published, scribes will be churning out columns trying to identify who is primed for October based on the way they are playing now. Someone is probably writing one about the Yankees right now. Most columnists make a living trying to find story lines. Unfortunately for them, if you want to foretell the future in baseball, you be better off breaking out the crystal ball.

Impact Of A Potential Hairston Injury

Early yesterday afternoon the Yankees wrapped up their first series victory in Anaheim since May 2004. The lower portions of the bullpen caste system held a one run lead for two and a third innings. Ian Kennedy returned to a Major League mound for the first time in over a year and just months removd from surgery to repair an aneurysm. A playoff spot is clinched and the magic number for the division and homefield is down to five. But there is one potential drawback from yesterday's victory.

One pitch into his seventh inning plate appearance, Jerry Hairston Jr had to leave the game after feeling a pop in his wrist while taking a practice swing. After the game, Peter Abraham reported that Hairston initially injured the wrist earlier this season while he was still with Cincinnati and both an MRI and a cortisone shot nearly two weeks ago. He is scheduled for another MRI today to assess the extent of the damage.

No one would consider Hairston a key part of the Yankees roster, but he certainly serves a valauble role. While his offensive production has fallen off a bit since his arrival, he's getting on base at a good clip (.346 with the Yanks) and he's suffering from a very low BABIP (.233). But Hairston's greatest value comes in his versatility. A second baseman originally, since coming over at the deadline Hairston has appeared 15 times at third, 8 at short, 9 at both of the corner outfield positions, and twice in center.

It's too early to be jumping to conclusions at this point, but if Hairston's injury is enough to shelve him for October, it would likely take the Yankees two roster spots to replace his versatility. Ramiro Pena was a good candidate to make the post-season roster anyway, and he can easily replace, if not exceeed, what Hairston can offer on infield defense. But while Pena did get seven games of experience in centerfield with Scranton this year, he's yet to play the outfield at the Major League level.

The issue is that the Yankees currently don't have any other real outfield options to replace Hairston. This shouldn't be too big of an issue since Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner will be the fourth outfielder anyway. But if Gardner somehow gets burnt as pinch runner, the Yankees are now looking at a less palatable option as a late inning defensive replacement for Johnny Damon. Eric Hinske is present strictly for his bat. So an injury to Hairston could increase the chances of Freddy Guzman making the post-season roster.

If Hairston is out for an extended period, I'd expect the Yankees to use the season's final week to assess their options. This could mean Pena seeing some time in the outfield or Guzman getting a few starts. Depending upon the extent of the injury and what direction the Yankees decide to go in the aftermath, there's even a chance that we could see Austin Jackson before the season is over, and potentially in the post-season as well.

In commenting on Joba Chamberlain early this week, Brian Cashman seemed to indicate that the Yankees would only carry ten pitchers for the ALDS. If that's the case, they'll have a six man bench at their disposal. Jose Molina, Gardbrera, Hinske, and Pena are virtual locks for those spots right now. How the remaining two openings are filled will hinge upon what happens in an MRI tube at some point today.

Riding High But Feeling For Mo

Good morning, Fackers. They might have had to do it the hard way, but the Yankees pulled off a road series victory against their nemesis, the Angels, in the one place that, for whatever reason, they really struggle to win games. These three games were framed as a litmus test for the team and while you can challenge the validity of that premise, but the results were conclusive; the Yanks passed.

Somewhat apropos to each of the cities, leaving Seattle, it was all doom and gloom. Now, departing from Los Angeles, things are looking much brighter.

The way that the last two games unfolded, tense battles of the bullpen with late lead changes, had those who stayed awake or left work early to watch them hanging on every pitch. A-Rod stepped up, going 3 for 8 in the series with two home runs, 4 RBIs and a decisive sacrifice fly to win the second contest. Andy Pettitte, Chad Gaudin and A.J. Burnett all put forward representative performances although each was viewed as a potential liability coming into the series.

Mariano Rivera also bounced back from his blown save in Seattle by saving the final two games of the series, protecting a one run lead in both of them. They weren't cheapies. He allowed one baserunner to start each outing, but neither advanced past first.

After the home run to Ichiro, Tyler Kepner published this article about Rivera intertwining with Phil Hughes' role as a set up man, nailing the essence of the man thusly:
Such mastery of the mental and physical cloaks Rivera in a kind of mysticism. He is a team captain without the title, a touchstone for teammates. To Hughes, he is an inspiration, even without many words.
Rivera's job description provides enough mental challenges, but Mo has probably had even more on his mind as of late (hat tip to the indispensable Baseball Think Factory).

Puerto Caimito, the small fishing village on the southern coast of Panama where he grew up and still keeps a home, has been struck by some pretty serious flooding and storm surges causing the canals of the city to fail. Three people are dead, dozens more injured and hundreds more unable to return to their homes. (Articles in Spanish)

We've talked a little bit about Latin American baseball lately, but didn't get into what it must be like for these guys to leave much of their families behind even though they have probably surpassed their wildest dreams in terms of wealth and success. An event like this has to make that infinitely harder.

It's worth noting that Rivera had to return home to his house in the same town in between the 2004 ALDS and ALCS because his wife's cousin and his son were electrocuted while cleaning his pool. Either by purposeful omission out of respect or forgetfulness, this is never cited as a reason for Mo's struggles in that series, although the travel must have taken something out of him and it must have weighed heavily on his mind.

The fact that we haven't heard about the flooding from the beat writers via Rivera or the Yankees almost certainly means that his family was not affected. Hopefully that is the case and for the people of Puerto Caimito in general and Mariano and his family in particular, the worst of it is over.