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)

Read the rest at Double Play Depth...

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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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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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    29 March 2006

    Pending Pinstripes: Mr. Bean, Austin LOOGY, and Other Bad Movies...

    I somehow forgot to mention it yesterday, but the latest in the long line of Posada's Pursuers is Keith McDonald, acquired from the Texas Rangers on Saturday for a PTBNL. McDonald is a 33-year old journeyman minor league catcher who's only got eight games of experience in MLB, none since 2001. His career batting average in the minors is .264 and his career slugging percentage is an even .400, neither of which is particularly good. Unless you happen to be suing him for palimony or something like that, this is probably the last you'll ever hear of him. Keith McDonald's on the farm, E-I-E-I-O!

    On Monday the Yankees sent RHP Colter Bean to Triple-A Columbus and sent RHP Mark Corey and LHP Dusty Bergman to Minor League camp.

    Bean's Propsect of the Week report can be found here, but this is all you really need to know about Bean's chances of making it with the New York Yankees:

    PLAYER  W  L  S   ERA  G GS   IP  H  R  HR  BB  SO
    C Bean 0 0 0 0.00 1 0 1.0 0 0 0 0 1

    One game.

    That means that Colter bean got only slightly more of a look this spring than George Pipgras, and he's been dead for 20 years!

    Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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    28 March 2006

    Pending Pinstripes: Six Catchers and Kevin (Rakin')

    Recognizing an abundance of outfielders named "Kevin" in Camp, the Yankees sent both Kevins down to the minors this Sunday.

    Kevin Thompson, for whom I wrote a Prospect of the Week report, was shipped off to Columbus after hitting .383/.420/.532 in spring training 2006, with one homer, four doubles, 10 runs scored and and nine RBI in 47 at-bats over 23 games. He walked three times and struck out seven times, and stole only two bases in seven attempts. Note to Mr. Thompson: If you ever get to The Show, stay on first. There are few things for which Mr. Torre has less patience than rookie mistakes like getting picked off or caught stealing. As expected, Thompson will be stowed away in AAA as an insurance policy in case the entire Yankee outfield decides to take an ill-advised trip to the Sunni Triangle during the All-Star Break and doesn't make it back.

    Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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    22 March 2006

    All-Baseball.column: 2006 Phillies Predictions

    Well, it's officially Spring.

    Birds are chirping. Flowers are blooming. Everybody and their uncles are heading to hardware stores to start home improvement projects. The major leagues are officially sleepwalking through a bunch of meaningless games, trying to get in shape for the real season.

    And the Philadelphia Phillies are preparing for yet another year of disappointment.

    Let's analyze how it will happen this year, but first, let's see if I had any idea what I was talking about when I've done this in the past:

    In 2005, I predicted a second-place finish, and the Phillies won 88 games, finishing within two of the NL East Champion Braves. If they had the NL West as competition instead of the East, they'd have won their division easily. I predicted that no more than two starting pitchers would rack up 200 or more effective innings, and there were exactly two such pitchers: Brett Myers, (215 IP, 3.72 ERA) and Jon Leiber (218 IP, 4.20 ERA). Cory Lidle was also reasonably acceptable, in 184 IP.

    I predicted that Pat Burrell would hit something like .275/35/100 with 180 strikeouts, and he hit .281/32/117 with 160 strikeouts.

    I predicted that Chase Utley, if he got the play all year, would hit .270 with 25 homers. He hit .291 with 28 homers.

    I predicted that Mike Lieberthal would hit .270 with 15 homers in about 130 games. He hit .263 with 12 homers, in 118 games.

    I predicted that David Bell would regress to something close to his career line of .260/.320/.400 and would be hitting 8th by the end of the season. He hit .248/.310/.361, more often in the #7 hole than anywhere else.

    I suggested that the Phillies lineup might lead the NL in strikeouts, but the Reds ran away with that one, with the Phillies only 9th, though hey were closer to being third than 10th. I also suggested they might lead the league in runs scored, if not for Colorado, but I did not anticipate the effect that the Great American Ballpark would have, pushing Cincinnati to the top of the NL in run scoring (and allowing), while Colorado's AAA team finished a distant 5th.

    In 2004, I didn't make any predictions, and the Phightin' Phils won 86 games, ten behind Atlanta.

    In 2003 I predicted that they'd make the playoffs, and instead they won only 86 games and finished 3rd in the NL East, behind 101-game winner Atlanta and eventual World Series Champion Florida. That was the year that Joe Table imploded so badly they thought Mike Williams would be a help. Pat Burrell hit .209, Jimmy Rollins stole only 20 bases (getting caught 12 times), and David Bell hit below the Mendoza Line for three months before getting hurt and missing the other three months of the season. Didn't see that coming.

    Anyway, so I did a pretty decent job of prognosticating in 2005, though in 2003...not so much.

    Let's see how I do for 2006...

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

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    21 March 2006

    Pending Pinstripes: Eric Duncan, Melky Cabrera Among Weekly Spring Yankee Reassignments

    Another Sunday in March, another round of cuts from the Yankees' Spring Training camp.

    This week, the Yankees sent RHP T.J. Beam to AA Trenton,
    Coincidentally, I wrote the following about Beam in December, when the Yankees added him to the 40-man roster:

    RHP T.J. Beam is 25 years old and has not gotten past Single-A, where he has spent the last three years. Generally, a 22-year old pitcher drafted out of an NCAA I-A college like UMiss would be expected to advance past A Ball quickly, if he spent any time there at all. Beam pitched OK at low-A Staten Island in 2003, then struggled in the Midwest League, also A-Ball. Ditto for 2004, though the struggles were not as pronounced as they had been in 2003, and he pitched about twice as many innings. In 2005, he was “promoted” to Charleston, in the South Atlantic League, and turned primarily into a relief pitcher. Perhaps it had been his stamina, as he only averaged about 5 innings per start, or perhaps it was thought that his lanky, 6?7? 215 lb. frame would be too prone to mechanics issues to ever thrive as a starter, but it worked. Beam pitched a total of 77 innings between the Sally League and the High-A Florida State League, striking out 105 batters and walking only 25, allowing only four home runs and 17 runs total, for a 1.99 ERA. He’s pretty old for A-Ball, but the Yankees obviously think he’s got something if they added him to the 40-man roster. They’ll likely promote him to AA Trenton in 2006, and perhaps even as far as AAA if he succeeds there, but at this point it’s too early to project him any farther than that.

    And as I had suspected, Beam was in fact sent to Trenton. He had only pitched in two official games this spring, allowing three runs in three innings, but he did strike out four batters. As I mentioned, he's not young, so he's really got to get it going and make it to AAA by the end of 2006 if he wants to have a major league career.

    They also sent OF Melky Cabrera and LHP Sean Henn to AAA Columbus, who followed RHP Matt DeSalvo and RHP Jeff Karstens, sent there earlier in the week.

    Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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    14 March 2006

    Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week:Kevin Thompson

    For those of you who've been watching Spring Training instead of the World Baseball Classic, especially Yankee fans, please calm down. (For that matter, those of you who have been watching the WBC and are getting upset about the fact that the United States has not doen as well as hoped, you should really calm down. Think of it this way: The sooner the U.S. loses and gets eliminated, the sooner your favorite player will have to return to Spring Training and get ready to play some games with real meaning. But tha's a story for another time.)

    I'm talking about the Spring Numbers Myth, specifically in reference to Kevin Thompson, this week's prospect study. MLB.com's beat writer for the Yankees, mark Feinsand, wrote a piece about Thompson yesterday, and it occurs to me that this is exactly the sort of powder-puff writing that tends to get Yankee fans unnecessarily and inappropriately excited about a player who stands about as much chance of being an impact player for the Yankees as I have of suddenly growing a third arm (though that would make it easier to scratch my own back...)

    Kevin Thompson (c. MLB.com)

    Thompson's having a nice spring, hitting .400 with a homer, four RBI and five runs in 12 games, but I'm reminded of Jim Bouton's exchange with the Yankees' pitching coach in the spring of 1960something, as related in Ball Four. The coach tells him that he's having a better year than Dooley Womack, and that they're considering bringing him up with the club, to which he responds something like,

    Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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    13 March 2006

    Pending Pinstripes: Hughes, Rasner Among Five Yankees Sent to Minors

    On Sunday the Yankees reassigned several players to their minor League Camp. These were:

    RHP Philip Hughes

    Phil Hughes, ranked the #1 prospect in the Yankees system by Baseball America, was 1-0 with a 5.41 ERA in spring training this year. He had given up two walks, one hit and one run in 1.3 innings in a win over the Blue Jays on March 5th, the Yankees' first win and Hughes' first outing this spring. He then surrendered three hits, a walk and a balk in two innings, allowing one run and striking out two during a relief appearance against Cincinnati on Friday, March 10th, a loss to the Reds. On Sunday he was optioned to the minor league complex, which was no surprise, as Hughes has not yet pitched above Single-A Tampa, and isn't expected to be ready for the majors until at least 2007.

    C Jason Brown is a career, journeyman minor leaguer. He’s 31 now and played last season at AA Trenton, hitting .248 with 4 homers in 51 games. He did have a .500 OBP this spring, but getting a walk in two trips to the plate is, as they say in France, a small sample size. Brown never had a shot of making the team anyway. He’ll probably end up in AA again, Crash Davising Phillip Hughes and/or Tyler Clippard.

    OF Chris Prieto, also a journeyman minor leaguer, got a cup of coffee with the LAnafornia Angels in mid-May 2005, However, he didn’t have a chance to drink it, as he only saw action as a defensive replacement, going 0-2 in two games, and was promptly sent back to Salt Lake City, where he hit .317/.418/.457 with 26 steals but only 3 homers in 97 games. Now 33, Prieto can potentially be a useful fifth outfielder on a team that needs a little patience and speed off the bench, but not much else. Don’t expect to see him in Yankee Pinstripes this year.

    RHP Darrell Rasner, claimed off waivers from the G-Nats last month, had a 1-0 record and a 2.08 ERA in two games (4.3 innings) this spring. He had given up 5 hits but no walks and only one run, striking out four. The win came against the Pirates on March 8th, when he pitched 2.3 innings, allowing four hits (including a homer to Ryan Doumit) and one run, walking none and striking out three. He had also pitched two scoreless innings against the Reds on march 4th, allowing one hit and striking out one. Rasner has an outside chance of seeing some action in the Yankees’ bullpen this year, but he’ll likely spend the year at AAA Columbus unless several of their starting pitchers go down with injuries.

    IF Danny Garcia was 25 last year, but must have been injured, as the Baseball Cube reports that he played only two games at AAA Buffalo, in the Indians organization, in 2005. He had played a little for the Mets in 2003-04, mostly at second base, hitting .227 in fewer than 200 total at bats over tow seasons. I’m guessing that he’s a good defensive player, because nothing in his minor league batting record indicates that he’ll be able to hit in the majors. His career line is .273/.343/.392 in 320 games and almost 1300 plate appearances over 4 years. He’s not particularly patient, walking only once every 12 at-bats or so, doesn’t hit for power (13 homers in 1185 at-bats) and doesn’t steal bases (35 steals in four years, with 14 times caught). So I’m guessing it’s defense he’s known for, though he’ll need to prove he’s healthy before he can even get a chance to solidify his place on the Columbus roster.

    In any case, none of these were surprises. Being among the first players cut from the Yankees’ spring training roster, these five players whittled the players in camp “down” to 57. Now they can get back to their regularly scheduled development processes in the minors.

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    09 March 2006

    Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week: C.J. Henry

    C.J. Henry, ss
    Born: May 31, 1986
    Height: 6-3 Weight: 205
    Bats/Throws: Right
    High School: Putnam City High School (Oklahoma City,OK)
    Drafted by Yankees in 1st round (17th overall) of 2005 amateur entry draft (June Regular Phase)

    This week's spotlighted prospect is C.J. Henry, who's too young to have a nickname better than his initials. The Yankees selected him as their first round pick last year, directly out of high school. Like fellow 2005 Yankees draftee Austin Jackson, Henry came out of high school wanting to play college basketball, and having the athletic tools to do so, if he wanted. As a result the Yankees did what they always do when they have a problem: they threw money at it, er...him, to the tune of a $1.6 million signing bonus. That worked, and Henry reported to the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League.

     G   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  SB  CS  BB  SO
    48 181 32 45 9 3 3 17 17 4 17 39

    Avg Obp Slg Ops
    .249 .333 .381 714

    What's He Got Going For Him?

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    08 March 2006

    All-Baseball.column: Soriano Not Selfish Enough

    The Alfonso Soriano soap opera should not exist.

    The reasons for this are manifold. For one thing, the Nationals should have just asked him if he would mind playing the outfield, and one way or the other, this wouldn't be a discussion topic at this point. For another, if Soriano thinks that by staying at second base he'll drive up his value in free agency, he's got another think (or two) coming. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up:

    Former Yankees and Texas Rangers secondbaseman Alfonso Soriano was traded to the Washington Whatevers in December, for outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Termel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga. Galaragga's a 24-year old prospect who's not yet had any success above Single-A ball, but Baseball America now considers him the Rangers' 7th best prospect. Sledge has been a reserve outfielder to this point, but he's got a little pop, a little speed, a little patience, and therefore some potential. Wilkerson, therefore, was the only "established major leaguer" on that end of the trade, and the differences between the two are not as great as you think. Wilkerson suffered through a season in one of the worst hitters parks in history, while Soriano played half his games in the best hitters park in the American League. On the road, Wilkerson's OPS was actually over 100 points higher than Soriano's (751 to 639) in 2005, and if that's any indication of their "real" skills, Alfonso will have a lot of trouble adjusting to the unfriendly confines of RFK Stadium in 2006, no matter what position he plays.

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

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    03 March 2006

    All-Baseball.column: The 1919 Chicago White Sox and the “Dead Ball Era”

    With the reigning World Champion Chicago White Sox about to begin defending their first title since World War I, I got to thinking about the significance of the 2005 team. They were the first team in decades to have four complete game victories in a playoff series (the ALCS). They ended the second-longest World Chamionship drought in baseball history. They beat a team, swept a team, that had never been to the World Series before.

    And that's about where the interest stops. Sure, they finally excised the Curse of the Black Sox, but this team, in and of itself, just wasn't that interesting. They weren't some kind of offensive or defensive or pitching juggernaut. They didn't have any individual regular season or even postseason performances for the ages. They didn't have a lot of future Hall of Famers. Mark Buhrle would need about ten more years of pitching like he has for the last five to even merit discussion on the issue, and their only likely eventual Cooperstown enshrinee, Frank Thomas, didn't play.

    So I decided to write a column about the 1919 team instead.

    Worse yet, I decided to make a list. Because they're easy.

    Ten Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About the 1919 Chicago White Sox and the "Dead Ball Era"

    10. They threw the World Series.

    Just kidding. You probably already knew that. But seriously, a lot of people think that the players, especially Shoeless Joe Jackson, were just victims in all of this, when in fact the evidence exists to show that they (and he) did just that. This is an excerpt from Joe Jackson's grand jury testimony:

    Q: Did anybody pay you any money to help throw that series in favor of Cincinnati?
    A: They did.

    Q: How much did they pay?

    A: They promised me $20,000, and paid me five.


    Q: How much did he [Chick Gandil, ringleader of the scam] promise you?

    A: $20,000 if I would take part.

    Q: And you said you would?

    A: Yes, sir.

    Sounds like an admittance of guilt to me.

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

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    02 March 2006

    Pending Pinstripes: Car Shopping and Minor Leaguers

    I went car shopping this weekend.

    I don't actually "need" a car at this moment, but that's sort of the point. My car's already 12 years old, rapidly approaching 200,000 miles, and probably due for some major components to start breaking down. If that happens, my car will suddenly become less than worthless, and I'll be hard pressed to find a suitable replacement for it in time to get to work the next day.

    But this blog isn't about car shopping. It's about baseball prospects. And given that I'm overdue for a column on Pending Pinstripes (as I often am for Boy of Summer or All-Baseball.com) I got to thinking about prospects, and it began to occur to me that the search for a car is not so different from looking for baseball players. The analogy is far from a perfect one, but I think it's worth exploring.

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    23 February 2006

    First Book/IHOP Blogger Conference Call With HoF Pitcher Jim Palmer

    Last week, I was privileged to receive an invitation to take part in a Blogger Conference Call" on Tuesday, 22 February 2006, with Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer. The call was sponsored by First Book, a non profit organization that works toward literacy for underprivileged children by providing them with new books, and they're receiving support from the International House of Pancakes. Kyle Zimmer, President and Co-Founder of First Book, hosted the call and asked some questions of her own, and there were some others there, though no list of participating blogs was provided, unfortunately.

    Jim "Cakes" Palmer, who received the nickname due to his penchant for consuming pancakes before games he pitched (268 of those being victories), seemed a logical spokesman for such a venture, and Palmer will be
    doing so on February 28th, which is National Pancakes Day (also Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or if you live where I do, Faustnaught Day. It's a Pennsylvania Dutchy thing. Don't ask.) If you're interested to hear the call, you can download the audio in mp3 format from First Book's web page, here. And just in case that eventually drops off their homepage, I've got a copy of it here as well.

    So, if you've ever wondered what the voice of your favorite blogger sounds like, well, I can't really help you. You'll have to go to David Pinto's website and hear one of his many audio posts here to do that. But if you're interested in hearing the voice of your, say, 37th or 49th favorite blogger, you're in luck!

    The whole "show" is only about 25 minutes, and mercifully, I don't speak for very much of it. I did, however, get to ask two of the four quesitons from bloggers, including the first one. This either means that

    A) Almost nobody else was invited to this thing, or

    2) ...almost nobody else showed up, or...

    Thirdly, maybe the lines were jammed but John Perricone and Mike Carminati and Alex Belth and Aaron Gleeman and everyone else was just too awestruck to ask a question. Somehow, I doubt that.

    In any case, below is a transcript of the first half or so of the call, including my first question and Jim Palmer's response. (I only transcribed half of it because it took me over an hour to do 15 minutes of audio, which ended up being four pages long, and besides, it kind of defeats the purpose of having the audio.)

    If you'd rather just listen to me on the audio, and don't want to muddle through all the "pre-game ceremonies" you can find my questions at 11:00 minutes and 16:30 minutes, and Jim's (did I mention that Jim and I are on a first-name basis now?) responses immediately after each.

    In all, I thought it was very interesting. If you listen to the audio, to his response to my second question, you'll learn how Jim actually got injured and managed to miss a season and a half early in his career, and it's something you'd never guess. Jim seems to have a keen grasp of the meaning of numbers in the game, though I didn't get a chance to ask his opinion on sabermetrics and such, as I had hoped.

    Also, it's certainly a good cause. With a wife who's an elementary school teacher, I can appreciate the need for children to start reading and to learn the skill at an early age if they are to succeed in life, and Jim spends a lot of time talking about "success" at least in response to my question. So, without further ado...

    Kyle Zimmer: Thank you all for coming. I just wanted to welcome everybody on behalf of FirstBook and make a quick statement before we get to the start of the show. FirstBook, for those of you who don’t know us yet, we are a national non-profit organization with a very simple mission: We provide brand new books to the most disadvantaged children in the country, and we’re here today to celebrate National Pancakes Day.

    National Pancakes Day actually dates back to England in the 1500’s and marks the beginning of Mardi Gras. Now this year, on Tuesday, February 28th, IHOP is marking this occasion by celebrating National Pancakes Day and they’ve designated FirstBook as their principal charitable partner. So on this day IHOP will be giving away a free, short stack of pancakes to restaurant patrons and encouraging their guests to donate what they would have spent on pancakes to FirstBook.

    And this is where we really need your help. FirstBook runs a very tight ship and we don’t have advertising dollars. But this kind of campaign can have tremendous power, and can really be the element that puts books directly into the hands of children. So we’re asking you, as members of the media and as bloggers in your own right, to please put this on your site, to please get the word out, so that we can fill those restaurants and fill those collection boxes so that kids in hundreds of communities around the country will have their very own first book.

    Now with that, I’d like to take this amazing opportunity that I have to introduce everybody to Jim palmer, and this is certainly somebody who the phrase “needs no introduction” completely applies. Nonetheless, I was reading your biography, Jim, and I just can’t resist because some of the things I didn’t even know. At 18, Jim signed his contract with the Baltimore Orioles, and in 1966 he became the youngest player ever to pitch a World Series shutout game. Jim Palmer is also the only American League Hall of Famer to win the Cy Young Award three times, as well as four Gold Glove Awards, and there are so many more accolades and accomplishments than I could possibly list and many of the callers on the phone already know your credentials inside and out because they’re gigantic fans. We’re just here to say, “Kids need heroes like Jim Palmer”. There are kids around the country and around the world that Jim has been, and continues to be, a terrific hero for. They need heroes and they need books, and we’re here to celebrate both of those things in this call today, so, I thought, I will be quiet now and introduce and allow Jim, if you wanted to share some thoughts, and then we can go on to the Question and Answer period.

    Jim Palmer: Well, thank you very much, Kyle. I think a lot of people have asked me, “Why would you be interested in something that IHOP is doing in National Pancake Day?” I guess it’s kind of an amusing story about when I first started my career. You mentioned I actually signed when I was 17 and played one year with Cal Ripken, Sr. Of course, we all know his son, Cal Ripken Jr., who broke Lou Gehrig’s record, but I played for his team in Aberdeen, South Dakota and the next year I actually played in the major leagues at age 19. That year, that following, the year you talked about when we were in our first World Series ever for the Orioles, which was 1966, we had acquired Frank Robinson, who went on to be one of the best outfielders in the history of the game, 586 home runs, won a Triple Crown in 1966. But that year I became a starting pitcher for the first time. The year before I had kind of pitched in relief and also was a spot-starter, but in 1966, at age 20, I was our youngest starter. I won, I had some success early on and then we left Anaheim to go to Kansas City, and we left early in the morning on a commercial flight to fly on the day of the game and I didn’t have a chance to really eat breakfast except on the plane…I missed my…I was eating pancakes and I was winning baseball games. When I lost that night in Kansas City, Curt Blefary, who had been Rookie of the Year, he was one of our young outfielders, said, “Well, what do you expect? You didn’t have your pancakes!” So I became really known as Jim “Pancake” Palmer. I think the first endorsement I ever did was for a small pancake company in Baltimore/Washington, Washington Pancake Company, and you know, they had a picture of me eating a stack of pancakes before I pitched in the World Series. I pitched against Sandy Koufax. It was his last game, my first World Series game. He actually pitched very well. Willie Davis dropped a couple of fly balls, we won six to nothing, and kind of the rest is history. But for the rest of my career, my nickname was “Cakes” because I used to eat pancakes so much, and you know, it’s just part of my daily ritual when I was pitching.

    And of course, over the years, I think everybody’s eaten at IHOP. They’re everywhere. I think they’re in about 1300 communities and when I heard that they were doing something for literacy and I think back and I remember my early years. I don’t know if I really remember my first book. I remember my grandmother used to read me Pinocchio, because then she knew that I wouldn’t lie because my nose would start growing, but I think back, and when you’re growing up in the early ‘50s, mid- ‘50s, television certainly wasn’t as prevalent and you didn’t have DVDs and things like that. So I was a big sports fan. I grew up in New York and for some reason I idolized the Yankees. I used to run down to the end of the drive way and read the sports section of the Daily Mirror, which is now the New York Post. But I think I kind of started, I remember reading Beauty and the Beast, Black Beauty, and some of the Rudyard Kiplings, the Jungle Book, and things like that. So, at an early age, I think, my parents used to tell me to go to bed and I’d put the covers over me and get my reading light and read for another hour until I fell asleep. SO I know how important it is, as a child, to have books, to be literate, and to be able to sometimes escape and dream of certain things. For me, of course, it manifests itself in becoming a baseball player. I had a chance to play with some of the greatest players and against some of the greatest players and to play on some of the best teams in the ‘70s and the ‘80s.

    Kyle Zimmer: Boy, it’s fabulous, Jim. And of course those players had the benefit of playing with you. I know that we want to get to questions quickly, and Jordan, I thought I would take the prerogative of tossing in the first question, if you don’t mind.

    Jordan: Absolutely.

    Kyle Zimmer: And then we’ll go on to those folks who are cued up. I think you know, there is, being involved in the Little League or team sports an all these things and reading…these are sort of the wonderful pillars of great childhood experiences, and I wondered, did you play in the Little League, and do you have any advice to parents who have kids like I do, little boys who love baseball and can’t wait for spring time to come around so they can get a hold of their bats?

    Jim Palmer: Well I think, it’s interesting, you know, I grew up in New York and I was adopted and my dad was in the dress business and my mother had come from Council Bluffs, Iowa actually had a job in a little dress shop and she met my dad, but he put her youngest brother through the Juliard School of Music and he went on to play with Tommy Dorsey’s Band. So I come from a background where it was kind of really in the clothes business. My dad was a big sports fan but he passed away when I was 10 and we moved from New York to California. I ran into a man who used to sell my dad all these piece goods, he was kind of, really like an uncle, and he said, “Well, you know your dad loved baseball but he never would have expected you to have been a player.” But you when I would go to summer camp in New York, you know, I’d play all the sports. You know, of course, when you go to camp you swim and you hike and you do all those kind of things. I remember going down to watch the “big boys” play once and they needed a catcher and I said, “I’ll catch.” I was like ten years old, and of course that was the last time I ever caught because it was not something I wanted to do, but when I moved to California I played in the Golden State League and I had to make my first club. I think it’s the only club I was never felt that I wasn’t going to make. But I got into organized sports for the first time and, you know, I was just as nervous as anybody else. You know you end up in the Baseball hall of Fame, but when you’re ten years old, you’re trying to impress people and you’re not really comfortable and you don’t really know a lot of kids, but I found out that it’s a great way to sort of integrate yourself into your community. You learn the exhilaration of winning but also the disappointment of losing. Of course if you’re going to play professional sports or really do anything in life you’re going to have to encounter those things and deal with them.

    So for sports, I think back, and if you’re a Hall of Fame baseball player, you didn’t get there by yourself. You had tremendous coaches and you had organizational people who went out and drafted you and you had people that worked in the front office and you had your family, whether it’s your parents or wife and children and all that that were very supportive. It all started in Little League. So I guess my advice, and it’s kind of a long answer, is basically: You know, when it’s football season I played football, when it was basketball I played basketball. I got a chance to play different sports and decide what I wanted to do. I suppose because so many of the influential people early in my life were coaches, I would have been a coach if I hadn’t been a professional baseball player.

    Kyle Zimmer: Well, Jordan, shall we open it up?

    […Instructions from Operator…]

    Operator: Our first question comes from Travis Nelson.

    Travis Nelson: Hello, Jim?

    Jim Palmer: How are you?

    Travis Nelson: I’m good, how are you?

    Jim Palmer: Oh, I’m excellent.

    Travis Nelson: Great to talk to you. I was looking at your stats on Baseball-reference.com. You won 20 games eight times. That’s as many as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz combined. Who, in your mind, besides Roger Clemens, is the greatest pitcher you ever saw, if in fact Roger Clemens doesn’t fit that bill?

    Jim Palmer: Well, I mean, Roger Clemens certainly has a lot of success. I think the one thing about baseball is, before we got into the so-called “Steroid Era”, when you’re comparing hitters or even pitchers because they had to pitch in that era, the great thing about baseball is you can compare one generation to the other. Times have changed a little bit so I think that maybe the numbers are somewhat distorted, but I think if you go back, of course when you’re a kid you’re pretty impressionable. Whitey Ford, of course, wasn’t overpowering but he played on all those great Yankee teams with one of the best earned run averages and winning percentages ever. Sandy Koufax, I talked about him and he pitched, what, I think five no-hitters. Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson…I had a chance to actually pitch against them and see them pitch in person. But, you know, Randy Johnson, I think if you think of the modern day people. In think for somebody that looks like he’s going to sell you life insurance, Greg Maddux has had the most success. I think he’s gone 15 years or 16 years winning more than 15 games until last season. Tom Glavine’s had a lot of success. Guys that are not overpowering and when I talk to young pitchers, that’s what I try to tell them. These guys throw barely 90 mph but they know how to pitch, they’re smart, they’re good hitters because they’ve played their careers in the National League. They have great change-ups, they can pitch when they don’t have their best stuff, and you know, they pay attention. They’ve always been on winning teams and they’ve been a major part of the reason the teams they’re on have won. But when you talk about dominating guys, and you talked about a guy like Clemens who’s won seven Cy Young Awards and at age 43 still had an excellent year, you’re talking about one of the great pitchers ever. You know, Roger was a guy that had arm surgery in 1984 and I think a lot of people thought that maybe his career would be short circuited, but he’s had a lot of success. I think, again, Steve Carlton was a kid I pitched against when we were both 18 in A-Ball, and he ended up winning over 320 games, and I had a chance to not only see, as a broadcaster, but also play against some of the great pitchers in the era of baseball.

    Travis Nelson: Great!

    OK, so I didn't have much to say after that, but my good friend Jim had plenty more to say, and you can hear the whole thing, here.

    And when you're done listening, make some plans to go out next Tuesday, have some free pancakes, and help buy some books for kids who need them.

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    20 February 2006

    All-Baseball.column: Say it Ain't Sosa! Sammy Retiring?

    Though no official announcement of Sammy Sosa's retirement has yet been made, his agent has been quoted as saying that Sosa's career is "clearly over". The difficulty of his 2005 season is not something that Sosa wants to re-live, at least not for a paltry half-million guaranteed dollars. For a million, he'll talk.

    There are nearly as many opinions of Sosa's legacy as there are Sosa home runs (588 to be exact, more than all but four players in history), so it's not as though mine makes much difference in the landscape of baseball writing. Travis Nelson's opinion is just one more "happy little tree" on the great Internet canvas, whereas someone like Dave Pinto or Rob Neyer is probably a mountain or the brook.

    ESPN is Bob Ross.

    Come to think of it, I'm probably not even a "happy little tree". I'm more like a crow or a snail or something you can't even see from more than five feet away, or maybe just a blotch of paint on the palette.

    Fortunately for me, though, you're at a computer, only two or three feet away, and (amazingly) you're still reading, so I'll get back to Sammy Sosa.

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

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    15 February 2006

    Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Tyler Clippard

    Tyler L. Clippard, RHP
    Tyler Clippard
    Born: February 14, 1985 in Lexington, Kentucky
    Height: 6-3 Weight: 170
    Bats/Throws: Right
    High School: J.W. Mitchell HS, Trinity, Fla.
    Drafted by Yankees in 9th round (274th overall) of 2003 June amateur draft

    It's a two-for-the-price-of-one week here at Pending Pinstripes, as you get an additional prospect profile based almost entirely on the fact that this one just had a birthday on Tuesday. That's right, for the first time in his life, Yankees prospect Tyler Clippard could celebrate both his birthday and Valentines Day with alcohol and not get arrested for it.

    But can he pitch?

    In a word? You bet your bippy!

    Tyler Clippard was drafted by the Yankees out of high school in 2003, and though I’m not necessarily a fan of drafting high school pitchers in the first round, a 9th round pick seems like a worthwhile risk, and Clippard has not disappointed. His lanky frame is not atypical of such a young player, and it’s only a matter of time before he fills out a little more. The above height comes from The Baseball Cube. Baseball America’s scouting report has him even taller, at 6′4, but still only 170 lbs. (Side note to Tyler: Don’t worry. When I was your age, I was also 6′4", 170 lbs. After I turned 21 my metabolism changed and I started gaining weight. I’m up to about 250 lbs now, but my “fast”ball still wouldn’t be pulled over for speeding on the Interstate. If you’re lucky you’ll at least get to keep most of your hair.)

    Baseball America’s scouting report also called Clippard’s 2005 “a breakthrough season” but frankly, I don’t see that. His numbers for the last three years are shown below (though he did pitch 6 innings in Low-A Charleston, striking out 10, before his promotion to High-A Tampa in 2005, and he pitched one inning at AAA Columbus as well).

    Year Team Age Lev W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO
    2003 GCL Yankees 18 Rk 3 3 2.89 11 5 43.7 33 16 14 3 5 56
    2004 Battle Creek 19 A 10 10 3.44 26 25 149.0 153 71 57 12 32 145
    2005 Tampa 20 A 10 9 3.18 26 25 147.3 118 56 52 12 34 169

    To me, his 2005 numbers look almost exactly like his 2004 numbers and for that matter, no so very different from his 2003 numbers in the Gulf Coast League. His games pitched, innings pitched, walks, homers allowed, earned runs and strikeouts are all very similar, if not identical, and the rates of walks, homers and strikeouts are quite close to those 2003 GCL numbers, though they were compiled in only 44 innings. The only real differences from 2004 are the number of hits he gave up and the number of unearned runs allowed, both of which dropped off considerably. Whether either of those trends is sustainable remains to be seen, but at this point Clippard is showing the Yankees exactly what they want to see: A high school pitcher dominating at the low levels of the minors and moving up the ladder, one level per year.

    What’s he got going for him?

    According to BA, Clippard worked with Nardi Contreras this year to improve the consistency of his mechanics, giving him a more repeatable delivery and thereby improving all of his pitches. Speaking of which, he throws four of them for strikes, an 89-92 mph fastball that occasionaly flirts with 94 mph, a “plus” curve, a slider and a change-up. And of course, he throws them all for strikes pretty consistently, as his walk rates (roungly 2 per nine innings) will attest. He also strikes out about a batter per inning, and rarely surrenders a home run, which are both excellent indicators of long-term success.

    What’s he got going against him?

    Clippard is making progress, yes, but is still very young, just having turned 21 yesterday, as I mentioned. You could probably pave I-95 from Florida to New York with the resumes of pitchers who’ve had this kind of success in Single-A ball and never saw the Big Leagues, so don’t mortgage your house to place a big bet on Clippard starting the 2008 season in the Yankees rotation. He’s got talent, yes, but AA and AAA ball are both big hurdles to overcome, even for someone who looks this good right now.

    In addition, as I mentioned, Clippard is so skinny that when he pitches from the wind-up he becomes nearly invisible to the people at home plate. He’s likely to gain some weight over the next couple of years (hopefully not 80 lbs, like me) and that will affect his delivery, so we’ll have to check back in and see if he learns to use that weight gain well. If he doesn’t gain weight, it’s hard to imagine someone this thin NOT breaking down with an arm injury or something of that nature. There just isn’t enough of him to withstand the kind of abuse to which a major league pitcher’s body is subjected.

    Also an issue if he doesn’t gain some poundage, with those ears, is that a stiff breeze might come through the infield and woosh!, it’s time for a call to the bullpen…

    Prognosis for 2006:

    Clippard will start the 2006 season at AA Trenton, where I hope to get to see him pitch at least once. He’ll be one of the youngest players on is team, and will have his work cut out for him, both in retiring Eastern League batters and in drawing the organization’s attention away from #1 prospect Phillip Hughes, who could move up to New Jersey from Tampa by mid-season if he’s successful down there.

    Personally, I hope to get to see Tyler pitch in Trenton early in the season, as I’m not sure he’ll still be with the Thunder come July or August. Success in Trenton will get him a call up to Columbus, where we’ll get to see (wait for it…)

    Clippard the Clipper!

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    13 February 2006

    Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Darrell Rasner

    The New York Yankees claimed RHP Darrell Rasner off waivers from the Washington Nationals this weekend.

    Darrell W. Rasner, RHP
    Born: January 13, 1981, Carson City, Nevada
    Height: 6-3 Weight: 210
    Bats/Throws: Right
    High School: Carson City High School (Carson City,NV)
    College: University of Nevada
    Drafted Expos in 2nd round of June 2002 amateur draft

    Rasner had struck out more than a batter per inning in his senior year as a starter at the University of Nevada in 2002. He threw in the low 90s back then but there are reports that his fastball has dropped into the mid 80s, and concerns about the health of his arm led the Nationals to waive him. Recognizing that he's still been getting batters out, regardless of his actual velocity, the Yankees picked him up. His strikeout rate has dropped considerably, from 10 to 8 to 6 per nine innings in the last three years, but it seems to have leveled off in that range. On the other hand, he's also walking batters much less frequently, establishing a personal record low with 1.74/9IP in 150 innings in 2005.

    What’s he got going for him?

    Like I said, Rasner gets batters out. He’ll probably never blow anybody away, but he’s had pretty consistent success at three different Single-A levels and in two years at AA Harrisburg, though he’s gone about it in differnet ways. The player comments in Baseball Prospectus indicate that he has a three-pitch repetoire, fastball curve and change, and his obviously good control (i.e. low walk rate) indicates that he knows how to use those pitches. Health does not seem to be an issue either, as he has pitched at least 100 innings in each of the last four years (combining his numbers in college and the NY-Penn League for 2002).

    What’s he got going against him?

    Rasner’s a pretty good sized guy (I know better than to say that he “throws hard“), but right handers who only throw in the mid-80s have a tough time getting into the majors. Scouts and front office personnel have inherent biases against pitchers, especially right-handers, who either aren’t at least six feet tall or don’t throw very hard. Jay Tessmer, long-time Yankees organizational soldier, kept runners off the bases and saved minor league games for eight years without ever getting more than a cup of coffee in the majors, simply because he threw underhand and therefore rarely broke 85 mph with his fastball. Rasner doesn’t throw submarine style, so at least he’s not tabbed with the “Weird” label, just the “Slow” one, which may be worse.

    Prognosis for 2006:

    BP’s 2006 weighted mean projection (4.77 ERA in 123 innings) suggests that Rasner could be a league-average pitcher right now, but I suspect that the Yankees will stow him away at AAA Columbus. He just turned 25, and while it would be nice for a college pitcher like him, especially a second-round pick, to have already mastered the highest level of the minors, Rasner’s progress is both encouraging and undeniable. Having him in AAA will serve the dual purposes of helping him refine his skills at a higher level (he did get a cup of coffee with Washington last year, but hasn’t pitched an inning in AAA yet.) and giving the major league club another option should their aging rotation again suffer the injury/ineffectiveness problems that plagued them in 2005.

    If, as he says, Rasner’s just chosen not to throw as hard, recognizing that he can get batters out with his smarts instead of speed, and therefore save his arm for the rest of his career, then kudos to him for remaking himself. Lots of pitchers suffer injuries because of trying to do too much and are forced to re-learn pitching, later in life, with a different skill set. Rasner was smart enough to prevent that scenario in the first place. The only question now is whether he has enough “stuff” to get by in the Big Leagues. Given the injury history and age of the starters in the Bronx, I’m guessing that it’s just a matter of time before we get to see if Rasner’s a real talent or not.

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    10 February 2006

    All-Baseball.column - Orioles in Oh-Six?

    A recent ESPN.com feature discussed the possibilities of "surprise" teams for 2006. Jerry Crasnick, ESPN contributor and author of License to Deal, discusses the Brewers and Twins as teams that could, in his estimation, do much better than expected and possibly make the playoffs. Personally, I don't think the Twins are a particularly brave pick for that role, as they had won their division for three straight years before 2005 and underperformed considerably last year. They still won 83 games despite the fact that firstbaseman Justin Morneau flopped in his second full season, catcher (and Rookie of the Year candidate) Joe Mauer missed 30 games, and the rest of the infield provided almost no offense at all. The Twins were so desperate that they actually tried Bret Boone for a while in mid-summer, to no avail. Based on regression to the mean alone, the Twins should bounce back and improve their offense considerably, which has nowhere to go but up after scoring the fewest runs in the AL last year.

    My pick? The Baltimore Orioles.

    Baltimore hasn't had a winning season since 1997, the last time a team other than the Yankees won the AL East. I'm still picking the Yankees to continue that streak, but I think that the Orioles could surprise people and win the Wild Card, or at least contend for it. How? Glad you asked...

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

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    07 February 2006

    Pending Pinstripes: Mike Vento Signs with G-Nats

    Lee Sinins reported today that the Washington Nationals signed former Yankees farmhand Mike Vento, former Red Sox farmhand Anastacio Martinez and erstwhile D-Backs and Tigers prospect Andrew Good (who, ironically, isn't) to minor league contracts with invitations to Spring Training.

    Mike Vento had been in the Yankees farm system for eight years. He was born in Albequerque and then made a left turn and went to Santa Ana College in California. The Baseball Cube doesn't discuss him being drafted, so I'm guessing that the Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent or something like that.

    Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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    02 February 2006

    Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Austin Jackson

    Austin Jackson, OF

    Born: February 1, 1987
    Height: 6-1 Weight: 185
    Bats/Throws: Right
    High School: Ryan High School (Denton,TX)
    Drafted: by NY Yankees in 8th round of 2005 June amateur draft

    Happy Birthday to Austin Jackson, who turned 19 years old yesterday. If he's good, it should be just a matter of time before the pundits start calling him 'Action' Jackson, except that I doubt any of his teammates in the Gulf Coast League are old enough to remember that awful movie. Good for them.

    Baseball America lists Jackson as the Yankees’ 5th best prospect this year, and notes that they spent an 8th round record $800K to sign him and make sure he didn’t go to Georgia Tech to play basketball instead. His first year in professional ball wasn’t bad, especially considering that he was all of 18 years old:

    G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO Avg Obp Slg Ops
    40 148 32 45 11 2 0 14 11 2 18 26 .304 .374 .405 779

    Though he didn’t quite make the listings on The Baseball Cube, Jackson was near the GCL leaders in runs scored, doubles, steals and walks, all good signs for souch a young player. He hit for average, showed some patience and speed, and didn’t strike out every three trips to the plate. He also didn’t ever get a chance to jog around the bases, with zero homers in 148 at-bats.

    What’s he got going for him?

    Jackson’s very young, and the organization has known about him for a long time. He was first scouted by the Yankees when he was 12(!) That’s right: In the time of life during which you and I were delivering newspapers and trying to figure out how many sets of pegs we could get on our BMX bike at the same time, Austin had scouts from the Yankees coming to his Little League games. Just doesn’t seem fair.

    Anywho, so he’s young. He’s also patient, which is not typical of youngsters in any industry, so much less with baseball players. Baseball America reports that he’s got good bat control and an “inside-out” stroke not unlike Derek Jeter’s.

    What’s he got going against him?

    Youth, ironically. Except it’s not so much a strike against Jacklson’s talent as it is a detriment to our ability to evaluate that talent. It’s so early, with only 40 games on his record, that anything can happen to this guy before he ends up in The Show, which might not be for another five years or more, for all we know. The other issue is his lack of power, as he failed to hit a homer in any of those 40 games. Most 18 year olds are not yet “filled out” and so when Jackson gains some years and some weight, we’ll have to see if he can also gain some power without losing all that speed and patience.

    Prognosis for 2006:

    Jackson will get some action in Class A, probably in Charleston of the Low-A South Atlantic League. River Dogs’ hitting coach Torre Tyson will try to teach him to pull the ball there, which is ironic because in his 5-year minor league career, Tyson was also a speedy, patient slap hitter who never had more than 3 homers in a season. Jackson might go as far as High-A Tampa by the end of the year, but not farther than that this season.

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    01 February 2006

    All-Baseball.collumn - Unfinished Business: Piazza Catching on With the Padres

    Two California teams signed once-great players, now in the twilights of their respective careers, to one-year, free agent contracts this weekend. The San Diego Padres picked up Mike Piazza, easily the best hitting catcher in history, and to the north, the Oakland Athletics picked up Frank Thomas, possibly the best right handed hitter in history, easily in the top ten for that distinction. Rob Neyer has already written eloquently (and more concisely than me) on the latter of those signings, so I won't get into the Thomas signing, at least this week, but the Piazza signing interests me. Of course, any time a future Hall of Famer changes teams and/or coasts it interests me, and Piazza's such a colorful and controversial player that one can't help but pay attention when he does something like this. The Mets may not have wanted him, but Mike's convinced that his career isn't over yet, and so he'll take his Tools of Ignorance and his still-useful bat across the country to take care of some unfinished business.

    Mike Piazza, C
    Age: 37
    2005 Numbers: .251/.326/.452, 19 HR, 62 RBI in 129 games

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

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