26 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Potential Replacements for Posada

The Yankees announced yesterday that Jorge Posada will be sidelined for a while with a "torn hamstring tendon". Not that I don't believe them, but I'm pretty sure I've never heard of that injury before. I find it very hard to believe that in 150+ years of profesisonal baseball, nobody has ever had such an injury, so either I'm under informed, or this is just a game of semantics. It seems to me most likelt that the Yankees are making a concerted effort to assure their fans that Posada does not have a "torn hamstring" something every sports fan has heard of, and at which every Yankee fan should cringe.

They haven't yet put Posada on the disabled list, but then they haven't ruled it out either. Leg injuries have a hard enough time healing for outfielders, who get to stand still or jog around for much of the game. It therefore seems highly unlikely that Posada's whatever-it-is will heal itself with him crouching 150 times per game. The real reason, besides wichful thinking, that the Yankees have not disabled Posada, in my opinion, is that they don't really have any attractive options in the minor leagues, and are delaying the inevitable as long as they can. As I'm writing this, it's only about three hours before the first game of a weekend series with the Royals, and they still have not announced the promotion of anyone from their farm system. So, being the magnanimous public servant that I am, I will present the most likely options to fill Posada's cleats for the next few weeks, in the order of their probability of promotion. You can thank me later.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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DPD: Tigers to be Tested; Hernandez Not the El Duque of Old

My job is much too easy.

In today's sports world, there are always well-known personalities saying something on TV or talk radio, or writing something in the newspaper and/or on the Internet, something with which many fans may disagree. Heck, these days even the ballplayers can find out what the fans think, and issue their own retorts through the media. Ken Griffey took advantage of this opportunity to let the fans of Cincinnati know how he felt, for example. I'm sure that Mickey Mantle never knew what his fans thought of him, except of course for the boos at the Stadium, and I doubt he cared.

Tigers Prove Themselves Worthy After 40 games?

But more often than not, it's reporters and radio show hosts who express their opinions ofr the Public to hear or read, and too frequently those opinions are not very well thought-out. At the very least, they're not very well researched. In in the Information Age, it is simply too easy to look something up and find out whether or not your favorite talking head actually knows what his head is talking about. Years ago, this business was a lot harder. Before the Internet, you had to actually go to a library or visit a newspaper's archives, poring over old clippings or dusty volumes of books to look up certain statistics. Without Stats, Inc. and the Elias Sports Bureau, you often had to do your own research to determine the relative merit of some reporter's assertions. But in today's world, someone else has already done all that work, and finding the answers you need is generally just a few keystrokes away.

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24 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes: AAA Columbus Team Report, 5/24/06

It's been a game of musical chairs for much of the Clippers roster for the last month. Injuries in New York's outfield corps have led to the promotions of Melky Cabrera, Kevin Reese, Mitch Jones and Terrence Long. Jones was optioned back to Columbus without getitng an at-bat, while Long has gotten eight of them, which in my opinion, is nine too many. Reese is 2-for-5 in New York after having hit .257 in Columbus. When Bubba Crosby returns from the DL, Reese will likely be sent back down as well.

Cabrera has played well in New York so far, and will probably get to stay there for a while, as Hideki Matsui may miss the rest of the season recuperating from a broken wrist. He's hitting .306 in New York after hititng .385 for the Clippers.

Also promoted recently were Soctt Erickson, who was 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA in 12 relief appearances for Columbus before his call-up, and Colter Bean. Bean was 4-1 with a 1.69 ERA in 26 relief innings (18 games) for the Clippers prior to his promotion, though he's allowed two runs in two innings for New York, and was designated for assignment to make room for Gary Sheffield. I'm hoping that the designation doesn't mean that some other club will get him, because I would really like to see what he can do in the majors, but I fear that this may be the end of his tenure in Yankee Pinstripes.

The gaps in the AAA outfield have been filled by Jason Conti, Rob Stratton and Long, before his promotion.

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23 May 2006

Interleague Play Still Interesting after Ten Years

A decade ago, Major League Baseball was still struggling to regain its fan-base. The Great Strike of 1994-95 had devastated attendance across the board. As Yogi Berra once said, fans were "staying away in droves". Both leagues had enjoyed record attandance, both in terms of total fans and average fans per game, in 1993, and the pace was just as high or higher in 1994 when the doors were locked and the players walked out. Cal Ripken would break Lou Gehrig's 2130 consecutive games streak in 1996, but that hardly did anything for the other 27 teams' fortunes, not to mention those of the two expansion franchises who would begin play in 1998. None of the basebll owners could forsee the great home run record chase in 1998 by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire either, so something had to be done.

Someone suggested interleague play. Regular season, official, non-exhibition games against teams in the other league? That's CRAZY talk!!

But it worked. Well, sort of.

MLB Average Attendance per Game
American Change National Change
1993 29,395 -- 32,553 --
1994 30,367 +3.3% 32,139 -1.1%
1995 25,108 -17% 24,936 -22%
1996 26,230 +4.5% 26,789 +7.4%
1997 27,635 +5.4% 28,118 +5.0%
1998 28,372 +2.7% 29,605 +5.3%

2005 29,339 +1.0% 32,108 +1.0%

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17 May 2006

Book Review: Burying the Black Sox, by Gene Carney

Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball's Cover-Up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded
by Gene Carney
c. 2006 Potomac Books Inc. $26.95 (Hardcover)

"Was [reporter and scandal-investigator Hugh] Fullerton a Don Quixote? He took a huge risk, and lost. He underestimated baseball's ability to keep the lid screwed tightly on the scandal. Fullerton had a blind spot when it came to the Sox's owner...and this ultimately cost him. He imagined that the baseball owners and [American League President] Ban Johnson had consciences to which he could appeal with passion and logic. he may have hoped that his voice would be joined by writers in every major city, and his articles would be the snowball that started an avalanche. But instead, by iself, his case had more like a snowball's chance in hell."

I usually like to include a short but meaningful quote from the books I review, some pithy comment by the author, to give you an idea what his or her book is about, but Gene Carney presented me with a unique problem. There is very little about his book that could be accurately described as "pithy". Not to be misunderstood, it's not as though he goes off on weird, irrelevant tangents all the time like, for example, I do. It's just that his subject requires fairly dense prose to give it the proper attention, which he does. The quote above does the best job of summarizing the meaning of and reason for the book he wrote. It just isn't short. Sorry about that.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

I first found out about this book in March, when I wrote a column for All-Baseball.com about the 1919 Chicago White Sox, ostensibly because last year's White Sox team wasn't ineresting enough to justify a column, but really just because the Black Sox were what I wanted to write about anyway. Mr. Carney's publisher commented on the post and contacted me to see if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing this book, which of course, I was, and I did. You see, I spent perhaps the better part of a week doing research for my article, while Carney spent years researchiing his book. It turns out that I had a lot to learn.

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12 May 2006

DPD: An Open Letter to Roger Clemens

Dear Mr. Clemens,

You don't know me. I'm only a fan. Mostly I'm a fan of baseball, but in particular, I've been a fan of the Yankees for a long time, and so my familiarity with you goes back to the summer before I entered fourth grade. Back then, of course, you were a rookie with the Red Sox, pitching against my beloved Yankees.

During your rookie year, you'll probably recall, things were different. The System hadn't yet been put in place that prevented anyone but the Yankees or Red Sox from vying for the AL East Division title. In 1984, New York and Boston competed only for 3rd place, behind Toronto and way behind the Tigers, who eventually beat the snot out of the Padres in the World Series. The next year you had an injury that limited you to only 15 games, which of course is a large part of the reason the Sox struggled to break even at 81-81, while the Yankees competed with the Blue Jays down to the last weekend of the season, finishing only two games back.

Of course, 1986 was, how shall we say it, a "good year" for you? Yes, and Marilyn Monroe was an "attractive woman". Foregoing the understatements, 1986 was for you a season for the ages. An early harbinger of your success that year came in April, when you struck out a record 20 Seattle Mariners in a 9-inning game. Then in July, you started the All-Star Game, pitched three perfect innings, got credit for the win and earned MVP honors. Overall, you went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA (when the league average was 4.19) and 238 strikeouts in 254 innings. You won the AL MVP Award, and you were unanimously elected the Cy Young winner as well, against a pretty strong field. (Two other 20-game winners and six other 200-strikeout pitchers, not to mention Dave Righetti's 46 saves, a single-season record at the time.) And just to prove that you weren't a flash in the pan, or perhaps because you were so miffed at having lost the World Series to the Mets, you did everything you could to carry the team on your back and won another CYA in 1987 as well. Unfortunately, the rest of your mates on the pitching staff, excepting perhaps Bruce Hurst, stank on ice, so Boston finished in fifth place.

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11 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Melky Cabrera, International League Player of the Week, Called up by Yankees

Yankees outfield prospect Melky Cabrera was named the International League Player of the Week for the first week of May. He hit .458 for the week with three homers and eight RBI, both of which led the IL, as did his 11 hits. For the season, Cabrera was hitting .385 for the season with four homers and 24 RBI. Cabrera had walked 10 times and only struck out nine in 31 games (122 at-bats). His .385 batting average and 47 hits were leading the International Leagueand his 24 RBIs were second in the league.

Cabrera picked a good week to get hot, at least for himself, as it so happened that Yankees right fielder Gary Sheffield was placed on the Disabled List with a wrist injury that's bothered him since a collision with Shea Hillenbrand last weekend in a game against Toronto. With Gary Sheffield unavailable until May 20th, the Yankees decided to give Cabrera another shot in the majors.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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10 May 2006

DPD: Who Are You and What Have You Done With the Colorado Rockies' Pitching Staff??!!

It's not supposed to work this way.

There are supposed to be a few things you can count on in baseball:

1) Barry Bonds is a jerk. A jerk who hits homers, but still a jerk.

2) Philly Phans boo everything and everyone, which is one reason I don't like them.

3) The Colorado Rockies couldn't pitch mittens to Eskimos.

In their not-so-long history, the Colorado Rockies have had some trouble with their pitching, to say the least. For Rockies pitchers who qualified for an ERA title (162 innings, except in strike-shortened seasons) the lowest ERA on the staff in each given year has been at least 4.00 in 12 of the team's 13 seasons. The lone exception, Joe Kennedy in 2004, was a 3.66 mark compiled in only one out more than the 162-inning minimum.

The team as a whole has only once compiled an ERA lower than 5.00 for an entire season. In 1995 they managed to get it down to 4.97. Lest you should be deluded into thinking that was actually somehow "good" you should understand that the team finished last in the National League in team ERA every year from its birth in 1993 through 1997. In 1998, they finished second to last. There was, of course, a new expansion team in the NL that year, but the Diamondbacks did not take that dubious honor from Colorado's hands. Rather, it was the Marlins, who fielded a pitching staff comprised mostly of untested rookies one year after winning the World Series, who wrested the Last Place in Team ERA Title from the Rockies' normally capable grasp.

After that, the Rockies finished last in the NL in ERA every season except 2000 and 2005. In 2000, the Houston Astros played their first season in Enron ("Home Run") Field, and their inability to make adjustments from the Astrodome helped them to bring up the NL rear in that category. Similarly, in 2005, the Cincinnati Reds played their third season in Great American Ballpark, which suddenly played like a hitter's haven, after having seemed neutral or even pitcher-friendly in its first two years. That, and the 186 innings they gave to Eric Milton (during which he compiled a 6.47 ERA) helped the team to eek out a last place finish, with a 5.15 mark that narrowly worsted (worsted?) the Rockies' 5.13 team ERA.

As a result, and not a surprising one at that, the Rockies have had a hard time winning games. In its thirteen seasons, the team has had a winning record only four times, and three of those four times were just barely over .500. They won 82 games in 2000, and 83 games in 1996 nd 1997. Their only really "good" year was 1995, when they won 77 games during a strike-shortened schedule. In a normal year, that would have worked out to something like 86 ot 87 wins, not exactly dynasty territory.

But this year seems different.

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05 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week: Justin Christian

I mentioned Justin Christian in my Trenton Thunder Team Report last week, but as I looked at him, it seemed like maybe he'd be a good candidate to revive the Prospect of the Week column, so here goes...

Justin Christian, OF
Born: 3 April 1980, San Mateo, CA
Height: 6' 1" Weight: 188
Bats/Throws: Right
College: Auburn University, Southeast Missouri State
Signed by Yankees as a minor league free agent in 2004.

He was a second-baseman in college in 2001 and hit only .259 with no power, then missed the entire 2002 season rehabbing a torn rotator cuff. He played for Southwest Missouri State in 2003, and made the All-American Team and was named New Comer of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference. He hit .376 with 13 homers and 48 RBI, slugging .665 and stealing 18 bases in 20 attempts. Without any offers from the pros, he went to the independent Frontier League in 2003 and 2004. The Yankees saw him hitting .450/.518/.700 at River City with 26 steals in 30 games and figured that he was worth a shot, so they signed him in June 2004.

Justin Christian wearing a linebacker's number in 2005 Spring Training with the Yankees

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Double Play Depth: Camden Riversharks Opening Night

Last week, I had the privilege of attending Opening Night for the Camden Riversharks, an independent Atlantic League team based in Camden, NJ, across the river from Philadelphia. My professional society, ASM Philadelphia, had planned a tour of the Battleship New Jersey and then the game itself, and we had about 20 people at each.

Somehow I managed to convince my wife to come down for the game, and even more amazingly I convinced my friend Bill to drive down with her. That was an adventure unto itself, as both interstates that led to Camden through Pennsylvania (I-76 and I-676) had huge traffic problems. The whole reason my frind came with he was that my wife didn't want to have to drive into Camden alone, which is understandable.

Camden has a deservedly poor reputation for things like, well, people leaving there alive, for example. The crime rate is pretty high, and the city is perennially among one of the unsafest places to live in the U.S. Add to this the fact that the city is nearly impossible to navigate, and you've got yourself one heck of a problem if you leave the waterfront.

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02 May 2006

Double Play Depth: Everything's Coming Up Red Sox; Beat Yankees, 7-3

This was not the column I had hoped to write today.

With the Yankees facing the Red Sox for the first time this season, I hadn't planned on commenting on the game at all, but I promised Ben Kabak that I'd post something, and it seems silly for Double Play Depth to remain silent on this matter while Firebrand unabashedly gloats for all to read.

Of course, Evan and his compatriots in Red Sox Nation actually have something to gloat about, unlike those of us who have sworn allegiance to the Evil Empire, as the Red Sox won the first match of these division rivals' 19-game season series, 7-3.

This game, like much of the Boston-New York rivalry, was nothing if not dramatic. Knuckleballer RHP Tim Wakefield started for Boston, entering the game with only a 1-4 record and a 3.90 ERA in his first five starts. The Boston front office did everything they could to help Wakefield succeed tonight, which started by acquiring former Knuckle Kaddy Doug "Get In!" Mirabelli from the San Diego Padres, to whom they had traded him for 2B Mark Loretta in the off-season. (Josh Bard, Mirabelli's successor in the role of Guy Who Retrieves Wakefield's Pitches Before They Get to Harvard Square, had already allowed ten passed balls this season in the six games he'd caught for Wakefield.) Mirabelli literally had to be escorted from Logan Airport to Fenway Park to make sure he got there on time, as his plane from the Left Coast only arrived at 6:48PM, and the first pitch of the game was at 7:13. I bet most Boston commuters wish they could get through the city to work in 25 minutes.

With his old caddy back, Wakefield went seven hard-fought innings, allowing three runs on three walks and four hits with only two strikeouts. On a cold, windy night, Wakefield's knuckeball wasn't "knuckling" as it does in milder environments, and so four of every ten pitches were out of the strikezone, but that wind also helped keep a couple of hard-hit balls in the park, and the Yankees could ultimately do little with his offerings.

Another Knuckle Sandwich for the Yankees, the only thing on the menu at the Wakefield Cafe. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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01 May 2006

Pending Pinstripes: AA Trenton Team Report 04/30/2006

The Trenton Thunder currently sit in last place in the AA Eastern League Northern division, with a 6-14 record. Of course, when you consider that the team started the season 0-10, their record looks pretty good now. Having gone 6-4 over their last ten games, they took 2 of 3 from Connecticut (with a rain-out) and 3 of 4 from the New Britain Rock Cats, with the last game of that series to be played this afternoon. If they can win that, the’ll only be half a game behind the Rock Cats, but still in last place. Oh-and-ten is a big hole out of which to climb.

Shelley Duncan (1B) is hitting .297/.384/.568. That batting average and slugging percentage lead the team, as do his three homers, nine RBI, 11 runs scored, 11 doubles , nine walks, 42 total bases, 22 hits, 74 at-bats and 20 games played. Those 11 doubles lead the Eastern League and his .568 slugging percentage is second in the League.

JT Stotts is also hitting .297, with a .413 OBP, but only one extra base hit (a double) for a Neifi-esque .324 slugging percentage. 2B Kevin Howard, part of the swag from the Tony Womack trade, has two homers and is tied with Duncan for the team lead with nine RBI. He’s also struck out 19 times in 19 games, which leads the team as well, albeit in a somewhat more dubious category. OF Justin Christian has stolen 14 bases without getting caught, and is tied for the team lead with 11 runs scored, but is hitting only .257 right now. Those 14 steals are second best in the Eastern League to Akron’s Todd Donovan, who has 16 steals, but has also been caught three times.


Steven White has a 1.53 ERA in a team-leading 29.1 innings, but is only 1-0 in his five starts so far. White is repeating AA after a 2-7, 6.44 ERA performance in Trenton last year, which was fairly uncharacteristic of the remainder of his minor league record. Those first 29 innings look like a good start on getting promoted to Columbus, though it’s early yet.

Most of the rest of the starting rotation hasn’t been terrible by any stretch, but evidently hasn’t gotten any run support at all, as the starters have gotten credit for only two wins in 20 games. Tyler Clippard has struck out 27 batters in 24 innings, but is 0-4 in five starts with a 4.07 ERA as the Thunder managed to score only one run in each of his first four starts. He allowed only two runs in six innings yesterday but left with the score tied and therefore didn’t get credit for the win when Duncan hit a two-run homer in the ninth off Rock Cats closer Justin Olson to win the game, 4-2.

The bullpen has looked pretty good to this point. RHP T.J. Beam has an impressive 0.60 ERA in 15 innings of relief work and has the teams only save. Charlie Manning is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 14 relief innings, and Francisco Butto has a 1.50 ERA in 12 relief innings. J. Brent Cox has a 3.09 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11.2

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