Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday programming note

I'm taking the day off to play Mr. Mom as my boys have end-of-year activities today.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Invading Big Mac Land

During batting practice, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols drilled a home run that knocked the lights out of the "Big Mac Land" sign on left field's second deck. Pujols blasted the "A" in "MAC," though it wasn't apparent until the game had started and the lights for the letter were dark.
While it was done during pre-game batting practice, the effect is still awesome:

The Voice of God

By now, everyone reading this blog should know how I feel about Bob Sheppard, his voice, his presence and how much I hope he's able to open TNYS next season. There's an encouraging interview with Sheppard here and it's worth a read, even if it devolves into a religious discussion on the 2nd page. (I'll skip the religious discussion since you're not coming here for that and frankly, I'm the wrong person to discuss that sorta stuff with anyways.)

Here are a few snippets (emphasis mine):
Bob Sheppard (BS): So my target date to be back is July 1. There is an All Star Game to be played at Yankee Stadium on July 15th and one of my goals is to be there and announce it. I did one years and years ago at Yankee Stadium but I can’t recall it. So now this would be something to remember. I do want to be there next year when we open a new Stadium. And I’d like to be the one who says, “Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen…Welcome to the NEW…Yankee Stadium.
BH: Derek Jeter has requested a recording of your voice be played every time he gets up to bat. With technology the way it is now, would you like the Yankees to create a digital version of your voice to always be played at Yankee Stadium?

BS: No! No! No! (laughs) I didn’t even know that Yankee Stadium would preserve what I had been saying after introducing Jeter for years now. But they started using it because Jeter asked him to do it. And I didn’t even know that he (Jeter) had done the requesting (laughs)! He said, “Mr. Sheppard introduced me the first time I came to bat years ago and I want to keep going that way as long as I’m a Yankee, I want to hear him introduce me.

As I mentioned before: Get well soon, Mr. Sheppard.

How's he doing it?

I type this with a bit of trepidation. I type this only as it was asked to me at work yesterday. I'm about to become a reluctant skeptic and it doesn't make me feel so hot.

What's gotten into Jason Giambi?

The question drips with accusation, implied guilt, unfair treatment. It's also a question in direct violation of "small sample size". But, how does a player flick the switch as acutely as Giambi's done this month? I don't want to hear more about the thong, or that gawd-awful moustache. But how do you explain it? Is it just a guy getting hot for a stretch, or do we have to consider something more insidious given his history?

Remember, too, that this is a guy likely playing for another contract, somewhere, as the Yanks will most likely not exercise his $22M option (paying a $5M buyout).

The evidence
March/April 2008: 23 games, 5 HR, 12 hits, .164 BA, .315 OBP
May 2008: 20 games, 6 HR, 21 hits, .339 BA, .481 OBP

(click here for more splits that are pretty amazing thanks to the always interesting

What's also interesting is that Giambi's monthly splits are eerily even across his career:

  • Month: BA/OBP/HR
  • March/April: .281/.402/66
  • May: .289/.406/61
  • June: .301/.429/64
  • July: .289/.404/65
  • August: .283/.420/57
  • September/October: .288/.406/62
The last time Giambi batted over .300 for a season was his first year in NY (2002), when he hit .314 with 41 HR and a hefty .435 OBP. He hit 41 the following year but his BA slumped to .250. During 2004, he suffered with the "parasite" and other health issues, hitting just 12 HR while batting just .208. Giambi bounced back in 2006 and 2006, batting .271 and .253, respectively, banging out a combined 69 HR.

So what's going on here? Just a hot player? Just a healthy player? Just a superstitious player? Or something more?

Not fair, I know, but given his background, do we have any choice but to consider the alternatives?

Also strange, last night, Giambi hit his 11th HR of the season, which was also his 187th as a Yankee. He also hit 187 as a member of the A's. Doesn't mean anything, but accidental symmetry is always neat.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thanks for sharing

Today, we give Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland the "Too Much Information" award as he shares too much about 3B/SS/1B Carlos Guillen's, um, sensitive condition:

There's a reason Carlos Guillen had a rough game -- including two errors -- Monday night at third base. "He can hardly move -- he's got hemorrhoids so bad," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday. "He's been playing with hemorrhoids that probably need to be lanced. He probably shouldn't have been out there (third base on Monday)."

Leyland said the hemorrhoids have been bothering Guillen for about four or five days, but they have gotten worse in the last few days. "He could hardly walk (Monday night)," Leyland said.
Oh, my eyes. Why such details?!? Isn't that against HIPAA rules or something? Somewhere, Kaz Matsui knows the pain that Guillen must be feeling.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at this soiree

What I wouldn't have given to be at least a fly on the wall at this soiree....

Berra was inducted the other night, and the Yankee legend was surrounded by heady company, including the astronaut Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, the novelist Toni Morrison, General Norman Schwarzkopf and Bruce Springsteen.
And in typical Berra-ese, when asked about getting inducted into the NJ HOF, he commented:

Hey, it’s just great to be inducted anywhere.”
Ah, Yogi. How cool must that have been? And judging by the picture to the right, Danny DeVito was there, too.

Berra had a good few comments about the current Yanks, notably:

  • “When the pitchers are young and just starting, they are always a little scared when they face big-league hitters. They’re afraid to throw strikes. That’s what I see with Hughes and Kennedy.”
  • “Jorge Posada is a key...It’s tough for pitchers, especially the young guys, to work with backup catchers.”

Random Video of the Day

Haven't posted many of these in recent weeks, but if you are even remotely familar with the most famous YouTube videos, you'll get a kick out of this new music video:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Home Run Derby

It's mid-5th inning and the Yanks-Orioles are playing Home Run Derby. So far, 9 HR, five by Baltimore and 4 by the Yanks. Giambi, Abreu, Damon, ARod. Millar (2), Scott, Mora, Hernandez.

The Yanks were up 4-0 before Kennedy gave up a 4 spot in the bottom half of that inning. Yanks stretched it to 8-4 before the O's cranked 3 HR in the 5th (so far), against Ohlendorf.

Might as well set up a tee and have an extra OF tonite. yeesh.

Of course, that is only a perfect reason to post one of the great stories from an on-the-mound conference ever, courtesy of baseball lifer Mark Grace:

What's your funniest baseball story?

Grace: One day Rick Sutcliffe gave up back-to-back home runs in Cincinnati. And in Cincinnati, they shoot off fireworks after a Red hits a home run. And Sutcliffe was pretty intense on the day he pitched. So Eric Davis takes him deep and Paul O'Neill takes him deep right after that. So Sutcliffe is all pissed off, and Billy Connors comes out to the mound and Sutcliffe yells at him, "I know I gave up f---ing back-to-back home runs and get your f---ing ass back in the dugout and tell Zimmer to f---ing settle down there, too."

Billy looks at him and says, "I know you have everything under control, Rick. I just wanted to give that guy running the fireworks a little time to reload." I blew a snot bubble on the mound I was laughing so hard.

Great moments in Enabling

Two non-baseball posts in one day? Must be a slow day around the diamonds...


The "working title" of this posting was "Great Moments In Missing The Point" but that became too wordy.... but the point's the same....

Maybe you saw this, maybe not. When I first read the headlines, I simply thought "Yawn, another ballplayer arrested for marijuana use and an open can of beer in public..." Which is pretty much my standard answer for when pro athletes get nailed for such things. I've become numb to guys flaunting their fame to do whatever they want, whenever they want. NBAers happen to be among the most public of potheads though I have no doubt each sport has their fair share.

As it turns out the player, Joakim Noah, is the son of Yannick Noah, the 1983 French Open winner. Yes, the same Yannick Noah who "created a sensation a few years before when he told a magazine writer he smoked marijuana." The elder Noah does the best (er, worst) job of defending his son by offering these ultra-enabling words:

Yannick Noah is perplexed by "all that fuss" surrounding the arrest of his basketball player son, who was charged with marijuana possession and having an open container of alcohol.
"I don't understand all that fuss for just drinking a beer on the street," Yannick Noah said Tuesday at the French Open.
Sure, why act like a concerned parent when you can act like one of his buddies, enabling bad (and illegal) behavior? Especially when you've admitted being a frequent user in the past... It's so much easier to be his friend than his parent.


So just in case Yannick wanders over to this mini-slice of the blogosphere, here's a quick read for ya (here's another):

Examples of enabling behaviors include:
  • Making rationalizations for their irresponsible behaviors
  • Ignoring the problems caused by the addict's use
  • Accepting their excuses or believing their lies
  • Not getting help for yourself

'Cuse in the house

Just a quick note of congrats to the Boys in Orange, as they won their 10th lacrosse title over the weekend. They beat Johns Hopkins for the title and in doing so, became the winningest mens lacrosse program in NCAA Div 1 (Johns Hopkins had been tied with them with 9 titles, too).

"When you get recruited at Syracuse, you're going there to win a national championship," said [Mike] Leveille, who was voted the NCAA tournament's most outstanding player.
I was there when the Gait Brothers won three straight titles and while it was neat, I had little interest in it having never played lacrosse (not offered in my high school). Though, we did make some extra money for textbooks (um, yeah) making t-shirts celebrating the three-peat.

Of course, you wouldn't know it just by visiting their website. D'oh. I'm sure those pesky webmasters are simply hung over from celebrating. Yeah, that's it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sobering anti-steroids stuff

The bloodhounds known as Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn are at it again. If you have any interest in where the sporting community is with regards to testing for any and all PEDs, you should have a good, long read.

Tell ya what, if I were a CLEAN professional athlete, I'd be signing up for "longitudinal testing" immediately.

Longitudinal testing, known in some quarters as an athlete's "passport" program, might be the only chance anyone has to prove he's clean. It's an approach that involves rigorous blood and urine tests and establishes a baseline against which an athlete is subsequently measured. Right now the best assurance an athlete can offer is that he or she hasn't failed a drug test.
[USADA executive director Travis] Tygart wouldn't say whether anyone refused, but says, "An athlete's involvement in this program proves that they're willing to do whatever it takes to compete clean."

Whither Johan?

There was a subtle (or not-so-subtle depending on your acuity) murmur as Johan was being shopped this winter that he's already into a decline. Maybe the Yanks and Sox were listening more intently rather than more confident in their prospects. Maybe the Mets knew this, too, but decided to take the leap. We'll never know, but, as Buster Olney notes, the decline is real and becomming more obvious. {Insider access required for full access} [Note: I graphed Buster's data, since I am indeed a geek who likes to see data visually.]

After the item on Johan Santana's diminished velocity was posted here yesterday, some scouts from other teams chimed in, indicating through e-mails and phone calls that they were seeing the same thing. "The Mets were asking around about that in spring training, about what his true [velocity] baseline was," said one talent evaluator. "They were concerned."

Said an AL scout who has seen Santana this month: "His stuff isn't even close to what it was [with the Twins]."

With that said, here are the primary indicators:

  • His ratio of strikeouts per nine innings over the last six seasons has been 11.38, 9.61, 10.46, 9.25, 9.44, 9.66. This year: 7.79.

  • His strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last six seasons: 2.80, 3.60, 4.91, 5.29, 5.21, 4.52. This year: 3.87.

  • Opponents' OPS over the last six seasons: .607, .642, .564, .594, .616, .678. This year: .723.
As I wrote a lot about during the winter of Santana trade talks, rival talent evaluators saw a noticeable -- not dramatic, but noticeable -- decline in his stuff after his 17-strikeout performance against Texas on Aug. 19. He's made 17 starts since then, and here are his primary numbers:

  • Innings: 111
  • Hits: 109
  • Earned runs: 50
  • Home runs: 20 (By comparison, Paul Byrd has allowed 21 during the same span)
  • Walks: 28
  • Strikeouts: 102
  • ERA: 4.05
(Since the beginning of the 2007 season, Santana has allowed 44 home runs -- most in the majors.)
Santana's historically been a better second half pitcher than first half, so if I were the Mets or a Mets fan, I would not be panicking yet. But, I'll tell ya, I'd be nervous.

Nerd Machine

I'm an admitted hybrid of stat geeks: I like all the new ways to examine and analyze the game, but I don't obsess over them. I love OBP but I know others love OPS+. I appreciate WARP and VORP but don't track or memorize the numbers or know how to calculate them.

That said, the new Pitch f/x on is pretty neat. Have a ride in the latest Nerd Machine.

I've developed and often use this phrase as it relates to me and my job and I think it's relevant to this discussion: Data is interesting only if you can turn it into actionable information; otherwise it's just a waste of resources. We're presented with so much data on a daily basis. It's when you can turn that data into information that will affect decisions and strategy that it actually becomes useful. Otherwise, you have armies of people churning excel spreadsheets merely to stay employed.

Pitch f/x is simply another vehicle to help turn data into information.

And at what point can the Mainstream Media ditch the "nerd", "geek", "living home with mom in the basement while she washes my clothes" stereotypes?

More on Instant Replay

Good buddy ShysterBall has posted a few entries dedicated to the possibility of Instant Replay in baseball and there's been a good, spirited debate by the commenters, myself included. I wholeheartedly recommend a visit.

I'll try to keep it brief and summarize my thoughts here:

  1. I'm entirely concerned about the slippery slope if IR is adopted for boundary calls (HR fair/foul, over the wall or not, fan interference on HRs). I do not want it used on safe/out or worse, ball/strike. Period.

  2. I think it will speed up the games, not slow it down.

  3. I think the ump's would rather have help to get it right than be subbornly wrong. That was the attitude back in the 50's, not today.

  4. This IR idea was proposed to Selig during the most recent off-season but Selig himself shelved the idea. So for those who claim --erroneously-- that the only reason this is an issue today is because it happened 2x this week at Yankee Stadium, you are incorrect. The three incidents (the third being in Houston) this week were merely accelerants to have the proposal re-examined by Bud.

  5. I don't think the cost will be material at all, at least not with respect to the revenues earned by MLB ($6B last year!).

  6. I think the ump's union can be assuaged with the hiring of one more ump for each crew, and the rotation includes a night per rotation as "video judge". More jobs for umps makes umps and their union leaders happy...just guessing.

  7. The NFL has restricted use of IR to only certain plays; MLB could and should do the same.

  8. The NFL and NHL has proved the concept of IR to be both successful and welcomed by players and fans alike.

  9. I firmly believe, and I've yet to hear a cogent argument to the contrary, that fans would rather have a pause in the action to get the call right than to have the call left wrong for eternity. Instant replay would not have reversed the Denkinger call back in 1985 but that's OK. It would have changed the outcome of the infamous Jeffrey Maier play back in 1996. It would NOT have changed the outcome of the Bartman play.

  10. I hope MLB changes its normal pace of action and this doesn't take a major blown call in the playoffs to enact change. We've seen the other leagues change their rules quickly. NHL changed a rule mid-playoff series. The NFL righted a wrong in the immediate off-season. The MLB would benefit to follow the leads set by their peers.

Get over yourselves

I just read this and my first thought (and you know what they say about your first, gut reactions) is that Lonn Trost and Randy Levine must really be the biggest wussies around. My other immediate thought was "so what?"

Ortiz will have the opportunity to be like Babe because of a Call Your Shot promotion that is part of the home run derby. The fan who wins the online contest will choose a spot where he believes Ortiz can smash a homer. Then Ortiz has one swing, one dramatic swing, to do it.

But the Yankees do not seem as if they want Ortiz to take that swing. The Yankees were upset about the plans involving Ortiz and said they were unaware of the promotion until a reporter contacted them Thursday night. The Yankees were discussing the matter internally and planning to contact Major League Baseball for an explanation.
Based on how the Yankees apparently feel about Ortiz, there has not been any thawing between them and Red Sox. Since Ortiz joined the Red Sox in 2003, he has manhandled the Yankees and powered Boston to two World Series championships. If there is one player that the Yankees do not want to see batting during critical at-bats, it is Ortiz. For everyone but the Yankees, it is one fun and potentially fan-profitable swing. The Yankees would rather have Alex Rodriguez, their home run hero, calling his shot. But Rodriguez has traditionally shunned home run derbies.
Has my hometown team become the biggest bunch of wussies? Has management become so over-the-top concerned about the same things we used to mock the Sox for: curses, hoaxes, etc.? Yeesh, this makes my skin crawl.

Memo to Yanks ownership/leadership: Get over yourselves.

[My own joke to myself: If ARod was picked for that promo, can I call "a high popup to the SS" as where I think he will hit that one pressure-filled pitch? ba-dum-cha!

Also, is there any doubt why ARod won't participate in those Derbies? I don't think so.]

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Just a quick public birthday wish to my Mom! I just wanted to make sure I'm still your favorite son. After all, did your other son wish you a happy birthday on a website? I don't think so.

Also, happy birthday wishes to my mom's twin sis, Auntie Claus, as she's known in our neighborhood for her incredible generosity. Other kids have asked my sons if Auntie Claus can come to their house sometime.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sumthin' fo' nuthin'

LaTroy Hawkins, the latest craptastic middle reliever/set-up schlub the Yanks brought in, was sent home for 3 days and fined for failing to retaliate properly. Well, that wasn't in the memo, but it's the reason why he is getting a long weekend off.

New York Yankees reliever LaTroy Hawkins has been suspended three games for throwing an inside, head-high pitch to Baltimore Orioles left fielder Luke Scott, Major League Baseball announced Thursday.
First he misses with a pitch that would have been OK. Waist high. Standard protocol for hitting someone after your star SS is drilled. But he freakin' MISSED. Dumbass. Missed. So his next pitch sails over the batter's head and Hawkins is tossed and there's a bench clearing love-in.

Sounds familar, right? Because my favorite no-talent ass-clown Farnsworthless did the same damn thing to Manny earlier this year.

It was the second time this season a Yankees pitcher has been suspended for a high throw that did not hit a batter. Kyle Farnsworth was suspended for throwing behind the head of Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez.
Not a big fan of self-quoting but here goes, from yesterday:

Hawkins & Farnsworth: If you miss an intentional attempt to exact payback from one of your teammates getting plunked, don't try it a 2nd time with that batter. Getting ejected and insighting a brawl is useless and only serves to get your teammates hurt further. And for the love of all things holy, stop throwing near a guy's head.

Now starting for the Yanks: Joba

So it's official: Joba will enter the rotation.

Joba Chamberlain pitched the eighth and ninth inning of Wednesday night's 8-0 win over the Orioles, and afterward the Yankees announced that it was the first step of the phenom's much-anticipated conversion from lights-out set-up man to starting pitcher.

"I am excited about the opportunity," Chamberlain said of the transition. "First and foremost though, we got to win ballgames from here on out. So tomorrow starts another day of getting my legs and getting back on mound to see what happens. And making sure we win a game."
On one hand, I am very excited to see what he can do. He's exciting, engaging, emotional. He has proven that he can be successful at this level, albeit in shorter stints. The reports from those who know Joba and his repetoire better than any of us (bloggers, fans and professional writers alike) say Joba has other pitches that he doesn't regularly use out of the pen. I hope that his starts become "must see" affairs. How cool would that be?

On the other hand, I'm a bit nervous for two reasons: 1) I have little faith in the others in the bullpen leading up to Mo; 2) I'm worried about him not succeeding. Now, I know #2 is a real wimpy thing to say, but after seeing Hughes struggle, Kennedy struggle, I worried that any lack of success will be detrimental to Joba. I am also concerned about expectations. Again, I know all these "things" are merely manifestations of my own fears and concerns about this team, but I try to be realistic, even if it's sobering.

So who does Joba replace? Obvious choice right now is Kennedy or whoever is the #5 right now. After all, Rasner's doing his best Aaron Small imitation and not giving up his #4 slot anytime soon, right? Moose isn't really a #3 any more but last start not withstanding, he's been pretty good. What about when Hughes comes back?

: If you're here from the Providence Journal, welcome. I love a good debate, just keep it above the usual "Yanks suck--Sox suck" stuff!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Where's the outcry?

Wait a second? Did I miss something? We're on full hypocrisy alert. HYPCON 4, folks.

Joba pumps his fist in a May game after an 8th inning strike out and all hell breaks loose. The media are on his back. Goose Gossage calls it "un-Yankee" or something equally silly. The Indians cry foul, claim he's showing up the other team and batter, bringing up the old "double standard" whine.

Yet, last night, Papelbon, equally dramatic, exuberant and emotional as Joba, gave a huge fist pump after an 8th inning-ending strike out and another when he ended the game the next inning. What gives? Not so much as a whimper by the press and media. I know, I checked. Where's the same outcry?

Here's a Zapruder-quality video of the final out ( won't let you embed their videos, but don't get me started on that dumb rule):

Lest you be confused about my stance: I think all of this emotion, excitement, etc. is GREAT. Why be so robotic and boring? Who wants to see that? Not me. Let Joba and Papelboner do their fist pumps so long as it's done at the right time for the right reasons and in a way that's not done to embarass their opponents.

Let's have some fun.

UPDATE: The good guys at The Sports Hernia had a typically amusing view of this "issue" and I lifted their picture for use here, above, which is from last night's action. Thanks, fellas!

The Delicate Sound of THUD

Shhhh. Listen. Hear that sound last night? That was the delicate sound of thud. The sound of the Yanks hitting (what I hope is) a new rock bottom.

Moose, who had been cruising lately with his new slow, slower, slowest approach, got torched. He walked the first batter --never a good sign-- then got to two outs before Jeter threw the 3rd out high to Giambi and the inning ran off the cliff after that.

So let's review where the Yanks are, now that we are past the quarter-pole:

  1. Posada remains on the shelf and Molina, a solid defensive catcher, can't hit his weight. When Posada returns, will he be able to throw or will he be relegated to DH? If so, which of the OF loses time?
  2. Jeter took one flush on the wrist. Thankfully x-rays are negative but it didn't look good and sounded worse. He might not be perfect but he still comes to play night in, night out.
  3. ARod is back but sort of galloped to first in his first AB. Not the long gait we are used to seeing.
  4. Giambi is sporting a moustache, and an ugly one at that. I guess it's better than a wearing a gold lamé, tiger-stripe thong. He's not hitting his weight, either.
  5. Cano might be hitting his weight, but barely. Still just above .200
  6. Damon, who was off to a nice start in April, has gone ice cold. For all his warts, he's still the sparkplug to this team. When he's going, the offense is going.
  7. Matsui is producing. No complaints.
  8. Melky is solid, unspectactular. If there's a way to get an upper echelon SP talent either this season or in the off-season and the other team demands Melky, I would not be against it. You can always find an OF like him.
  9. Abreu is still a bit of an enigma. Now I know why the fans in Philly tired of him: he always looks tired. He's patient. I think he's a very good player (overpaid, but so what) who's still capable in the OF, even if he has no idea how to go back on a ball near the wall.
  10. Moose has been better, last night not withstanding, than I expected. I like his new approach.
  11. Pettitte has been about what I expected, given his tumultuous off-season. He's not an ace but a capable #2-#3.
  12. Wang, as I've written about often here, has been excellent. He still lacks the elite K-rates of other #1's, but I like his demeanor and approach. I'd try to lock him up in a long term deal ASAP. No need to introduce him to free-agency and incur that risk. Post haste.
  13. Hughes: Get well soon. I have NO idea what to expect when he returns and that bugs me. All of us Yankee fans are rooting so hard for him to succeed, the stumbles this season hurt that much more.
  14. Kennedy: I have no idea. None. Supposedly a cerebral, control artist. A solid #3. But where is the kid that was so good (in limited innings) late last year?
  15. Mo & Joba: You guys are the ones who blew the curve. Grade: A
  16. Hawkins & Farnsworth: If you miss an intentional attempt to exact payback from one of your teammates getting plunked, don't try it a 2nd time with that batter. Getting ejected and insighting a brawl is useless and only serves to get your teammates hurt further. And for the love of all things holy, stop throwing near a guy's head.
  17. Alberto Gonzalez: I have no idea if this kid can hit, but it seems to me that --right now-- he's a better defensive SS than Jeter. But I've been down this road before.
  18. Shelley Duncan: Where have you gone, Shane Spencer?

Last year, the Yanks were equally dismal at this point in the season (20-25) and they went on a great run to make the playoffs out of the WC slot. Will it happen again? At some point, you can't make that run any longer. You can't flick the switch like you used to. You just get old. That's where this team LOOKS to be heading right now. If we see Jeter dating Brittany or Jessica Simpson, well, pack up shop and call it a season.

Can it be fixed? Sure. How? We can get into that in a bit. If you have ideas, email me or use the comments below and I'll run 'em later today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Great, more pressure

The NY papers are depicting ARod riding into the Bronx on a white horse, a savior, a returning hero.

Um, sorry. This is not a good move.

The erstwhile ARod, an all-time talent, is not one who seems to react well as the pressure rises. Pressure turns carbon into diamonds but for some reason, in baseball with ARod, it turns a diamond often into dust.

Expecting him to return and go bonkers and save the Yanks is both unrealistic (for the fans to expect) and unfair (for ARod). The last thing we need is for him to struggle to find his groove while the fans ride him incessantly. He's returning from injury; give the guy a chance to get back to form.

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe ARod truly conquered his inner demons last year after admitting in Spring Training that all was not rosy with he and Cap'n Jetes. Maybe he'll relish the adoration and attention that he's bound to get and use that constructively to hit like he did last April. The truth is, however, that the Yanks DO need ARod to come back and spark this catatonic offense. Badly. Nothing would make me happier. However, I am dialing my expectations back a notch.

I'm hoping for the upside surprise.
UPDATE 5/23/08: ARod hit 2.5 home runs in his first two games as well as 1.5 doubles. The half of each is the HR that was erroneously called a double. He still doesn't look comfy running hard, but right how, he's delivering that upside surprise that I hoped for. I'm excited. Now, if that can only rub off on his teammates bats. They've won 2-3 since he returned.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kudos to Lester

I don't bash the Sox just for the sake of bashing. I am also not so blindly pro-Yanks to wish a hearty congrats to Jon Lester, who just finished off a no-hitter tonite. It's on thing to throw a no-hitter; it's entirely another thing if the pitcher is still recovering from lymphoma.

On August 27th, 2006 Lester was scratched from his scheduled start against the Oakland Athletics due to a sore back. The following day he was placed on the 15 day disabled list (retroactive to August 24th, 2006), and was sent back to Boston for testing. At the time, Lester's back problems were thought to be the result of a car crash he was involved in on August 18th, 2006. On August 31st it was reported that Lester had been diagnosed with enlarged lymph nodes and was being tested for a variety of ailments, including forms of cancer [3]. On September 1st, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital confirmed that Lester had a treatable form of anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

My wife recently returned to work full time for the American Cancer Society so maybe I'm more attuned and sensitive to cancer and survivors, but this is just great.

My hat's off to Lester for his courage and perserverence.

Re-examining Wang, Part VI

You'll have to pardon the abbreviated version but work calls.

Wang was at home, facing the also-struggling Mets, a place where Wang has excelled over his career. The result: his worst outing of the year, but also rather Jeckyl & Hyde-ish.

Innings 1-3: Perfect, but no K's.
Inning 4: Disaster, benefitted by a blown HR call which would have made it look even worse. Molina called it pretty succintly: "He kept the ball up a little bit and couldn't get it down. He got a couple of pitches up and just got hit. It's not pretty usual [for Wang] because he's a sinkerballer. He gave us a chance still, throwing [7 2/3 innings] to give us a chance. We couldn't score anyway." Giambi had a half decent game in the field, but his inability to make the throw to Jeter opened the floodgates.
Inning 5: Perfect.
Inning 6: Lead-off HR surrendered, his 2nd of the season. Then three straight outs.
Inning 7: Perfect.
Inning 8: [Note to self: why on Earth is Wang back in this game in the 8th?] Double, Out, IBB, Sac fly. Wang out. IBB scored later, charged to Wang.

Ending line: 7.2 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 104 PC, L.

Again, another low-K outing where Wang wasn't able to put away the hitter. Nearly two HR's surrendered, though Wang benefitted from the blown call on Delgado's shot.

I'm not worried or concerned about Wang. It happens. But, his control of those "out" pitches seems to be gone from earlier this season. If he reverts merely to his 2007 form, so be it.

But.... this Yankee offense is so asleep right now. Jeter batting 3rd? Molina and Giambi below Mendoza. Cano not much better. Yes, a lot of it can be attributed to ARod and Posada's injuries, but how 'bout a little personal pride, fellas? At least look like you care. I'm not always one to harken back to the 90's teams but where's a bit of the Paulie fire? Someone throw a freakin' bat, get ejected, bust a water cooler. Anything. Damon, who was off to a nice start this year, looks lethargic and he's the spark plug. Giambi is still waving at pitches. Abreu remains catatonic. Cano looks like he can't wait to swing at every pitch so he can sit down earlier.

I hope they wake up soon. Otherwise Hank's going to do something rash.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Prelude to Wang's outing

Caught this earlier today as part of the previews to Wang's outing later tonite:

"He's becoming like Brandon Webb," said Al Leiter, who pitched for both the Mets and Yankees and is now an analyst for the Bombers' YES Network. "He's always had the great sinker like Webb does. But Webb learned a couple of years ago that he needed a second out pitch for those times when he didn't have the good sinker. And he developed a good changeup as well as a pretty good slider. So now he has more than one weapon, and look at how good he's become.

"I see the same thing with Wang. He's still going to throw that great sinker 85 percent of the time. But now he has improved his slider to the point where it's become a legitimate second out pitch. Plus, he's throwing some good changeups to left-handed hitters. And he will at times throw a four-seam pitch up and in to left-handed hitters, and that pitch has got him some easy fly-ball outs."

Good to hear that from a guy who knew a thing or two about pitching. Helps me justify what I have been seeing thus far.

I'll try to get a review of the game done tonite or early tomorrow (got a busy day on tap on Monday).

Friday, May 16, 2008

My eyes! My eyes!!!

Sometimes we read/see things that we never ever want to see. A grandparent in an advanced state of undress. "Surprise Test Today" on the blackboard. That really old guy at the gym who likes to walk around naked waaay too much. A player on your childhood favorite team wearing a gold lamé, tiger-stripe thong. That same player sharing the thong with teammates.

Then I fell upon this and I'm now scarred. And scared.

The deepest, darkest secret harbored by the New York Yankees first baseman is that whenever he is in a prolonged hitting funk, he wears a gold lamé, tiger-stripe thong under his uniform. "I only put it on when I'm desperate to get out of a big slump," he confides.

Over Giambi's checkered career in the Bronx, he has left the "golden thong" in the lockers of slumping teammates Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Johnny Damon, Robin Ventura, and Robinson Cano. "All of them wore it and got hits," he reports. "The thong works every time."

Great googly moogly. I wish I never ever read that as I now have images in my head I never ever wished to have. I've heard of slump-busting but nothing like this.

That's what I get for reading this stuff on a rainy, nasty Friday night and the Yanks are mired in last place.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Said better...

Jayson Stark has a wonderful piece on the path Clemens chose, the scorched Earth approach, and how is could have been different for him had he chose the "Pettitte Path" instead. It's worthy of a print-and-read, so here's the link.

Reason why Jayson's so good at what he does: he says things better than most, in a way we can all understand. Like this:

We'll never know now, though. Will we? Let's say again here that, because this is America, we're willing to give this man some benefit of the doubt, that maybe he couldn't do that because he is innocent of the original crime he was accused of.

But if he is innocent, and that's why he took the course he did, then we've arrived at the ultimate irony:

The price he has paid for claiming he is innocent has been more painful and powerful than the price he undoubtedly would have paid for admitting guilt.

So well said.

Hank Being Hank

I'm honestly not sure what to make of Hank Steinbrenner. Does he take himself seriously? Should we?

So far, he's made some outrageous proclamations this season and has backed down or off completely soon after making them. He makes threats that are simply idle in nature. He talks to seemingly hear himself quoted.

If you didn't remember, Cashman's in the final year of his contract. And now, Hank's talking like he's going to have the National Guard scrambled to handle the Yanks and their malaise.

Steinbrenner might have made a cryptic reference to Cashman’s future when he said, “If it’s not turned around this year, then it will be turned around next year, by force if we have to.”

By FORCE? Please, I hope there is someone --maybe it's his brother Hal-- who has the ability to speak rationally with Hank and get him to focus on the longer term health of this organization rather than the immediate future.

The Yanks might very well miss the post season this year, the first time since the early 90's. And you know what, it's not the end of the world. It might feel that way and it will certainly hurt. But, and I've said this many, many times before: If we honestly believe the long term health and direction of the team is strongly positive, then don't do anything to jeopardize that, and that includes dumping the architect.

Remember, an executive was quoted earlier this year, saying:

"Hey, I applaud Cashman for wanting to do it this way," one executive said. "I think those young guys will make it pay off in the long run, but I think they'll take a step back this year. There's always a price to pay for showing patience."


Holy High Five

It's difficult for me to actually cheer Manny, but (pardon the play on words) man-oh-man, that catch-high five with a fan over the wall-hit the cut-off man-double up the guy off first was both amazing and hilarious.

Here's the summary from an summary:

With runners at first and second and one out, Kevin Millar hit a drive to left. Ramirez made an over-the-shoulder grab on the warning track, reached over the seven-foot wall to slap a Boston fan with a high-five and then turned and threw the ball to Dustin Pedroia. The relay from Pedroia to Kevin Youkilis doubled up Aubrey Huff to complete the 7-4-3 double play.

I've instructed my sons to "play hard, play fair and have fun" when playing sports. It's sort of become our mantra. Manny might not always play hard, but he's always having fun and that's part of the pro game that seems to be missing. {Witness the hullabaloo the end of last week about Joba and the fist pumping.}

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Re-examining Wang, Part V

Fifth in a series of reviewing Chien Ming Wang's performances. Click here for Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV.

So how'd our favorite subject do last night? Pretty well, just looking at his stats. But I saw a few things that concerned me. We'll get to all of that...

His line: 7 IP, 1 ER, 7 hits, 3 BB, 2 K, 101 PC, no-decision

Wang gave up just one run over seven innings, pitching effectively and fairly efficiently. His pitch count was right in line with his season/career averages. However, what seemed obvious to me was Wang could not muster his " kill" pitch. In prior starts, he's been able to put away batters with two strike counts, helping him boost his K rates to levels we had not seen from Wang prior. Last night, Wang struggled to put away those same hitters. It was most obvious in the Hinske at bat in the 4th inning.

Wang had allowed a Pena double in the 4th and with 2 outs, Hinske was up. Wang ran the count to two strikes, but failed to put Hinske away, leaving a splitter high over the plate, which Hinske knocked into right field for the only run Wang would surrender.

Now, I know this probably reeks of nitpicking; how could I criticize a pitcher who lowered his ERA to 2.90 after giving up just one run over 7 IP? Well, I'm not, really. What concerned me is the 3 walks and Wang's inability to harness the same repetoire that helped him boost his K rates significantly this year. Maybe it's just a blip; maybe he's just tired. Maybe it's just that the Rays had a good approach against him.

So let's take a look at Wang's key performance indicators:

Ground ball/Fly ball
According to, his GB/FB ratio now stands at 2.06, up from the 1.84 after his previous game. Sounds like the sinker was working last night, eh?

Again, his ERA improved to 2.90 with the outting. No complaints. None. Wang's been a consistent arm during what's quickly becoming a "that year" that Yanks fans have been fearing.

Wang K'd just two batters last night. I mentioned how he seemed unable to put hitters away so here's the "proof". His K-rate on the season fell from 6.23 to 5.80, still a notable increase over 2007's 4.70. This bears watching.

Pitches per inning
Wang averaged 14.4 pitches per inning, in line with his season average of 14.5. He traded K's for BB's in terms of pitches used so obviously we'd like to see him use those extra bullets for K's rather than BB's.

Again, I am not nitpicking or criticizing Wang. He's been marvelous this year and I am enjoying watching him. I'm trying to identify the KPI's for his success the year and when I see a diversion from what's worked so far, I just want to point it out. Will he revert to his career norms with K's or will he pick it back up as he was doing earlier? It's too early to tell as we're dealing with ultra-small sample sizes here. That said, we'll keep watching. Tell me if you are seeing something different or have a different.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bonds' new charges: Turning 4 into 14

In short, there's nothing new to this indictment (called a superceding indictment by legal folks), but what it does is take the 4 original charges, called "potentially vague and ambiguous" by the prior judge, and convert them into 14 individual charges, including obstruction.

The U.S. attorneys office filed a superseding indictment on Tuesday that turns four perjury counts against Barry Bonds into 14. He also faces an obstruction charge based on his grand jury testimony denying the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

[If you're into reading the actual indictment, click here.]

I was suggesting earlier today that so long as Bonds' (original) indictment didn't preclude him from leaving the country, that the Blue Jays seems like a pretty good landing spot for him right now. The Jays are starving for offense and just lost stud Vernon Wells for 6-8 weeks with a broken wrist. I doubt that Bonds is restricted from leaving but I suspect these modified charges won't help his P.R. 'case' to find a job anytime soon.

Unrelated tidbit: For those of you who like nailing others on editing or spelling or grammar, the AP wire had this: "The next hearing in the case is skedded for June 6." Guess the editor was out to dinner when they ran with this. Though, by the time you see the article, it will probably be fixed.

ESPN's look at the Next Dice-K

Well, those guys at the WWL are finally catching up to me. After all, it was six weeks ago (3/24/08) when I wrote A closer look at the next Dice-K. Jim Caple has the honors here, and besides a requisite anti-Yanks quip or two, the expose is quite interesting.

Of note:

Most observers feel he either is already as good as Matsuzaka or soon will be. "I think his numbers in Japan are going to be equally as phenomenal as he continues to move on, barring injury, as Dice-K's were in Japan," [former manager and current Royals manager Trey] Hillman says. "He's got a different type of frame. Dice-K's got a more powerful frame, but Darvish has looser levers and a taller frame with more whip, and I think that gives him an opportunity to have more powerful and more electric secondary pitches as well as a fastball."
Most everyone says if Darvish is posted, the bidding will easily top the $50 million the Seibu Lions received in exchange for the rights to Dice-K. After that, [Oakland Athletics scout Randy] Johnson says, "The sky is the limit as to where the big-money teams would go." Given the usual escalation in baseball contracts, it isn't crazy to think the negotiating fee could go to $75 million.
And is there any team for which [his father] Farsad would like Yu to pitch? "I love the New York and Boston area. If he ever makes it there, I don't know, it's up to him, anywhere in the States is good, but I personally love New England."

Theo Epstein, Brian Cashman: Consider that your wakeup call.
In case the video below doesn't work for some reason, click here

Of course, this will only serve as another flashpoint in the silly posting rules of the Japanese league as part of their agreement with MLB....which was supposed to EVEN the playing ground, not futher isolate the lower revenue teams who can't concieve of a $75 million posting fee just to talk to this guy.

But I digress. It will be interesting to see how this develops. I'll be watching. You should, too.

$1 goes further than you thought

No, this is not a commercial for a fast food joint's ploy to sell you half a sandwich for $1 and make it look both a) appetizing and b) filling.

No, you can get yourself a regular professional ballplayer for a mere $1.

As it turns out, Wes Helms got traded for $1. That is all the Marlins had to give the Phillies, who agreed to pay his $2.4 million salary this season. (He is under contract next season, though the Marlins could buy him out.)
Just awesome.

"So's your mom"

With a big thanks to Shyster, I present you with this, a wonderful email-based dialogue between a writer and Carlos Delgado's agent. Priceless.

Remember the "I" in this is Star Ledger writer Dan Graziano:

"Sorry I missed your 'joke.' This is what I wrote: 'the Mets are paying Delgado $12 million in salary this year plus a $4 million buyout on his 2009 option'I won't hold my breath waiting for your apology."

Glad I didn't. Because it didn't come. What did come was a total descent into immature madness by somebody who purports to be a major league player agent. Sloane wrote back at 12:40 p.m.:

"Apologize this retard, he's making 16 this year WITH an option for next year @ 16 or a buyout @ 4. Nice research by you but then I guess that whole concept of fact finding escapes you huh? They didn't teach that on the short bus did they?"

Seriously. Not making this up. I cut-and-pasted it.
Anyway, maybe I should have resisted, but I couldn't. I wrote him back again:

"That a joke too? You're a funny guy."

And then, at 12:46 pm, in apparent celebration of Mother's Day, David Sloane, the agent for Carlos Delgado, wrote back the following e-mail, which I present to you in its entirety:

"So's your Mom."

And there you have it, folks. "So's your Mom."


Buried late in an article about Goose Gossage's visit to the Hall Of Fame is this story. I love hearing from the ballplayers about what they were really thinking at a pivotal point in time. Not right after it happens and they give us something they think we want to hear, but the truth some time later.

Gossage, that famous mustache now gray, claims to have hit only three batters intentionally in his major league career: Ron Gant, Al Bumbry and Andres Galarraga.

"They had it coming," he said.

I love this stuff. Then the sidestory about drilling The Big Cat:

Well, maybe not Galarraga. He was on a hot streak for the Montreal Expos in 1988 and Gossage, who was with the Cubs that season, said manager Don Zimmer warned the staff not to let Galarraga beat them.

"I'm in the eighth inning, Galarraga's up, first base is open, the game's on the line with two guys on, and I'm thinking back to the meeting before the game," Gossage said with an impish grin. "I was in my delivery when I thought, 'I'm not taking any chances.'

"Boom! I wasn't going to put him on, so I saved four pitches and drilled him as good as I can drill them. Right in the ribcage. You could hear the air go out. It was beautiful."

I'm not sure what's better: his story about deciding to hit a batter, the twisted joy he derives out of executing it perfectly, or the fact that he noted that he "saved four pitches" by doing so. Either way, I love it.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Art of Over-reaction

My head hurts. Trying to decipher the "unwritten rules of baseball" can do that to ya. So, here's my short but sweet answer:


There, I said it. What am I talking about? The whining by the Indians (and others) about Joba's fist pump/yell after he struck out Dellucci yesterday. Big deal. It wasn't doing it in his (Dellucci's face). He turned and let out a bellow of excitement after an important out. Two days after the same Dellucci cranked a 3 run HR off Joba.

"That's what gets him going and that's what everybody likes to see, but if a hitter was to do something like that they'd probably say it was 'bush (league)' and you shouldn't do it," Dellucci said. "It's kind of funny how a pitcher can get away with it."
Please, get over it. Hall of Famer Eckersley did it and no one minded. Manny admires flyballs, even if they are caught. Juan Uribe, JUAN URIBE!, throws two hands up on a follow-thru when he thinks he hits one. Kirk "I don't believe what I just saw" Gibson did a double fist thing after his famous homer off of, who else, Eck (OK, that was a bit more important than a K in the 8th inning on May 8th, but I digress).

My point is, so long as the expression of relief/joy is done in the spirit of the moment and not done to intentionally show up the opposition, I am fine with it.

The Yanks had been called "corporate" and "professional" during the latter half of the Torre years. I called it boring and uninspiring. Jeter's fist pump was as emotional as it got. Watching the impact that younger guys like Melky and Cano and Joba, and even Duncan, have had on the vets is important. The jumping around with Melky/Cano is fun (heck, it even woke up the catatonic Abreu). Joba's yelling and fist pumping is exciting and not meant to embarass any opposing player. Duncan's forearm pounding is silly but so what? It's all meant to give their team a lift.

Stop being such a stodgy stick in the mud.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Re-examining Wang, Part IV

Sorry for the belated posting about Wang's performance last night (Wednesday). Two excuses: 1) I was at the game (see pix below) so I couldn't post after I got home; 2) My company reported earnings today and I just didn't have the bandwidth to get to really diving into it.

Now, I was there last night, but as you can see, I was nowhere close to seeing how good or bad Wang's stuff was. What we could tell from our height and distance was that it seemed that he was having trouble with the zone. Walking leadoff guys really stung him. That was not what I would have expected.

So, where is he after last night? No longer undefeated, that's where.

His line: 7 IP, 5 H, 3 walks, 4 K, 3 ER, 99 pitches.

On any given night, that's a fairly solid outing. If your starter can give you 7 IP with just 3 ER, you'll win a bunch of games. But, against a nuclear hot Cliff Lee, it just wasn't good enough.

Ground ball/Fly ball shows Wang's GB:FB ratio down to 1.84.

Again, there were a few hard hit balls but no HR. Surprising that he's only surrendered 1 HR so far, given the rotation of his GB:FB ratio.

Wang's ERA took a slight bump up from an even 3.00 to 3.12, below his career average and one the Yanks are no doubt ecstatic to see.

Wang only K'd 4 in seven IP last night. Last year, that'd be a great outing. This year; not so much. It's not the 4 K's but the 3 walks that I found disconcerting. You could just tell he didn't have his best stuff, even from the upper left field stands. His season K-rate now stands at 6.23, down a smidge from the 6.40 after his last outing. No major issues here. Still well above his career rate prior to 2008.

Pitches per inning
Wang needed 14.1 pitches per inning, a bit below his season average of 14.6. Considering the walks and early game struggles, he still managed a few 1-2-3 quick innings. Had he been able to get out of some of those AB's that he ran to 2 strikes and gave up a hit or walk, it would have been a different result.

It was a tough luck loss since Wang pitched well enough to win. And, I'm guessing here, that his agent should be contacting Cashman soon to see if they can't work out a multi-year extension before he gets into the heavy arbitration years. I'll maintain that signing younger players to longer term contracts can be a risk, but I'd surely take that risk with Wang. His demeanor, professionalism, his dedication to his craft and his seemingly endless desire to improve are worth investing in.


I've gotten some good feedback with this "series" about Wang. So long as no one is getting bored with it, I'm happy to keep it going. Let me know if there's anything else you'd like to see. I can assure you that I'll be watching closer (like my living room!) next time and be able to give a bit more of a "seen it" review.

A Night At The Park

I had the pleasure of spending last night at Yankee Stadium with my father-in-law, brother-in-law and one of his good buddies. An incredibly comfortable evening (cool breeze, clear night) to watch a very well pitched game featuring two of this year's best starting pitchers in the AL, Chien Ming Wang and Cliff Lee. A fast-paced game that lived up to it's pitching duel billing.

Here are some pictures of the evening, including some shots of TNYS (The New Yankee Stadium), which, by the way, looks awesome.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Showing off the gun

If you haven't yet seen Rick Ankiel's defensive show from last night, stop what you're doing and go take a look.

I'll be here when you return.

The dreaded C-word?


Buster Olney's reporting that the MLBPA has opened an investigation into the reasons why certain players, most of whom still have more than adequate on-field baseball skills, remain jobless this season. Guys who have played significant careers, to say the least, who not only do not have any prospects of signing with any team, but haven't gotten so much as a sniff by GMs across the league.

Barry Bonds
Kenny Lofton
Mike Piazza
David Wells
Sammy Sosa

By my check, that short list contains the all-time HR king, a 600+ HR slugger, the greatest offensive catcher of all time, a rubber-armed hefty lefty and one of the better lead-off pests around.

I don't think it's collusion, which Wikipedia defines as: "an agreement, usually secretive, which occurs between two or more persons to deceive, mislead, or defraud others of legal rights, or to obtain an objective forbidden by law typically involving fraud or gaining an unfair advantage and can involve wage fixing, kickbacks, or misrepresenting the independence of the relationship between the colluding parties." While I am sure Selig wants Bonds gone from the game, I honestly don't think he's so foolish (or arrogant) to recommend to all GMs that they intentionally avoid Bonds.

So what is it? Groupthink*. It's easier for a GM to simply pass on Bonds or Sosa, citing the baggage or so other reason. This way, the GM doesn't have to answer questions or risk angering a fanbase.

I'll tell ya, though, there are some offensively-challenged AL teams (I'm looking at you, Seattle) who could certainly use a DH and Bonds (or Sosa) would be a good fit.

As far as Wells and Piazza, well, maybe they are just done. I think Lofton could still play somewhere, though.

Collusion? Nah. Groupthink? Yeah.

* Groupthink is a type of thought exhibited by group members who try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. During groupthink, members of the group avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. A variety of motives for this may exist such as a desire to avoid being seen as foolish, or a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group. Groupthink may cause groups to make hasty, irrational decisions, where individual doubts are set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance. The term is frequently used pejoratively, with hindsight.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Great moments in great moments

My oldest son turned 8 right around Opening Day. He's a huge baseball fan (no surprise, I know). He was born on April 4th (4/4) at 6:44am and I was wearing my Reggie jersey (#44), it being Opening Day and all. Needless to say, his favorite number is 44 and he's a baseball nut.

This season, he began Little League. Half the 2nd graders are kept in the younger league where coaches pitch (with 1st graders) and the others are bumped up to the league with the 3rd graders featuring kids pitching. He's on the smaller size, physically, but what he lacks in size he more than makes up with effort and gusto. He's not afraid to mix it up with the bigger or older kids in the least. And when other kids are daydreaming or getting lazy/tired, he's still motoring. I had to remind him that he doesn't have to slide into EVERY base, especially first base.

He was asked to pitch an inning this past weekend and after walking the bases loaded, he was swapped with the third baseman. He was dejected but determined to do better. We threw all weekend so he'd be reminded that he could, in fact, "do it". I'm a sucker for teaching the proper mechanics, so that's all we worked on.

Last night, other kids were asked to pitch so he didn't get another shot. One of the better kids on the team, a 3rd grader, catches most of the time. Late in the game, the catcher was asked to pitch, rather than catch. Below is what followed next:

Coach: Who here has a cup on?

Kids: (maybe 3 hands go up; scary, I know!)

Coach: Which of you wants to catch?

My son, after a pregnant pause: I do!!!

Coach: You sure?

My son: Definitely.

Coach: OK, let's go!

Now, I know he's got the motivation and desire but I am not sure he's ready to catch. Not to mention, the kid who was going to pitch, our regular catcher, can really throw. Not a soft toss like most other kids, but really bring it. Naturally, I am chuckling behind the fence, near home plate, knowing what's coming. I help him suit up in the dugout, with the hockey-style mask fitting over his sports glasses, looking pretty cool even if the chest protector was drooping low on him.

He goes out there, settles in and the game resumes. First few pitches were wide, bouncing off the backstop. Then a strike, connecting with the shin guard flush, making a loud plastic crack. The coaches looked at me and we all laughed a bit. He wasn't the least bit hurt or nervous, unlike in his pitching debut. He missed most of the pitches thrown his way but threw them all back well, in spite of the oversized gear.

Then the great moment. Remember, I am almost behind the backstop, off to the right (as you can see by the camera phone picture taken to the right). The pitcher really hums a strike, the batter swings and misses and the ball just drills my son in the mask, right between the eyes. All the coaches and parents looked at me, figuring I'd be screaming or panicked. My son didn't so much as flinch. Chased the ball down, tossed it back to the pitcher and resumed his position. I just crossed my arms and kept smiling, reminding him to keep his right hand behind his backside. I never thought I'd be proud to see my son drilled with a pitch between the eyes (even with a mask on), but there I was, proud to see him not even hesitate to continue.

Inning ends, he hustles off the field, ecstatic. He didn't care that the ball hit him or how he looked. He had a blast. He immediately starts lobbying the coaches to catch again next game. He asked me to go get him catchers gear. He couldn't calm down. He wanted to call his grandparents and mom right there, from the dugout. He couldn't sit still.

Now, mind you, I have been telling him for a while that the catcher is the best position, since it's involved in every play and requires knowing everything that's going on. [Watching how bored, disinterested and distracted some kids get in the outfield, I was hoping he'd try something to keep him more involved.] He liked to try to play shortstop or 3B. He never believed me, until now.

I think we might have a new catcher in our midst.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Re-examining Wang, Part III

My newest favorite subject, Chien Ming Wang, ran his record to a league-best 6-0 last night. He gave us a bit of a scare when he had a cramp in his hand, but at the time, we weren't sure just how serious it was. Turns out it was just that, a simple cramp. Good news.

So how'd he do?

Pretty darn good, again. His line: 6 IP, 90 pitches, 3 hits, 1 ER, 5 K's, 2 BB.

Let's continue the examination:

Ground ball/Fly ball
Wang's GB:FB rate continues the slide from the 3's to now under 2.0 (1.92, per ESPN). The chart to the right captures the ratio with the blue line. What to make of this? Well, clearly Wang's evolution from primarily a sinkerballer is in full bloom. Again, if he was just losing his ability to control the sinker, leaving everything up, would be a concern. But that's not the case.

The proof is the fact that he's only surrendered one HR this year. He's notoriously stingy with giving up the long ball, giving up just 9 last year and 12 the year before. (Bronson Arroyo does that every few weeks.)

Note, using the orange bars, the spike in K-rates for Wang this year. He's now at 6.40 K/9 IP. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not insignificant. This is not an aberration. This is a pitcher who has won 19 games each of the last two years, his first FULL two years in the league, getting better. This is the evidence of a person who is driven to be better, every day. When I first started following Wang this way, he was at 5.06 K/9. Now, after his 9 K performance last week and last night, he's bumped to 6.40. Very impressive. [Caveat: yes, it's still a small sample size but we've got enough to chew on.]

Pitches per inning
Wang got thru the end of the first inning on just 9 pitches and needed 90 pitches to get thru six innings. That's 15 pitches/inning for those without a handy calculator, which is right in line with the 14.6 P/IP he's averaged all year. It's still a bit higher than in the past but that's going to happen with the higher K rates.

I mentioned in earlier postings that the reason for all this is his new additions to his repetoire. Seems that the MSM (that's blogger-speak for 'main stream media') is catching on, too:

In the past, Wang relied heavily on his sinker most nights. This year, he's shown a more varied repertoire.

"We don't even talk. That's probably the good thing about it. I don't know if he likes me, anywhere," joked [Jose] Molina, who sported a Wang T-shirt. "Now you have to look for the slider, maybe change, maybe split, and still have the sinker there."

Wang's a better pitcher this year. He won 19 games last year after winning 0 until May 5th last year. Think about that for a second. He missed the first few weeks due to injury and didn't win until the second month of the season, yet still won 19. He's got 6 wins on May 2nd this year. Where's he going to end up?

No matter what the number is, he's a better pitcher and still getting better. Scary thought. And the Yanks certainly need him to keep it going given the struggles of their young guns and all the injuries.

I'll be watching.

Related posts:
Re-examining Wang
Examining Wang

Friday, May 2, 2008

Good news! Murcer to return to the booth

Some days, when you are in need of a mental pick-me-up, you don't get squat. Days like today, on the other hand, we get this:

Bobby Murcer is feeling better and ready to begin broadcasting New York Yankees games again. The longtime announcer and former All-Star outfielder was at Yankee Stadium on Thursday and plans to resume his full broadcasting schedule starting Friday night when New York hosts the Seattle Mariners.

Murcer, who turns 62 this month, said it's taken him a while to recover from the brain biopsy he had in early March. He had surgery in December 2006, four days after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, but returned to the broadcast booth last season.
I couldn't be happier. He got a voice and a way about him that's almost like the Harwells and Gowdys of the game. There is an elegance to Murcer that only few others seem to have and it's wonderful to get this grand ambassador back behind the mic.

Welcome back, Bobby.

Slow motion train wreck

Last night, I again reiterated my confidence in Cashman, my plea for patience, and my general hope that Hughes (and Kennedy) will ultimately be OK. I woke up still feeling that way, but, I can't help but wonder if we're watching the onset of a slow motion train wreck. The chart below summarizes my confidence in the team making the playoffs as well as it tracks the Yanks chances of winning last night's game:Yes, the Yanks had a worse April last year and still made the playoffs. But, ARod and Posada were having career (or near-) career seasons. Joba, Kennedy, Duncan all came up later in the season and gave the vets a much needed kick in the tail. Cano was struggling then, too. This year, Damon and Abreu seem to be better, healthier. Jeter's conspicuously quiet. Hughes and Kennedy, well, you know. Giambi has become a three true outcome hitter and quite painful to watch at bat AND in the field. Pettitte is about what we could expect and Moose is actually doing a bit better. Wang, as I've written about before here, has worked himself into a new pitcher and doing quite well.

But how is this team going to make the playoffs? The short answer is, unless Pettitte, Moose and Wang are going to win 3 out of every 5 games, at least, from here on out, we're not. Joba riding in to "save" the team as a starter is an unfair burden. And if we, the fans, have learned ANYTHING (doubtful, I know) about heaping the pressure of being a savior on the young kids, it's not a fair move for Joba. We all love this kid, but what if he struggles as well? Then what? Kill him, too?

I said it last year and I repeated it this year: I am OK with missing the playoffs so long as I feel the team is moving in the right direction. Remember Hank's comments from earlier this year:

"I will be patient with the young pitchers and players. There's no question about that because I know how these players develop," he said. "But as far as missing the playoffs - if we miss the playoffs by the end of this year, I don't know how patient I'll be. But it won't be against the players. It won't be a matter of that. It will be a matter of maybe certain people in the organization could have done something else."
I can't disagree more. In fact, in a highly-egotistical move, quoting myself:
I try to maintain a long term view for the Yanks. They are not, unlike the smaller market teams, tied to a narrow window before their best players "graduate". Those smaller market studs tend to graduate to teams like the Yanks. If the Yanks have to take a post-season pause this year to set themselves up for another 5-7 year stretch of prosperity, so be it.
So now what? It's May 2nd. Let's not throw our future out in the garbage by trashing them. They are just young kids, Hughes being the youngest starter in the Majors. Give them a chance. Take a deep breath. And if this year passes and we're home in October, so be it. Next year, the albatross contracts are gone. We become a leaner organization with fiscal flexibility to make the strategic signing (hear me, CC? You too, Teix!). And hopefully, we become younger and more fun.

And not for nothing, but this kid Alberto Gonzalez is a player. He already looks better at SS than Jeter does. (Hey, where'd that lightening come from?). He should be a starter SOON. But where? Jeter's 34. Just sayin'. Even Ernie Banks moved to 1B (at age 31) and played there thru age 40. Hear me, Jeter?