Monthly archives: February 2007
The Yankees played their intrasquad game yesterday. Here are the lineups. Jim Baumbach of Newsday blogged the first four innings. Peter Abraham details the fifth inning in which Jeff Kennard gave up four runs to the subs without getting an out. Once again, pitching was the story of the game, with Kei Igawa, Jeffrey Karstens, and Steven Jackson impressing. The Yankees seem to be very pleased with Igawa's approach both on and off the mound thus far. Listen to Ron Guidry talk about Igawa over on LoHud (clip lasts six-plus minutes). Joe Torre also praised Mike Myers and Ron Villone. Incidentally, Miguel Cairo played the outfield late in the game, but Torre said that it was only out of the necessity borne of fielding two teams and making spring training substitutions. The Yankees have no plans to use Cairo as an outfielder except in emergencies.
In other pitching news, Carl Pavano threw off flat ground and is still on schedule to throw his bullpen session on Thursday and make his exhibition start on Sunday. Humberto Sanchez is being shut down for a few days due to the swelling in his pitching elbow and the Yankees are considering making some adjustments to his delivery to avoid further injury.
In other aches and pains news, Juan Miranda, who doubled home the only run for the losing intrasquad team, experienced some pain in his knee while running the bases. Like Miranda himself, the pain is unlikely to be significant.
Finally, good news for the Torre family. Frank Torre, who is in need of a kidney transplant, has found out that two of his kids are matches.
Aches and Pains
Now that everyone's been in camp for a week and games are set to start in a couple of days, the aches and pains are piling up. Steven White's neck strain turned out to be nothing. Brian Bruney experienced a stabbing pain on his left side (or back, depending on the source), but an MRI came back negative and he should be back in action shortly.
More problematically, Humberto Sanchez experienced tightness near his right elbow and stiffness in his right forearm, as well as a throbbing sensation. His MRI revealed some inflammation, but no structural damage. Still, any such discomfort is troubling given Sanchez's history of elbow problems.
Speaking of injury histories, Carl "Heavy Legs" Pavano was hit on the left instep by an Alberto Gonzalez line drive during batting practice on Saturday. His MRI revealed a bone bruise. Pavano threw 27 pitches in his BP session after getting hit with the comebacker and Joe Torre considers the injury a non-issue. The proof will be in the pitching as Pavano's scheduled to throw a bullpen session today, then another on Thursday to put him on pace to start the Yankees' fourth exhibition game on Sunday.
Finally, as Alex has already reported below, Bobby Abreu will miss at least half of the Yankees' exhibition schedule after having strained his right oblique muscle during batting practice yesterday. Apparently Abreu felt a tweak in his right side, but kept hitting, resulting in a worse injury than if he had cut his BP session short. Abreu will be unable to hit or throw while recuperating, but should be ready for Opening Day, though the pace of healing on oblique injuries is often hard to predict. Still, even this injury should prove to be ultimately insignificant. Rather, it's Sanchez that bears the closest watching right now.
For those wondering, Cashman and Torre have both ruled out the possibility of Bernie Williams coming to camp given the playing time made available by Abreu's injury. As well they should, Melky and the Kevins will fill in just fine. Oh, and Johnny Damon took a couple of personal days away from camp. He's back now. Nothing to see there.
Today the Yankees will play their intrasquad game. Last year this turned into a pivotal event in the season as Jorge Posada creamed a Mike Mussina changeup, then taught Moose how to better disguise the pitch, leading to a 7-1, 2.42 ERA start for Mussina. Today's intrasquad hurlers are less prominent, with only Kei Igawa appearing from the projected rotation.
Bobby Abreu has suffered "a signicant oblique strain,"according to Yankee GM, Brian Cashman. The right fielder will miss at least a few weeks, and who knows if he'll be copasetic for Opening Day. Hopefully, everyone keeps a level-head--especially Abreu. Hey Melkawitz, grab your glove son. Looks like the team will need you, pronto.
Bernie and the Yanks (From the Outside Looking In)
By Rich Lederer (Guest Columnist)
Winter has turned to spring - well, at least when it comes to the baseball calendar - and, for the first time in more than 20 years, Bernie Williams is not in Tampa or Fort Lauderdale, taking batting practice and shagging down fly balls.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Yankees on September 13, 1985, Williams has spent 21 of his 38 years roaming the outfields in Florida, Oneonta, Prince William, Albany, Columbus, New York, and dozens of other minor and major league cities. He has been one of those rare one-team players, who re-upped with the Yanks on two occasions. Sure, he almost left the Bronx for the greener pastures of, gasp, Boston in 1998. But he took it upon himself to meet with the Boss and the two sides worked out a seven-year, $87.5 million contract that was virtually identical to the offer made by the Red Sox.
After Bernie's multi-year deal ran out, he agreed to return in 2006 for $1.5 million. Expected to be the fourth outfielder, Williams was thrust into a starting role when Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield landed on the DL for an extended period. He started 104 games, playing mostly in RF but also in CF, LF, and as a DH.
Melky Cabrera also benefited from the injuries and emerged as a viable fourth outfielder for 2007, rendering Williams nothing more than a pinch hitter who could also serve as a fifth outfielder and an occasional designated hitter. Bernie filed for free agency at the end of October and the Yankees opted not to offer him salary arbitration. Not wanting to guarantee the 16-year veteran a roster spot, the Yankees offered him a non-roster invitation to spring training in late January.
Nearly four weeks have passed and Williams sits home in Westchester County, N.Y., waiting to see if a guaranteed job opens up for him. Earlier this month, Bernie told the the New York Daily News, "I'm working out, but I think the way it looks right now, it doesn't seem like I'm going to be playing with that team this year." That team? Yikes. I can sense the anger all the way out here in Southern California.
What's going on here? Who's at fault for allowing the situation to get to this point? Is Bernie an asset or a liability at this stage in his career? Let me see if I can offer a non-partisan viewpoint on this hotly debated subject.
OK, let's take these questions one at a time. "What's going on here?" Well, a Yankees great is nearing the end of the road and the club no longer has a guaranteed roster spot for him. Look, these things happen. It happened last year with Tim Salmon and the Angels. Salmon, like Williams, had played his entire career with the team that originally signed him. Unlike Bernie, the all-time Angels great missed the previous season due to an injury. Salmon did not file for free agency and the Halos, unsure of his health status, offered him a minor league contract and an invitation to camp. With a good spring, Tim earned a spot on the roster and was a productive force as a PH and part-time DH, playing only four games in the field all season.
"Who's at fault for allowing the situation to get to this point?" Without being privy to all the conversations that took place, this one is a difficult question to answer fairly. I believe Brian Cashman should have sat down with Bernie during the off-season to explain the situation to him. "You have been a great Yankee. We appreciate everything you have contributed over the years. Going forward, we would like you to remain with the organization in some capacity but, to be candid, we're just not sure if there will be a spot for you on the roster this season. It all depends on whether we trade Melky as well as some other moves we may or may not make. You're a free agent and you can do as you please, but I'd like to invite you to spring training and give you an opportunity to make the club. I can't promise you anything, but I know Joe would like to have you on the team, if at all possible. If this works for you, great. If not, I can understand that, too. Either way, I just wanted to extend you the courtesy of letting you know what was on our minds." Unfortunately, I don't believe this meeting ever took place. If it had, I would say it was up to Bernie to accept Cashman's offer, sign with another team (which really wasn't an option he wanted to pursue due to his goal of retiring as a Yankee), or retire.
"Is Bernie an asset or a liability at this stage in his career?" Well, let's take a look at the numbers.
Bernie's last great season was in 2002 when he hit to the tune of .333/.415/.493. You might even say it was his last good season. Yankee fans know all too well that Williams slumped in 2003-2005, yet he was far from horrendous - at least at the plate - in '03 and '04 when he slugged 37 HR and drew 156 BB while putting up an OPS+ of 110. He had a poor year in '05 but bounced back last season and hit .281/.332/.436. Not too bad, especially when compared to several other players on the team, including someone who could earn a spot on this year's roster.
AVG OBP SLG OPS Crosby .207 .258 .299 .557 Phillips .240 .281 .394 .675 Wilson .212 .248 .365 .613
Bernie crushed lefthanded pitchers (.323/.387/.549). Are you going to tell me that there's no room on the team for a player who put up a .936 OPS vs. LHP? Last year was not a fluke either. He has always pounded lefties. Let's take a look at his career spits.
AVG OBP SLG OPS vs. LHP .308 .397 .503 .900 vs. RHP .292 .373 .465 .838
In limited playing time, Phillips has had reverse splits.
AVG OBP SLG OPS vs. LHP .195 .233 .244 .477 vs. RHP .262 .305 .470 .775
Josh Phelps, who is also competing for one of the 25 jobs this spring, didn't even play in the majors last year but has hit lefties well when given the opportunity.
AVG OBP SLG OPS vs. LHP .292 .357 .500 .857 vs. RHP .257 .325 .460 .785
The problem with Phelps is that he strikes out over 25% of the time and is a liability on the bases and in the field. Yes, he is younger than Williams, but it's not like Bernie faded down the stretch either.
AVG OBP SLG OPS 1st Half .282 .323 .416 .739 2nd Half .278 .347 .468 .815
It looks to me like Williams still has some fuel left in his tank. Just in the last five years, the Yankees have given more than 100 AB in a season to such veterans as Ron Coomer, Karim Garica, Ruben Sierra, Shane Spencer, John Vander Wal, Craig Wilson, and Todd Zeile. I would submit that a 38-year-old Williams is better than each and every one of these players - all of whom were nothing more than corner OF/1B/DH/PH types. Not a one was on the team for his glove.
OK, I realize yesterday was yesterday but is the makeup of this year's club all that different? If you want to keep Doug Mientkiewicz for his glove and lefthanded bat, fine. But let's not kid ourselves here. Minky will turn 33 in June and has never been much of a hitter. He doesn't hit RHP any better than than LHP so it's not like he is going to make sense as a platoon partner with Phillips or Phelps. I never cared for Jason Giambi as a first baseman, but isn't it possible that the Yankees could be better off running him out there vs. southpaws while inserting Williams in the lineup as the DH? And why couldn't Bernie have learned to play 1B if the Yanks were petrified at the thought of seeing Giambi with a glove in his left hand?
As Rob Neyer so keenly noted in a recent column (Insider subscription required), Bernie Williams has been treated well financially by the Yankees over the years. How well? $103 million well. However, as far as I can tell, this matter has little or nothing to do with money. But, if this is the end, you would think that both sides could have shown each other a bit more respect after a successful partnership that has lasted nearly 22 years.
Rich Lederer, a native of Long Beach, California, is a longtime friend of Bronx Banter. Rich and I collaborated on a profile of Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter three years ago, almost to the day. His site, The Baseball Analysts, is essential reading for baseball fans.
And the Winner Is...
I've been laid-low with a head cold for the past few days, but I'm headed out to Jersey this afternoon to listen to records with my friend Stein anyway. Be back in time to watch the Oscars tonight. Funny, but I like watching them in the same way I like watching the Super Bowl (at least the Super Bowl offers the potential for surprise and excitement). But I don't get upset about who "wins" and "loses" at the Oscars, mostly I like to talk a lot of trash, bust all the stars' chops. It seems so ridiculous to give out awards for artistic merit anyhow. Aside from that, the whole thing is so corny and political, you'd have to be crazy to let it bother you. That said, why then do I let the baseball awards get me nuts each year? Go figure.
I figure they'll give Scorsese a lifetime achievement nod tonight and give him Best Director for "The Departed," a movie that I found highly entertaining but far from his best. For the record, my favorite Scorsese movies are: "ItalianAmerican," "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," and his segment from "New York Stories."
Here are a couple of few links for a cool Sunday in New York:
Pete Abraham has a nice piece on Mike Mussina, who has become something of an avuncular figure for some of the younger Yankee pitchers.
Joel Sherman is blogging about the Yankees over at the Post this spring.
No Wynn Situation
Put Jimmy Wynn near the top of my list of players I wish I had seen play. I've read about him and talked to people about him, but the closest I know from Wynn as a thirty-five year old Yankee fan is the fact that he was in the dugout when Billy Martin yanked Reggie Jackson off the field at Fenway Park in 1977. I got to thinking about Wynn cause I found an article on him the other day at Think Factory. It's one of those stories where the long-retired jock talks about how he'd be a Hall of Famer if he played today. Not much of an article. But it reminded me of something I once read about Wynn.
I read it in Joe Morgan's autobiography (co-written by David Falkner), of all places. Morgan and Wynn were teammates in Houston for nine years. They both first appeared in 1963 when Morgan was 19 and Wynn was just 21. Wynn had more talent than Morgan. Wynn was a five-tool player. Stuck out a lot but walked a lot. Hit for power, steal bases, had a great arm.
They were the best of friends. Later, Morgan wrote about Wynn:
He was Willie Mays at the same age, but he just had a different agenda, and because of that he never progressed [into a truly great player].
Wynn was a monster talent who had a very good career, but wasn't willing to do what it took to have a Hall of Fame career. Interesting how Morgan wonders if Wynn had the right idea all along.
[Editor's note: 2007 will bring several new contributors to Bronx Banter. I want to further complement what Cliff and I already provide for you. Bruce Markusen, author and historian, is not a new name to longtime readers and I'm pleased to report that each month, Bruce will run a "Pastime Passings" post that formerly appeared in his "Cooperstown Confidential" column. And that's not all he's gonna do...I'll have more on the new contributors and what they'll be up to shortly. Cliff and I are still going to be holding it down as usual, but my hope is to give you guys even more of a good thing. I love the idea of having additional voices. The spirit of this blog to generate conversation and community, you know, banter, baby. And that's word to Big Bird.]
By Bruce Markusen (Guest Columnist)
For many years, The Sporting News filled a vital role by providing obituaries from the sports world. For fans in the pre-internet era, it was often our first notice that someone significant had passed away. Throughout the 2007 season, I'll try to take on the task once done so ably by The Sporting News by providing regular updates on baseball figures who have departed us. Some of the obituaries will be straight-laced and fact based; others will include some of my own personal commentaries.
Through the first two months of 2007, the baseball world has already lost several significant and influential figures. The list includes former Yankee players Steve Barber, Hank Bauer, and Lew Burdette, and former pitching coach Art Fowler.
Steve Barber (Died on February 4 in Henderson, Nevada; age 67; pneumonia): A hard-throwing but erratically wild left-hander, Barber won 121 games over a 15-year career that began with the Baltimore Orioles in 1960. During his tenure in Baltimore, Barber went 95-75 and became the first 20-game winner in the history of the franchise. He was later inducted into the Orioles' Hall of Fame.
Commentary: Steve Barber. I always thought that was a great baseball name for a pitcher, in a Sal Maglie kind of way. When I was growing up in the early 1970s, Barber was just finishing up a long career. I remember him mostly as a middle relieverlike a lot of veteran pitchers of that era, that's where he ended upbut it was as a fireballing starter that Barber created some lasting imagery during much of the 1960s.
Hank Bauer (Died on February 9, 2007 in Kansas City, Missouri; age 84; cancer): The ultimate hard-nosed ballplayer, Bauer filled an important role as a secondary cog during the New York Yankees' dynasty of the 1950s. During his 12-year tenure in New York, Bauer contributed to nine American League pennants and seven World Championships. Almost exclusively a pull hitter, Bauer saw significant time in both right and left field, earned All-Star berths in 1952, '53 and '54, and compiled a major league record 17-game hitting streak in World Series play. In 1961, Bauer turned to managing, hired by Charlie Finley as the skipper of the Kansas City A's. In 1964, he became the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, leading them to a World Championship two seasons later.
Commentary: Bauer lived one of the most fascinating lives of any ballplayer, succeeding on three completely different levels: as a player, manager, and American soldier.
Phillip Hughes wowed-'em" in Tampa yesterday during a BP session. What can you say? We are all looking foward to watching the kid pitch (All together, everyone knock on wood and let's hope he stays healthy). After all, look what happened to Mark Prior, who was billed as the second-coming of Tom Seaver.
I got together for drinks and burgers with Cliff, Jay Jaffe and Jake Luft last night in the distinctly gentrified neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen. I love being able to soak-up baseball knowledge, and these three have it in spades. I mean, they really have a thorough working knowledge of players, even prospects, in both leagues--an ability that never fails to impress me. Yo, I have a hard enough time following just one team, let alone the AL East, or the entire American League, forget about both leagues. Anyhow, at one point I said the player I'd like to see have a breakout season this year, pushing him over-the-top as a legitimate star, is Carl Crawford. Jake thinks Crawford is already there (and a quick look at Crawford's stats show that Jake is probably right). But imagine if he continues to build on last year's success? The dude is only 25.
What talented player do you think will make that jump this year? Or, which player would you like to see make it?
An Excursus on Picking Mariano Rivera’s Best Season
By Chris DeRosa (Guest Columnist)
Reading Sherman's book, I got to wondering how many analysts would choose 1996 as Rivera's best season. It's chief rivals are 2005 and 1999. It would probably be easiest to sort through the cases of the closer seasons, and then compare to the set-up year in '96.
We can easily rule out 2002, when injuries limited him to 46 innings; his debut season of 1995, when he was a starter with a 5.51 ERA; 2000, with his career-high relief ERA of 2.85; and both 1997 and 2006, which were fine seasons but boasting no advantages over his very best seasons.
2005 was the year Rivera had his best conventional rate stats: a career low 1.38 ERA (and a career high ERA+ of 323). He allowed his smallest percentage of baserunners (.235 on base percentage against), and was just as effective in denying power (hitters slugged .230 off him, missing his career best by only .002). He also had his best ever-rate of stranding inherited runners, allowing only 2 of 18 to score. He threw 78.3 innings, went 7-4, and saved 43 against 4 blown saves. In an unspectacular postseason, he allowed 1 run in 3 innings with two saves against the Angels.
In 1999, he was nearly as sharp in 69 innings, allowing a .239 on base percentage and a .237 slugging percentage. He went 4-3 with a 1.83 ERA with 45 saves against 4 blown saves. Of 27 runners inherited, he stranded 22 and permitted 5 to score. He also was the most efficient he had ever been, notching an out every 4.8 pitches, a career best. At this point, you would still have to put 2005 first. But then you get to the postseason. 1999 is in his top three: 12.3 scoreless innings, with 2 wins and 6 saves (and the World Series MVP Award). Counting their postseason and regular seasons stats together, 2005's ERA advantage shrinks to 1.44 to 1.55. And there's more: Rivera allowed only 1 unearned run in 1999, whereas he allowed 6 in 2005. If charged for all runs, inherited, earned, and unearned, in the regular and postseason, Mo was less scored upon in 1999 (2.21, 81.3 innings) than 2005 (2.32, 81.3 innings).
Rivera allowed an even smaller average of total runs the year before, in 1998. In 61.3 regular season innings, he allowed only 13 runs, all earned, and allowed only four of 24 inherited runners to score. In 13.3 postseason innings, he allowed only 6 hits, 2 walks, and no runs at all. In 74.6 combined innings, he allowed 2.05 runs per game, a career best. He also his highest percentage of good results: 3 wins, 36 saves, and 6 postseason saves, against no losses and only 5 regular season blown saves. Overall, though, it is hard to pick 1998 as his best year. The results may have been the cleanest, but he was hit harder (.270 on base percentage, .309 slugging percentage) than in 1999, and he didn't pitch as much.
2001, when he saved 50 games and got more batters out (236) than in any other year besides 1996, was his career high in win shares. I'm a big win shares fan. Asking them to pick a closer's best season, however, is among the last things win shares should be asked to do. It was a really good year, but he wasn't as dominating as in other seasons, and given that, I wouldn't pick the year he got beat by the Diamondbacks in the World Series as the best of his career.
Those Were the Days
By Chris DeRosa
Chris DeRosa has been posting book reviews here for three or four years now. Actually, that's not entirely true. Chris puts out a Yankee Annual each year that he sends around to his friends. The Annaual always contains book reviews, and Chris is generous enough to allow me to co-opt them for Bronx Banter. Here is one that I thought you guys might like...and there is a follow-up essay from Chris that I'll post a bit later on.
Joel Sherman, Birth of a Dynasty: Behind the Pinstripes with the 1996 Yankees (2006)
There's the requisite quote on the back, proclaiming that you don't have to be a Yankee fan to enjoy this book. On the contrary, I'd say you might have to be a Yankee fan. The frequent invocations of the Yanks' championship "destiny" would probably wear out the non-Yankee fan reader before long. But, you know, that's fine. Remember when they used to make Star Trek movies? The studio would always say, "this time, it's not just for the fans," as if there weren't enough friggin' Star Trek fans to pay for their movie. Then more often than not, they'd make a lousy film trying to please a lot of people who were never going to be interested anyway, when they'd just have been better off aiming it right at the people who loved it. So there's nothing wrong with Joel Sherman writing a book just for those of us who would like to wallow in the details of the Yankees' 1996 title season. As such, it does not disappoint.
Sherman's motif is "perfection." Every chapter title is "The Perfect Manager," "The Perfect Resolve," The Perfect Whatever. Sherman knows that the Yankees' flirtation with perfection was a couple of years down the road. What he actually means is that it took a perfect confluence of circumstances for this most imperfect 92-win team to pull it off. And indeed, the author chronicles both the little things that broke rightJeffrey Maier made "The Perfect Catch (Almost)"and the real strengths this team sported, including a quality in depth and a terrific cohort of young players: Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera.
Some of the best parts of the book are about how those guys broke in and showed their stuff. In the chapter, "The Perfect Formula," Sherman reminds us of the context of Mariano Rivera's breakout season. It was the first full-length season under at the new mid-90s hitting levels, and American League pitchers were lit up for more runs per game than in any season since 1936, include a record barrage of 2,742 homers. Rivera, in 107 innings of stellar relief, surrendered just one of those. He was not only the most effective pitcher in the league; for a couple of months there, it seemed like he was the only effective pitcher in the league.
Sherman compares Torre's quick recognition of Rivera's value in 1996 favorably to Showalter's waiting too long to get him into Game 5 of the ALDS in 1995 (when he had proved so devastating in Games 2 and 3). But here, Sherman's own good reporting contradicts his instinct for the tidy storyline. In spring training, Torre saw "a straight fastball that made Rivera's role murky." Rivera himself is quoted as calling his fastball "straight as an arrow." Sherman writes that that he was working on a change-up because he expected to be a starter. He might have added that it was Torre and Stottlemyre who were instructing him to do this. But as the season developed:
Torre kept defining a more and more vital function for Rivera, from mop-up man when the season began to a hybrid role that united middle and setup relief. Rivera was asked to get as many as nine outs to bail out a rotation that was proving far more unreliable than Torre had forecast.
Case in point, the Yankees led the Royals 5-2 in an April game when David Cone couldn't make it past the 5th and Torre's pen was already fried.
Torre was staring at nine outs before he could summon closer John Wetteland. A concept was bornwhat Torre would come to refer to as the Formula. Rivera was asked to not only protect a lead but protect it for an extended period, to become a lone bridge between starter and closer.
In half of his 61 outings, Mo got six or more outs (22 two-inning stints, 8 three-inning stints, and 5 in between). But of course, Mariano Rivera in 1996 was not the first quality 100-inning middle reliever in baseball history. He was closer to being the last. The formula Sherman thinks Torre invented was pretty much the same one Cito Gaston used for Duane Ward in 1990, Sparky Anderson used for Mike Henneman in 1987, Jimy Williams used for Mark Eichhorn in 1986, and Dick Howser used for Ron Davis in 1980, and so forth.
It was the big hitting 90s that drove the division of setup chores, making the LaRussa bullpens more a necessity than a choice. That Rivera could still succeed in the older pattern was to his enormous credit, and was out-of-place enough that it fooled Sherman into thinking it was something new under the sun. And what is this nonsense about a straight fastball? Rivera may not have been throwing the cutter, but his fastball was explosive and jumpy, with irresistible illusory rise. If you want to see a straight fastball, try watching Kyle Farnsworth pitch.
Feel Like You've Heard This All Before? (Well, You Have!)
Spring training has just begun and yet many of us are already saying, "Wake me up on Opening Day." Fair enough. In the meantime, dig these pearls of Grapefruit League wisdom from the one-and-only Earl Weaver (from his wonderful book--co-written by Terry Pluto--Weaver on Strategy, essential reading for any serious baseball fan):
The Cliches of Spring
Remember, Weaver's First Law:
No one's going to give a dam in July if you lost a game in March.
I don't think the Boss ever got that memo.
The Way It Is
I ran into a Yankee fan yesterday at work and the first thing he says to me is that Alex Rodriguez is a bum. This reminded me of something I read recently in Robert Lipsyte's book, SportsWorld: An American Dreamland (Lipsyte was a reporter then a columnist for the Times during the sixties--and later, in nineties--and is particularly famous for his coverage of Ali. This book is out-of-print, but worth checking out if you run across it in a used bookstore):
"A sportswriter learns early that his readers are primarily interested in the affirmation of their faiths and their prejudices, which are invariably based on previous erroneous reports. They do not want fact that conflict with preconceptions."
Which also brings to mind, what the newspaper man tells Jimmy Stewart at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:
"This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
In Living Color
If everybody's doing it, there's a lot of guys doing it.
New blogs just keeping popping up, don't they? One of the most exciting new ones is called Bronx Comix run by longtime-Bronx Banterite, Knuckles. Be sure to give it a look. Knucks, the only problem I can see you running into is posting on the reg. Once you start something as fun as what you are doing, we're going to want our daily fix, Snoops.
The New York Times recently launched Met and Yankee blogs too. Columnist Jack Curry and beat writer Tyler Kepner are doing a fine job holding down the Yankee blog. After Derek Jeter spoke with reporters this morning about his relationship with Alex Rodriguez, Kepner notes:
The key difference between Jeter and A-Rod is this: Jeter goes to great lengths to keep things uncomplicated, and A-Rod seems to complicate everything. In this case, I think they're both being sincere. They should get some credit for that. They function well as teammates. The rest is interesting, for sure, but it's mostly a soap opera.
Lastly, on another (non-baseball) blogging note, Hip Hop mixmaster, Steinski recently launched his own site, which features posts on music and (left wing) politics. It is a lot of fun if you are into that sort of thing.
Joe Torre's Holiday Camp
The Yankee position players reported to camp on Sunday and took their physicals yesterday. Today the team will hold its first full-squad work outs. Here at the Banter, we've taken a look at the Yankees three major position battles, covered a couple of early controversies, and gotten some actual news about the pitchers and catchers who reported last week. With that, it's time to take a look at the 63 players who will be in camp with the Yankees this year. To begin with, here's how I expect the 25-man roster to shake out come Opening Day:
1B Doug Mientkiewicz (L)
R Chien-Ming Wang
R Mariano Rivera
The last two spots in the bullpen are the most tenuous, as Villone is in camp as a non-roster invitee and Britton is a new arrival who, despite having excelled for the Orioles last year, will have to fend off numerous rivals in order to maintain his spot. What's not in question, however, is that both of those rosters spots will go to relievers. Upon arriving in Tampa a week ago, Joe Torre reiterated the need for the Yankees to carry 12 pitchers, in large part because of the dearth of innings that can be expected from LOOGY Mike Myers, Kyle Farnsworth's frustrating inability to pitch multiple innings or on consecutive days, and Torre's desire to limit the 37-year-old Mariano Riverawho missed three weeks last September due to a muscle strain in his right forearmto the ninth inning as much as possible.
Of course, Torre also threw into question the roster spot currently designated for a right-handed first baseman by suggesting that he'll consider playing Giambi in the field and telling reporters that he has encouraged Bernie Williams to come to camp to challenge for that spot and that spot only. Bernie still hasn't agreed to come to camp, however. So, for the moment, Phelps and Phillips still have a fight to finish to fill that first-base fissure.
Most of the players above are familiar, and some we've looked at earlier this week or this offseason as per the links, but since there are a few who fall into neither category, here's a quick look at three of the lower profile new faces (ages in parentheses are as of Opening Day):
It's a bitterly cold Presidents' Day Observed and I'm alone at the office, having traded Friday for Monday on my work schedule.
Down in Tampa it's a good 35 to 40 degrees warmer and there's an atmosphere of unburdening in the air. Yankee Chairman of the Board and heir apparent to the Boss Steve Swindal made his first appearance at Legends Field and spoke to reporters about his DUI bust in the wee hours of the morning last Thursday. Clearly humiliated, Swindal was very apologetic, but unable to comment much due to his pending trial scheduled for some time in March.
A bit earlier, Alex Rodriguez spoke candidly to reporters about his opt-out clause, his relationship with Derek Jeter (which will grab most of the headlines) and his reaction to batting eighth in the Yankees' final postseason game last year. About the last he admitted to being "disappointed" and "embarrassed" and said he "didn't like it," but expressed awareness that his performance was what lead to Torre's decision.
The latter is enlightening not simply because of Rodriguez's refreshing honesty, but because of the way the assembled reporters badger him about his opt-out clause. Rodriguez says some version of "I want to be a Yankee" at least eight times but, wisely, refuses to say more because that opt-out clause is a tremendous bit of negotiating leverage and he's obviously too smart to undermine it just to get a bullheaded beat reporter off his back (he also says "I understand my contract" or the like at least four times). The closest he comes to conceding to the onslaught, which at one point becomes so absurd that the crowd erupts in laughter, is saying that he will not be a free agent next year, but he simultaneously refuses to turn "I want to be a Yankee" into "I will be a Yankee." If you want to know why the New York media drives some athletes crazy, give a listen and consider that this is Rodriguez's first day in camp and all he's done thus far is unpack his things and get a physical.
In injury news, Steven White threw today, his neck pain from Friday having proven to be as inconsequential as had been assumed. Meanwhile, according to Joe Torre, Carl Pavano ended some of his drills early today due to "heavy legs." With any other player this wouldn't be news. Indeed, Meat did throw his bullpen session later in the day. Still, because it's Pavano, it bears watching.
Last fall, when Emily and I got a cat, a friend at work told me that she once had a cat that she loved very much. She said that once it died she never got another one. It was simply too painful for her to get a pet knowing that she would likely out-live it. I had animals around my house when I was growing up--cats and dogs--but I haven't owned one as an adult. But in no time, I've grown attached to our charming little cat, Tashi. I had to board her at the vet's late last week before I trooped up to Vermonth to meet-up with Emily at her folks' place for the weekend. I asked to see the vet where Tashi would be staying and was shown to the basement where the boarding animals stay. Dude, I had to hold back the tears, and when I got home, I burst-out bawling like a baby.
Loss has been foremost on my mind recently. My dad had a heart attack one month ago and he died the following day. I miss him dearly.
I've been thinking about ol' Bernie Williams this weekend, about how much I'm going to miss him--that is to say, if he's really gone. It's not so much his production, or lack thereof, that I'll miss, but him. Of course, I don't know him personally, but I've watched the majority of his big league games and have grown accustomed to his face, his swing, his mannerisms, his gestures. It isn't the big things but the nuances, the details.
I love the continuity baseball offers. Each year, guys get too old and retire, while new guys come up and offer us something new to admire. If you've been a fan for a long time--as most of us have been--you see the professional life and death of many players. Sometimes, it is soothing to see a familiar face just because they are familiar, and nothing else. I thought of this last week when I read that Steve Trachsel was signed by the Orioles. I find his games almost intolerable to watch, he pitches so damn slowly. Otherwise I have no particular feelings about him. But I am used to him. Knowing that there is a chance that, months from now, in the middle of summer, he'll be involved in one of those agonizing Yankee-Oriole, four-hour-plus slugfests, is strangely comforting.
Aches and Pains
Every year players get ouchies in spring training as a normal part of getting back in shape. Folks always overreact. The Yankees haven't been in camp a week yet and they already have their first "casualty." Steven White tweaked his neck. He left camp in a neck brace and got an MRI, but Joe Torre thinks he just slept wrong and will be back in action early next week.
In other news, Raul Chavez got the cast off his broken glove hand and could be catching bullpen sessions in about a week. He should be ready to go once games start in March. I still think he has no shot at making the Opening Day roster, but it looks like he'll get a chance to try after all.
What Do The Numbers Say?
In these early days of spring training, reporters, bloggers, and fans desperate for any little bit of news cling to every comment made by the manager and GM, wishcasting and overreacting wildly to anything that seems to betray more than intended.
For example, at the end of his chat with the press yesterday, Joe Torre was asked if he got to see any of the relievers work out in the bullpen and if he saw anything he liked. Here's his response:
"Kozlowski. I like his size and the fact that he's left handed. I thought Veras was very good. It looked like he was hitting spots which is pretty unusual. Plus, Gator said to him 'what was that?' He says, 'curveball.' He [Guidry] says 'No, no, no. Fastballs. Changeup.' So, he felt good enough to want to do that today. . . . Let's see who else was there. . . . Vizcaino I missed, I wanted to see him, but I was a little tardy. Gator said he hit his spots all the time and threw well. I though Beam threw the ball pretty good. Henn, I tell ya, Henn's throwing the ball hard, and, again, he showed us that last year that we didn't see before that. So it's going to be interesting. I thought Villone threw the ball good. If you compare to last year, where he was at this time last year, because he didn't have a good spring as far as pop on the ball."
Using the list of pitching groups posted earlier yesterday by Peter Abraham, Torre mentioned the lone new guy in group one (Vizcaino), one guy from group three (Kozlowski), and one guy not listed (Villone) as well as every member of group two but one: Chris Britton, who was not only part of group two, but is a pitcher Torre's never seen before in camp.
So should Chris Britton be worried? Probably not, but that's the level of clue-hunting that tends to go one this time of year.
With that in mind, one thing that always interests me is the assignment of spring training numbers. If you're wearing number 83 and competing with a guy wearing number 14, odds are you're fighting an up-hill battle. So, what do the numbers tell us?
I know I promised you all my campers post this week, but with the influx of juicy news items and it being Friday and all, before a three-day weekend no less, well, forgive me for taking the easy way out.
How about Mikey Moose making mince meat out of Pavano's "What Me Worry?" attitude toward returning to the team (quotes below the fold).
How about Kerry Wood taking a page out of Pavano's book and missing the opening of camp because he slipped and fell out of a hot tub.
How about Barry Zito, San Francisco's $126-millon man, showing up for Giants camp with a completely new delivery that pitching coach Dave Righetti thinks could ruin his famous curveball.
How about the BALCO testimony leak being identified.
Less juicy is the news that the Yankees will be wearing black armbands this season in memory of Cory Lidle. The Yankees last wore armbands in 2000 in memory of Catfish Hunter and Bob Lemon.
Speaking of uniform alterations, the ad wizards at MLB have tricked out the Yankees batting practice duds with white underarm stripes on the jerseys and these godawful caps complete with highly illogical ear piping. Last year the Yankees avoided this crap. It's severely disappointing to see them infected this spring.
Even more problematic, Joe Torre has finally spoken to Bernie Williams and is encouraging him to come to camp. Torre told the media today that Bernie's only chance of making the roster would be at the expense of the winner of the Phelps-Phillips battle, but that he's not opposed to playing Mientkiewicz fulltime at first base. Curiously, he also indicated that he's not going to rule out starting Giambi at first base until he gets a look at him this spring, which opens up the possibility of Giambi playing first and Melky Cabrera seeing a spike in playing time as Giambi and the three outfielders rotate through the DH spot. That would reduce Mientkiewicz to a backup role and clear room for Bernie in place of Phelps/Phillips. One other piece of relevant info from Torre's chat was that while Philip Hughes is all but guaranteed to start the season in triple-A, his only chance of making the major league team would be as a member of the rotation. So much for my bullpen idea.
Finally, here's a puff piece on Kyle Farnsworth in which he says all the right things and indicates a budding friendship with Andy Pettitte that I imagine would do the big guy a hill of good (pun intended).
Position Battles: Backup Catcher
The Yankees' options for fifth starter are a solid group that combines a 31-year-old who won 18 games three years ago, a pair of rookies in their mid-20s who filled in capably last September, and perhaps the best pitching prospect in all of baseball, with another of the game's top prospects available as Plan E. At backup catcher, however, their choices are the old, the infirm, and the incapable. Here are the four candidates for the job:
Chavez, easily the worst hitter among this feeble foursome, was to be part of the discussion because of his defense, something Joe Torre has always valued highly from his catchers as evidenced by his conspiring to dump Mike Stanley for Joe Girardi upon arriving in the Bronx. Chavez, however, had his left hand broken by a pitch in winter ball. As he arrives in camp with his hand still in a cast, he's out of the running for the Opening Day roster.
Ben Davis was once a top catching prospect but, other than breaking up a Curt Schilling no-hitter with a bunt, has never done anything of value with the bat. Mix in a July 2005 Tommy John surgery which he spent last year rehabbing from, and he's fighting to keep his career afloat, never mind attempting to break camp with the team. He'll need to impress at triple-A and have the winner of this battle struggle to have any real shot at returning to the majors.
Thus, this battle rather quickly boils down to Wil Nieves, the youngest and least experienced of the group, and 40-year-old veteran Todd Pratt.
I'm putting my position battle posts on hold for a day seeing as there's some actual news to report today. Of course, pitchers and catchers reported yesterday, but the big news (relatively speaking, of course) was that the Yankees added a pitcher and will be short one catcher in Tampa.
Jersey boy Ron Villone signed a minor league deal with the Yankees yesterday. Given his strong performance through mid-August of last year (2.23 ERA through Aug. 16), which eventually made him one of Joe Torre's go-to relievers, his left-handedness, his ability to work multiple innings, and his overall veteran mojo, I expect he'll have to have an exceptionally poor spring not to make the roster. If Villone makes the team, he'll earn $2.5 million this season. That would leave just one undecided spot on the 25-man roster after the Yankees' three position battles are settled. That spot will go to one of the organization's young relievers, with righty Chris Britton being the most likely to travel north.
Also, Brian Cashman told the press yesterday that Raul Chavez, one of the non-roster invitees vying for the backup catcher spot, broke his left hand while playing winter ball and is still wearing a cast. That will likely end his chances of breaking camp as Jorge Posada's back-up (I've been unable to turn up an estimate for Chavez's return to action). I'll have a post up tomorrow about the remaining candidates for that job.
Meanwhile, check out Anthony McCarron's profile of righty first-base candidate Josh Phelps, as well as the more than 30 minutes of actual audio of Joe Torre and Brian Cashman on the first day of spring training over at Peter Abraham's LoHud blog.
Who Got Da Props?
Mariano Rivera's contract is up at the end of the season. In order for him to stay in New York, he wants the Yankees to show him some respect, i.e. buckets o cash. Somehow, in spite of the fact that Rivera is 37, I think the Yanks will find a way to come to accommodate his wishes. Murray Chass, Joel Sherman and John Harper weigh in with their thoughts.
Position Battles: Fifth Starter
If the right-handed first-baseman battle is unique among the Yankees' three spring-training position battles because it's the only one that features a head-to-head competition, the battle for fifth starter is unique because it's the only one that has a clear favorite entering camp. Well, maybe "favorite" isn't the right term to use. This is Crash Pavano we're talking about, after all.
The top four spots in the Yankee rotation are set with Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, and Kei Igaway. If Mr. Glass is able to pitch with any level of effectiveness during spring training and manages to make it to Opening Day without slamming his finger in a door or cutting himself shaving, he'll be the fifth starter. Not that the odds are very good of that happening, or that there's much chance of him finishing the season with that job. If Pavano pitches well through April and May it's almost a lock that he'll be traded in June. The only variable there is the health of the rest of the rotation.
So while the fifth starter job is Pavano's to lose, the competition in spring training will be no less compelling as a result. Here's a quick look at the combatants:
The above chart does not include Tyler Clippard or the two starters obtained in the Randy Johnson trade, Russ Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson, because none of those three have thrown a single pitch above double-A. Of course, the same is true of Philip Hughes, who is far and away the best pitcher listed above. But then there are limits on Hughes' participation here as well.
Soreness in his pitching shoulder limited Hughes to 86 1/3 innings in his first full professional season in 2005. Last year, the Yankees cautiously held the 20-year-old to 146 innings. This year his innings cap will be 180. If Hughes were to make the Yankees out of camp, the Yankees would have to keep Hughes on short leash in order to keep him from exceeding that total over the course of a full season. Last year Chien-Ming Wang and Randy Johnson lead the Yankees with 33 regular season starts. Spread across 33 games, 180 innings averages out to just 5.45 innings per game, and that doesn't include potential postseason starts, which would consume the innings the Yankees might be able to save by skipping Hughes' turn on the few occasions when scheduled off-days allow them to do so.
The Yankees are to be commended for their careful handling of Hughes. They're doing all the right things regarding his workloads, and their impulse to have him start this season at triple-A is also a good one. True, Hughes could likely pitch effectively in the major leagues without a stint in triple-A, but there's no harm in easing him into things. Starting him out in Scranton is an excellent way for them to insure that he won't be extended beyond those 180 innings. Another is to using him sparingly out of the major league pen in the early months of the season as the Twins did with Francisco Liriano last year.
Let's crunch some numbers here using 2006 AL innings-pitched and ERA leader Johan Santana and complete games leader C.C. Sabathia as examples of the best and most durable American League pitchers. Both Santana and Sabathia averaged about 6.88 innings pitched per start last year. Assuming , then, that Hughes will average no more than 6 2/3 innings per major league start, he could make 27 starts for the Yankees in 2007 before exceeding his limit. Of course, when you factor in a full postseason run, the Yankees could require close to 40 starts from their best pitchers, which leaves Hughes inactive for significant chunks of the season. There are three possible alternatives to simply letting Hughes pitch until he hits 180 innings and thus facing the heat of the pennant race and postseason without him.
If the Yankees let Hughes pitch on a strict innings limit in triple-A for the first couple of months of the season, then promote him in June they might only get 19 major league starts out of him between the regular and postseasons, but they'll keep him active throughout the season. If the Yankees skip the fifth spot in the rotation every time the schedule allows them to in April and May, they'll first need a fifth starter in June on the fifth of the month. To put Hughes on schedule for that start, the Yankees could make him the fifth man in the Scranton rotation. That would give him 11 starts in triple-A before his major league debut on June 5. If they then skip Hughes' turn in the major league rotation whenever the scheduled off-days allow them to do so over the remainder of the season, Hughes would make 16 major league starts during the 2007 regular season. If they limit him to five innings in each of his 11 triple-A starts but otherwise let him loose in the majors (again assuming a maximum 6 2/3 innings pitched per start), he would finish the regular season with a maximum of 161 2/3 innings pitched between Scranton and New York. That would then allow him to make three postseason starts (say one in the ALDS and two in the ALCS) without meaningfully exceeding his 180-inning limit. If all of that goes according to plan and the Yankees find themselves in the World Series, I'm sure an extra two starts in pursuit of a World Championship would be perfectly acceptable.
Alternately, the Yankees could limit Hughes to side sessions in April, promote him directly to the major league rotation when the fifth spot comes due on May 5, and again skip his turn whenever the schedule allows. That would result in 24 major league starts in the regular season and a maximum of 160 innings pitched prior to the postseason.
A third option, and the one that I think would ultimately be most beneficial to both the team's goals for 2007 and Hughes' long term development, would be to pitch Hughes in regular rotation in the major leagues beginning on June 5 (that is not skipping his turn when off-days allow). That would result in 21 regular season major league starts totalling a maximum of 140 innings. That leaves 20 extra innings which Hughes could pitch out of the pen in April and May (or, alternately, four minor league starts with a five-inning limit, or even five minor league starts with a four-inning limit). Again, that would result in 160 regular season innings and leave him free to make three postseason starts within his 180-innings limit with the possibility of two more World Series starts if needed beyond that limit.
Each of those three scenarios assumes a level of success for both Hughes and the team that is not a foregone conclusion, but even in these best-case scenarios it's clear that Hughes can't be used as the fifth starter in April, and likely not in May either lest he be shut down in advance of the playoffs and possibly even before the divisional race is decided. The Yankees will need a fifth starter three times in April and four more times in May. If Pavano gets a splinter, the Yankees will need someone other than Hughes to take those turns. Even if Pavano is able to take the ball each time, the Yankees will need to use spring training to decide who they'll turn to should the rotation spring a leak elsewhere.
Having reduced the candidates to Karstens, Rasner, and Sanchez, I'm going to further cull the field by eliminating Sanchez. Sanchez didn't hit triple-A until the middle of last year and made just nine starts at that level before being shut down with tenderness in his pitching elbow. A highly touted prospect in his own right, though certainly not in Hughes' class, Sanchez should also be handled with kid gloves this year in the hope that he can establish himself in triple-A, stay healthy, and emerge as a candidate for the 2008 rotation or, in a best-case scenario, down the stretch this year.
That leaves Karstens and Rasner, the two rotation patches that the Yankees used late last season. Although Karstens is the more familiar face due to his having made six starts last year to Rasner's three, I've always been partial to Rasner. The stats above show why. While both men where rather fortunate on balls in play last year, Karstens was both more fortunate and significantly less likely to record a strikeout, a scary combination that could lead to a huge increase in hits and thus runs allowed this year. What's more, Karstens has come by his nickname "Scary Fly Ball Guy" (props to Steven Goldman) honestly. Consider the home run rates above. Then consider that Karstens groundball-to-flyball rate last year was 0.67. While that came in a small sample, only one of the 80 major league pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last year had a more extreme fly-ball rate. By comparison, Rasner's groundball-to-flyball rate, in an admittedly even smaller sample, was 1.13, which would have ranked him a more respectable 51st out of those 80 qualifiers. Karsten edges Rasner in the important category of minor league K/BB ratio, but Rasner edged Karstens in nearly every peripheral stat you can dig up from their major league stints last year and, frankly, I was more impressed with Rasner's stuff and composure after seeing them both pitch last September. Still, just as Pavano would be keeping the fifth starter spot warm for Hughes, Rasner or Karstens will hopefully be doing no more than that. While Rasner may be a perfectly viable fifth starter, he'd be a significant downgrade from what's expected of Wang, Moose, Pettitte, or Igawa, and the rest of the cookies Cashman collected this winter still need to bake a bit longer.
Position Battles: Right-Handed First Baseman
So it appears Pitchers and Catchers are even closer to reporting than I thought. Despite MLB listing Thursday, February 15, as the reporting date, it appears the actual date is February 13, tomorrow. Regardless, it's time to get down to business here at the Banter. Today through Wednesday, I'll look at the three main position battles that will be taking place in Yankee camp this spring. Then Thursday I'll post my annual breakdown of Yankee Campers.
The Yankees have more decisions to make in camp this year than they have over the past few seasons. Setting aside the usual decisions regarding the 25th man on the roster or the last man in the bullpen, Joe Torre and his staff will have to choose on a right-handed first baseman to platoon with Doug Mientkiewicz, a back-up catcher, and a fifth starter. Today we'll look a the team's first-base situation.
The Yankees haven't entered camp with a question mark in the starting line-up since 2004, when Aaron Boone's torn ACL set up a third-base battle between the likes of Tyler Houston and Mike Lamb, which then shifted to second base when Alfonso Soriano was dealt to Texas for Alex Rodriguez. Enrique Wilson beat out Miguel Cairo at the keystone that spring, but Cairowho, for all his shortcomings, was a clearly superior player to Wilsonovertook Wilson mid-season.
The Yankees' won't have the luxury of changing their mind at first-base this year. Doug Mientkiewicz enters camp as the established lefty-half of the proposed first-base platoon. Andy Phillips and Josh Phelps, meanwhile, are battling not only to be Mientkiewicz's right-handed caddy, but for their Yankee careers. Phelps was claimed from the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft back in December. If the Yankees want to remove him from the 25-man roster at any point this season, they must offer him back to Baltimore. Phillips, meanwhile, is out of options and will have to be placed on waivers if he fails to make the Opening Day roster. The stakes is high.
In addition to being the only of these three decisions that the Yankees can't change their minds about later, the righty first-baseman battle is also the only of the three that is a simple either/or matter with just two players vying for the position. Here's a quick look at Phillips and Phelps:
It's clear from their career minor league numbers that Phillips and Phelps are very similar hitters. Both are right-handed, of course, and generate their power with quick bats rather than excessive bulk. From those raw numbers, Phelps would seem to have a bit more power as well as a smidge more strike zone judgment (career mL isolated discipline of .072 to Phillips' .067), but consider Phelps' 2006 triple-A numbers above next to Phillips' 2005 triple-A numbers of .300/.379/.573 in 300 at-bats, or Phillips' 2004 triple-A stats of .318/.388/.569 in 434 at-bats. Phillips was 28 in 2005 just as Phelps was last year, and both were playing in the International League in similar home hitting environments in Toledo (Phelps) and Columbus (Phillips)hitting environments that, in terms of raw park factors, are very similar to Yankee Stadium. Consider also Phillips' superior career minor league K/BB rate: Phillips 1.85 K/BB, Phelps 2.57 K/BB.
Ultimately, what differentiates Phelps from Phillips is major league experience. Phillips, who played college ball at the University of Alabama, made his professional debut at age 22 and earned the Yankees' Minor League Player of the Year award in his age-25 season, based primarily on a tremendous half season at double-A Norwich. Phelps, meanwhile, was drafted straight out of his Idaho high school, made his major league debut at age 22, and spent his age-25 season hitting .268/.358/.470 as the Blue Jays' starting DH.
In addition to his late start, Phillips' progress was derailed by an elbow injury suffered in the Arizona Fall League the autumn after his award winning 2002 season. That injury cost him most of 2003. Thus, instead of establishing himself in Columbus that year and challenging Cairo and Wilson for the open second base job in 2004 (originally a third baseman, Phillips played second base from 2001 to 2003), he was forced to reestablish himself in double-A that spring and was shifted back to third base where he was blocked by Alex Rodriguez. All of that, plus the fact that he was attempting to break into a much tougher lineup in the Bronx than Phelps was in Toronto, put him five years behind his rival's pace. In terms of major league experience, Phelps' age-22 to 24 seasons correspond to Phillips' age-27 to 29 seasons:
The obvious difference here being not only the five-year age gap, but the fact that Phelps hit when finally given the opportunity, while Phillips did not. Even Phelps's worst major league season of more than 12 at-bats, his .251/.304/.450 performance in 371 at-bats split between Toronto and Cleveland in 2004, was clearly better than what Phillips did last year. Speaking of which, here are their career major league K/BB rates: Phillips 4.38 K/BB, Phelps 3.66 K/BB.
If this decision was based purely on the relative offensive merits of these two players, one would have to consider Phelps, who's more than a year Phillips' junior, the clear favorite despite the similarity of their minor league records and Phillips' unfairly small major league sample.
However, offense is just part of the picture. All of the decisions the Yankees have made regarding first base this winter have been made with defense in mind, from declaring Jason Giambi a full-time designated hitter to signing Doug Mientkiewicz as the dominant half of an expected first-base platoon. Of course the jury's still out on Mientkiewicz's defensive abilities. He's a thirtysomething coming off back surgery and the defensive metrics are mixed as to exactly how good he was even before the surgery. Baseball Prospectus's Rate stats show Mientkiewicz experiencing a steady decline since 2002 with his defense being considerably blow average in each of the last two years. Then again, Dave Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range has Minky up among the elite at the position last year, as is his reputation. But regardless of whether or not Mientkiewicz is still an asset in the field, the message sent by the front office is clear: defense matters.
That's bad news for Phelps. Phillips' defensive stats from 2006 largely echo Mientkiewicz's. Rate has him a tick below Minky, while Pinto ranks him between Nick Johnson and Kevin Youkilis, comfortably above average. Despite his struggles at the plate, Phillips' defense made a strong impression on Joe Torre last year. Andy can also fill in at third-base and play second and the outfield corners in a pinchall of which he's done for the Yankees over the last two seasons. That gives him extra value coming off the bench, which he'd be doing in the majority of the Yankees' games. Phelps, meanwhile, is generally regarded as a defensive zero. A disaster as a catcher, Phelps has been limited to DH and first base since the age of 24 and has played in the field in just 31 of his 342 major league games since, a mere 9 percent. If that's not a damning indictment of his defensive abilities, I don't know what is. By comparison, Phillips has played the field in 91.5 percent of his 142 major league. In raw numbers, Phillips has played defense in more than four times as many major league games as Phelps despite appearing in just two-fifths as many major league games total.
The good news for Phelps is that his Rate stats, while poor and burdened by impossibly small samples, show an improvement trend that suggests that he may have needed a few seasons to learn his new position. Still, I expect that Phillipswho has the added advantage of being a familiar face who seemed to be popular in the Yankee clubhouse last yearwill have the inside track to the right-handed first baseman's job as spring training begins. I also expect that, while both players will have to hit in order to win the job, Phelps' defense will be watched very closely by Torre and his coaches. If Phelps crushes the ball, but makes a few ugly plays around the bag, he just might be headed back to Baltimore. After all, if the Yankees were willing to field a first-baseman with an iron glove they could have skipped signing Mientkiewicz, kept Giambi and his persistant positional splits in the field, put Hideki Matsui at DH, started the defensively superior Melky Cabrera in left, and given Minky's roster spot to Bernie williams or, better yet, Aaron Guiel or Kevin Thompson.
And Now, the End is Near
"I think if they wanted me, they would have signed me already," said Williams, who has spent 16 seasons with the Yankees, the only team he has played for. "The option to go to spring training and see what happened I don't think at this moment it is something I want to consider."
Saying good-bye is never easy. Bernie Williams is one of my very favorite Yankees of them all. It's funny, how we love our favorites for different reasons. I love Bernie because I never thought he would become such an accomplished player (and look at him, he's a borderline Hall of Famer). Not bad for a skinny kid who was picked-on, and often looked lost when he first arrived in the Bronx. I'm as proud of him as I have ever been of any Yankee. Regardless of whether or not he has any real value left for the team, I will miss watching him play dearly.
Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain
Rubenstein's signature client in recent years has been George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees. For decades, Steinbrennerthe Boss, as he loved to be calleddid not hesitate, when the spirit moved him, to ridicule his players and abuse his managers. He once called the pitcher Hideki Irabu "a fat pussy" toad and paid a professional gambler to dig up dirt on the outfielder Dave Winfield, and he had fired a succession of managers. Until recently, Steinbrenner was, like [Donald] Trump, one of the city's sacred monsters, capable of saying almost anything. Then he vanished, and in his stead were ghostly anodyne quotes attributed, of course, to his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein. When the Yankees had a losing streak, Steinbrenner now said, though his spokesman, that he was "disappointed," or even, "I have tremendous faith in my players, my manager, and the leadership of the team." Requests for interviews with Steinbrenner, so often granted in the past, were now invariably denied. "Rubenstein is good at coming up with irrelevant, obfuscating responses," the Times' longtime baseball columnist Murray Chass wrote. "For instance, when asked about a year ago if Steinbrenner had sustained a medical setback, Rubenstein responded, 'George lifts weights every day.'"
I've long thought that the biggest pending story for the Yankees is what life will be like after Steinbrenner. But, as the events of the past year have shown, that transition is already taking place. Maybe it won't be as big an event as I once imagined.
Winning Never Gets Old, Losing is Never Easy
Anthony McCarron has a piece on Derek Jeter in the News today:
Jeter resumed baseball activities three weeks ago for the first time since the end of the season. It's a way to put the disappointment in the past.
Jeter admits that it would be odd not playing with Bernie Williams anymore.
Also in the News, a feature on Yankee youngster Dellin Betances.
One week to go until Pitchers and Catchers. As reported yesterday via LoHud, Jorge Posada and Kei Igawa are already in Tampa. MLB.com adds Derek Jeter, Miguel Cairo, center field prospect Brett Gardner and fifth starter hopefuls Jeff Karstens, Humberto Sanchez, Tyler Clippard, and Phil Hughes. Hey, that's enough for a pick-up team!
Drop a Gem on 'Em
During the 1990s, the most influencial Hip Hop show in New York, and possibly the world, was The Stretch Armstrong Show, which featured Strech and Bobbito Garcia (originally, Kurious Jorge was the house MC). The show aired on Thursday nights from 1-5am, and I was one of many fans who waited up half the night with my finger on the pause button of my tapedeck waiting to record the latest gems. When the show folded, Bobbito went on to write a seminal book about New York City Sneaker Culture, and currently works for MSG, covering the Knicks. I hadn't heard about Stretch for a minute, but was recently hipped to his blog. There are some cherce downloads, including the legendary Busy Bee v. Kool Moe Dee battle from the early '80s. For those in the know, now you know...
Big Audio Dynamite
Multi-media time, folks. Check out frequent Bronx Banter commenter and author of Canyon of Heroes and Matsuzaka Watch and proud new papa Mike Plugh as he discusses the Red Sox's new ace on Baseball Prospectus Radio. Also, check out Matsuzaka Watch for Mike's counter interview with BP Radio host Will Carroll and a pretty bad-ass Matsuzaka/Red Sox-themed Japanese beer commercial.
Another audio hit for you iPod owners out there, and a bit of shameless semi-self promotion, check out this podcast with Newsday's David Lennon and the Daily News's Roger Rubin, authors of The Great New York Sports Debate, a book I had a part in editing (more like a cameo, but a part nonetheless).
While we're on the interview tip, check out this Sports Illustrated piece with Baseball-Reference's Sean Forman (hat tip to Dodger Thoughts for the link). The new features on B-Ref that incorportate Retrosheet's box score data are tremendous, if you haven't full explored the splits and game logs and other additional features added this winter, be sure to take the time to do so.
As for actual Yankee-related news, the best I can do right now is this item on Mel Stottlemyre joining the Diamondbacks as an organizational pitching instructor, which also points out that Goose Gossage will be in Yankee camp as instructor for the first time in a few seasons, neither of which is really new information. Speaking of Yankee camp, Jorge Posada and Kei Igawa are already there, according to Peter Abraham. Man, I can almost taste the hot dogs . . .
Cory Lidle's back in the news as the National Transportation Safety Board has released the details of its investigation into his fatal small plane crash. Unfortunately, they have been unable to determine whether Lidle or his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, who was also killed in the accident, was actually flying the plane when it crashed, which leaves Lidle's family in a lurch regarding a $1.05 million accidental death benefit. In fact, there's very little new information in this AP story whatsoever. What they have determined is that the ban on small planes flying below 1,100 feet over the East River enacted after Lidle's accident should be made permanent, but even that is merely a recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration.
In other news, the Associated Press noticed that Jorge Posada's contract is up after this year and that he doesn't yet have an extension. I'm sure he'll get one in time. The only other Yankees playing on multi-year deals whose contracts expire after this season are Mike Myers and Joe Torre, and Mariano Rivera, who is playing out his option this year. Bobby Abreu and Andy Pettitte have options for 2008. This season could change a lot, but I expect extensions for Jorge and Mo and Abreu's option to get picked up. Myers won't be back. As for Joe and Andy . . . difficult to see, always in motion is future.
Football is my second favorite sport after baseball, and the stretch between the Super Bowl and Opening Day has always felt like a long, dreary, entertainment-free wasteland to me. I can't force myself to care about college sports, so March Madness leaves me flat (even though I finished second in the only NCAA bracket pool I ever entered), and the selection of movies this time of year is the absolute pits, especially once the Oscars pass and the re-released contenders looking to build buzz disappear from the theaters. Of course, some of that has changed since I started blogging, as the need to cover spring training involves me in those games even though precious few of them are aired even on the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network, which tends to stick to the Yankees' home games, and none of them count. Of course, the day we all look forward to all winter is Pitchers and Catchers, which is just ten days away, but really that's a whole lot of nothing. There are no games to watch until March arrives and all the reports prior to then are all the same sort of empty optimism that occurs every year. Heck, we've already heard that from Crash Pavano. (Incidentally, Pavano is technically not on the 60-day DL, but he'll be listed that way on the sidebar until he throws in his second spring training game. In the words of our president, "Fool me once, shame on . . . shame on you . . . you fool me . . . you can't get fooled again.")
Between then and now, all that's left is Bernie Williams' decision on the Yankees' offer of a minor league contract and non-roster invite to spring training. The latest is that he's leaning toward accepting with the idea that he'd retire if he doesn't make the team. That sounds reasonable enough, though I worry that would leave the final decision in Joe Torre's hands, and I can just see Joe finding a way to squeeze Bernie onto the roster should he have a few good spring at-bats. In other roster news, Matt DeSalvo, who was designated for assignment to make room for Miguel Cairo on the 40-man roster, cleared waivers and has accepted a non-roster invite of his own.
In the meantime, here's a fluff piece on Joe Girardi, who will rejoin the YES team this year as well as co-host a show called "Behind the Plate" with John Flaherty, and some fluff on former Mets prospect and new Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan. Lastly, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching in the Super Bowl prompts a less than encouraging look at baseball's hiring practices.
The Big One
Congrats to Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and the Colts. Not a terrible game, though I'm sure it was maddening for Chicago fans. I loved the fact that the weather had an impact. Manning won the big one. Good for him. Also, I thought Prince killed at halftime. A lot of lesser performers would have wilted under the conditions, but I think they were ideally suited to his sense of drama and theater. He made the most of it; nice guitar work too.
Stupid Bowl Sundaze
I was a devoted football fan from about 1979-87. I rooted for the Cowboys during their declining years and, locally, for the Jets, during their typical Jets years (some promise, much frustration). My favorite players were Tony Dorsett and Tony Hill, Wesley Walker and Kenny Easley (the AFC's answer to Ronnie Lott). The greatest game I ever watched was the Chargers-Dolphins playoff overtime game, a week before the most painful game I ever experienced---"The Catch." I would religiously get together with friends growing up, play a big game of pick-up football on Super Bowl Sunday, no matter how cold. Then we'd go to one of our houses to watch the (usually lousy) game.
I don't care much for football anymore, though I will watch games during the season. It's hard for me to make it all the way through one though (I get bored so easily), and I don't know many of the players and coaches in the sport. Still, I was thinking the other day, that I've watched every Super Bowl since 1979. Haven't missed one. To my mind, the first one I saw is still the best, in terms of sheer excitement and great plays: Super Bowl XIV between the upstart Rams and the powerhouse Steelers, Jack Youngblood playing the game with a broken leg, Vince Ferregamo almost pulling off a Joe Nameth, John Stallworth's brilliant receptions, Jack Lambert's game-ending interception. After that, Super Bowl XXIII (49ners over Bengals) was incredible, as were XXV (Giants v. Bills), and Super Bowl XXXIV (Rams over Titans). Recently, the Patriots have played in two damn good games too.
So, will you guys be munching away, watching the game, or at least the commercials, later this evening? I'm rooting for the Colts, but wouldn't be terribly upset if the Bears won (so long as Manning has a good game in defeat). Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say?
"I Want Some Man Meat"
Carl Pavano spoke with the media yesterday.
Couple of few tidbits:
Tim Marchman on Phillip Hughes; Steve Lombardi on the best seasons ever by a Yankee shortstop (peace to Repoz for the heads up); also, there are a bunch of good new Yankee blogs out there--two of the best are Yankees for Justice, and Bronx Liaison. Oh, and Sweeny Murti is going to blog about the Yanks this season over at WFAN's site. He won't really get rolling for a couple of weeks, but that's one to keep an eye on.
Me and My Shadow
Every so often on my way to work on the IRT, I'm on the train with a real cut-up of a conductor. He's a cheery guy who likes to make many announcements. "Good morning New York, we're doing Fridays today, not Mondays, not Thursdays, this is Friday." Some people smile, others roll their eyes. The man is nothing if not persistent. Today, he offered this gem. "Today is February second, Manhattan. Since we don't have any ground hogs in New York this is what we are going to do: If you see two rats, we're in for a long winter, if you see one rat, then we're going to have an early spring." That got some laughs in my car. Then I overheard a high school kid tell his friend, "I saw ten rats the other day." Watch the closing doors.
We Ain't Got Nuthin' For Ya Man
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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