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April Fools
2005-04-28 22:37
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Prior to last night's game against the Angels, Kevin Brown threw his normal bullpen warm-up, then took a seat in the pen for a few minutes and did it all over again. The idea was to allow Brown to work out his first inning struggles in the pen rather than the game mound. It worked.

Despite a groundball single through to right by Chone Figgins and a four-pitch walk to Vladimir Guerrero, Brown pitched a scoreless first inning. He then pitched around a one-out double by Dallas McPherson to record a scoreless second. Brown did give up two runs in the third (due in large part to Chone Figgins' baserunning) and one in the fourth, but then settled down to retire the last eleven batters he faced.

Altogether it was not just Brown's best outing of the year, but the sort of performance most Yankee fans would happily take from Brown every fifth day:

7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 5 K, 63 percent strikes

The problem was that the Yankee offense essentially repeated it's performance from the night before and the Yanks lost 3-1. Again the Yankees, and specifically Derek Jeter, ran into an out in the first inning when Jeter was picked off first base following yet another lead-off walk (his 19th, last year Jeter reached the All-Star break with just 20 walks). Jeter getting thrown out at home on Wednesday was Luis Sojo's fault, but getting picked off first was Jeter's. Perhaps if he was caught stealing by the catcher you could blame Joe Torre for sending him, but getting picked off has to fall on the player's shoulders. Speaking of unnecessary outs, Hideki Matsui, after hitting into his first double play of the year Wednesday night, added another last night.

More importantly, in 17 official at-bats with runners on base, the Yankees collected just two hits, a Gary Sheffield single in the first and a Hideki Matsui RBI double in the fifth which drove in the only Yankee run of the night (in fairness, Bubba Crosby, starting in center, and Tino Martinez both drew walks with runners on).

What's going on here? Bad things, man. Part of the problem is that this line-up has yet to have more than three men clicking at once. Derek Jeter is having an incredible April, and Gary Sheffield has been contributing steadily, but as soon as Alex Rodriguez stepped up (10 for 27 over the past week), Hideki Matsui cooled off (3 for 22). With the exception of those four, the only Yankee hitter with a GPA above league average is Jason Giambi (.279, despite a sub-.400 slugging percentage and a team-leading 19 strikeouts). That means that the typical Yankee line up includes these four:

Tino: .222/.323/.370 (.238 GPA)
Womack: .284/.338/.338 (.236)
Bernie: .247/.337/.325 (.233)
Posada: .247/.321/.329 (.227)

Womack's stats are right in line with his career (.234 GPA), but both Bernie and Tino, even at their advanced ages, should be in the .260s, while Posada has had a GPA above .300 over each of the last two seasons. In a way, that's good news. Things should get better, while no one is so on fire that they should really be expected to cool off too much, with the possible exception of Jeter, who, except for the first month and a half of last year, is not a terribly streaky hitter.

At the same time, the fact that the Yankees are getting disappointing production from the two oldest men in their line-up (Bernie is a few months older than Sheffield) and their 33-year-old catcher is disconcerting to say the least. Never mind that Jason Giambi seems to have become a Three True Outcomes hitter who's been a little light on the best of the three outcomes (on pace for just 22 dingers) and seems to be leaning into inside pitches (5 hit-by-pitches already, in his 2000 MVP season he had just nine) and taking called strike three in a failed attempt to work a walk at an alarming rate, apparently to hide a severe loss of bat speed.

Most confusing of all is both Posada's complete lack of production after two of the three best offensive seasons of his career and the fact that no one is paying attention to it. Jorge's on pace to have his worst month since June 2002, an ominous sign coming from a 33-year-old catcher in an organization without a decent catcher anywhere in their minor league system (small sample size consolation: Dioner Navarro's GPA in the hitting-happy Pacific Coast League is a mere .263). It's probably good for Jorge that he's flying under the radar right now, but he's an essential part of this offense. The Yankees' record in games in which Jorge has more than one hit is 5-1. By comparison, their record in games in which Gary Sheffield has multiple hits is 2-7. The difference is that Sheffield hits in front of the teams' top hitters (save Jeter), while Posada hits behind them, meaning Posada's hits are more likely to come with more runners on base.

The fact that Posada, Martinez and Womack typically bat consecutively in the final three spots in the order compounds the problem, giving opposing pitchers a break every third inning and killing potential rallies started by the heart of the order. The need for some production out of these three spots is tremendous. The good news is that Tino is 3 for 7 with a walk in the last two games (perhaps the threat of Andy Phillips woke up his bat) and Womack is hitting .400/.474/.500 in his last six games. The reason that hasn't lead to more production (Yankees not named Alex drove in a total of three runs in three games against the Angels) is that Matsui and Giambi are a combined 7 for 41 over the past week.

Then there's the all-or-nothing factor. With the exception of the 4-3 win in Toronto that I was so pleased about last Thursday, the Yankees have scored a minimum of 11 runs in four of their last five wins (dating back to their 19-run outburst against the Devil Rays) and a maximum of three runs in their last five loses. Over their last ten games they have scored 66 runs and allowed 47, but are merely 5-5 over that span (Pythagoras would suggest somewhere between 6-4 and 7-3).

In a way, that could be a good sign. Not the clumping of runs, but the fact that they're outscoring their opponents. Beginning with the closing game of the season-opening series with Boston and lasting through the end of the Devil Rays series, the Yankees allowed their opponents to score more than five runs 10 times in 12 games. Since then, they've allowed their opponents to score more than five runs just once in eight games (that being Jaret Wright's last start). With Brown showing signs of getting his act together (I'll need a couple more starts like last night to feel comfortable, but he has found a dominating groove in two of his three starts) and Chien-Ming Wang ready to make his debut on Saturday, the Yankees rotation could be taking shape, with Brown in the three spot behind Johnson and Pavano.

Finally, since I'm at full ramble, last night's loss guaranteed the Yankees their first losing April since 1991, but if you remove their 1-5 road trip to Boston and Baltimore they've played .500 ball with a .607 Pythagorean winning percentage good for a 10-6 Pythagorean record in those remaining games. The losing pitchers in their five loses on that road trip were Brown, Pavano, Gordon twice, and Mussina. Pavano has since established himself as the team's number two starter with a pair of solid outings, Brown looked good last night in just his third start, and Tom Gordon has struck out six, walked one and given up no hits in his last three appearances.

Tonight, the Yankees start a run of seven games against the Blue Jays and Devil Rays against whom they went a combined 3-1 last week.

Comments
2005-04-29 04:35:02
1.   Simone
Cliff, I like your positives, they make me feel somewhat better. At least, Matsui got a hit last night which gives hope that he is coming out of his slump. Jorge is in a terrible slump, but I'm confident that he will come out of it eventually. Bernie should show improve slightly. Tino should not be a regular in the line up. I can't begin to understand why Giambi can't hit a fastball any more. Hopefully, facing the Blue Jays and Devil Rays help the Yankees offense get on track.

Kudos to Brown. Mel gets slammed a lot, but if he came up with extra pen work to help Brown shake off his early innings trouble, I send him my thanks.

2005-04-29 05:11:54
2.   Alex Belth
Dude, good looking on the Posada comments. You know, I was thinking about how poorly he's been doing last night. Great post. Makes a frustrating night feel somewhat better.
2005-04-29 05:44:43
3.   Alex Belth
I don't think it's anything to read too deeply into, but the one flaw in Jeter's game so far is that he's been caught stealing three times in five attempt. I'm sure his ratio will even out and remain excellent over the long haul. Otherwise, of course, he's had a great start.
2005-04-29 05:49:45
4.   seamus
cliff, good post. Only thing I didn't get is are you implying that Sheffield has been disappointing? I can't really see that if you are. I think Sheff has been solid (though I have no time to look up his numbers right now).
2005-04-29 05:50:47
5.   wetnap
"but if you remove their 1-5 road trip to Boston and Baltimore they've played .500 ball with a .607 Pythagorean winning percentage good for a 10-6 Pythagorean record in those remaining games"

Great. so the Yankees only lose to the two teams that they need to beat in order to win the AL East (or the wild card). yeah, i said it, the Yanks need to beat the Orioles, not just the Red Sox this year.

I know its still early, and it will probably all work out for NY like it always does, but you may be looking a bit too hard for good news.

2005-04-29 06:25:29
6.   unpopster
I said this in a post yesterday and got slammed for it...but I'll sayit again: This offense is the MAIN problem for this team and I worry that this month is not an aberration.

Before our eyes, some of our hitters have aged 5 years in 2 seasons (see: Bernie, Posada, Giambi, Tino). Couple that with the fact that Mussina is no longer in his prime and we have the makings of a very dissapointing season and quite possibly the most expensive failure in sports history.

When it comes to my beloved Yanks, I have always been optomistic. When they showed signs of weakness during past seasons and friends claimed that "this team won't make it past the Division Series," I always stayed positive and said that "this is the yanks, they'll right their ship".

But I have a very bad feeling about this squad. I hope I'm wrong.

Taking Arod's offensive numbers out of the equation, the Yankee offense has scored a total of 3 runs in the last three games...against slightly above average starting pitchers! Jeter, Shef and Arod can not carry this team forever. And the lack of production from Bernie, Posada and Giambi will doom this team.

I'm going out on a limb and say that if the Yanks don't make it into the playoffs this year, it will NOT be because of our pitching. It will be because of our offense. Our pitchers will give up 4-5 runs a game in '05. Our offense is built to score 6-7 runs/game. I just don't see it happening.

Carlos Beltran, Carlos Beltran, where have you been?

2005-04-29 06:25:58
7.   markp
It's a small thing, but Brown should only be charged with two earned. Proving that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and again, Kay was right when he said that Sheffield fumbling around for the ball was what led to the run being scored.

This giving away baserunners and outs has been going on for a long time. Hopefully the glare created by Jeter costing them in consecutive first innings will make this a little more obvious-then again, he called a hit-and-run later in the game so I guess not.

Finally, what's with Gordon being used so much? In ST Torre said he overused him last year, and that he wouldn't be doing it again with the pitchers he now had in the BP.
Gordon's on pace to appear in 74 games this year, which would be the most games he's ever appeared in except for last year. Isn't there anyone in the Yankee chain of command with enough juice to point this out to Torre?

2005-04-29 06:48:06
8.   Alex Belth
Hey, how impressive was Rodriguez in the ninth? After spotting a fastball on the outside corner for strike one against Jeter, he blazed another heater, right over the plate. Jeter took a huge cut and it wasn't even close. He was completely overwhelmed. I would like to see Rodriguez throw the same pitch against Sheffield--now, that would be worth the price of admission. But really, the guy looks to be virtually unhitable. 16 ks, 0 walks. Sheeeeeeeet.
2005-04-29 07:05:08
9.   jalexei
Agreed that K-Rod looked nasty, though I share Jeter's pain - that strike 3 call was pretty bogus.
2005-04-29 08:08:21
10.   Alex Belth
The called strike three to Jeter was outside, but then again so was the called strike three on Jeff Davanon in the top of the inning. Hard to get too worked up about that, those things happen. Think about how many called strike three's Rivera has gotten over the years. Rodriguez is good enough to get those calls now.
2005-04-29 09:33:31
11.   JohnnyC
It shouldn't go without mention: whereas Joe Torre admonished his team to "play smarter," a quaint directive coming from the manager, Mike Sciosia actually works the details. Despite Sheff's inability to simply pick up the ball, Vlad Guerrero almost stopped at third, head down and assumming Sheff would get the ball back to the infield quickly. Of course, he scored. In Joe Torre's world, no harm no foul, especially if one of his pet players commits the no-no. Joe would've high-fived Vlad back in the dugout and let it go. But, showing why he's a better manager, Sciosia immediately confronted Vlad in the dugout and quietly but sternly told his best effing player, a $15 million player, the MVP of the league, held in awe by most observers of the game, that's not the way we play the game. Chastened, Vlad sat on the bench undoubtedly processing the lesson thus dispensed. In Sciosia's offense, the players are expected to give maximum effort and execute. I think Sciosia believes he can take care of the "smart" dimension.
2005-04-29 09:36:22
12.   Jonah Falcon
An extremely disturbing sign is that Alex Rodriguez has slipped into bad habits again after striking out in his final at bat the previous game. He's once again gone into Hack-A-Rod mode, and basically returned to his Alfonso Soriano impression. I wish someone would destroy that videotape machine because as Yogi Berra said, "YOU CAN'T THINK AND HIT AT THE SAME TIME!"
2005-04-29 09:52:54
13.   Marcus
Sheffield has been hitting well, but in the past few games, he hasn't been hitting with guys on base. His BA is up at .349, but those hits haven't come during scoring opportunities lately.

The offense is doing a great great job getting on base (highlighted by Jeter's OBP). They just need to string together some hits, and I think they'll go on a tear. I think Posada will turn it around. I was encouraged by his 2-run double in the 9th against Cordero (the 5-3 loss) last week.

Maybe they can put Giambi on the DL for a broken swing so Phillips doesn't have to go back down to Columbus when Sierra comes back.

2005-04-29 10:01:18
14.   Jonah Falcon
Oh, yeah. Phillips has been a BIG improvement. He can't hit the offspeed pitches and he hacks at everything. Stop acting like Andy Phillips is a prospect. He's 28! He's one year younger than Alex Rodriguez!

By the way, can Gary Sheffield please wake up? He's performing like his own Milwaukee Brewer "clueless" self. Taking a minute to pick up a ball in right, then throwing to ... nobody? Then he's on third base with ONE OUT on Hideki Matsui's line drive. I severely doubt Joe Torre would call a hit-and-run there, so, either Sheffield forgot the number of outs, or he was trying to steal third, or he broke the cardinal rule saying "WAIT FOR THE BALL TO GET PAST THE INFIELDER WITH LESS THAN 2 OUTS!" No matter how you slice it, the Yankees should have been down 2-1, not 3-1, and there's a mile of difference between a 1 run and a 2 run deficit late in the game, especially at home.

2005-04-29 10:01:28
15.   Jonah Falcon
Oh, yeah. Phillips has been a BIG improvement. He can't hit the offspeed pitches and he hacks at everything. Stop acting like Andy Phillips is a prospect. He's 28! He's one year younger than Alex Rodriguez!

By the way, can Gary Sheffield please wake up? He's performing like his own Milwaukee Brewer "clueless" self. Taking a minute to pick up a ball in right, then throwing to ... nobody? Then he's on third base with ONE OUT on Hideki Matsui's line drive. I severely doubt Joe Torre would call a hit-and-run there, so, either Sheffield forgot the number of outs, or he was trying to steal third, or he broke the cardinal rule saying "WAIT FOR THE BALL TO GET PAST THE INFIELDER WITH LESS THAN 2 OUTS!" No matter how you slice it, the Yankees should have been down 2-1, not 3-1, and there's a mile of difference between a 1 run and a 2 run deficit late in the game, especially at home.

2005-04-29 10:54:50
16.   Marcus
I don't think Phillips is a prospect, I don't think he'll become a star player, and I don't think he should be the full time starter at 1B. But based on Giambi's performance thus far (basically a repeat of last year), I'd rather have Phillips. At least Phillips has some vitality left in him.
2005-04-29 11:14:31
17.   Rob
Isn't a prospect someone who's never played in the majors and can help the team? that kinda defines Phillips to me. Who cares how old he is if he's cheap and he produces?
2005-04-29 11:50:39
18.   Cliff Corcoran
Jim Baker has a telling stat in today's Prospectus Matchups column on Baseball Prospectus (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=3987):

"If you take away the two masterful Mondays past of Alex Rodriguez, you find a player with a line of .233/.283/.372"

That should answer any and all questions about why Alex had been feeling the heat from Yankee fans prior to his three-homer night this past Monday. Checking BP's Rate stats, Alex has also playing a terrible third base (86 Rate). That and Bernie Williams' 84 Rate in center are a huge part of the reason why the Yanks are dead last in defensive efficiency thus far this year. The good news is Rodriguez can be expected to improve.

The rest of Baker's article is worth a read

2005-04-29 12:00:24
19.   Zack
I wouldn't go so far as to call Sciosia a better manager than the Torre, and I am not the biggest Torre fan of late either. Granted, Sciosia got a inferior team to win the series, but what has he done since? Torre did the same in 1996, no? What makes him a better manager, that he is fiery? Torre has a different style, and believe me, behind the scenes, he makes people accountable in his way.

That being said, he is infuriating in his loyalty and inabilites...

Going back to most of last year, Posada is hitting for no power...

2005-04-29 12:37:00
20.   Simone
"If you take away the two masterful Mondays past of Alex Rodriguez, you find a player with a line of .233/.283/.372"

Yikes. I knew Rodriguez was scuffling a bit along with some iffy 3rd base, but I had no idea it was so bad. So basically, Jeter is the only consistent hitter with Sheffield, Rodriguez and Matsui chipping in on occasion. No wonder offense has been a mess.

2005-04-29 13:19:05
21.   Knuckles
Baseball is a game of big days (and Alex has had a couple huge ones), medium days, and zero days.

So we throw out his two best days and get some subpar numbers...why not throw out his two worst ones? 0 for 5's on April 8 and April 13. Take them out and his BA is .341. I'm not gonna bother calc'ing the other stats, but you can see that cherry picking goes both ways.

2005-04-29 13:49:58
22.   rilkefan
"Jim Baker has a telling stat [...]"

I think that's indeed getting beyond "damned lies" - (warning: blogwhoring ahead) see the top post up at http://rosenschale.blogspot.com.

2005-04-29 14:29:24
23.   Cliff Corcoran
I both agree and disagree with the debunking of that Baker-produced Rodriguez stat, so here's a ludicrous, but hopefully fun hypothetical for you:

You get to chose one of two hitters, but whichever one you choose you have to play for every inning of every game. The good news is you know in advance exactly what each is going to do. Both will have identical isolated power and discipline figures, but one will hit .333 and the other will hit .300. The catch is that the .333 hitter will go 4 for 4 every three days and remain hitless in the intervening three games, meaning he'll take an 0-fer in 108 games, while the .300 hitter will go 2 for 4 in every fifth game and 1 for 4 in the intervening games, but will never go hitless for the entire season. Who do you choose?

2005-04-29 15:25:34
24.   singledd
About the RS/RA ratio. If we win with double digits but lose close games, a good RS/RA wont put us in the post-season.

Posada is having problems, even though Torre seems to be resting him more then ever before. I would like to see Torre assign Flaherty to one pitcher, and give Posada a regular, scheduled day off.

Maybe Giambi's bat speed is slowing down, but he is still pulling all his hits. The shift against him will cost him 20 pts on his BA.

There is something wrong with this team.
Call Tony Robbins. There is too much talent to play like this. He who wins 1 and 2 run games is he who plays in the post season.
This team has the potential to gel and score like crazy at any time. But we are 22 games into the season, and there are many ominious signs.

Is there anything that could be done? Can we get Cameron? Are we waiting for Clemens? Who's coming on board after the all-star break? I am worried. These 'outbreak' games do not make up for the mental errors, defense and general luckluster display.
We certainly need to see some Yankee magic right about now.

2005-04-29 15:39:11
25.   Marcus
Clearly you pick the second because he'll break Gehrig's hitting streak record and your team will attract more positive media attention, and probably sell out every game of the season!

That hypothetical does get you thinking, though. Is the second choice a power hitter? Or an Ichiro? I'd rather have a consistent hitter, but I'd want one that drives in runs.

2005-04-29 15:48:12
26.   rilkefan
Definitely want the 0.333 hitter under the assumption that no one catches on (else on bad days with 2 outs the guy ahead always gets walked.) Proving that's beyond my short-term simulation skills, though.
2005-04-29 16:13:22
27.   Cliff Corcoran
Marcus, they're both identical in terms of power and patience, and it's DiMaggio's hitting streak. I'll pretend that's what you wrote.

rilkefan, the hypothetical is that he will get 5 hits, IBBs are bot a part of it.

2005-04-29 17:17:07
28.   Marcus
Ya got me Cliff! I got it confused with the old consecutive games streak.
2005-04-29 18:00:36
29.   weeping for brunnhilde
Which player, which player? It's a great question and having zero expertise re: statistics, I'll just take a blind hack.

And for the sake of discussion, why not widen the issue to include pitchers? Is it better to have one ace who pretty much guarantees a victory every five days counterbalanced by someone who never makes it out of the fourth or to have two very good pitchers who will each guarantee a quality start, but no more?

Depends on what kind of production you expect from your lineup, I suppose. If you've got no lineup, then take the ace on the bird-in-the-hand principle. If your lineup can carry its own, take the two quality start guys on the don't-put-all- your-eggs-in-one-basket principle. Or something.

As to our two hitters, I'll take the .300 guy hands down. Basically, the production of the .333 guy will all but guarantee a win
when he hits but be worthless otherwise (unless he makes productive outs, but that's another story).

Meanwhile, the .300 guy is in a position to get a key hit every day. You can then structure the rest of your lineup around that consistency. It becomes the anchor.

So I guess what I'm saying is I'd much rather have the guy who can really help you win in a one-run ballgame every day than the guy who carries the team every three. I have no real arugment here, I admit. Maybe it's just a matter of taste and if that's the case, I think the .300 guy makes for better baseball.

2005-04-29 18:00:57
30.   rilkefan
Sure, I'm talking about the 0fer days. With 2 outs the opposing manager would walk guys until the 0.333 guy came up after his first out - so I wanted an assumption of ignorance.
2005-04-29 20:34:21
31.   Jen
"Posada is having problems, even though Torre seems to be resting him more then ever before. I would like to see Torre assign Flaherty to one pitcher, and give Posada a regular, scheduled day off."

He is getting a regular day off. Until tonight, Flaherty has caught every Friday night game to avoid that day game after a night game start. I'm assuming Posada caught tonight because Johnson was pitching. Either that or for some reason they wanted Flaherty to catch the rookie on Saturday.

2005-04-29 23:56:28
32.   Cliff Corcoran
Actually, Torre was having Flaherty catch Brown up until this past start. Jorge has now caught six games in a row, so Flaherty should indeed start the day game after night game tomorrow. But then, Posada cracked a nice double off Halladay late in tonight's game. If that's the start of something at the plate, I'd hate to interrupt him getting his feel back.

rilkefan, you have your assumption of ignorance.

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