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Observations From Cooperstown
2007-04-06 06:26
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

By Bruce Markusen

Two Games In The Books

At this writing, the Yankees have played a grand total of two games, which makes it difficult to detect any meaningful trends and patterns. Still, every game provides us with at least one storyline. As is usually the case in Yankeeland, there is no shortage of plots and themes as we evaluate the first series of the season.

*Sometimes Opening Day makes you feel very good about a pre-season prediction. I picked the Yankees to win the American League East, in large part because of their bullpen, which has far superior depth to the pen in Beantown. So what did the Yankee relievers do on Opening Day after Carl Pavano dropped the ball in the fifth inning? The five-man tag team of Brian Bruney, Sean Henn, Luis Vizcaino, Kyle Farnsworth, and Mariano Rivera combined for four and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief. That sort of pattern could become a trend in 2007. Given the depth at Joe Torre's disposal, this might be the Yankees' best bullpen since the dynasty days of Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton.

(And just when I had finished patting my back after the opener, the Yankee bullpen allowed three runs in game two, including the game-winning run in the top of the eighth. Ah, so much for predictions.)

The improvement of Farnsworth could be the key to just how good the bullpen can be. Farnsworth has dipped into his pre-2006 arsenal and brought back a sinking fastball that provides a nice contrast to his rising 98 mile-per-hour four-seamer. If Farnsworth is willing to throw the sinker—and more importantly, is able to throw strikes with his sinker—he could be the eighth-inning force the Yankees thought they had acquired in 2006.

*For the first time since the first half of 1996, the Yankees appear to have enough versatility in their lineup to play "small ball"—or "Billy Ball," in homage to a former Yankee skipper who had some fun with the A's in the early eighties. The Yankees stole three bases and laid down two sacrifice bunts in the opener, giving them an extra dimension to a lineup that is already packed with power. With Alex Rodriguez having lost 12 pounds over the winter, he could resume being a significant basestealing threat. The Yankees now have four regulars capable of stealing 20 or more bases—the others are Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Bobby Abreu—which should erase the team's image as being slow and plodding. When's the last time the Yankee lineup could boast that many basestealers? You might have to go back to the failed speed experiment of 1982, when the Yankees brought in Dave Collins and Ken Griffey and tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to become the "Go-Go" Bombers.

*The Yankees' defensive play has been atrocious through the first two games. I don't care what their zone rating or range factor might be; six errors, a passed ball, and a near passed ball in 18 innings is horrifically bad. I'm willing to excuse some of the poor play because of the cold, but certainly not all of it. Derek Jeter has made several poor throws and has displayed less range than usual to his left, Josh Phelps looked like he'd been taking lessons from Jason Giambi with his Opening Day throw to second base, and even supposed glove wizard Doug Mientkiewicz has made an error. (By the way, if Mientkiewicz doesn't play an absolutely brilliant first base this month, I want him out of the lineup by May 1.) What can the Yankees do about their defensive woes? Well, they're going to have to live with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the left side of the infield, but they need to get Melky Cabrera as many innings as possible in the outfield. He is their best outfielder, both in terms of range and throwing arm—and it's not even close.

*The nicest development of the first week involved an off-the-field concern, specifically someone who hasn't played for the Yankees in more than two decades. The much-loved Bobby Murcer returned to Yankee Stadium for Opening Day, spending a couple of innings in the YES Network broadcast booth, after a winter filled with cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy treatments. I have to admit it was a bit odd to see the cancer-stricken Murcer sporting a bald look—he's always had a full shock of hair, even in recent years—but he sounded very good during his stint in the booth. His voice came across as strong, as did his usual sense of humor. Murcer says he hopes to completely fulfill his broadcast schedule this year. I think it's safe to say that every Yankee fan has the same wish for 2007.

Bruce Markusen is the author of A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's and the writer of Cooperstown Confidential, a blog at MLB.com. Bruce, his wife Sue, and daughter Madeline reside in Cooperstown, NY.

Comments
2007-04-06 07:01:07
1.   Sliced Bread
Excellent stuff, Bruce.
A hearty "Hear, hear!" re: Bobby.

Funny thing about Farnswacker, sometimes I think a power pitcher like him is much better off in Guidry's hands, than he'd be in Mel's.
Farnswacker, like Guidry, lives on fastballs and sliders. But you make an excellent observation about Farnswacker's re-discovered sinker. That could be key to him working more quickly, and efficiently, and therefore, more often.
Stottlemyre, no doubt, would encourage Farns to throw sinkers aplenty, and try to get off the field as quickly as possible.
I hope Gator is encouraging him to do the same. Don't always go for the kill. Induce contact when the situation calls for it.

However, the way the Yanks have been playing behind their pitchers lately, perhaps "K's" should remain king.

By the way, you can also add Cairo to your list of retro "Go Go" Bombers. Dave Collins? Damn, Bruce, that was a long time ago.

2007-04-06 07:24:25
2.   C2Coke
For sure, everyone here will definitely agree with you on the last line.

"Melky Cabrera ... is their best outfielder, both in terms of range and throwing arm—and it's not even close."

There's a lot of Melky love here at the Banter. Many of us are on the Melky bandwaggon ever since May last year. Somehow I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up with most game appearances...His age is just as small as his payroll compared to the rest of the outfielders.

2007-04-06 07:44:53
3.   bp1
We're the Yankees 2nd in the AL in stolen bases last year. I'm pretty sure I saw that on a YES graphic last night, putting them ahead of the speed demon D-Rays.

Best moment of last night's game was the play at the plate when Andy tagged the runner out then pounded his fists. There's still a lot of fire in that fella. It is going to be a fun season.

2007-04-06 07:47:54
4.   Cliff Corcoran
The Yankees were second in the AL and third in the majors in stolen bases last year and had a better success rate than either of the two teams ahead of them (Angels and Mets). Six Yankees stole ten or more bases last year, including Abreu, and lead by Jeter's career best 34.

The 1982 "Bronx Burners" were ninth in the AL in steals with a miserable 60.5% success rate and had just four men with ten or more stolen bases and none with more than Willie Randolph's 16.

2007-04-06 09:45:55
5.   OldYanksFan
Sorry to not follow the tread Dept:
While there has been more talk about ARod then there has been Global Warming and Worst Presidents in History, what I don't think we've really had, is a thorough discussion/debate of just what ARod means to the future of the Yankees.

The other day, PeteAbe posted his projections for future Yankee lineups. Since Pete thinks ARod will opt-out (or he just wants ARod to opt-out), he was not part of these lineups.

And maybe I'm nuts, but I did nto see a dominant, or near dominant team.

In 2009.................
We will have close to a league average catcher, maybe worse on defense. We have been spoiled.

We will have an above average offensive SS and a below average defensive SS.

Giambi has a $22m option with a $5m buyout. Whether he is on the team or not, we will not have the threat that we (or at least I) have enjoyed so much in the past. G-Bomb-i will be a memory.

In CF we will have... what? Am I seeing straight? Holy Cow, it's GOB in center field all over gain. And I think his arm got even worse.

In LF, will we still have a Godzilla monster?

If Melky stays, where ever he plays, it will be an offensive downgrade from what we are used to in our OF.

We may have Santana, or Zambrano, or Tex or any number of other good players. But we will have a Jeter, Posada, Damon and Matsui... who could be anything from close to what they are now, to 'what are we going to do with them?'

In 2004, with a younger team, with Shef and Giambi, ARod was icing on the cake. Our offense was silly good.

But 2009? Yes, I think Cano will be a star. Jetes and Matsui should still be above average (but by how much I don't know). We will have picked up some other talent.

But it looks like it won't be a dominant or powerful lineup. Not like we're used to anyway. It's a line-up that will really need someone like.... ARod.

I happen to like ARod and want to see him fulfill his destiny as a Yankee. But what I like means nothing. But I think this team will REALLY need ARods bat. If it's not there, it will be BADLY missed.

I love to know what others think.. about 2009 and 2010. Before Tabata and our young stud catcher have a chance to make a difference.

How important is ARod to the Yankees?
How hard should Cashman work NOT to let him get away?

2007-04-06 09:56:44
6.   standuptriple
I love the random Dave Collins ref. He signed a ball for me at my first pro baseball game (when he was with the A's). I still have it.
2007-04-06 10:38:33
7.   C2Coke
5 I am with you on the Arod front. But...you make 2009 sound so depressing...

The only position I am worried about is the Catcher in 2010. I hope Jorge can still be here. The best yet ideal scenario is to have him like he's now, yet we'd probably all figure it is a wonderful dream. He, however, can the strong backcup and excellent mentor for the next catcher. The problem is, we have absolutely no idea who that's gonna be.

In turns of the Cap'n and Matsui, I believe they will do whatever is best for the team. If that means switching positions or more time on the bench. Then, so be it. Obviously, I think 2010 may be a little early for that.

2007-04-06 12:37:58
8.   pistolpete
5 What about Mo? ;-)
2007-04-06 13:01:36
9.   OldYanksFan
8 My guess is Mo gets a 3 yr contract, as he voiced a desire to pitcj in 2010.. in New Yankee stadium.

This is just my point. We have a core of excellent players that will be with us in 2009 and 2010. Mo, Jetes, Mats, Damon, Giambi(maybe), Posada, Of those 6, how many will be as good as today? Whats the potential for them to be significantly worse?

We are going to have GOB syndrome with all of them.

The Good news is our SP will have Wanger, Hughes and a Santana/Zambrano (bought and paid for) type guy. Considering the other young arms we have, we might have one of the best/youngest SP staffs around! Hard to believe. This is great news.

But what about our offense without ARod?
Do we turn into the Oakland A's?

2007-04-06 18:19:54
10.   Bruce Markusen
Just to expound on the '82 Yankees: that team didn't steal a lot of bases in actuality, but it had a ton of speed--on paper. Randolph, Griffey, Collins, and Jerry Mumphrey were all capable of stealing 20-plus bases, but none did, in part because the Yankees didn't allow their runners free reign on the bases and in part because they abandoned the "Bronx Burner" philosophy midway through the season when they made the trade for John Mayberry. The Yankees really put the restrictor plates on Collins, who would steal 60 bases two years later for the Blue Jays.

Also, as a point of clarification, I didn't mean to say that the Yankees didn't use their speed last year; I just think they will steal MORE bases this year. With Abreu in tow for a full season and A-Rod having lost a few pounds, I would expect the basestealing total for the team to go up. This year's team really has the potential to run and gun--if they want to.

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