25 August 2008

Rays @ White Sox: Pierzynski's Botched Run-Down Highlights Umpires' Need for Instant Replay

One of the stranger plays in the realm of baseball occurs any time there's a run-down in a game.

Rundowns, in and of themselves are interesting to watch, if not uncommon, and it's a rare baserunner who can regularly get out of such a pickle. Jackie Robinson was supposedly great at it, as was Willie Mays, I believe, but otherwise, I don't know of any notable players who had such a reputation.

Unlike throwing to the cut-off man, or the roundhouse play for defending a bunt, there's no standard, time-honored set of rules for who throws the ball to whom at what time. The fielders just have to keep throwing and running, running and throwing, until the batter is either tagged out, arrives safely at a base, or runs out of the baseline and is therefore called out by the umpire.

But on Sunday, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski found a new way to get out of a rundown: Get tagged out, but brush up against a fielder who doesn't have the ball and fall down. Then the ump, thinking that you were a victim of interference, will call you safe.

In this case, the umpire in question was Doug Eddings, and the play was between second and third base. Willy Aybar had just been running A.J. back to second base and he tossed the ball to shortstop Jason Bartlett at second base, who tagged A.J. as he fell down, trying to reverse his momentum toward second. Pierzynski's left arm touched Aybar as he passed, though from watching the replays, that was clearly not the reason for his falling down.

Second base umpire Eddings was watching the play from the infield side of second base, which is to say with Pierzynski between him and Aybar. Eddings called "safe" due to interference by Aybar, whom he presumably could not see well, since A.J. was between them. Given his vantage point, it seems like Eddings probably thought that Aybar somehow tripped him, which of course would be a legitimate reason for calling interference, right? An honest mistake, right? Wrong.

From an umpire's perspective, an honest mistake is still a mistake, and umpires do not make mistakes, no sir. Or at least they don't admit to them. (Must be tough being married to an umpire, don't you think?) Another umpire, either the crew chief or an ump who had a better view of the play, is allowed to overrule an umpire's call.

For example: Third base ump Ted Barrett had a better view. What did he think?

"As a runner, you're allowed to do that. What Doug ruled at second base was, even though A.J. did kind of stick his arm out to make contact, Aybar was still in his way. So A.J., if he would have turned, he wouldn't have been able to continue on to third. So after making the throw, Aybar is no longer in the act of fielding and he can't obstruct the runner, which is what Doug ruled happened. And in a rundown, even though A.J. was going back to second, the rule of obstruction during a rundown is he gets his next advanced base and that's why he was rewarded third base."
So Barrett, whether he thought the Pierzynski should have been out or not, has decided to side with Eddings, and in order to do so, has asked you to perform some mental gymnastics. Let's break this down:

"...even though A.J. did kind of stick his arm out to make contact, Aybar was still in his way."

Wait, even though A.J. had to reach out to touch him, he was still in his way? By this logic, I could sue the State of Pennsylvania when I drive off one of its roads and into a bridge abutment, because even though I had to get off the road to hit it, the thing was still in my way, right?

"So A.J., if he would have turned, he wouldn't have been able to continue on to third."

Aybar was slightly behind him, but mostly to his left when A.J. fell down, so Barrett must be thinking that third base is located in short left field somewhere. However, Eddings did not realize that this was a moot point, as Pierzynski suffers from Zoolander-ism, an inability to turn left.

"So after making the throw, Aybar is no longer in the act of fielding and he can't obstruct the runner..."

Fair enough, but is he obstructing him from running to second base by being behind him? Do you think Pierzynski wanted to run backward all the way to third base?

"...even though A.J. was going back to second..."

So Aybar was in his way even though Barrett admits that A.J. was not actually going that way? Pierzynski was facing 2nd base and he was moving toward 2nd base, at least until he noticed that guy on 2nd had the ball, at which point he did his best impersonation of Manu Ginobili and hit the dirt, in hopes that he could steal a call. By this logic, anyone standing in the baseline next to third base, 75 feet away from A.J., is also guilty of obstruction, because if A.J. had turned around and Usain Bolt-ed it to third, there would have been someone in his way. Even though that's also impossible.

"If Aybar's got the ball, there's no obstruction. You protect the fielder when he's in the act of fielding. Once that ball's released and out of his hand, he has to vacate."

Vacate? He was doing that. He tossed the ball to second and was moving off when Pierzynski reached out and elbowed him. But he can't get out of the way instantaneously. He's subject to the same laws of physics as everyone else. Aybar was trying to vacate. Barrett makes it sound like he needed to vaporize.

The real irony here, and with some of the other notable botched calls this weekend, is that just last week the MLB Umpires' union complained about and eventually settled on a system for using instant replay to review disputed home run calls, and only home run calls. No discussion has been made of reviewing balls and strikes, or safe/out plays at a base using instant replay, but there have been noises about using it for checking outfield catches that might actually be trapped balls and other difficult judgment calls.

Like, you know, run-downs. This kind of play begs for the use of instant replay, and yet the MLB umpires stubbornly refuse to budge.

As a rule, umpires have a tough job, and I freely admit that I wouldn't want it. Traditionally, I think, they've held the ridiculous position that they are all but infallible under some misguided notion that if they admit to ever making a mistake, the players can somehow use it against them. Perhaps that was true a hundred years ago, before digital, high definition TV and Pitch f/X and other technological marvels invaded the game, but now? Now the only reasons for sticking to their guns are tradition and stubbornness. Which is another umpiring tradition, anyway.

And perhaps because they think that by conceding something like this, they are owed something in return. Allowing MLB to change the rules, something they do not have to do, is something that should entitle them to some added benefit under their collective bargaining agreement.

Never mind the fact that this actually makes their jobs easier in the long run, as they can make the "gut call" they feel they should make in a given situation with the knowledge that if they're wrong, instant replay can set things right. No more need to lose face being overruled by another human being. Everyone knows that machines and computers are better at this stuff than we are. No need to worry about having screwed someone out of a run or an out. The play will have ended with the correct result regardless. You can always say that you just didn't have as good a view as the TV camera did, and let it go.

No more mental gymnastics, even if the baserunner is performing gymnastics of his own.

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22 August 2008

Carl Pavano's Injuries: Joe Torre's Fault?

The big news in Yankeeland is that Carl Pavano is slated to start the game tomorrow.

The big question, then, is:

Will he get out of the fourth inning?

Exactly three years and three months ago, 22 May 2005, Pavano was still looking good. Coming off an 18-win season he was signed to a 4-year, $39.95 Million contract in the off season. Pavano had made 10 starts at that point and was 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA, averaging just a hair over 6 innings per contest, and with 37 strikeouts to just 11 walks. The defense had been more than a bit sloppy behind him, leading to 13 unearned runs that helped mask the fact that he really hadn't been all that good, but the results were certainly acceptable, to that point.

And then the bottom fell out. After a decent start on the 22nd (7 IP, 3 R, 1 earned), the bottom fell out. Over the next month, Pavano went 0-4 in seven starts with a 6.46 ERA. The defense buckled down and so he didn't allow any unearned runs, but when you give up 56 hits in 39 innings, the opposition doesn't need your team to make errors.

And then he got hurt. And hurt. And hurt again. Pavano had a shoulder injury in 2005 that cost him the rest of the season, though oddly, he was not put on the DL until July 7th, a week and a half after his last start. In 2006, it was thought that he might be back, but a back injury landed him on the DL, and then two broken ribs from a car accident and a wrist injury kept him there. He pitched well, if sparsely, in the minors but not at all in the majors in 2006.

Last year was more of the same. After making two starts in April, and even winning one of them, he was back on the DL to stay, this time an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He's been working his way back to you, babe, with a burning love inside but hopefully not a burning sensation in his elbow.

Three years and three months ago, Pavano had just thrown the most pitches of his career, 133 of them on May 17th, 8 more than his previous career high, from September 2004. It was also 32 pitches more than his previous 2005 maximum and 47 more than the average over his first eight starts. Joe Torre wanted to get him that shutout, and dammit, he got it, but at what cost?

Pavano was new to the team, and it's likely that Torre was not that familiar with him or his history. He probably didn't know that Pavano had never thrown more than 125 pitches in a game before. he probably didn't know that Pavano had been worked pretty hard in 2004, at least in comparison to the past. He averaged 103 pitches per start in his walk year, as the Marlins knew they couldn't afford to re-sign him and wanted to get as much as they could out of his arm before he left.

And they did. Between mid-June and mid-September, he averaged 108 pitches per start, including nine times in which he threw at least 111. (His last two starts were each only about 75 pitches, as he was lifted for a pinch hitter in a 0-0 game in his penultimate start and then relieved after the 7th inning of a 9-1 blowout in his last start of the year.) Pavano's performance after high-pitch count outings had been a mixed bag - some good, some really, really bad - but this much is clear: He'd never been stretched that far.

Whether all of this is, therefore, Joe Torre's fault is debatable, but impossible to prove. Lots of pitchers have thrown 133 pitches in a game with no apparent ill effects, though probably a lot more of them have gone down after such abuse. Pavano may have been the one who insisted on staying in to get the shutout, but of course it's the manager's job to look to the future of the team and override the pitcher's whims, and Torre did not do that.

This much, however, is clear: Since June of 2005, Pavano has made exactly three starts above AA ball. Seventeen innings, none of them this year. In 2008 he's got only 19 innings: 5 in Single-A, and the rest at AA Trenton, where he's 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA. More important, he's allowed three homers in 14 innings. Two of them were hit by Sebastien Boucher, the Bowie Baysox center fielder, who was demoted from AAA earlier in the season, and who has a career minor league slugging percentage of .373. The other was hit by journeyman catch-and-throw guy John Suomi, who slightly improved his .398 career slugging percentage with that dinger.

So he's allowing too many homers, and worse yet, he's allowing them to guys who generally don't hit homers, and certainly shouldn't be hitting them off a seasoned major leaguer making $10 million per year. This is not a good sign.

So I ask again: Will he get out of the 4th inning?

You tell me.

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19 August 2008

Greg Maddux Traded to Dodgers

The San Diego Padres have reportedly traded RHP Greg Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The deal is as yet unofficial, and no terms have been announced, though it's expected that the Padres will receive one or two mid-level prospects (i.e. not much).

Maddux has a modest 3.99 ERA but only a 6-9 record.. The reasons for this are two-fold:

1) The Padres suck,

2) a LOT.

Maddux has gotten only 3.99 runs/game from the Pads, on average, which is 48th among the 53 NL pitchers who have thrown at least 120 innings so far this year. He's had 11 Quality Starts this year in which he's gotten either a loss (5 of them) or a no-decision. The Padres simply don't score runs, being second to last in the majors with 3.82/game. The Dodgers aren't much better (they're 24th in MLB, with 4.25 R/G) but they can probably get him a few wins.

And what difference they can't make in run scoring should be accomplished with the bullpen. The Dodgers' relief corps has a 3.02 collective ERA, second in the majors, while San Diego is 23rd, at 4.23, and that despite playing half their games in an extreme pitchers' park. If Maddux can continue to provide 6 or 7 quality innings - and really, he's already 42 and there's no evidence that he can't - the Dodgers should only need to score 4 runs or so and then Maddux can turn it over to Beimel and Park and Kuo and Co.

Maddux may not be the innings leader he once was, but he's still an innings eater. He's LAIM at best these days, but that's still pretty valuable, especially to a team that may be trying to save a young pitcher's arm, as ESPN's Rob Neyer suggests. He was among the NL top 10 in Innings Pitched every year from 1988-2001, and 2003-05. He also tossed 199.3, 210, and 198 innings in the other three years, good for the top 20 in the league each time, and is 18th in the NL this year. Maddux rarely gives you much more than about 6 IP, but he gives you six decent innings, and anyway, these days a guy who can amass 180 IP with a league average ERA is pretty valuable.

Maddux has a full no trade clause in his contract, but he agreed to waive it for this deal, something I doubt he would have done if they'd wanted to trade him to, say, Arizona, where he's 1-7 with a 6.01 ERA for his career. He's smart enough to know that staying in places like LA and SD toward the end of his career, i.e. severe pitchers' parks in a league with less offense, will only help to maintain his impressive legacy by keeping his ERA down. His 3.99 ERA in SD this year would have been more like 4.38 in a neutral park, 4.89 in a place like Philly, according to http://www.baseball-reference.com/. You think there would be much call next year for a 43-year old pitcher with a record of 8-12 and a 4.90 ERA? Yeah, neither does Greg.

Smartest Pitcher Who Ever Lived, indeed.
Keeping his ERA in that cozy 4.00 neighborhood keeps his options open to come back next year if he wants, as his stats, at least on the surface, make him look like he's still an effective commodity. And that's crucial if he wants to move up in the record books. With two more wins this year he'll pass Roger Clemens for 8th place on the all time list, and don't think Maddux isn't aware of that.

If he can win just four of his remaining eight or nine starts this season, Maddux would be sitting at 357 Wins, within striking distance of Kid Nichols at 361, Warren Spahn at 363, and also Pud Galvin at 364. That would leave only Christy Mathewson, Pete Alexander, Walter Johnson and Cy-Freaking-Young ahead of him on the list.

Galvin and Nichols both pitched in the 1800's, and regularly racked up 400, 500, even 600+ innings in a season, against a league that was brand new and inexperienced, where the home run champ for the season was frequently in the single digits. Maddux' accomplishments, against the best players from around the world, with world-class training regimens, dieticians, and - yes, I'll say it - steroids at their disposal, stand head and shoulders above the men he could pass. He just wants the chance to prove it.

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07 August 2008

Yankees All-Time Lineup: The "Moonlight Graham" Team

For Bleacher Report's "Open Mic" feature this week, their editors suggested putting together an all-time lineup for our favorite team, which is a good idea if there's any challenge to it. I put together an All-Birthday team for myself once, but this was kind of a new thing for me.

But with the Yankees, it's pretty silly. Their all-time best lineup goes (more or less) like this:

SS Derek Jeter
CF Joe DiMaggio
RF Babe Ruth
1B Lou Gehrig
LF Mickey Mantle
3B Alex Rodriguez
C Yogi Berra
DH Reggie Jackson
2B Joe Gordon

Want to change the batting order? Knock yourself out. Bat Ruth ninth if you like. What difference does it make? I hate to put the Mick in Left, but he did play there 129 times in his career, according to baseballreference.com, so it's not completely bogus. Anyway, what can you do? Put Dave Winfield in there instead and leave either Mickey or Joltin' Joe on the bench? That's just silly.

I would have Mattingly, Winfield, Bernie Williams, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, and Phil Rizzuto on the bench, but really, how often are they gonna play?

The starting staff consists of

Whitey Ford,
Red Ruffing,
Lefty Gomez,
Roger Clemens and
Ron Guidry.

The bullpen has Mariano Rivera, Goose Gossage, Dave Righetti, Sparky Lyle and, for my money, Johnny Murphy, who can provide long relief on those rare occasions where it might be needed.

You want Elston Howard or Jorge Posada instead of Dickey? Take him. Lazzeri starting instead of Gordon? Plug him in. Roger Maris or Hank Bauer or Roy White or George Selkirk on the bench instead of Bernie? He's yours. Clete Boyer or Willie Randolph or Bobby Richardson? No problem. You can have them. This team is going to score 1000 runs easily and probably win 100-110 games, even against the all-time lineups of the other 13 American League teams.

But the one thing you can't do is put four starting pitchers in the bullpen and pretend that they're relievers. We've got to have some law!

Anyway, that's boring. So I put together some other lineups, for your (and my) amusement.

All-Time Yankee "Moonlight Graham" Team
Yankees With One-Game Major League Careers.

There are 29 players in history who have played the one and only game of their major league careers for the Yankees. Unfortunately, most of these are pitchers who did not do very well, like Andy O'Connor in 1908 or Christian Parker in 2001. Several of them were backup catchers as well, which is all we've got on the bench (unless you want more lousy pitchers). This is the best I could do with a limited supply:

Starting Lineup
C Harry Hanson , 1913, 0-for-2, one PO and one Assist.
1B* Heinie Odom, 1925, 1-for-1 and an Assist in the field.
2B George Batten, 1912, 0-for-3, one PO and one Assist.
3B Phil Cooney, 1905, 0-for-3, 1 PO and 1 Assist.
SS Frank Verdi, 1953, no PA or defensive plays.
RF Elvio Jimenez, 1964, 2-for-6 with 5 Putouts and no errors.
LF Larry McClure, 1910, 0-for-1, no plays in one game in Left Field.
CF Alex Burr, 1914, no at bats or plays in the field.

The batting order, frankly, doesn't matter. These guys aren't going to score any runs anyway. Ocf course, several of them never got a chance to bat, so who knows? Given three or four trips to the plate, they might surprise us.

I had to take a thirdbaseman named after his own butt and put him on first base, since I couldn't find a moonlight Graham for that position anywhere.


C Honey Barnes, 1926, walked in only plate appearance.
UT Charlie Fallon, 1905, Fielding position unknown, and no PA or plays in the field.
UT C.B. Burns, 1902, For the old Baltimore Orioles before they moved the franchise to NY and became the Highlanders. No position given, but he singled in his only at-bat.

RHP Roger Slagle (1979) Two perfect innings.
RHP Loyd Colson (1970) 2 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 0 walks and 3 K's.
RHP Clem Llewellyn, (1922) One scoreless inning.
RHP Sam Marsonek, (2004) 1.3 scoreless innings.
RHP Walter Bernhardt (1918) Faced and retired 2 batters in his only game.
RHP Floyd Newkirk (1934) 1 IP, 1 Hit, 1 Walk, no runs.
LHP Hal Stowe (1960) 1 IP, 1 Run on 1 Walk.

Totals: 9 innings, 2 Runs allowed, but we lose 2-0 because nobody in the lineup ever scored a run.

Anyway, it was more interesting than deciding whether to bat Joe D. second or sixth.

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06 August 2008

Chris Waters Orioles Debut: As Good As It Gets

The Baltimore Orioles and their fans have not had much to be excited about in the last ten years or so. Sure, they had Cal Ripken brekaing Lou Gehrig's record, but that was a long time ago, and anyway the team was lousy by then. They've had a losing record every year since their Division title in 1997, and have finished higher than 4th place once in that span, and are on a pace to finish last this year.

But last night, they felt they had a little reason to hope. Lefty pitcher Chris Waters made his major league debut, and one-hit the AL West leading LAnahfornia Angels for eight innings before giving way to George Sherrill fo rthe save. He allowed no runs and three walks while striking out three.

Some Orioles fans have found my site this morning because one of them linked to my study of rookie pitchers' debuts, which I did back in April when the Reds' Johnny Cueto so impressed us with his dismantling of the Diamondbacks. Unfortunataly, Cueto (currently 7-11 with a 5.00 ERA) has not been nearly as good since, at least not consistenly, which is not unusual for such a young pitcher.

Waters' performance last night gave him a game score of 80, which is of course very good, in the top 30 debut scores of all time, but does it bode well for his career? Well, in some measure, it certainly does, if only because it means that in his next appearance he'll be starting against the Indians in Cleveland instead of the Mud Hens in Toledo.

That debut is also the best game score for anyone who has debuted in the majors at 26 years of age or older (Waters is 27), at least so far as the archives at baseballreference.com can tell me. And that's the distressing part.

When I looked at Cueto's stats, I found that there had been 13 other pitchers with similar stats in their debut, and many of them went on to significant success, at least for a time, and one even went to the Hall of Fame (Juan Marichal). But Waters, because he's so "old" is a different story. Sure, he one-hit the Angels over eight innings, but he also allowed three walks, and only whiffed three. based on game score and age alone, there have been 16 pitchers to make a debut at age 26 or later with a Game Score of at least 70. These are:

Paul Edmondson - Pitched reasonably well in 14 games in 1969, but with bad luck went 1-6. Killed in a car crash en route to Spring Training in 1970.

Wally Burnette - Knuckleballer went 14-21 over parts of three seasons with the kansas City A's and was done at age 29.

Brian Tollberg - Went 15-16 as a spot starter with the Padres for parts of four seasons, the last in 2003 when he was 30. Retired from organized baseball at age 32.

Masato Yoshii - Debuted in US at age 33 after a 13-year career in the Japanese league. Went 32-47 over parts of 5 years here, then went back to japan at age 37, where he finally retired after the 2007 season, at age 42.

Gordie Richardson - Only made 6 other starts in MLB career, plus 62 relief appearances over three years. Already washed up at age 27.

Roberto Hernandez - Only made two more starts...but over 100 relief appearances, with 326 Saves over a 17-year career that ended after last year.

Kazuhisa Ishii - Won 14 games as a rookie in 2002, but only pitched enough innings toqualify for the ERA title once in his four seasons here. He posted a 5.14 ERA in 91 innings in 2005 and then returned to Japan, where he has won a total of 20 games in the past two seasons.

Geraldo Guzman - Posted a 5.04 ERA in about 70 innings in the majors in 2000-01. Got hurt at age 27 and hasn't pitched since.

Ramon Ortiz - LAIM at best, but won some games for the Angels back in the early 2000's. FInished his career with an 84-80 record in nine years with an adjusted ERA about 9% worse than average.

Hiroki Kuroda - Another Japanese veteran who debuted here at age 33 after a long, successful career in Japan. Has shown flashes of brilliance, like his 11-K, 4-hitter against the mighty Cubs in June and his 1-hit shutout of the Braves (after seven perfect innings) in July, but he probably won't be worth the three-year, $35 million contract he signed before the season.

Osvaldo Fernandez - Cuban refugee who bounced back and forth between the majors, minors and the Disabled list from 1996 to 2002, when he reired at age 33, with a major league record of 19-26 and a 4.93 ERA.

Jim Archer - The best pitcher on the woeful 1961 Kansas City A's, posting a 3.20 ERA in 205 innings, even though he only went 9-15. Tossed just 28 more innnings in the majors before an injury forced him to retire at age 30.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - Won 15 games as a rookie last year after seven very succesful seasons in Japan, and could win 20 this year. Probably still not worth the $100M+ the red Sox paid for him, but then, who is?

Brian Sikorski - After a short stint with Texas in 2000, right after he turned 26, Sikorski wasn't seen in the majors again until 2006, when he made brief appearances with the Padres and Indians. He's been back and forth between the American minors and the Japanese major leagues, and is currently 34 and pitching for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Rick Anderson - Had a handfull of appearances with the Mets and Royals in the mid-80's, but won only four games in the majors and retired from playing at age 31. Has been a pitching coach for the twins since 1989, in the majors since 2002.

So there you have them: The 16 players who have had an impressive MLB pitching debut in their late twenties (or later). Among these, it's a little unfair to include the four Japanese guys, since they would have been in the majors at a much younger age if not for the presence of a separate league in Japan, and that likely applies to Ozzie Fernandez, too.

That leaves Roberto Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz, seven guys who washed out by age 31, and one fluke death.

Sorry, O's fans, but this is not a good sign.

Waters was drafted out of South Florida Community College by the Braves in the 5th round of the 2000 amatuer draft, and though he showed impressive work in the low minors at first, he struggled in Double-A and with left shoulder tendonitis that cost him about half of 2003, almost all of 2004 and some of 2005. After 2006, the Braves let him go as a minor league free agent, whereupon the desperate-for-pitching Orioles picked him up.

Still somewhat lackluster as a 26-year old in Double-A last year (8-9, 4.49), he did OK in one start at AAA at the end of the year, but was back in Bowie to start 2008. He doesn't even appear in any of the normal pre-season prospect publications, like Baseball Prospectus, as 27-year olds who have yet to dominate even Double-A rarely do. However, against the odds, he was excellent in AA this year, going 5-0 with a 1.59 ERA in six starts. Then, at AAA, well, notsomuch (3-6, 5.70). before the O's called him up last night.

He's a lefty with a good curveball, an 86-88 mph fastball, a changeup that sits in the low 80's and not much else. The modest difference between his fastball and changeup means that when he loses a little bit of velocity, there won't be much difference at all, and his lack of a true out pitch will hurt him in the majors. He's a crafty lefty with nine years of experience, but his stuff won't likely be good enough to get him past major league hitters, once the players and scouts have all had a look at him.

Additionally, he's got to be able to throw strikes to keep hitters honest, and with that 87-mph "fast"ball, unless you have the control of a Greg Maddux or Mike Mussina, there's just no way to make that work up here. He averaged more than 4 walks per nine innings in the minors and he threw only 61 of 104 pitches for strikes last night. For that matter, he was lucky to get that many, as the Angels swung at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone. Put him in there against a patient team like the Red Sox and he's doomed.

Being left handed should get him a few extra chances, at a bullpen role if not much else. According to his player bio page on MLB.com, he had almost a 100-point L/R platoon split in 2005, and I would guess that that was no fluke, given his repetoire. He's in good shape and works quickly, but his prospects for any kind of long-term success are very, very slim, unless a 3-year stretch as a LOOGy is your idea of "success".

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05 August 2008

Yankees Trading Deadline Review: It's Over

I know I'm a little late to the party on this stuff, but I was on vacation for a week and a half or so, and never got a chance to comment on all of this. Frankly, with the splendor of Yellowstone Park and the Grand Tetons in front of me, somehow the importance of the 2008 Yankees' postseason hopes seemed a bit small in comparison. Of course, now I'm back home, and my priorities have been set straight.

So now I'm back and I don't recognize half of the faces of the players on my favorite team. Well, I recognize some of them - I mean, who's been paying any attention at all to baseball for the last 15 years and doesn't know Ivan Rodriguez by sight? - they just don't look right in Yankee uniforms is all.

Fortunately, in the case of Pudge, all we gave up was Kyle Farnsworth, who, while having a decent year to date (for once) was bound to fall off the table at some point. To wit, he gave up two homers to the Rays a couple of nights ago and blew a save. Brian Cashman was selling high with Farnsworth, who had a 4.44 ERA as a Yankee entering 2008, but managed to put up a 3.65 this year.

I-Rod, on the other hand, is on the tail end of his Hall-of-Fame career, and despite the way Brian Cashman has talked him up in the wake of this deal,

“In theory I think we upgraded offensively. Pudge is obviously still having a
tremendous year, one of the top catchers in the game today."

I beg to differ. Pudge is hitting close to .300, but with no walks and no power. He's on a pace for about 50 Runs and 50 RBIs. After Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, Russell Martin, Geovany Soto, Dioner Navarro, Ryan Doumit, and (before they got hurt) Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez, you could say that Pudge was "one of the top" catchers. That's roughly the top third or so of major league catchers, and maybe his defense pushes him into the top 25% or so, but that's a pretty generous definition of "one of the top" and that's about all I'm willing to concede.

Still, the main idea here was that Pudge would be an imporvement on Jose Molina, not Jorge Posada or Brian McCann, and that he is. According to Baseball Prospectus, Pudge had been worth about 3.4 Wins above replacement to date, while Molina was at about 2.3, most of that via his defense. Pudge brings comparable defense along with a bat that, if nothing else, at least is not a total zero. He should be worth something like one to two wins over Molina from here on out, but no more than that.

The other "big" move by the Yankees was to pick up Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates for prospects. Not that these two are likely to make you want to rush out gotickets and drop $500 on a couple of seats to the next game, but they're both solid, useful role players.

The Yankees gave up Jose Tabata, who was tabbed the Yankees' "Centerfielder of the Future", but since that future wasn't likely going to happen before 2010 or 2011, and since he was hitting .248 in the Eastern League, Cashman decided to take his chances with guys who can play now.

The other three given up in that deal, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Dan McCutchen, are all righty pitchers who may grow up to be useful major leaguers someday, but all of whom have some kind of significant strike against them. Ohlendorf struggles with his weight and has had arm problems in the past. Karstens is a finesse pitcher whose lack of a good fastball leaves him with only the slimmest of margins for error, and McCutchen, though successful in the minors to date, has no true out pitch. Twenty years from now, he may prove to have been the best of the three, but even that is likely to be a #3 or #4 starter for about four or five years, tops.

In return the Yanks got Nady, who was hitting .330 with Pittsburgh, and amazingly did even better after joining the Yankees, winning AL Player of the Week honors for hitting .385 with 3 homers. With his "swing hard in case you hit it" approach, he won't keep that up, but if he can hit .285 with a little power and some walks, as his career averages suggest he can, the Yankees can plug him into left field every day while Hideki Matsui and/or Johnny Damon are injured.

Marte is a lefty who strikes batters out, and has posted solid ERAs in every year since 2002. And he's no LOOGy, being nearly as effective against righties (.716 opponent OPS) as he is against southpaws (.581). His acquisition allowed the Yankees to get rid of LaTroy Hawkins, who was inexplicably wanted by the Houston Astros, or at least their GM, Ed Wade. The Yanks gave up some cash and got a minor league 2B named Matt Cusick, who's got patience but not a whole lot else in his repetoire.

Other Acquisitions:
My younger brother has a theory. In college, he suspected that his school must have had the Worst College Football Player in the country. His reasoning was this:
1) He went to the University of Rochester, an excellent school academically, but for athletics, it (ahem...) competes in Division III, the lowest division in the NCAA system, against teams like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Salisbury Steak State University.
B) The Rochester football team was, at least during my brother's tenure there, the worst team in its sad division. (They went 5-31 overall from 1996-1999, and had to "rally" to a 3-6 record in his senior year to do that.)
Therefore, the guy at the end of the Rochester bench, a guy who was not good enough to play on the worst team in the worst division in college football, was likely the de facto Worst Player in College Football.

On a related note: Richie Sexson.

Sexson was bad enough to get released by the worst team in the league, while still owed over $5 million for the rest of the year, and somehow I doubt that all he needed was a change of scenery. Besides, the guy's like eleven feet tall, which means that all the pitcher has to do is make sure the ball gets to the catcher, and it's a strike. Sexson has been used mostly as a pinch hitter, but if he gets more playing time than that, something is very, very wrong in Yankee Land.
I hate to say it, because he's only nine days younger than I am, but the dude is washed up. Shelley Duncan or fellow ex-Indian, ex-Mariner (and singer/guitarist) Ben Broussard could be just as bad for (probably) less money. Juan Miranda (25 years old and hitting .306/.394/.460 in AAA this year) might even be a little better. At least he'll make some contact.
Another bit of jetsam pulled from the drink, perhaps more literally than that metaphor would normally suggest, is Sidney Ponson. Ponson has been surprisingly good so far, or at least useful, but it's probably just a matter of time before the other shoe drops and he turns back into a pumpkin. I'm pretty sure those two metaphors don't actually work together, but you get my drift.

In summary, while I'm glad that the Yankees have played a little better of late, and are at least competitive most of the time, I think they made a classic blunder. They took their July hot streak as a harbinger of a big turn around, when maybe it was really just a streak. Thinking that the whole team was turning around, they tried to fill a few of the remaining holes, and fill them they did.

But at what cost? Granted, among those they gave up, only Tabata was thought to ever become a star, and that was a long way off if it ever happened at all. However, some of the others who got traded might have filled holes cheaply here and there in the next few years. The safer play was to cut bait, to sell their high priced players in the last years of their contracts and try to stockpile talent for the future, like the Oaklands have done, but "safe" is not a word in the Yankee lexicon, and "rebuilding" is something they do in Kansas City.

Even if Robbie Cano really has turned it around, and even if Johnny Damon is healthy and productive for the rest of the year, they still have the streaky Giambi and suddenly aging Derek Jeter going out there everyday, not to mention Melky Cabrera and his sub-.300 OBP. Is it really reasonable to think that a team with only two proven starting pitchers, one proven reliever and and a patchwork lineup can oust either the Red Sox or the Rays from playoff contention? I don't see it happening.

Mark my words: The dynasty is over.

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