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2005-04-19 21:08
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

That's it. I'm fed up. Maybe I'm a couple of days late, but as Alex will tell you, I tend to be both level-headed and optimistic when it comes to my favorite ballclub. Still, after attending last night's 6-2 loss to the Devil Rays, I want my $5 (actually $13 and change thanks to Ticketmaster) back and an apology, not from the Boss or the skipper, but from the team.

The Yankees have now completed five series on the young season and won just five games. They are tied with the Devil Rays and Royals for the worst record in the American League, and have not recorded consecutive wins since the first two games of the season (which had an off day between them).

On the whole, the problem remains the pitching, the Yankees have the third worst ERA in the majors (only the D-Rays and Rockies are worse, and that's according to the stats before last night's 6-2 loss to the Rays). Their team ERA (prior to last night's game) was 5.65, but they've allowed a staggering 6.5 runs per game (including last night) thanks to some very costly errors and their pitchers' inability to pitch around them.

Last night, despite a noble effort from Randy Johnson, was the 2005 Yankees at their worst. Worse even, in my opinion, than Saturday's brutal 7-6 loss in a game they lead 6-2 in the seventh inning.

For me it all started with the Captain. Derek Jeter went 3 for 4 last night with two singles and a double and a nice play on a sharp grounder off the bat of Toby Hall to end the second, but if you ask me he gets a big pair of goat horns. Following a 1-2-3 first inning from Johnson, Jeter lead off the bottom of the first with a single, an apparent indication that the Yankees were ready to pick up where they left off the night before. Then, on the first pitch to Bernie Williams, Jeter got thrown out trying to steal second. It wasn't even close. That was the real omen. In the seventh trailing 3-2 with runners on first and second and no outs, Jeter ground into a rally-killing double play. Then in the top of the eighth with no outs and men on the corners, he failed to turn a rally killing double play, flubbing Aubrey Huff's grounder completely and opening the door to a three-run Devil Ray inning.

I'm not pointing to Jeter as the reason for the team's struggles. He leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage, walks and runs scored and remains, second perhaps only to MVPatsui (who leads the team in slugging and hits), the batter I want up with the game on the line. But his play last night was emblematic of the team's dismal performance.

Other lowlights include a 1 for 14 performance by the 2-5 hitters (though Matsui and Sheffield did walk once each), highlighted by an 0-for-4 by Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez's worst at-bat came in the sixth when, with one out runners on first and second and his team down by one, he hacked at a 1-0 pitch low and away, lifting a weak fly to center that was too shallow to advance the runners. In Alex's words, "he gave that at-bat away trying to be a hero." Same old story.

Another Yankee rally was killed in the fifth when, after a lead-off walk to Posada, Joe Torre, in the words of reader JohnnyC, "put on a hit and run with Posada of all people on first and gave Martinez no choice but to offer at a pitch almost at his ankles . . . double play, of course." In Torre's defense, the Posada/Tino combination is a double play waiting to happen (just ask Dan M and his dad), thus the desire to get the "runner" in motion. Also, it required a spectacular play from Julio Lugo, cutting in front of second base to field the ball and tagging Posada on the way by, all in one motion, to turn the DP. Still, the two outs motivated a worse turn of events. Tony Womack followed the double play with a single and Jeter followed Womack with a double. Luis Sojo, smelling the tying run and likely overconfident of Womack's considerable speed, sent Womack home from first on Jeter's hit where Womack was gunned out (Huff to Cantu to Hall) by several strides, ending the inning.

On the other side of the ball, the most distressing performance came from Tom Gordon, who entered after Jeter's error in the eighth with men on the corners and one out to face pinch-hitter Travis Lee. Gordon got ahead of Lee 0-2 then gave up singles on consecutive pitches to Lee and Jorge Cantu, allowing both inherited runners to score. He eventually got the two outs he needed, but one came only because Lee tried to stretch his single into a double and was gunned out, in true ex-Yankee style, by several lengths at second. Gordon has now turned in three consecutive awful appearances. I for one would like to see him and Felix Rodriguez switch roles until Flash can get himself straightened out. That I'm advocating for a man who, in his second most recent appearance, failed to retire a batter should give you some indication of what ails the Yankees (though it should be noted that the relievers as a group have actually outpitched the starters).

Speaking of starters, Randy Johnson nearly duplicated his last start at Fenway, check it out:

4/14 @ Bos: 7 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 HR, 2 BB, 9 K
4/19 v TB: 7.1IP, 6 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 HR, 0 BB, 8 K

In both games he threw 68 of 103 pitches for strikes. Yes, the exact same number of pitches and strikes (good for 66 percent strikes).

In his last two starts, Johnson has struck out 17 men in 14 1/3 innings and walked just 2, posting a 0.91 WHIP. Really the only thing not to like about those lines are the runs and homers, and the latter is the primary reason for the former (of his six runs allowed last night, three were on homers and two were inherited runners that Gordon allowed to score, in the Boston start all five runs came on homers).

Reader brockdc speculates (if I may infer some from his comments) that the homers are the result of a "missing 4-6" miles per hour on Johnson's fastball. According to ESPN's scouting report, "Johnson no longer regularly cranks it up to 99 MPH. He may hit 98 on a good night, but pitches at 90-96 MPH." According to the Yankee stadium radar gun, he was in the 94 MPH range last night, which, if it can be trusted, would eliminate that theory, since the ESPN report is based on last year's performance, when he was the best pitcher in baseball and allowed a homer once every 13.6 innings.

That 2004 homer rate is the good news. Johnson, who has now allowed 5 homers in four starts (actually in his last two), has never allowed more home runs than games started. Though the same was true of "Home Run" Javy Vazquez prior to last year, Vazquez averaged .81 homers per start through his 2003 season, whereas Johnson has averaged just .63 on his career, a number that has remained fairly consistent in recent years despite the loss of a few MPH off his fastball.

Frustratingly, the Yankees will not get to play a rubber game with the Devil Rays and will instead travel to Toronto to start a two-game road trip in the oddest quirk of this year's schedule.

In the first game, Carl Pavano takes on Ted Lilly. Here's a quick tale of the tape on these two using their career totals through 2004:

PavanoLilly
DOB1/8/761/4/76
IP937 2/3628
W-L57-5834-34
ERA+100101
WHIP1.391.38
K/BB2.282.23
K/95.927.78
BB/92.603.48

The Blue Jays are paying Lilly $3.1 million in his final year prior to free agency. Pavano earned $3.85 million from the Marlins in 2004, his last year before free agency, and is now earning $9 million from the Yankees in his first year of a four-year, $39.95 million contract with an option for a fifth year. If I'm Lilly's agent, I have these numbers memorized.

Comments
2005-04-20 04:30:34
1.   Simone
I'm still bugged about last night's game. There were so many opportunties to put it away, but the offense couldn't string together some hits to get some runs scored. What makes it worse is that Nomo was pitching on 3 days rest for the first time of his career. INSANE!

I had so hoped A-Rod's great outing in the 1st D'Ray game would have settled him down. I strongly recommend that he take a trip down to Tampa and visit with Cashman's sports psychologist. Just annoying this guy. Also what the hell was Sojo thinking sending Womack? That just didn't help.

Jeter's performance last night is a perfect example of why statistics don't tell the whole story. Despite leading the team in every category, but home runs, Jeter gets caught stealing, hits into the GIDP and makes an error at a crucial moment. Ugh. However, the truth remains that if he wasn't hitting consistently the Yankees would be even worse. Jeter always blames himself when the Yankees don't score runs because he is the table setter. Well, it isn't him so whose fault is it now?

I thought RJ looked solid despite the home runs. If Jeter had gotten to that ball, he would have been out of the 8th with no further damage. He went 8 innings to save the pen which is what an ace should do. I still think he comes around. Now Gordon is another story. Sure it may be overuse, but I can't help but wonder if his failures of playoffs are in his head.

Here's hoping Pavano has a good outing tonight.

2005-04-20 05:50:31
2.   singledd
I don't know if it's a real statistical pattern, but it seemed 10 years ago, they went after good players who FIT on the team, and might do better in NY. Brosious, Tino, Paulie... were not GREAT players, but of solid quality. They won 4 WS with a team of excellent players but NO superstars (however, Im not talking about the pitching here).

Now it seems big names who are too old and expensive, or the guy who best year was LAST year (regardless of lifetime numbers), are the guys the Yankees get. The Lily/Pavano comparison says it. They HAD Lily. Now They have Pavano (one excellent year) at THREE times the cost of Lily (who has the same numbers).

There is little good news. Giambi is doing decently, and will get better, as he plays more (remeber, he essentially didn't play for a year). Matsui is not a superstar, but as solid a player as I have seen. Shef should post very good numbers again. His bat speed is still there.

ARod seems to think his hype and salary maje him better then he is. He he continues to NOT perform in the clutch, we are in deep shit.

As as much as I like RJ, his salary will definitely be a drain in 2007 and possibly in 2006. Stupid! Just when they are getting out of some big, non-productive contracts, they take on RJ.

When did they NOT hold Lieber and Hernandez. I dont know what Orlando is getting paid, but I be he is a good bang-for-the-buck (and he will always be better on the Yankees. He responded to being a Yankee).

Posada had a career year 2 years ago. They may have been it. Catchers age fast. He is still well above average, but might not be the clutch RBI force he once was.

As for Jetes, I think he is VERY bummed out. He is seeing his team ruined, seeing a revolving door of God-nows-who, and I think feels the need to do it himself. He is NOT Bonds or Ramirez. His job is NOT to singlehandedly carry the team. But I think he feels he has to try. I believe this effects his performence. These guys are humans. The is nobody who does as well at anything when they are bummed. Attitude is important and Jetes is witnessing the destruction of his team.

I did like yesterdays batting order. I would like to see it everyday. Williams in the 2 hole gives him the best opportunity to excel.
Giambi should not bat 7th. 6th is better, and higher in the order may come in the future if he performs. We can only hope that Womack never leads off again.

Wright was a BAD trade. Ok at 4 mil for 2 years, but crazy for what they committed to him. Beltran was willing to LOSE money to be a Yankee. We should get players who will take less money and years for the honor of playing in NY. Instead, we keep overpaying players over long contracts... the formula for death.

It is sad. It is not just these first 2 weeks, but a culmination of MANY bad decisions. I fear we are seeing the beginning of the end.

2005-04-20 06:06:09
3.   JeremyM
Damn it Cliff, I depend on you to bring me down from the ledge (I'm trying very hard to resist the horrible pun down from the "cliff"). Maybe this is the end. Good point on Jeter singledd, maybe the Captain is trying to do too much. Personally, I think letting Lieber go, passing on Beltran, and signing Womack is going to haunt us all season, and longer. At least Giambi has looked decent, a lot better than I expected actually.
2005-04-20 06:15:39
4.   Dan M
No one can stop The Rally Killer!

For those wondering, Colter Bean has struck out 10 and walked 1 in 6.2 innings for Columbus.

2005-04-20 06:26:00
5.   Alvaro Espinoza
Jeter getting caught stealing is fine. We're all complaining that this team doesn't play more aggressively. I want them stealing as much as possible.

Now Jeter NOT bunting in the 7th is unforgivable. I don't care if he was 3 for 3 w/ 3 grand slams. When yo've got the tying and go ahead run on 1st & 2nd in the 7th w/ Jeter up and no one out, you bunt just like you have countless times before. It's still teh same game. You play it the same way. Ain't nothing changed! Since when did Joe Torre stop playing fundamental baseball? When the Yanks were great they 'out-fundamentaled' their competition. In the last 2 or 3 years years, the tables have turned in a BIG way. The entire team, coaching staff and all, have been slipping. Now the batters's box has become a revolving door - each guy gets his 3 hacks, returns to the dugout and then the next guy goes. It's truly pathetic. You just knew they were going to give that run back in the top of the 8th after they squandered that opportunity.

As for the radar gun, I don't put alot of faith in it. My buddy said that Prior threw consistently in the low-90's yesterday and got hit hard. Difference was that those shots landed in gloves. That's baseball.

2005-04-20 06:45:26
6.   Alex Belth
Alls I know is when Cliff is bugged, we've got a problem. But Cliff, I think you did an excellent job touching on what went wrong last night, and what is generally distressing about the team right now. The double play followed shortly by Womack getting thrown out at the plate are understandable; those things are going to happen. The poor at bats were upsetting. After Jeter hit into the double play in the seventh, Bernie was down 0-2 and then fouled off two pitches before he popped out in foul ground. All three pitches were hittable and Bernie's bat just looked very slow.
2005-04-20 06:50:19
7.   Alvaro Espinoza
One last thing, the only number that should stick out after these 2 games is 14. As in 14 runs allowed to the TB D-rays.
2005-04-20 06:57:06
8.   NetShrine
I've heard that Gordon is down 5 MPH - the same 5 that he was down in the post-season last year. It may be time for the DL for him. Or, at least, consider it when TS comes back - rather than let Groom go.
2005-04-20 07:09:27
9.   jayd
A View From Boston

A very young season but I must tell you that, preseason reports to the contrary, the Blue Jays are not doormats. Doc Halladay is baaack, they have some fine fielding and are going to win some games. They consistently outplay the RS -- not that I attach any value to that at all.

Whasssup with Gordon? Last I heard he was throwing his curve in the bullpen, felt great, goes into the game and gets shmuckled.

The weakness of this lineup is that when things go bad, as superstars they all begin to push in unnatural ways and things go to worse -- witness Jeter. I'm glad this is happening now -- good to get it over with. At some point, they will go 17 and 3 and in the process find who they are.

I root for Chien-Ming Wang before Colter Bean.

2005-04-20 07:31:17
10.   STONER
In Alex's words, "he gave that at-bat away trying to be a hero." Same old story.////

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!
Just as he did in 2004, A-Rod is doing it again in 2005 - geesus, this team worries me this year!

2005-04-20 08:45:17
11.   rbj
Frustrating loss, but I'm not going to get too upset. Sucks that Jeter hit into that DP, but I'm glad he swung away. He's too good a hitter to give away an AB for bunting. He bunted too much last year.
2005-04-20 09:04:44
12.   Pete
I woke up this morning and the Yanks had become the Knicks..questionable signings, monster deadweight contracts, and overpriced beers. Did Isiah replace Cashman at some point over the offseason?
2005-04-20 09:06:32
13.   NetShrine
Worth reading: http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/sports/11437628.htm
2005-04-20 09:11:23
14.   JohnnyC
Explain to me why Jeter's running in the first inning of a game with no outs against a pitcher with a 10 ERA going on short rest after you've scored 19 runs the night before? This gets to the center of the problem. The Yankees are so talented that they need only play at an 85% level to overwhelm teams like Tampa (or, basically, any non-contender)especially with an absolute zero like Nomo on the mound. But when your manager continues to make baffling error after error and gets no support from his pitching coach, you have the Yankees, circa 2002-05. The bunt that didn't happen bespeaks incredible arrogance on Torre's part. Incredible arrogance.
2005-04-20 10:11:35
15.   rsmith51
I was complaining to my wife about Torre's many poor decisions recently. She asked if I thought I could do a better job. Tactically, I am on the same page as most of the people on the message boards/web logs. I think I could do better if I got a hold of the part of Torre's brain which handles in-game/before-game decisions. Now the other stuff that goes into being a manager, I want no part of. Most of which he is very good at.
2005-04-20 10:54:12
16.   Alvaro Espinoza
No doubt. Torre's strength has always been handling the personalities. In-game situations is another story. He got away with a lot of questionable moves early on b/c of the incredible pitching (teams in general). Just about everything went the Yanks way from 1996 up until the 9th inning of Gm 7 in 2001. Now that the talent is drying up a bit, his 'sit-back-and-let-'em-play' attitude is being exposed as way too lax.

Also, I feel much more confident in my 7th inning bunting criticism now that I hear Francesa dismissing it. According to him, you bunt in the 9th, not in the 7th. My brain physically hurts from processing this arrogant stupidity.

It's about taking the game to the other team, something the Yanks haven't done in 3 years (and something Boston has done quite effectively - ask Dave Roberts). You guys think you can hold a lead? Well, we're going to bunt the tying/go-ahead runs over to scoring position and let you deal with the heart of our order. Asking your best bunter to actually bunt is the epitome of common sense.

For the love of god, it's not giving up an out, it's FUNDAMENTAL BASEBALL!!!

2005-04-20 11:25:22
17.   markp
-The Yankees have scored 5.3 runs per game. Last year they scored 5.5 and won 100 games. The Yankees have allowed 5.5 earned runs a game. In 2004, even with guys like Contreras, Heredia, and the rest they allowed 4.69.
Why is the offense being blamed? It's pretty much the same as 2004's offense so far, and several players haven't got it going yet.
The pitching has been the problem. Johnson has had three consecutive lousy starts. Gordon (who's pitched in 7 of the Yanks 14 games) has been terrible out of the pen. 2 of Wright's 3 starts were poor and his buddy Pavano got knocked out of one game and allowed 7 runs the next. Two of Mussina's three starts were pretty good, but the bullpen lost both of them.
It ain't the hitting. Unless you think Johnson et al are going to continue to do poorly, the real problem should go away.

The comments about the 96 to 2000 teams playing more small ball is wrong. The 96-2000 had far fewer "productive outs" than the 2001-2004 versions. Wasting outs on a high OBA high HR club is counter-productive. Baserunning outs cost runs and we've already seen far too many guys called out after routine throws.

But the papers all say it's Arod's fault, so let's blame him.

2005-04-20 12:03:42
18.   JohnnyC
Wasting outs by bunting needlessly is, yes, a fine thing to avoid...WHEN POSSIBLE. In that game, at that moment, with a lead runner whose speed is non-existent and your best bunter at the plate YOU BUNT THEM OVER. With one out, you have two runners in scoring position and Williams, Sheffield, Matsui, and ARod coming up. You do the integral calculus and tell me what your odds are for getting both runs home. Do you think a righty-righty match-up for Sheffield with the bases loaded, let's say, is a bad thing?
2005-04-20 14:03:18
19.   Cliff Corcoran
Allow me to come out against Jeter bunting in that spot. Two on, no outs and the man leading the team in AVG and OBP at the plate you do not bunt him, especially when he's an opposite field hitter and the on-deck hitter is has AVG and OBPs significantly more than 100 points lower. Have him hit behind the runners, he'll still get the tying run to third with one out, but you won't reduce the odds of a hit to zero. Most importantly, the Yankees were rallying and you do not give up the first out in the middle of a rally with your best hitter at the plate.
2005-04-20 18:23:10
20.   rsmith51
I wouldn't bunt in that situation, but it is certainly more defensible then some of his inexplicable bunts last year.
2005-04-20 19:38:14
21.   JeremyM
Well, wasn't Jeter up 2-0 in the count? I'll compromise and say he should've let that pitch go by, rather than swung or bunted.
2005-04-20 19:49:21
22.   brockdc
Cliff,

Apropos of the zing on The Unit's fastball, you may be right - and I may be stubborn. I can only go by YES' radar reading, which topped out at 94 MPH only twice that I can recall last night. Most of the evening, he was in the 90-93 range with his heater. And I also agree that placement and change of speed are far more important than sheer gas. HOWEVER, wouldn't you agree that even the loss of as little as 2 MPH on a fastball is a considerable difference to major league hitters? I really hope I'm wrong about all of this.

Pete,

Good comparison between the current Yanks and Knicks squads, though I may have another one. Being a NY transplant living in LA, I see even greater paralells between the Yanks and the Lakers (a team I've grown to loathe almost as much as the Sox). Both clubs have illustrious traditions of winning with class, that is, until recently. However, runaway egos, poor drafts, an overall lack of player development, and misguided, short-sighted personnel moves have decimated both former dynasties.

And before I forget...

...You know that reality-based show YES hypes during the inning changeover? It's called "Roadfan" or "RoadYes" or something. Okay, next time they show the contestants, check out the girl and tell me if she doesn't remind you of Adam Sandler's character from the former "GAP Girls" skit on SNL.

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