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Fixing A Hole (Or Four)
2005-08-11 09:27
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

The Yankees suffered another heartbreaking loss yesterday afternoon, dropping the rubber game of their series against the major league leading Chicago White Sox by a score of 2-1 in ten innings. The decisive blow came against Mariano Rivera in the top of the tenth. Following a strikeout of John Flaherty's predecessor, Chris Widger, Juan Uribe fouled off four Rivera pitches, taking two others for balls in the process, then lifted Mo's seventh pitch to deep center field where the ball evaded Bernie Williams for a one-out triple.

Lead-off man Scott Podsednik, who lead off the series with a bunt base hit against Mike Mussina, then took strike one, fouled off a bunt on an apparent safety squeeze attempt, and grounded to Robinson Cano at second. Cano fired home, but, according to reader Johnny C:

Uribe got a great jump off third and when Cano made a decent throw home to Posada, he was barely safe. You could say that the throw was a little to the first base side, or that Posada didn't straddle the plate the way Scioscia would have, but it's a moot point. Good play on Uribe's part.

Credit Ozzie Guillen's small-ball tactics for this win, as the first White Sox run came when a Carl Everett double cashed in a bunt base-hit by Pablo Ozuna in the third. That and Uribe's mad dash for home were all the White Sox would need as Freddy Garcia cruised through eight innings, allowing just one unearned run on six hits and a walk.

The lone Yankee run came right away in the first inning. Derek Jeter lead off with a infield single to shortstop and moved to second on a throwing error by Uribe. He then moved to third on a Cano groundout and scored on a single by Gary Sheffield.

And that was it. The Yankees were held scoreless by Garcia and relievers Neal Cotts and Dustin Hermanson for the remaining nine innings, putting just seven more men on base via two walks and five hits, all singles. The only time the Yankees even mounted a legitimate threat was in the fourth when Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui lead off with consecutive singles and moved to second and third on a Giambi groundout only to be stranded by a Bernie Williams strikeout and a John Flaherty pop up.

If there was a goat in this game, it was Williams, for that strikeout, his team-high four men left on base over an 0 for 4 day at the plate, and for playing Uribe's tenth inning fly into a triple, which, according to the comments on the game thread below, was a direct result of Bernie's inability to cover ground in center.

This all comes back around to Joe Torre failing to put his team in the best position to win. I tried to absolve Torre in my mind, reasoning that, given the sorry state of the Yankee bench, in a tie game against the stellar White Sox bullpen, Torre could not afford to take Bernie's bat out of the line-up, no matter how ineffective it had been all game, or even all season. But the reality is that Torre could have improved his defense and his offense by putting Bubba Crosby in for Womack and rearranging the outfield defense to put Bernie in left, Crosby in center and Matsui in right.

Still, in this case the blame goes beyond Torre to the front office, which has failed to supply the Yankee skipper with the best possible roster given the available players at triple-A (never mind completely tanking the offseason). Surely Torre's played a role in this as well, failing to request certain players, or misusing (or not using) them once he has them, but it strikes me that the Yankees could vastly improve their chances by making a few simple moves.

  • Demote Wayne Franklin in favor of Colter Bean, who has belonged in the Yankee bullpen for the better part of two seasons now, but has only made one appearance with the big club because the organization continues to prefer Scott Proctor for reasons I fail to understand.
  • Release Tony Womack and promote the triple-A outfielder with the strongest pulse, be it Kevin Thompson, or Kevin Reese and platoon him with Bubba Crosby in centerfield. If half of the platoon greatly outplays the other, congratulations, you've found a starting centerfielder! You then have the option of swapping out the inferior half of the platoon for Mitch Jones or Mike Vento, who has come on strong in the second half.
  • Undo the exchange of Andy Phillips for Felix Escalona, and platoon Phillips and Tino at DH, but with Phillips getting half the starts rather than the one-third or so that the right-handed half of a platoon would normally get. The hope here is that Phillips will eventually steal the job from Tino entirely. In the meantime, Tino's been so bad against lefties this year that Phillips couldn't possibly be worse.
  • Farm out Proctor in favor of Russ Johnson as, with Phillips at DH, the Yankees will need a back-up infielder.
  • Make sure that whenever Jason Giambi starts, he starts in the field, as Giambi has a .297 GPA when DHing, but a .392 GPA (!) when playing first base this season. Over his career he has a .299 GPA as a DH, but a .335 GPA while playing first.
  • Drop Robinson Cano in the order (though it would probably be best to wait until he has a couple of good games at the plate in a row so the move does not appear punitive, which it would not be).
  • The end result of these changes would be a line-up that looks like this:

    R – Jeter (SS)
    R – Sheffield (RF)
    R – Rodriguez (3B)
    L – Giambi (1B)
    L – Matsui (LF)
    S – Posada (C)
    L – Cano (2B)
    R/L – Phillips/Martinez (DH)
    R/L – Thompson-Reese/Crosby (CF)

    There's no need to stagger the lefties in the line-up as Matsui has been crushing portsiders this year. In fact, batting Giambi and Matsui in that order actually sets a nifty little trap for the other team, as their attempts to match-up will simply make Matsui a better hitter, while Giambi has held his own against lefties just fine. Even better, if they decide to leave the lefty in to face Posada and Cano, Posada has been a far better hitter from the right side this year (which always seems to be the case when he's struggling, I remember a slow start he had one year that made me think he should give up switch hitting and just bat righty).

    Assuming Phillips and, say, Kevin Reese win the centerfield and DH jobs, that gives you a bench that looks like this:

    L – Tino Martinez (1B)
    S – Bernie Williams (OF)
    L – Bubba Crosby (OF)
    R – Russ Johnson (IF)
    R – John Flaherty (C)

    Or alternately:

    R – Andy Phillips (IF)
    S – Bernie Williams (OF)
    R – Thompson-Reese(OF)
    R – Russ Johnson (IF)
    R – John Flaherty (C)

    In addition to being a man deeper, that bench, in either configuration, has a more useful variety of useful pinch-hitters, pinch-runners and defensive replacements than the Yankees currently enjoy. Meanwhile, the Yankees will be getting better centerfield defense, and will be losing nothing offensively. They even stand to gain at the plate should Phillips or the centerfielders start to hit like they have in the minors (Bubba being the exception as he hasn't hit a lick in triple-A either this year, thus the need to promote a platoon partner who could take the job from him rather than giving it to him outright).

    Meanwhile, the bullpen will contain:

    R – Mariano Rivera
    R – Tom Gordon
    R – Tanyon Sturtze
    L – Alan Embree
    R – Felix Rodriguez
    R – Colter Bean

    Not a cringe-inducing choice among them.

    What these moves (essentially promoting Phillips, Johnson, Bean and a center fielder while demoting Proctor, Escalona, Franklin and cutting Womack) do is tighten up the parts of the Yankee roster that are leaking water, which should be just enough to keep Joe Torre's managerial bobbles from costing the Yankees their chance at the playoffs.

    To begin with, the number of poor choices Torre could make would be greatly reduced. Secondly, the Yankees are just a run here and a run there from being in a much better place (just think of the two one-run loses they just suffered, or the other two or three one-run games that Torre's late-game bullpen management has cost them in the past month or so), runs that could be provided (or prevented) by such subtle roster tweaks.

    While some might argue that it would just be simpler to fire Torre, there are two major problems with that line of logic. The first is that there's no guarantee that Torre's replacement would succeed where Torre has failed. The second is that Torre is, if nothing else, a player's manager, who has the respect and admiration of the vast majority of his players (the odd Buddy Groom being the exception). There's no telling how the removal of Torre would affect the attitude of the team, but I can only imagine that it would do more harm than good, thus completely derailing the season.

    Brian Cashman was able to effect meaningful change in early May when he booted Bernie from center and Womack from second and installed Robinson Cano in the line-up. Just because his attempt to do the same with Melky Cabrera failed, doesn't mean he shouldn't try again.

Comments
2005-08-11 11:48:46
1.   NealPhd
I think these lineup changes would be a great idea, but in reality, there is no way an ego-maniac like Sheffield would want anything to do with hitting 2nd. It would "lower his chances to drive in runs", and of course effect his stats. Plus, as we all well know about Torre, if you are not one of his "guys", no playing time for you (phillips, et al)
2005-08-11 11:49:18
2.   NealPhd
I think these lineup changes would be a great idea, but in reality, there is no way an ego-maniac like Sheffield would want anything to do with hitting 2nd. It would "lower his chances to drive in runs", and of course affect his stats. Plus, as we all well know about Torre, if you are not one of his "guys", no playing time for you (phillips, et al)
2005-08-11 11:58:06
3.   Alvaro Espinoza
I'm partial to leading off Bubba followed by Jeter in the 2 hole w/the customary lineup to follow (Cano anywhere 7-9).
2005-08-11 12:05:51
4.   yankz
After reading Wednesday's Pinstriped Bible (Or Pinstriped Blog- I can't remember which one it was) about the reason the A's are so successful, I started to think about the best lineup and I thought along almost the exact same lines. I wish there was some way in your roster to keep Womack as a pinch runner, he's one of the best base stealers in the league and his low OBP should have kept his legs fresh for a Dave Roberts type role this October.
2005-08-11 12:09:56
5.   sam2175
Does anyone have any information about how much inputs Torre has about roster construction? He works on almost self-fulfilling belief: Guys suck, no matter what their present performance is, so I will not play them, and on the rare occassion they do, they will likely fail which will prove the point that they suck. Examples: Phillips, Groom, Graman, F-Rod, any other farmhand you can name except for Cano and Wang (although they were desperation moves as was Aaron Small). The others are the opposite: just put "are great" in the above sentence, and "continue to run them out" for "not play them". Prominent here are Embree, Womack etc.

By all accounts, Cashman and Torre get along very well. Why do we then have deadweights being carried in the roster? Isn't it fair to both parties to have inputs from one another? Something seems amiss here.

2005-08-11 12:15:58
6.   cinthree
I'm pretty sure Mitch Jones is a 1b/DH in AAA, i highly doubt he'd be able to play center in the majors.
2005-08-11 12:16:08
7.   Cliff Corcoran
You could keep Womack over Russ Johnson as the back-up infielder, but Johnson can actually hit some and I just don't think it's worth carrying Womack's bat for his legs.

Alvaro, this idea of leading off Bubba that you keep mentioning is insane. You want to give Bubba Crosby more at-bats than any other player on the team? Bubba has yet to prove he can hit well enough for the nine-hole. Heck, Bubba has yet to prove he can hit well enough for the Clippers.

2005-08-11 12:22:52
8.   rsmith51
Interesting ideas Cliff. It is far too original to ever work. I am still amazed that the Yanks have not tried Bernie in LF. I always thought the optimal lineup(offensive and defensive) would be:

Jeter SS
Giambi DH
Sheffield RF
ARod 3B
Matsui CF
Posada C
Williams LF
Martinez 1B
Cano 2B

2005-08-11 12:25:24
9.   Cliff Corcoran
Cinthree: Heh, oops. I don't know why I thought he had played some CF. Jones is an outfielder by trade, but the move to 1B (supposedly because the Yankees were "weak" at that position) does suggest he's a corner man at best. He also has 144 Ks in 112 games with the Clippers, so perhaps we should take him off the list, aye?
2005-08-11 12:32:01
10.   Cliff Corcoran
RSmith, dunno if you've reread the post since I put up those stats on Giambi at 1B vs. DH. Otherwise, your line-up works pretty well, except for the Matsui in center. Bernie actually has a better Rate in CF this year than Matsui does.
2005-08-11 12:37:32
11.   cinthree
That's a staggering amount of strikeouts, sorta brings to mind an inferior Russ Branyan.
2005-08-11 12:44:33
12.   singledd
All good ideas except: moving Cano out of the 2 hole. It just leaves up too weak, 6-9... partially bcause Posada in having a bad year. Giambi has the best OBP and AROD is still out best HR guy so...

Jetes
Cano
Sheffield
Giambi
ARod
Matsui
Bernie Posada
CF

2005-08-11 12:56:12
13.   sam2175
singledd,

I think that is exactly why you naximize 1-5, no? Boston is scoring tons of runs because Damon, Renteria and Ortiz are getting on base at a very high rate, and Manny is driving them in. In our case, Jetes gets on base, Sheff drives him in, but Cano often fails to advance runners or get on base himself. The same reason you would want Womack out of 2-hole. As long as Cano was hitting for a high average, the low OBP did not matter much, but now it is beginning to matter.

2005-08-11 13:24:20
14.   Upperdeck
Is there any logical reason for Small and Chacon's recent 'success?' Is it luck? Is it because they change speeds? Becasue they listen to Mel? Because they don't listen to Mel? I just cant figure it out...
2005-08-11 13:26:06
15.   Shaun P
Does anyone know if someone in the front office reads Bronx Banter? If not, can we send this article to them somehow: fax, e-mail, whatever.

I think these are fantastic ideas, Cliff - even covers the Yanks in case Sierra is not able to come back and hit the occassional home run. The sad truth we've seen over the last couple of days is that, as often as its bullpen mismanagement that costs the Yanks a win, when the offense (and defense) have too many black holes it hurts us more. The 'pen essentially did its job against the White Sox - the offense (and Bernie's defense in CF) did not.

2005-08-11 13:59:01
16.   KJC
sam2175 -- a problem with the 2nd half of your argument is that Embree has not been great all year. (As much as I appreciated what he did for the Sox the last 2 years, I was not busted up to see him go this year.)
2005-08-11 14:34:10
17.   Alvaro Espinoza
Cliff -

Clarification and mea culpa on my part: my suggestion is overwhelmingly rooted in having Bubba play the field, not lead off (I certainly did NOT come close to making that clear). See what happens when I try to squeeze this stuff in during work??? So, we're in partial agreement.

However, "insane" is a strong word, particularly after you just proposed that the Yanks inject any and every triple AAA stud w/ little-to-no major league playing experience into the middle of a pennant race.

I certainly don't love the idea nor do I see it as a long term answer but could it possibly be any more "insane" than batting Shef 2?

2005-08-11 14:48:46
18.   Zack
The problem with all of this, and of course, I support it 100%, is that Torre STILL won't trust those guys, so that he will use ONLY the starters, bat Tino almost 100% of the time etc...We can dream about the ideal lineups etc, but there has never been any indication whatsoever that Torre would use it even with no other option, sometimes I think he would play man down rather than let Phillips bat.

Evidence of this, methinks, is the talk that Wright will bump Small to the bullpen, I mean, hell, why not throw a guy who has given us nothing this year into the mix and eliminate an, at the the moment, effective pitcher?!?

2005-08-11 14:59:25
19.   jonm
GPA was new to me -- seems like an excellent stat.
In the interest of encouraging its use, here's its definition (from Hardball Times):

GPA
Gross Production Average, a variation of OPS, but more accurate and easier to interpret. The exact formula is (OBP*1.8+SLG)/4, adjusted for ballpark factor. The scale of GPA is similar to BA: .200 is lousy, .265 is around average and .300 is a star.

2005-08-11 16:11:32
20.   Shaun P
Since August began, the following hitters haven't been hitting:

Cano
Womack
Posada (he didn't hit in July, either)
Matsui

With these 4 in the lineup every night, is it any wonder August has been so bad? The same thing happened earlier in the season, too, when it was only A-Rod, Sheff, Jeter, and Matsui hitting.

Now I'm sure Matsui will come out it, and Cano was due for a slump - but Womack has gotta go, especially if you try to revive Posada by giving him a break and playing Flaherty.

2005-08-11 16:25:02
21.   randym77
Cano has just been killing us lately. Maybe all that talk about him being the new Jeter was too much pressure, too soon. I'm sure he'll be great one day, but right now, he's a dead weight.

Posada...he's always been streaky. He was hitting well for a few games last month, and I thought maybe he'd go on a hot streak again, but it was short-lived.

As for Matsui...I don't suppose we could get someone to twist his ankle again? ;-)

2005-08-11 16:26:30
22.   sam2175
KJC,

I know what you are saying, however, I was merely pointing out a pattern in Torre's thinking. He remembers all those great relief work that Embree did against NY (and he did some) and he thinks it is the same pitcher, he needs to simply put him out there to build his confidence. It may actually work with Embree, he did have a significant upside. The baffling one was Womack, and on the other direction, F-Rod. I think all he remembers about him is the WS game 6, 2003, and hence does not trust him, hence the inconsistent usage pattern, and one of these days when he will actually suck (happens to every RP), that will appear to vindicate Torre. The man has a 3.15 career ERA and an ERA of 1.5 after All-Star Break.

Amazing that Torre used Felix Heredia in playoffs, but that is another matter.

2005-08-11 16:42:34
23.   vongimp
I actually bumped into Tanyon and Giambi on the street last night around 11:30. After shaking Tanyon's hand, I attempted to ask him what Krod did to Torre's wife, unfortunately my inebriation made the sentence came out as "Tanyon, I think you do good stuff". Yup, I'm an idiot and a drunk.
2005-08-11 17:07:46
24.   randym77
Wow. Were they hanging out together, or what?
2005-08-11 17:27:19
25.   rilkefan
Sturze is reportedly Giambi's closest friend on the team, and also a good friend.
2005-08-11 17:48:43
26.   randym77
Well, the Yankees are making a monkey of me tonight. The dreaded Womack is a hitting machine. Cano's getting the job done. Matsui and Posada have both hit homers.
2005-08-11 17:50:04
27.   singledd
Must read Steve Goldman in the current 'Pinstripe Blog': http://www.yesnetwork.com/yankees/pinstripedblog.asp
"In any case, most of Torre's problems this year are due to poor organizational planning."

Man.... did you see the Beltran/Cameron collision? OoW! 2 guys BOTH dive for a ball and hit head to head. Brutal. Cameron is hurt and out for a while. Really nasty.

2005-08-11 17:59:56
28.   randym77
The video is up at MLB.com. With a "not for the faint of heart" warning on it. Cameron has multiple fractures in both cheekbones, a broken nose, and a concussion. Could've been a lot worse.
2005-08-11 18:04:08
29.   Rich
Proctor would be a better option in the rotation than Leiter.

How did Embree become one of Torre's guys so easily?

btw, There are a number of factual errors in Goldman's column. For example, Street was taken in Round 1A three picks after the Yankees drafted Poterson. Hughes was taken in Round 1, and was a terrific choice.

2005-08-11 19:02:49
30.   Shaun P
I'm guessing no one is happy with F-Rod being used tonight, huh? I don't understand the obsession with him. Except for 4.2 nice July innings, he's been awful - 11 walks and 8 Ks!?

At first glance, I had no problem with Embree pitching to Young and Texeiria. Tex has a .727 OPS against lefties this year, and Young has also hit righties better.

But then I looked at their career numbers, which are probably more representative (4+ for Young, almost 3 for Tex) - and both are significantly better against lefties in their careers. Maybe Embree was the wrong choice after all.

Thank God for Jeter is all I have to say now.

2005-08-11 19:05:12
31.   Rich
I'm fine with F-Rod being used. He has only pitched twice since 8/2, and both times were for 1/3 of an inning. No one can remain sharp being used that way. Sturtze is burnt.
2005-08-11 19:09:33
32.   Rich
Gordon is spent too. The cost of pitching your best relievers with big leads.
2005-08-11 19:10:44
33.   Shaun P
I guess my point really is, why is F-Rod there, and not Colter Bean? I'd say Franklin is pretty friggin' useless with Embree around - so why not replace him with Bean? I'd rather see him go then F-Rod.

The real problem isn't who Torre "trusts" and who he doesn't. The problem is that only Mariano is reliable lately.

2005-08-11 19:13:52
34.   Hank
Money!
2005-08-11 19:16:32
35.   Rich
Mo is amazing. 'Nuff said.
2005-08-11 19:17:39
36.   Rich
I don't understand why Bean hasn't gotten a shot while Franklin and others have. I still think F-Rod can be useful with regular work.
2005-08-11 19:22:14
37.   sam2175
Shaun P,

It is a problem who Torre trusts and who he doesn't. Given this pattern of usage, it is hard for a pitcher to remain sharp. If Torre trusts someone, he will get umpteenth opportunity to suck before he actually succeeds. See today's Tanyon Sturtze, a pitcher Torre trusts. He pitched poorly today, and has pitched poorly for a while. Yet Torre would go to him in high leverage situations.

F-Rod has a career long dcent record of pitching in relief. If he is allowed to get in rhythm, he can help this ballclub. It is hard to be in rhythm when your pitching opportunity comes once in 7 days.

As for Franklyn, he is there because apparently Torre wants him. He expressed annoyance the last time he was demoted. I second the Colter Bean move, but that likely wont happen. He was here before, Torre buried him deep in the bullpen then.

2005-08-11 19:41:27
38.   Nick from Washington Heights
Mo!
2005-08-11 19:42:19
39.   Nick from Washington Heights
"Once again, the peerless, incomparable Mariano Rivera saves the Yankees bacon." -John Sterling
2005-08-11 19:42:48
40.   Rich
Mo even makes Torre look good. I overstate...
2005-08-11 19:43:00
41.   sam2175
This is the official 1-run games week.

Just Mo!

2005-08-11 19:45:07
42.   Hank
Did I see that last pitch right? Did Mo really hit 97? Unbelievable.
2005-08-11 19:45:47
43.   randym77
Phew. Too damn close for comfort.
2005-08-11 19:52:06
44.   singledd
Can anyone tell me...
Has there EVER been a relief pitcher in the history of the game that has been dominant for 10 years? We have a lot of great guys, but Rivera is the decade's MVP.
2005-08-11 19:55:36
45.   Shaun P
If you go back and look at games where the Yanks had a four-run lead (or greater) or a four-run deficit (or greater) and Gordon came in to pitch, you'll find it happened on:

April 3rd (season opener)
April 24th
May 2nd
May 10th
May 11th
May 13th
June 11th
June 21st
July 7th
July 17th
July 20th
July 26th
August 7th

Out of 57 G, 58 2/3 IP Gordon had (before tonight), 13 G, 12 1/3 IP are on the list above = less than a fourth of his total appearances, almost a fifth of his total IP.

For Sturtze:

April 3rd
April 16th
May 5th
May 8th
May 29th
June 8th
June 18th
June 19th
June 21st *the 13-run 8th inning game
July 9th (*probably reasonable; gave him 4 days off after his start on the 4th)
July 20th
August 5th
August 7th

45G, 57.1 IP total (not counting his 1 start); 13G, 15.1 IP total on the list above, so between 1/3 and 1/4 of his total appearances, almost 1/4 of his total innings

OK, now that I've done half of the hard part, someone go back and identify when of these times it was reasonable for Gordon/Sturtze to appear. Then, I think, we can have a reasonable discussion on whether or not, and to what extent, Torre has burnt Gordon and Sturtze out.

2005-08-11 19:57:46
46.   Shaun P
Kay and Kaat both mentioned that Mariano is certainly the team's MVP, and should be mentioned among the guys in the running for the Cy Young. "They're 5 games back with him, imagine where they'd be without Mo?" Kaat said (more or less).

I really do love Mariano.

2005-08-11 20:25:28
47.   Hank
singledd:
After a quick perusal of the all-time saves leaders, the answer to your question is what you expect. No.

Eckersley had some phenomenal seasons, but he was only truly dominant from '88 to '92. After that he still racked up thirty saves a year, but he had three straight seasons of 4+ ERA's starting in '93.

Hoffman has a huge total, and his career as a closer started a year before Mo's, but he's got two things going against him: one, he's been in San Diego and the team has only really contended a couple of years; and two, he missed almost the entire '03 season.

The only other candidates are longevity guys like Rollie Fingers, Jeff Reardon, or Lee Smith. Smith, the all-time leader, really only had one season that I'd classify as dominant -- 1983.

Probably the closest is actually Gossage. He had 9 straight great years from '77 to '85, plus he pitched in eight playoff series during that time, saving eight games.

I could be missing someone -- I didn't bother looking at the stats of guys like Tom Henke, Doug Jones, Troy Percival, etc. -- but I'm fairly comfortable with the results.

Basically, I spent fifteen minutes to tell you what you already know -- Mo is the best ever, no question.

2005-08-12 17:53:33
52.   Schteeve
Would batting Crosby leadoff be more insane than batting Sheff 2nd? Um. Absolutely.
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