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The Indians
2005-08-02 05:10
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

I heard you missed me, I'm baaaaack. I brought my pencil. Hey, gimme something to write on, man.

For those who didn't notice, I've been away for the last ten days. I visited some friends down Fairfax Station, Virginia, took in a painfully boring 14-inning game between the Astros and Nationals at RFK, spent a day at the museums in DC, then spent six days on the island of Chincoteague. There Becky and I saw the annual pony swim and auction, relaxed on the beach, toured wetlands on Assateague Island by foot, car, bicycle and boat, rocked the mini golf, air hockey and go-karts, ate our yearly allowance of sea food, and gorged on the world-class ice cream at Muller's. Then, on the way back up we made a stop in Philadelphia to meet the day-old daughter of one of our closest friends. All together not a bad ten days, save Becky's frightening sunburn and the misery of driving through Delaware the long way.

While I was away I paid only marginal attention to the fates of the home nine through my friends' internet connection, the ESPN ticker, and the surprisingly strong signal of WCBS 880 AM. From such casual observation, it seemed the Yanks were holding their own while filling their basket with every burned-out, cast-off hurler they could find on the MLB scrap heap.

Having since brought myself up-to-date via the box scores, transaction wire, and this blog (props to Alex for picking up my slack and reminding me why I so loved Bronx Banter when I was just a reader), it seems I had it about right. In the ten days I was away, the Yanks went 5-3, and in their last three series against the Twins and Angels (twice) they went 5-5. Not bad when facing such elite competition. They finished July with a 17-9 record (just their second winning month of the season and a half-game better than their 17-10 May), are 10-7 since the All-Star break and have thus far gone 13-8 through the first half of the punishingly difficult portion of their schedule. Entering tonight's game they are comfortably in second place in both the AL East (2.5 games behind the Red Sox and 3.5 games ahead of the Blue Jays, whom they'll face in Toronto this weekend), and the Wild Card race (2 games behind the still surging A's and 2.5 games ahead of tonight's opponent, the Cleveland Indians).

As for their recent spate of transactions, signing Hideo Nomo to a minor league deal was something of a no-brainer. Nomo, who turns 37 at the end of the month, may indeed be finished as a major league starter, but with four starters on the DL, three more having failed miserably in spot starts, and Aaron Small now a regular part of the rotation, the Yankees could use an insurance policy such as Nomo, who has six quality start on the season, one of which beat Randy Johnson at the Stadium back in April.

I didn't know about the Shaw Chacon trade until I found myself listening to Chacon's first Yankee start on the radio while on my way to pick up some lunch following a mosquito-plagued bike ride through the wetlands. Frightened that the Yankees might have given up something valuable to get him, I picked up a copy of the New York Times at the local gas station (one of two on the island from what I could tell) but the story on Chacon's arrival mentioned only that he was acquired for two minor league pitchers, failing to print their names. It wasn't until Sunday night that I learned that those pitchers were Ramon Ramirez and Edwardo Sierra.

Back in spring training I had listed Ramirez just below Chien-Ming Wang on the Yankees' organizational depth chart based largely on his K/BB ratios and the fact that he had cracked the Clippers roster in each of the last two seasons. The Yankees were clearly less impressed (perhaps due to the shoulder tendonitis that interrupted his 2004 campaign, or perhaps due to his unimpressive showing in two spring training appearances), sending him back to double-A Trenton where he pitched reasonably well only to struggle again with the Clippers.

As for Sierra, originally acquired from Oakland in the Chris Hammond trade, he was once thought to be a potential successor to Mariano Rivera due to a blazing fastball and corresponding strike-out rates, but his wildness, which was once a minor concern, got out of control at single-A Tampa last year where he walked 8.32 men per nine innings. That, combined with the acquisition of James Cox in this year's amateur draft (supposedly an only slighly lesser version of Hudson Street and his understudy at the University of Texas) made Sierra plenty expendable. Both men are 23 years old and have been assigned to the Rockies double-A club in Tulsa where they've thus far been knocked around.

As for Chacon himself, obviously his start on Saturday was encouraging, but I still don't expect much out of him. While with the Rockies this year, Chacon walked more men than he struck out outside of Coors field. Over the previous four seasons he has posted a 5.21 road ERA and walked 5.03 men per nine innings outside of Denver. For those who think he could get bumped into the bullpen when/if Pavano and company return (Pavano is now expected to start on Monday, I'm no longer holding my breath), Chacon was a disaster as the Rockies closer in 2004, walking as many as he struck out, blowing nine opportunities, and posting a 7.11 ERA (6.19 on the road). Best of all, the reason Chacon was sent to the bullpen to begin with is that his stamina over the course of the season makes Paul LoDuca look like Lance Armstrong. He's 0-15 with a 6.89 ERA for his career after July 31. I'm willing to withold judgement for a few starts, but I would be surprised to see Chacon, who is still in his arbitration years, still with the team in 2006.

Finally, it was obvious that the Yankees would pick up Alan Embree if the Red Sox were unable to trade him during the ten-day DFA period and thus were forced to release him. Indeed they did, as well they should have. Though I have to question the wisdom of subsequently dumping Buddy Groom (who was designated for assignment then traded to the Diamondbacks for a player to be named or cash, which is about as close to a bag of balls as you're gonna get), a move which creates a roster spot not for Embree, but for for Wayne Franklin.

To me the Groom deal was a lesser version of the decision to trade Robin Ventura after the deadline acquisition of Aaron Boone in 2003, but with less justification. In 2003, the Yankees had both Ventura and Todd Zeile on the roster when the acquired Boone for Brandon Claussen. It seemed obvious that Zeile (a righty like Boone and a lesser player than the left-handed Ventura in every way) should have been the player dumped to make room for Boone. I still believe that Ventura could have made a key difference as a pinch-hitter in the postseason that year, while Zeile was released just 17 days later, ultimately to make room for Juan Rivera to platoon with Karim Garcia in right.

The difference then was that Ventura actually had some trade value as evidenced by the fact that two years later, both players acquired in that trade, Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor, are on the Yankees 25-man roster. Groom clearly had no trade value, which makes it all the more perplexing as to why he was sent packing. The only clues we have as to why the Yankees would prefer the mystery meat of Franklin and Alex Graman to Groom are Buddy's parting shots at Joe Torre, which echo many of my comments over the years about Joe Torre's tenuous trust in his relievers, resulting in the division of his bullpen into "his guys" and the rest, the latter of whom pitch about once a week when the Yankees are winning, if they're lucky.

As for Embree's value, he claims that his early season struggles were the result of a mechanical flaw that he's since corrected, though it's difficult to find much proof of that in his numbers which steadily worsened over the first three months of the season and didn't show a marked improvement in July. Still, if that's indeed the case, he could be an essential part of the Yankee bullpen as he was for the Red Sox in 2003, 2004 and the second half of 2002. Even better, the Red Sox are paying all but $100,000 of his $3 million contract, which will only make it sweeter if he helps to neutralize David Ortiz and Trot Nixon down the stretch. If not, well, had the Yankees not dumped Groom, there would have been no risk involved. Not that Buddy Groom was any great shakes, looking at their season stats, the only real difference between Groom and Embree thus far this season is Embree's inflated ERA, which could be the result of the pitchers who have followed him into games allowing his runners to score. And, of course, Embree's seen a lot more action (21 more appearances to be exact).

That just about brings us up to date (I'll save my comments on Aaron Small, the centerfield situation, and Joe Torre's use of Andy Phillips for when they're more obviously relevant). So, with the Yankees and I both having enjoyed yesterday's off-day, we swing back into action tonight with a three-game series in Cleveland against:

The Cleveland Indians

2005 Record: 55-51 (.519)
2005 Pythagorean Record: 57-49 (.540)

Manager: Eric Wedge
General Manager: Mark Shapiro

Ballpark (2004 park factors): Jacob's Field 98/98

Who's replaced whom?

Jason Dubois replaces Jody Gerut (Pirates)
Jeff Liefer replaces Brandon Phillips (minors)
Rafael Betancourt (drug suspension) replaces Matt Miller (DL)
Brian Tallet replaces Fernando Cabrera (minors)

Current Roster:

1B – Ben Broussard
2B – Ron Belliard
SS – Jhonny Peralta
3B – Aaron Boone
C – Victor Martinez
RF – Casey Blake
CF – Grady Sizemore
LF – Coco Crisp
DH – Jeff Liefer

Bench:

R – Jose Hernandez (IF)
R - Jason Dubois (OF)
S – Josh Bard (C)

Rotation:

R – Kevin Millwood
R – C.C. Sabathia
R – Jake Westbrook
R – Scott Elarton
L – Cliff Lee

Bullpen:

R – Bob Wickman
R – Bobby Howry
L – Arthur Rhodes
R – David Riske
L – Scott Sauerbeck
R – Rafael Betancourt
L - Brian Tallet

DL:

L – Travis Hafner (DH)
R – Matt Miller
R – Juan Gonzalez (OF) (60-day)

Typical Line-up

L – Grady Sizemore (CF)
S – Coco Crisp (LF)
R – Jhonny Peralta (SS)
S – Victor Martinez (C)
L - Jeff Liefer (1B)
R – Ron Belliard (2B)
R – Aaron Boone (3B)
L – Ben Broussard (1B)
R – Casey Blake (RF)

The above roster includes just 24 names because Travis Hafnerwho has been out of action since being hit in the head ??? and was exepcted to be activated today, left his rehab game yesterday after one at-bat due to "not feel[ing] 100 percent" (most likely meaning reoccuring dizzy spells). Bad news for the Tribe, great news for the Bombers. With Hafner out, the Indians have turned to journeyman Jeff Liefer, though it would seem obvious for them to use Jason Dubois, acquired from the Cubs for former Rookie of the Year candidate Jody Gerut. Another break for the Yanks, though Eric Wedge has somewhat compensated for his poor choice of DH by promoting Jhonny Peralta to the three-hole after having burried him at the bottom of the line-up for most of the first half of the season.

Otherwise, there's not a lot about the Indians that differs from when the Yankees took three of four from them at the Stadium just before the All-Star break. Scott Elarton, who beat the Yankees with seven strong innings on Old Timer's Day for the only Cleveland victory against the Yanks thus far this season (thanks in part to Joe Bullpen) goes tonight against Al Leiter, whose mound histrionics and high-wire pitching were described beautifully by Alex after his hard-luck loss against the Twins last week.

Comments
2005-08-02 13:32:04
1.   Dan M
I don't feel tardy.
2005-08-02 14:00:13
2.   atc
Womack gets one freaking slap hit and he's back in the lineup.
2005-08-02 14:11:27
3.   Shaun P
atc, are you surprised? Joe T's playing the "hot hand" just like he always has when that option is available. I suppose you could say that Woemack hit .368/.400/.421 in July, but that would overlook the 19 ABs he did it in.

After all, Enrique Wilson used to start against Pedro because at one point he was 10 for 20 against Senor Jheri Curl. Randy Velarde started game 2 of the '01 Series (!?!), at 1B (?!?!?!?) and hit second (!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?) just because he had a good AVG against the Big Unit in a few career ABs. I'm not going on because this is depressing me.

I guess Woemack playing tonight doesn't really bother me. As long as we win . . .

2005-08-02 15:49:27
4.   mikeplugh
Womack is too easy a target at this point. I know he's next to last in MLB in OBP and that he hasn't showed much this season, but short of trading or releasing him, what should we do?

He is a guy that can steal 4 bases in a game and when he's on creates havok. If he's hot now, why not see what he can do? Torre stuck with Giambi and it paid off...Womack could turn things around, hit .275 and get on base at a .350 clip the rest of the year and steal 10 bases a week. It would be nice to actually get something out of him.

If he stinks, then we tried and he gets nailed to the bench until we need a pinch runner. I figure this is his last gasp as a Yankee anyway.

2005-08-02 15:57:45
5.   rbj
Welcome back, Kotter, er, Corcoran. I'm just about to leave for a week in Ol' Virginny myself.
I think you play Womack tonight to give him a shot and rest Bernie. If he sits all the time, he's going to be too rusty to come off the bench coff Andy coff Phillips.
Speaking of rusty, didn't even Rusty Staub get an occasional start?
2005-08-02 18:54:09
6.   Shaun P
Slow commenting night, eh? 6-5 Indians going into the bottom of the 8th. Leiter was all over the place, I understand. Looks like Proctor pitched well in long relief at least.
2005-08-02 19:05:29
7.   tocho
As soon as Leiter was taken out, we had a very nice ballgame. Proctor pitched very well, he added an effective off-speed pitch and kept the Indians off-balance. F-Rod was very good as well.

The Yanks had very good chances in the 7th. and the 8th., but only scored 1 run in each.

The top of the 9th. doesn't look promising with Posada, Tino and Bernie, ironically the heart of the order of the past... time does take a toll...

2005-08-02 19:28:56
8.   JeremyM
Am I the only one who can't stand to watch Posada bat anymore? He rarely comes up with a big hit, it seems. Oh well, tough loss.
2005-08-02 20:06:23
9.   tocho
I think I can't stand to watch Posada PLAY anymore, the first run of the game should not have scored. That could have saved a few pitches for Leiter and change the whole game. He has been useless with the bat and behind the plate, everybody runs on him and his game-calling has been questionable. This has to be a very frustrating season for him, but as far as I can tell (and that's very little) he seems happy with his reduced offensive role... annoying.
2005-08-02 20:59:04
10.   Rich
I would prefer to not have a reason to criticize Torre after almost over every game, but leaving Leiter in as long as he did was really stupid.

I would prefer to start Proctor over Leiter. He is a bullpen killer.

2005-08-02 21:37:11
11.   Cliff Corcoran
You have to hope your starter will straighten out. I think Torre handled Leiter and the pen perfectly tonight. As for Proctor, last night's four innings were his longest outing of his major league career and he hasn't started at any level since 2002, you can't just throw him into the rotation, not that I'm so sure he'd deserve it anyway, though he did do a great job last night.
2005-08-02 23:11:39
12.   Rich
Leiter had zero control of the strike zone for the entire game. His pitch count was ridiculous. The smart move was to remove him after he walked the first two batters that inning.

Proctor did all you can ask for from a long reliever.

2005-08-03 06:44:55
13.   Andre
Maybe it's time to start pinch hitting for Posada in big situations. The following stats are AVG of Posada and Womack. Even Womack has better numbers in clutch situations this year. . .

Posada
Bases Empty .248
Runners On .252
RISP .218
RISP w/2 Outs .098
Bases Loaded .083

Womack
Bases Empty .261
Runners On .229
RISP .269
RISP w/2 Outs .250
Bases Loaded .125

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