18 September 2008

Press Release: A&E's Essential Games of Yankee Stadium

Celebrate the Final Season at Yankee Stadium™ with a collection of the most unforgettable games ever played at the “House that Ruth Built”


Packaged in Collectible Steel Book™ Casing, This Must-Have Piece of Bronx Bomber History ($59.95 suggested retail price) Features 6 Full Game Broadcasts from ‘76 to ‘03 including: Chambliss’ Walk-off Homer in ALCS Game 5, Mr. October’s 3 HR Game in the ’77 Series and the 2003 ALCS Game 7 vs. the Sox, Plus Hours of Bonus Programming, Uncut Interviews and Rare Game Footage!


NEW YORK, NY – On September 21, 2008 the last regular season game will be played at Yankee Stadium, as the newly built home of the Bronx Bombers continues to be raised in the distance. The grandest stage for baseball stars, history, lore, and countless achievements, Yankee Stadium -- from its heavenly white façade to its rich hues of blue -- possesses a regal magic and aura that, to fans of the team and baseball die-hards, can’t be overlooked. Here, the grass shimmers with a brighter green, the flag flies prouder, and the full-throated fans cheer louder there than anywhere else. Two days following the last home stand at the stadium the Bombers have called home since 1923, A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball Productions proudly presents THE NEW YORK YANKEES®: ESSENTIAL GAMES OF YANKEE STADIUM.

This superlative six-DVD set, priced to add to every baseball fan’s home entertainment library at $59.95, showcases six television broadcasts of games that shaped the mystique of this fabled baseball cathedral. Selected entirely by Yankees.com readers, these outstanding games each mark glorious chapters in the history of the winningest franchise in any sport. Covering four decades, dozens of legends, and millions of memories, this set -- celebrating everything that is quintessentially Yankees® and 100% baseball -- digitally preserves magic moments from Yankee Stadium, the greatest stage in sports. Also included are hours of bonus features and highlights including Ron Guidry’s 18k game in ’78, Bobby Murcer’s walk-off homer following Thurman Munson’s tragic plane crash, highlights from the 2001 Subway Series and much more.

The legendary games featured, uncut and commercial-free, on THE NEW YORK YANKEES®: ESSENTIAL GAMES OF YANKEE STADIUM, include:

1976 ALCS™ Game 5 vs. Kansas City Royals® -- Chris Chambliss’ walk-off home run sends the Yankees to their first World Series® since 1964.

1977 World Series® Game 6 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers® -- Reggie Jackson’s historic three-home-run-game propels the Bronx Bombers™ to another World Series Championship.

1995 ALDS™ Game 2 vs. Seattle Mariners® -- This 15-inning drama ended with Jim Leyritz’ walk-off home run and featured home runs from Don Mattingly, Paul O’Neill and Ruben Sierra. With 3.1 innings in relief by a young Mariano Rivera, who notched the win.

1996 World Series Game 6 vs. Atlanta Braves® -- After New York lost the first two games of the 1996 World Series, they won the next four and finished with a Game 6 celebration that shook Yankee Stadium with delight.

2001 World Series Game 4 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks® -- History unfolded when Tino Martinez hit a 2-out, bottom of the 9th, two-run homer to tie the game. Then in the 10th, “Mr. November” Derek Jeter’s game-winning home run ended another remarkable victory.

2003 ALCS Game 7 vs. Boston Red Sox® -- With a World Series appearance at stake, aces on the mound, and a white knuckles everywhere, Aaron Boone stroked the game-winning home run to seal the Yankees 11-inning victory.

This September, don’t mourn the passing of this hallowed venue. Instead, join the roaring crowds that shook Yankee Stadium’s rafters for over eight decades to celebrate its resonant history with THE NEW YORK YANKEES®: ESSENTIAL GAMES OF YANKEE STADIUM.

DVD Features:
■ Chris Chambliss on his 1976 ALCS™ Game 5 home run
■ June 17, 1978 Ron Guidry 18 Ks
■ August 6, 1979 first game after Thurman Munson died, Bobby Murcer hits the game-winner
■ 1996 ALCS Game 1 hometown fans aid Derek Jeter’s home run
■ 1999 ALCS Game 1 Bernie Williams’ walk-off home run beats Boston
■ 2000 World Series® Game 1 first Subway Series™ since 1956
■ 2001 World Series Game 5 Scott Brosius repeats the impossible, Alfonso Soriano wins it
■ July 1, 2004 “The Dive” by Derek Jeter

A&E Home Video, part of the Consumer Products Division of A&E Television Networks (AETN), is a video distributor of non-theatrical programming, featuring collectible DVD editions of the high quality programming from A&E Network and History™, as well as acquired classic programming. A&E Home Video brings the best of critically acclaimed entertainment presented in award-winning packaging to the special interest category. For more information about ordering these and other titles from the A&E Home Video Collection, call (212) 206-8600 (TRADE ONLY). Consumers please call 1-800-423-1212 (A&E). In addition to placing orders by phone, A&E Home Video products may be purchased over the World Wide Web at ShopAETV.com.

Major League Baseball Productions is the Emmy® award-winning television and video production division of Major League Baseball. With unparalleled access to the game and its players, Major League Baseball Productions produces original programming for growing audiences worldwide through its network specials, exclusive home videos, commercials and other specialty programming.

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12 September 2008


I lost a friend this week.

Anyone who knew us in high school knows that Billy Johnson was more than a friend to me. We were the best of friends, so far as such things can go with high school kids. I was at his house so often that I started referring to his mother Cynthia as “my other mom” and she called me her “other son”, something I appreciated more than she ever knew. For several years, the two of us were inseparable.

I used to joke that we shared the same brain. No, wait…now that I think of it, we used to make that joke about other people. But we did often finish each others’…well, you know.

We did everything together, including going off to volunteer at week-long camps for the handicapped in the Poconos, where we often got in trouble, as young boys do. We also spent a whole summer together in the Catskills working for Word of Life Inn, a summer I still count as the best of my young life. We got into some trouble up there, too, as you might expect.

Of course, Billy was proud of all the trouble he got into. It was just his nature. If you told him to go left, he’d go right. If you told him to crouch, he’d jump. He wasn’t maliciously spiteful, he just didn’t like being hemmed in. For example, punishment for “bad behavior” at Word of Life was to scrub the nasty pots and pans in the Dish Pit, but Billy wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of thinking they’d gotten to him. He would literally dive in, turning himself upside down in the huge sink, beating the caked on lasagna and sloppy Joes off the pots with a Brillo pad while the blood rushed to his head. He made it fun imself, and for everyone else.

Nearly every weekend for four or five years, I would walk or ride my bike over to Elmwood Park, or he’d come over to where I lived in Lodi. We’d spend the day playing pickup basketball and trying to scrape together enough change to go to Burger King and get a small soda, which could be refilled about 17 times before the paper cup got too soggy. Then we’d spend Saturday night playing chess or video games and inevitably staying up until 4 or 5 AM. If we ever seemed a little “spaced out” at church on Sunday morning, now you know why.

Billy was not the most punctual of people. He’s the only guy I ever knew who could somehow show up late to his own house when he had already been there. Trouble seemed to follow him around, like a neighborhood stray that kept expecting some milk, and Billy just embraced it. It was what made him so much fun to be around.

As is often the case when someone goes off to college, we lost touch after high school, or at least weren’t all that close for about four years, though Billy and his family came to my college graduation, and even took me and my mom out to dinner the night before. Despite having seen each other just a handful of times over the next few years, Billy came to my wedding as well, and was, not surprisingly, the life of the party. A few months later, when he was looking for a fresh start after a rough patch, he moved to Bethlehem, hoping I could help get him back on his feet. Not that I deserved such an honor, but I appreciated that he still felt such a connection. Or maybe our friendship was all he had left.

Billy’s troubles, like that darn stray neighborhood cat, followed him to Pennsylvania. He lived with me and my wife, on and off, for the better part of the next eight months. It was crowded in our small house, and challenging, with just one of us working. Sunny and I were still trying to figure out how to live as a married couple. Meanwhile, Billy was just trying to figure out how to live, and none of us was really having much success.

So we got a dog. “It was crowded…so we got a dog”? Well, that wasn’t really the reason, but that clumsy segue allows me to tell one of my favorite stories about Bill. He was home all day while I was at work and Sunny was taking classes, but we were trying to crate-train the puppy, McCartney, to get her used to being in there while we were away.

Well, McCartney was smart enough even at 15 weeks old to be able to tell when there was a person in the house, and she was not happy about being stuck in the crate while there was fun stuff like “napping” going on in other parts of the house. So Billy, unable to take said nap with the dog making all that noise, and unable to let her out for fear of what she would destroy when he did nod off, laid down next to her crate and promptly fell asleep that way: On the floor, halfway in the bedroom, half in the hallway, with one hand inside the bars so the puppy could touch him and be quieted. His excuse, when my wife found him that way (and woke him up with the camera flash) was, “She just wouldn’t stop barking.”

It was during this time that I realized how little I had known this man, whom I had referred to as my “best friend” so many hundreds of times. I learned about some of his deeper struggles, things we’d never discussed before. In high school our relationship had consisted mostly of sports and games, laughing at each other, and seeing who could punch the other one harder in the shoulder. He usually won those, of course.

But as adults, we had much deeper conversations, and he shared with me some of his struggles, some of the pains and trials that had marked the years we were apart, and really, most of his life. He opened up to Sunny even more than he did to me, partially because he got to spend a lot of time with her while I was working, and partially because she’s such a good listener. I admitted to him once that I never really understood why someone as cool as him would take so much interest in me as a friend, and to my great surprise, he said he had felt the same way about me. I got to know Billy better in those few months than I had in the 15 years we’d spent growing up together, and I treasure those memories now more than I ever thought I could.

I was sad to learn that he had a wife and two children I didn't know about, and I'm ashamed that I did so little to check up with him after he mved to New York. We all assumed that we had more time for that. We could always do it later.

There’s a hymn called “Jesus Paid it All” that talks about trusting God in our weakness, about God’s power being the only thing that alters anyone’s character, that softens anyone’s heart. Jesus’ blood covers all of our failings, and washes away all the myriad of ways in which we fail. My voice would fail to do this song justice, but those lyrics express our great hope for Billy, and for ourselves, that God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice will pay for our many sins.

I don’t pretend to understand this, to know why God would take someone so young, seemingly with so much life ahead of him, with a family to support and so much left undone. But I do know that God is ultimately in control of everything and everyone, and that nothing happens outside of his design and purposes. I’m not saying I agree with him on this one, but eventually we just have to admit that God knows a lot more than we do. He sees the whole of history at once, and he will not fail to accomplish his goals. One of those was bringing Billy home to be with him.

He must have heard how much fun Billy was.

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09 September 2008

Roy Halladay is Better Than Cliff Lee

Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan has a column this morning arguing that some of Cliff Lee's success this season is due to the fact that he has faced much softer competition than his chief competitor in the AL Cy Young race, Roy Halladay. This sounded awfully familiar to me, since I had spent the better part of last week arguing that exact point in two different forums after some Cleveland fans got on my case for supposedly belittling Lee's accomplishments after he won his 20th game.

It turns out, however, that Sheehan's argument is based on the hitters that Lee and Halladay have faced, whereas my argument had to do with the starting pitchers who had opposed them. Here's Joe:

Cliff Lee has made 28 starts this season, Roy Halladay 29. Of those, 13 are in-common starts: the A’s, Rays and Rangers twice, and the Angels, White Sox, Reds, Royals, Twins, Yankees and Mariners once. Those starts cancel out. Of the remaining starts, there seems to be a very wide gap in the caliber of competition, enough to at least mention. Of the 15 starts Cliff Lee does not have in common with Halladay, nine have come against teams in the bottom third in offense, as ranked by team EqA, and none have come against a team ranked in the top six.


Let me run the data this way, because I think it illustrates the point. The following numbers are the team EqA ranks for each not-in-common opponent, highest to lowest.

Halladay: 3, 4, 4, 4, 9, 9, 9, 11, 11, 14, 14, 14, 14, 17, 18, 18

Lee: 7, 7, 7, 12, 13, 13, 21, 22, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 28, 28

It helps if you read those numbers right to left. It’s clear from this data that Cliff Lee has seen a significantly inferior set of opponents than Halladay has.
If it's not as clear to you as you might like it to be, let me help you out this way: The average EqA rank for Lee's opponents is about 19th, while Roy's opposition has averaged a rank just under 11th in the majors. Right now, for example, Baltimore ranks 11th in MLB in EqA, and they've averaged 5.1 runs per game. Houston ranks 19th in EqA, with just 4.47 R/G. The Runs Scored difference is exaggerated by their respective park effects, but you get the picture.

This average, however, is a disservice to you, as it does not sufficiently express the disparity between these pitchers' competition. Over the course of 15 starts, even if we took those Runs/Game numbers at face value, we'd have a difference of only 9 or 10 runs total, far less than one per game. If you look at Equivalent Runs (BP's attempt to normalize and neutralize for everything under the sun) the difference between 11th and 19th is more like 3 runs over 15 starts, i.e. not much.

This of course does not tell the whole picture, which is probably why Joe didn't present it that way. Halladay and Lee have not faced these "averaged" teams 15 or 16 times. They've faced actual teams, and the teams they've faced have been very different in terms of their offensive prowess. This helps to explain why Lee's ERA is lower than Halladay's. He's capitalized on his comparatively soft schedule.

My arguments last week
, in the comments section of my blog and of the post on Bleacher Report, centered around Lee and Halladay's respective opponents on the pitching mound, i.e. the starters their teammates had to face. One of the main reasons that lee is now 21-2 is that his teammates score almost six runs per game when he pitches, while Halladay gets only 4.75 R/G.

Looking at starting pitchers, these two have only five opponents in common: Zach Greinke, James Shields, Chien-Ming Wang, Sidney Ponson, and Matt Garza. If you take them out of the mix, the aggregate records of their respective foes are as follows:

Lee: 156-174, 4.60 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 2.1 K/W
Roy: 195-176, 4.35 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 2.3 K/W

The biggest difference here is the W/L records, though with enough data recovery there are notable (if not enormous) differences in all the pitching numbers. (These may be bigger if we were to adjust for park factors and such, but this is too time consuming as it is.) Lee has faced twice as many 10+ game losers as Halladay has (10 to 5), while Halladay has faced several more 10+ game winners (11 to 7), and this naturally leads us back to Sheehan's analysis, of how much tougher the offense has been against Halladay.

It may look like Lee has pitched slightly better overall, but the weak opposition on offense has helped his ERA tremendously, and the huge amount of run support he's gotten, thanks to facing some inferior pitchers, has helped a lot. Give Halladay 6 Runs per game and he's 22-5 instead of 18-9, and suddenly we've got a real race for the CYA.

Unfortunately, the BBWAA voters like shiny objects such as a 21-2 record, and rarely pay attention to things like how many times a pitcher gets to face the horrendous Kansas City Royals (hint: four). Neither do they fret much over whether Dontrelle Willis or Livan Hernandez or Clayton Richard or Chris Lambert or Carlos Silva were as tough to beat as Jose Contreras and and Josh Beckett and Andy Pettitte and Rich Harden and Jon Lackey. (Hint: No.) They just look at the pretty numbers in the newspaper and then vote whomever the heck they feel like voting. Which, this year, will undoubtedly and unfortunately be Cliff Lee.

I'm not saying that they shouldn't vote for him, just that they ought to think about the process a little more than they probably will.

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08 September 2008

It's Do or Die for the Kansas City Royals

Joe Posnaski's got his usual, interesting and eloquent (if not terribly focused) reflections on the major league return (and brief success) of Tony Pena Jr.

Looking back, sure, you might have suspected that Berroa’s staunch anti-walk
platform could cost him in future years. Looking back, sure, you could have
suspected that since he was two years older than originally thought (25 instead
of 23) that the good would not last. Looking back, yeah, maybe we should have
seen imminent disaster approaching. But, honestly, no one in Kansas City was
looking for signs of the apocalypse in 2003. Those were heady days. Angel Berroa
could have worn a T-shirt on the field that read, “Enjoy me now because man oh
man am I going to suck starting next year,” and we would not have noticed it.

This reminded me of an email I received from a Royals fan calling himself "tad pole" in late July of 2003. Here it is, word-for-word:

Subject: boys of summer are the boys in blue!

The boys of this summer come in a shade of royal blue! You guessed
it! The Kansas City Royals are going to take their small payroll and shock
the world! It seems everybody has completely discounted the "miracles" and
continue to be skeptical! When the Royals sweep the Yankess in August over
six games, everybody will be forced to jump in the KC bandwagon! Keep
doubting the Royals and keep watching them win!

We will all "believe"!

Let the record reflect that I "believe" the the "Royals" went 2-4 against the "Yankess" in August! They went 26-30 overall after that email was sent! They finished "3rd" in the AL Central!

I guess he wasn't wrong about shocking the world, though, since we were all pretty surprised that they were able to finish with a winning record. Heck, a few years later the Cardinals would win the same 83 games and then go on to win the World Series, so maybe that was a pretty big deal.

In retrospect, though, the little bit of hope afforded by the team's first winning season in nine years led to a whole bunch of really poor choices by Royals management, which led directly to the absolute worst record in baseball for the next three and a half years. Seriously. the Royals are 306-484 since the start of the 2004 season, so far behind the Pirates (at 334-455) that even if they won all of their remaining games and the Bucs lost all of theirs, they'd still be 7.5 games out of 29th place.

The really astonishing thing about the Royals, to me at least, is that every time you think they've hit rock-bottom, they somehow manage to do even worse.

  • They lose an appalling 104 games in 2004, and then charge to a 56-106 record in 2005.

  • Not happy with Tony Muser? Here's Tony Pena. How about Buddy Bell?

  • Think we wasted a lot of money on 1st round high school pitcher Mike Stodolka? Let me introduce you to Colt Griffin!

  • You think Neifi Perez stinks? How about Angel Berroa? Not lousy enough? Meet Tony Pena Jr!

  • Does signing Mike Sweeney to a long-term deal seem like a poor investment? Here's Jose Guillen!

  • Not happy with the return from the Johnny Damon trade? Well, look how little we got back for Carlos Beltran!

  • Not sure Scott Elarton was a good idea? Here's Brett Tomko!

  • You think Hideo Nomo is washed up? Umm...OK, well, you got me there.

It's like playing Let's Make a Deal except Monty Hall's got crappy stuff behind all of the doors.

Door #1: Goat.
Door #2: Broken blender.
Door #3: Jeff Fulchino.

In any case, you get my point. It seems like things only get worse. It's got to suck to be a Royals fan these days, especially if you're old enough to remember when they were actually good, like Posnaski and Rob Neyer.

On the other hand, there are a few reasons for Royals fans to hope this year. Zach Greinke has bounced back to form after struggling for a couple of seasons. Gil Meche has surprised everyone by LAIMing it up for almost two whole years. Mark Grudzielanek's contract is almost up! Billy Butler can crush left-handed pitching. Mike Aviles has hit well for half a season, and while he won't likely do that again, he might prove a useful cog in the Royals engine for a few years.

They have a good, young closer and a couple of other decent arms in the bullpen. Minor league firstbaseman Kila Ka'aihue might be a pretty decent hitter. He's got to be better than Ross Gload. Kyle Davies might make something of himself.

Alex Gordon and and/or Luke Hochevar are still young enough that they might grow up to be useful major leaguers, if not the stars you'd expect from first-round draft picks. David DeJesus is steady and useful, if unspectacular.

The real problem is that there's almost nobody on the team, or even in the minors, who could conceivably become a star, and without that, there's almost no way the Royals have any hope of competing in the near future, or any other future, for that matter.

I wrote a column for All-Baseball.com almost three years ago (since lost to posterity when their servers all took a dump), arguing that the Royals should not be signing players like Scott Elarton and Mark Grudzielanek, not in their position. I was told by optimistic Royals fans that they need seasoned veterans to help steady the ship for all the so-called young talent coming up. That they needed solid defense to inspire confidence in the young pitchers. That these were just stop-gaps, placeholders intended to keep roster spots warm until the Royals' youngsters were ready.

Well, here we are, almost three years later, and they don't look a whole lot more ready than they did in the winter of 2005-06. Without a wholesale change in the approach the Royals' front office takes in how they run their organization, there's no hope of ever winning.

Just ask the Rays.

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06 September 2008

Mariners Brandon Morrow's Near No-Hitter Against the Yankees

A few notes on a Saturday morning before the wife and I go to register for "baby stuff"...

I got home from dinner at a friend's house last night to discover that the Yankees-Mariners game in Seattle was only in the 5th inning. I was exhausted and had planned to go right to bed. Until I saw it:

That was the number in the "H" column of the box score on ESPN.com. No hits through four and a third innings. Not a huge deal, since there was plenty of baseball left to play, but still, no hits yet, and this against a rookie pitcher making his first career start.

Granted, the win or loss hardly mattered at this point. The Yankees' season is toast already, but no-hitters are embarassing, especially against a rookie pitcher on a last-place team.

So naturally, I had to put the game on. I brought it up on MLB.tv, which has not given me any trouble since I complained to the Powers that (ML)Be back in the spring, and I watched. Hoping that Brandon Morrow would not pull a Bobo Holloman on us, I kept watching to see if history would be made. (Actually, pulling a Bobo might not be such a bad thing for the rest of the league, as Holloman only won two other games his whole career, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.) Hideki Matsui walked with two out in the 5th, but Robbie Cano grounded out to end the threat.
In the sixth inning, Jose Molina and his powerless, impatient .220 batting average were inexplicably allowed to bat again, and predictably failed, but to be fair his successors in the lineup, Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter, did no better.

Six no-hit innings.

More of the same in the seventh, with Abreu, A-Rod and the Giambi-no continuing the come up short.

Giambi-No-No. Seven no-hit innings.

In the eighth, Xavier "Feast or Famine" Nady whiffed, but Matsui drew another walk, giving us a little hope. Cano put a charge into an 82 mph change up but he hit it to the deepest part of the park, where it was caught for the second out.

Finally, though, Molina was taken out for pinch hitter Wilson Betemit (Bermanism: Wilson "Bet-a-Me Than You"), who quickly got himself into a 1-2 hole, missing a change-up and watching a fastball paint the inside corner for strike two.

The announcers mentioned that Betemit had not even seen Morrow's best strikeout pitch, his curveball, so naturally, it made the most sense for Morrow to throw his best pitch in that situation. I expected it. The announcers expected it. Apparently Betemit expected it, too, because he hit it for a clean double into right center field and score a run for the Yankees.

It would prove to be their only run, though a 9th inning leadoff single by Jeter prevented Betemit's efforts from comprising their only hit.

Fifty years from now, the box score will never be able to relate the tension that came with this game, how close (4 outs away!) the already pathetic Yankees came to the shame of being no-hit by a rookie making his first start in the majors.

Disaster averted. We now return you to your regularly scheduled disappointing season.

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05 September 2008

Brian Cashman's Days as Yankees GM are Numbered...

With the Yankees' poor showing in 2008, General Manager Brian Cashman may be on the way out. The Yankee brass already has his successor under contract.

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04 September 2008

Highlight of Sarah Palin's RNC Speech

This is not a political blog, and don't worry, it's not going to become one.

However, Sunny and I watched some of the speeches at the Republican National Convention last night. As it happens, we watched it on C-Span, because that was the first channel I found that was carrying the convention, and I knew we wouldn't get any commentary we didn't want or lots of incessant "news" scrolling across the bottom of the screen like crap through a goose.

C-Span: We Film, You decide. Take that, FOX!

Anyway, after a bit of skepticism, Sunny and I have decided that we both like VP nominee Sarah Palin, for a number of reasons, not the least of which are her Christian background and strong Pro-Life stance. As Christians ourselves and hopeful parents-to-be, this makes us happy.

But the highlight of the speech had little to do with Palin herself. You see, while FOX was dutifully, oh, I dunno, filming the candidate, C-Span kept going back to Palin's family in the front row of the mezzanine. And it was for this reason that those of us watching the speech on C-Span were treated to a true gem in TV journalism.


For while self-proclaimed "hockey mom" Sarah Palin was eloquently reading a speech (probably mostly written by others) on a huge stage in front of some decidedly American-looking image on an enormous screen behind her, in front of hundreds of cheering fans and delegates, one of the most carefully scripted moments on television this side of The Hills...

Palin's adorable seven year old daughter Piper was holding her infant brother...

...trying to fix his hair....

...with her own saliva.

Here's the money shot.

Needless to say, it was AWESOME.

This video contains only of part of the speech, but it contains the important stuff, namely a small child licking her hand and wiping it on her helpless baby brother's head while literally millions of people are watching it on national television.

How's Obama supposed to compete with that?

Fast forward to about 3:45 into this video, right after the "Hockey mom" joke, for the highlight of the speech.

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02 September 2008

Indians' Cliff Lee Wins 20 - But So What?

Before I get into this, let me first say: Congratulations!

The Cleveland Indians' unexpected ace, Cliff Lee, got his 20th Win against just two losses yesterday with a 5-hit shutout of the AL Central leading Chicago White Sox. Twenty wins is no small accomplishment in today's game, in which pitchers usually don't start more than 35 games in a season. A lot of things have to go well for you.

Two years ago, for the first time in a full season in history, no pitcher won 20 games in either league. Heck, nobody in the Senior Circuit won more than 16 games. So 20 wins is nothing to sneeze at, and is even more amazing when you consider that the boy went just 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA last year.

With that said, however, I'm going to need some tissues.

For one thing, Cliff Lee is not, as ESPN.com asserts, "putting together one of the best statistical seasons in baseball history." Well, he may be, but

1) It's only September 2nd. There's a whole month of baseball left to play. And...

B) Lee's 20 "Wins" are owed as much to his teammates' performances (and more than a bit of luck) as they are to him.

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I think his 20 wins are a mirage or that he doesn't deserve credit for them. He leads the majors in VORP and leads the AL in Win Shares, too, so the modern statistics (for once) bear out what the archaic ones would have us believe.

But Lee probably has about four or five starts left to make this year, and the chances are very good that his MLB-leading 2.32 ERA will rise a bit in that span. Additionally, and even more likely, his two meager losses are bound to have some company by October. He'll likely have two starts against the Royals, one against the Twins, one against Boston and perhaps one against the White Sox on the last day of the season, which will likely be cut short unless the game turns out to be a statistically meaningful one.

The chances of him keeping this kind of thing up for another month seem pretty minute. For one thing, anyone who has had 20 wins as of September 2nd (in the last 15 years) has not fared as well after Labor Day.

Pitcher    Year    As of 9/1    After Sept 1st
McDowell 1993 21-7, 3.31 1-3, 3.74
Clemens 1997 20-4, 1.73 1-3, 3.57
Schilling 2002 21-5, 2.77 2-2, 5.87
Smoltz 1996 20-7, 2.85 4-1, 3.50

A few caveats and explanations:

1) Only four pitchers have had 20 wins as of September 1st in the last 15 years. This is an extremely small sample size. I picked 1993 because most people seem to agree that the run-scoring environment across MLB underwent a big change that year. If you go back further, you get some really remarkable September campaigns by certain players, like Bob Welch in 1990 and Doc Gooden in 1985, but it was kind of a different league back then, and I didn't want to muddy the waters with, you know, facts.

B) I'm probably shooting my argument in the foot here since three of those four guys won the Cy Young Award. The one that didn't, Schilling, only missed out on it because of one of those incredible September campaigns. His teammate Randy Johnson, who entered September 2002 with a 19-5 record, went 5-0 with a 0.66 ERA that month.

iii) While they all saw some kind of drop in performance, it's not like they all went completely in the tank either. I am NOT saying that Cliff Lee sucks and that we just need another month for me to prove the point.

However, it should be noted that the Royals, on a scale of one to ten, do suck. So that should be at least one win in those two starts, maybe two. On the other hand, the Twins, Red Sox and White Sox (their recent shutout notwithstanding) are all good teams, and Lee's Indians are, well...not. At least, they're not a good team when Lee's not pitching.

The Tribe has averaged 4.85 runs per game in 2008, just 8th in the 16-team American League, but when Lee pitches, that number jumps to 5.97 runs, the 9th best number in the AL. That means that when anyone else pitches, they get just 4.6 runs of support per game, on average. Which would explain why nobody else on the team has a winning record except Fausto Carmona, who's just 7-5.

If the Tribe just averaged their usual 4.85 runs per game when Lee pitched, his record would be more like 18-4, which is still pretty darn good, but nobody would be using wacky phrases like, "best statistical seasons in baseball history." Baseball Prospectus suggests that his "Expected" W-L record should be something more like 16-5, even less "historic."

So how has this happened? Well, besides the Run Support, Cliff has gotten a lot of help from his fielders. The Indians rank just 20th in MLB in Defensive Efficiency (the rate at which they turn playable balls into outs), but when Lee has pitched, they've allowed only 3 unearned runs. Nobody else in MLB with at least 170 innings under his belt (there are 34 of these) has fewer than three unearned runs. Or, put another way, Brandon Webb has almost the same number of innings pitched as Lee and only one less Win, but he's allowed 11 unearned runs, which have undoubtedly contributed to his six losses. Additionally, his bullpen has been exceptionally good, allowing slightly fewer of his leftover runners to score than you would normally expect.

So congrats to Cliff and I wish him the best, but before we start calling his season "historic", let's at least wait until the season's actually history, OK?

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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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