27 April 2006

All-Baseball.com: A Song for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Your Pitchers are Made for Walkin’

Cue Nancy Sinatra...

You keep saying you've got something for us,
Some winning base-ball? ...but confess.
You keep throwin' balls outside the strike zone,
And now your bullpen doesn't get no rest.

Your pitchers keep on walkin'. That's just what they do.
One of these days your fans are gonna walk right out on you.

AP Photo/Linda Kaye

You keep passin', when you oughta be outin'
and you keep losin' when you oughta not play.
You've never won more than 70 games in a season,
And all those walks don't help towards winnin' ways.

Your pitchers keep on walkin'. That's just what they do.
One of these days your fans are gonna walk right out on you.

New Team Logo: The Walkin' Rays!

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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25 April 2006

Double Play Depth: Cincinnati Reds the Flakiest Team in Baseball

The Cincinnati Reds are kind of a flaky team. For one thing, they play in one of the more pronounced hitters' parks in baseball. The team has struggled to score runs on the road ever since the opening of Great American Ballpark, and this season is no exception. They're destroying opposing pitchers at home, to the tune of .316/.413/.560, but have limped along to a measley .229/.324/.439 pace on the road. In terms of last year's performances, that's roughly the difference between Vladimir Guerrero and Justin Morneau.

At no time this season has their flakiness been more apparent than this past weekend. They entered a four-game sries at Milwaukee with a 9-6 record (6-3 at home, only .500 on the road) and won the first game of the series, a 12-8 slug-fest on Thursday that took three hours and 44 minutes. Neither team's starting pitcher got out of the fourth inning, and Brandon Phillips, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians for "future considerations" only two weeks earlier, hit two homers and drove in six runs. (For the record, "future considerations" is baseball GM talk for "Buy me lunch at the next Winter Meetings.")

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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23 April 2006

Pending Pinstripes - 4/22 Team Report: Charleston Riverdogs

The Yankees' Low-A farm team is currently 6-8 for the season, which is "good" for second to last place in the Sally (South Atlantic League) South division. They have only been saved from the disgrace of last place by the lowly Kanapolis team, which has probably lost 12 of 14 games because they keep showing up to play at the Kunited Kstates Knaval Kacademy, and therefore losing by forfeit.

As for the Riverdogs (R-Dogs?), they've had a rather tough time of it to this point, especially on offense. Three of the Yankees' five best prospects, according to Baseball America, are on this team.

However, SS C.J. Henry is hitting only .172/.294/.310 and has already made three errors in the field. Optimistically, he has stolen three bases without getting caught and has one of the team's three homers.

Yes, you read that correctly: 14 games played, three homers. For the team.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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20 April 2006

Pending Pinstripes: GCL Yankees’ Manager, Another Official Killed in Dominican Republic Car Crash

Oscar Acosta, field manager of the Yankees' Gulf Coast (Rookie) League team, and Humberto Trejo, another official in the Yankees' minor leagues, died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic, according to AP reports on Thursday. Baseball America had a little more info on both Acosta's and Trejo's histories.

Acosta had served as the manager of the Gulf Coast Yankees of the Rookie League for the last two seasons, winning two GCL Championships in his first two seasons at the helm. The Gulf Coast Yankees' season does not officially start until June 20th and its roster is apparently not completely set, as the official website lists only two outfielders and no firstbasemen. No other information about the GCL Yankees' coaching staff was available, so I have no way of knowing who will succeed Acosta in the role of skipper for the team. Acosta had previously served as pitching coach for the AAA Columbus Clippers (1996-98) and also worked as a pitching coach for the Cubs and Rangers in the majors. The GCL Yankees were his first managerial job.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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19 April 2006

Double Play Depth: Information Overload - Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux turned 40 last week, the day after he won his 320th career game. There has been no shortage of accolades for the Smartest Pitcher Who Ever Lived (TM Rob Neyer) since then, but I thought that rather than simply praise him, I might instead analyze the man's accomplishments.


During his illustrious career, Greg Maddux has 321 wins, having gained another on Monday night, which ranks 15th all-time, not far behind Don Sutton, with 324. With a decent season in 2006, Maddux may break the top ten. That accomplishment would require 330 wins, which would get him past Steve Carlton, who needed nearly 100 more games in the majors to garner those eight more wins. After Carlton on that list is Roger Clemens, who may or may not be retired, and therefore may or may not add to his 341 career wins. In either case, there's no realistic way to expect that Maddux would win 24 games and surpass the Rocket this year, so top ten is about as well as we can reasonably expect him to do in 2006.

Continue reading at Double Play Depth...

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15 April 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Columbus Clippers Organizational Report 14 April 2006

A not-so-Good Friday if you happen to be a Columbus Clipper.

The Yankees' AAA affiliate lost badly, 9-1, to the Buffalo Bisons, the Cleveland Indians' top farm club. Kevin Thompson had half of the team's six hits and stole two bases, and Danny Garcia hit a solo homer. Those were the only real "high"lights for the Clippers. Matt DeSalvo walked five batters in thre innings and change, allowing four runs and took the loss. Justin Pope allowed another four runs, and only recorded three outs. Scott "What Elbow Cartilige?" Erickson allowed the ninth run in 1.2 innings of relief. Top prospect 1B Eric Duncan made an error, went 0-for-4 and is now hitting just .097 for the young season.

For Buffalo, DH Lou Merloni hit two doubles and a homer, driving in two, and catcher Einar Diaz had a double, two runs and two RBI. Two outfielders named Jason (Dubois and Cooper) each had two hits, one of which was a homer for Cooper, who scored three runs.

The Clippers are 5-4 on the season, having taken 3 of four games from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons to start the year and then splitting four games with the Charlotte Knights. All four of the team’s losses had been by one or two runs before tonight’s embarassment in its first road game. Two of the Clippers’ five wins had been blowouts, a 12-6 trouncing of the Knights on Wednesday, and a 13-1 Opening Day rout of the Red Barons last week.

Overall, several players are having pretty decent seasons at the plate, as the team is hitting .306 combined. Thompson is hitting .353, Melky Cabrera is hitting .429, Mitch Jones is hitting .355, and Russ Johnson is hitting .484, with two homers in eight games. The only regular who isn’t hitting is Eric Duncan, who’s also trying to learn a new defensive position. Backup infielders Damian Rolls and Andy Cannizaro aren’t really hitting either, but as backup infielders on a farm team, that’s neither a surprise nor much of a problem for the orgnization as a whole.

LHP Sean Henn is 2-0 with a 3.97 ERA, having struck out nine and walked only two in 11.1 innings over two starts. Darell Rasner allowed only one run and struck out 11 in seven innings in his first start, Colter Bean has allowed only one run in four relief appearances, striking out six, and Scott Erickson hadn’t allowed any runs at all before tonight. Closer Mark Corey has struck out 6 in 4 innings with no walks or runs allowed, saving three games. The two main problems on the pitching staff are Jeff Karstens, with an 8.64 ERA in two starts totaling 8.1 innings, and Matt Childers, with a 12.15 ERA in two starts (6.2 IP).

The Clippers have three more games at Buffalo and the four at Scranton, followed by two in Toledo to finish up the road trip. Hopefully the rest of it will go better than tonight did.

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11 April 2006

Book Review: The Last Nine Innings, by Charles Euchner

The Last Nine Innings: Inside the Real Game Fans Never See
by Charles Euchner $22.95, 2006, Sourcebooks, Inc.

Charles Euchner is not a baseball writer. Unlike the Frank Defords and Dan Shaughnessys and Roger Kahns of the world, Euchner came from outside the sports writers' Old Boy Club, and yet he somehow managed to pen a book almost every bit as good as any from the hand of David Halberstam or Roger Angell. Like Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame, Euchner took his outsider's perspective and kept delving deeper and deeper into the soul and mind of baseball, peeling away layers of time, emotion and analysis to explore the causes and effects of a single game. And not just any game, but the last game of the 2001 World Series, perhaps the most thrilling baseball championship in a decade. The result, The Last Nine Innings: Inside the Real Game Fans Never See, should stand the test of time as one of the most poignant and comprehensive studies of baseball ever written.

Unlike my Double Play partner, Ben Kabak (whose review appears here), I do not continue to have nightmares about Luis Gonzalez fisting a broken-bat single over Derek Jeter's glove into baseball immortality. I am and have always been a Yankee fan, but I can also detach myself from that emotional bond, especially four and a half years after the initial pain. So while it wasn't necessarily pleasant reading a book that I knew would end badly for my favorite team, I could still recall the gravity and excitement of the game being discussed from my own memory, and Euchner's analysis of that game only served to focus those memories more.

The book's 23 chapters each concntrate on various factors that had an effect on that game. Inning by inning, out by out, Euchner looks at the game from the perspectives of the players, managers, coaches, fans, and even the family members thereof, in some cases. His narrative ranges all over creation, from the humble beginnings of some of the players, their struggles in the minor (and major) leagues, a brief personal history for nearly everyone who played that night. He accomplishes this with countless personal quotes form the players and others involved in the franchises and the game itself. Many of these likely come from personal interviews, as few of them are recognizable as "off the shelf" quotes, and this therefore is perhaps the best aspect of Euchner's work.

Avid, long-time baseball fans will find that some of the more notable details of the players' histories are already familiar to them, such as Curt Schillings' early struggles with his attitude in Baltimore and Houston, Randy Johnson's wildness as a young Montreal Expo, or Roger Clemens' grueling training regimen, but there is something here for everyone. Even the most ardent readers of baseball books and magazines will find something about which he can truly say, That was interesting. I didn't know that."

Euchner covers the physiology of training to play in the major leagues, and addresses different schools of though on the subject. Mercifully, he does not spend much time on the issue of steroids, dor does he bore the reader with endless references to arcane medical terms. Nevertheless, he manages to give the reader an idea of how far physical science has come, the approaches that baseball people are now taking to understand the impact that playing profesisonal baseball has on the human body, and what scientists are doing about it. He looks at the philosphies and sciences behind pitching and hitting, ways different players prepare to perform their respective tasks in the game, physically, mentally and emotionally. He focuses especially on Schilling's personal approach, his laptop computer, personal scouting reports and quasi-scientific efforts to prepare for any game situation. He looks at in-game managerial strategies, the split-second decisions that players must make during a game, and the effect that "luck" has on the outcome of certain plays and ultimately, the game itself.

Naturally, no event happens in a vacuum, even in baseball, where the sanitized and distilled box score from the seventh game of the 2001 World Series looks almost exactly like that from any other game played in the last 100 years. So no discussion of this game would be complete without making reference to the fact that America, and specifically New York City, had been attacked by Islamic extremist terrorists only two short months earlier, and less than 10 miles from where three of the seven games in the 2001 World Series were played. Every player and every fan was keenly aware of that fact throughout the Series, and Euchner provides some insight into the influence that event had on the series and the game at-hand.

Statistical analysis forms a significant part of Eucher's discussion as well, whether it's the issue of Derek Jeter's defense or how well pitchers perform at various points in the game, and he does a reasonably competent job of covering this diverse and complex subject. One of my few qualms with the book, however, lies in his discussion of the meaning and role of stats in baseball, as I think he tends to oversimplify things quite a bit. He calls OPS (On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage), "Probably the best single measure of offensive production..." but of course "best" is a very subjective word. OPS is certainly a useful, "quick and dirty" tool for determining a hitter's overall effectiveness, but it doesn't take baserunning into account, and it inappropriately adds different types of units together, "apples and oranges," if you will, a cardinal sin in mathematics. Furthermore, it implies that slugging percentage and on-base percentage share the burden of offensive production equally, when in reality run scoring relies much more heavily on the latter than the former.

Other places where I take exception to Euchner's claims involve his tendency to ignore the influence of a small sample size on the stats he sites. He provides numbers to indicate how the players performed in various situations that year, especially for Clemens and Schilling, who started the game, but the numbers come only from 2001. Both of these men have been pitching since the 1980s, and it seems misleading, at best, to ignore 10 to 20 years worth of history and performance, making inferences based on one only year's worth of data.

With that said, my little quibbles about Euchner's misuse of statistics are no reason not to buy this book. Whether you're a fan of the Yankees, the Diamondbacks, or just baseball in general, The Last Nine Innings will make you want to go out and watch the next nine innings of baseball, anywhere you can, to keep an eye out for newly-discovered nuances and enjoy the game like you never quite could before.

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10 April 2006

Double Play Depth: No Relief In Sight

You know the scene well:

Bottom of the ninth inning. A rival for the AL playoffs in a bitter contest with the Yankees. The game is on the line. The fans are on their feet. The stadium is rocking, with everyone cheering on their team. The bullpen door swings open and out comes...

...Scott Proctor?

Excuse my French, but what the Hell is Scott Proctor doing out there losing a game to a team that will compete with the Yankees for a playoff berth while Mariano Rivera collects splinters in his butt on the bullpen bench?

Proctor had a 6.04 ERA in 44 innings last year, after posting a 5.40 ERA in 25 innings in 2004. Now, I'm all for giving a guy a chance, but perhaps a tied road game against a playoff rival in the bottom of the ninth is not the best time to give a guy some experience? And considering that he only returned from tending to his very sick infant daughter the day before, maybe he should have been given a couple of low-leverage situations to make sure his head, or at least his fastball, was on straight.

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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05 April 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Last of the Spring Demotions

On Saturday, the Yankees released IF Luis A. Garcia and sent LHP Matt Smith, RHP Matt Childers, RHP Jose Veras, RHP Ramiro Mendoza, C Omir Santos, INF Russ Johnson, INF Damian Rolls and INF Felix Escalona to the minors.

    First, the real "Prospects":

  • I wrote this on Matt Smith in December:

    LHP Matt Smith pitched very well at both AA Trenton and AAA Columbus in 2005. He racked up 92 strikeouts in just over 82 innings at two levels, mostly in relief. He had been largely unimpressive in 2001, 2002 and 2004, and had been non-existent in 2003, evidently rehabbing an injury. Smith, like Bean, seems better suited to relief, but like DeSalvo, he walks a batter almost every other inning, which is a trend that must change if he is to have any kind of career in The Show. Another dangerous trend is his age. At 26, and with only 28 innings of experience above AA ball, he’d better turn a lot of heads in 2006 to earn a look in a major league bullpen.

    Smith gave up 4 runs in 6.2 innings of official work this spring, but he only walked one batter, so maybe he's getting that under control. Or maybe it was a fluke. Keep an eye on him in Columbus, as lefties who can strike batters out will always have a place on a major league roster somewhere.

  • Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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    03 April 2006

    New All-Baseball.com Blog: Double Play Depth

    Welcome to the latest of my baseball writing ventures, Double Play Depth.

    Ben Kabak and I, both expatriates of 360thePitch.com's writing staff during its infancy, and both starved for an outlet to ramble on about baseball for pages at a time, decided to join forces. Ben, who cut his teeth writing on a blog called Talkin' Baseball, invited me to take part in this new blog here on All-Baseball.com, and though he doesn't look a whole lot like Marlon Brando, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse, so here I am. I will continue my work at Boy of Summer, as well as Pending Pinstripes, but this new site gives me a chance to write here and only be overshadowed by one person, instead of the 239 people who regularly contribute to the main page of all-baseball.

    Ben and I will make efforts to combat the myriad of shorter-form baseball blogs out there, giving you the depth of study and analysis you crave, but for which you probably don't have the time to perform yourself. Otherwise, I'd be writing with you, instead of Ben. Also, as we are both Yankee fans at heart, you'll finally get some Yankee flavor out of all-baseball, now that the dearly-departed Bronx Banter has defected to BaseballToaster.com. Hey, somebody's got to balance out Firebrand, right?

    But that's enough with the introductions. Let's move on to baseball..

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