RAB’s Super Bowl Sunday Trivia Contest

UPDATE: We have 4 winners, who have been contacted via email. Please feel free to keep playing for fun!

With the focus of the sports world on the NFL and the Yankees mostly done tinkering with their roster until pitchers and catchers report, RAB is running a Yankees trivia contest as a diversion to keep you folks busy before the Big Game.

The Prizes:

We have 4 prizes to give away.

1. The Last Boy by Jane Leavy
2. Donnie Baseball by Mike Shalin
3. 1961* by Phil Pepe
4. Yankees Classics by Les Krantz (with a DVD)

The winners will get to choose their prizes, in order of finish (first place chooses first, etc).

The Rules:

The game functions as a sort of treasure hunt. The first question is below, at the end of this post. The answer to that question should be put into your web browser’s url area, where you should follow it with .blogspot.com. This will lead you to a page with another question, where the same rules apply. On each page, specific instructions are included to make sure you enter the right words, so be careful. Here’s an example:

Q: Who was the last Yankee to reach 3000 hits? Provide his name followed by his uniform number.

A: The correct answer is Derek Jeter, and his uniform number is 2. Enter derekjeter2.blogspot.com into your web browser, and you would move on to the next question.

There are 46 questions of varying difficulty, corresponding to the 46 Super Bowls of varying degrees of awfulness. The winners must leave a comment on the final page (not on this post!), and also email me (mandel42 at gmail) the answers to all 46 questions, so keep a list as you go along. The first four people to reach the final page, comment, and email me are the winners (One entry per person. Any attempts at multiple entries will disqualify the offender entirely).

Some of you may have played this game before, but I made a few tweaks and added a few questions, so I hope you will give it another try. Good luck, and happy hunting.

Question # 1: Let’s start with an easy one. What were the Yankees called immediately before they were the Yankees? Give the full city and team name (ie newjerseydevils.blogspot.com).

A Sigh of Relief For Mo

Last night, the Red Sox traded incumbent starting shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies, presumably to free up the $6 million dollars he was slated to earn. While Red Sox fans debated what the move meant for the likes of Roy Oswalt, Mike Aviles, Nick Punto, and The Gloved Wunderkind Who Hits Worse Than Ramiro Pena™, Yankees fans breathed a sigh of relief. You see, Marco Scutaro is the David to Mariano Rivera‘s Goliath. He is a middling hitter, more of a pest than anything, with a career OPS+ of 93. Against the Yankees overall, he has a thoroughly unimpressive .697 OPS. But when he digs in against the Great Rivera, the nondescript, unspectacular Scutaro, for no identifiable reason, turns into Edgar Martinez.

It all started in April of 2007. To that point, Scutaro had 6 career at-bats against Rivera, and was hitless with 2 walks. One of those walks came around to score a winning run, but the final score was 6-3 and the walk did not seem to be all that important. But on Sunday, April 15th, Andy Pettitte and Scott Proctor handed Rivera a 4-2 lead on a nice afternoon in Oakland. With 2 outs, Todd Walker singled and Jason Kendall walked, bringing the light-hitting Scutaro to the plate. On an 0-2 pitch, Scutaro turned on a cutter up in the zone and drove it off the foul pole in left, turning a certain Yankees win into a painful loss.

For a few seasons, it seemed as if Scutaro’s success against Mariano would prove to be a one-time event, a fluke that would make him the answer to a trivia question one day but nothing more. In 2008 and 2009, Scutaro faced Mo six times and reached base once, a single that was rendered meaningless by Rivera retiring the subsequent hitter. And then Scutaro signed with the Red Sox.

Marco faced Mo four times in 2010, but only twice in vitally important situations (Mo retired him in the two lower leverage spots). Scutaro reached base the first time he faced Mo in a Red Sox uniform, doubling to bring the tying run to the plate, but Mo retired the next two Sox in order to end the game. Later that season, after Joba Chamberlain blew a 5-1 lead by allowing 4 runs in the 8th, Rivera allowed 2 runs in the 9th, with a blooper off the bat of Scutaro that was ruled an error being the turning point of the inning. Marco was starting to reveal himself as a pesky hitter who could at least make contact off Rivera, but it was not until 2011 that he established himself as a true annoyance to the great Mo.

On August 7th, the Yankees played the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball, looking to win their first series from the Sox in 4 tries. Behind homers from Eduardo Nunez and Brett Gardner, as well as solid pitching from Freddy Garcia, Cory Wade, Rafael Soriano, and David Robertson, the Yankees carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 9th. Alas, Marco Scutaro was poised to strike, doubling off the Green Monster to start the inning and eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly. The Yankees lost the game one inning later.

When the teams met again on the first day of September, Scutaro and Rivera matched up in similar circumstances. The Yankees were once again trying to take their first series from the Red Sox, with the entire country watching the two clubs clash on ESPN. They took a lead late in the contest against Daniel Bard, and handed Rivera a 4-2 advantage. After Jed Lowrie walked to start the frame, Rivera retired the next two batters before walking Jacoby Ellsbury. In stepped Marco Scutaro, already feared as Rivera Kryptonite, with a chance to extend the game and bring up Adrian Gonzalez. Marco did just that, lining a hard single to RF and setting up the Yankees for more heartbreak. However, Rivera struck out Gonzalez looking, and the Yankees finally celebrated a series victory over their rivals from Beantown.

When the Yankees faced the Red Sox late in September, Joe Girardi decided not to take any chances with Scutaro. With the game tied at 4 with 2 outs in the top of the 9th, a runner at 3rd, and the struggling Jarrod Saltalamacchia on deck, Girardi finally gave in to the Myth of Marco and had Rivera intentionally walk Scutaro. Salty struck out to validate the decision, but the Yankees eventually lost the game.

Scutaro’s resume against Rivera is a bit thinner than I thought it would be, but it is important to remember that not many hitters get to Mo at all, and that notching multiple successes against him is notable. Of hitters with at least 20 PA’s against Rivera, Scutaro’s OPS of .988 (.294/.400/.588) is 5th highest, trailing just Edgar Martinez, Aubrey Huff, Rafael Palmeiro, and Vernon Wells. As William Juliano noted, Scutaro is one of 5 players to have a walk-off homer off Rivera, and one of 8 to have at least 3 extra-base hits against him. And his IBB against him last season makes him one of the 33 hitters (36 walks) to be given a free pass by Mo, and 17 of those walks came with runners on 2nd and 3rd to load the bases and create a force play. I’ll let the WSJ contextualize that:

Since 2001, the legendary Yankees closer has issued 20 intentional walks. Thirteen were to load the bases and set up a force at home, but the rest of the list consists of the greatest sluggers of this generation: Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Evan Longoria and Carlos Delgado (twice). Now add Scutaro, and his .387 lifetime slugging percentage, to that group.

Small sample or not, Scutaro was one of the few players who made me a bit uncomfortable when he dug in against Mariano Rivera. That unease may have been based on one swing from 2007, but I know many other Yankees fans shared it and are glad to see him head off to Colorado. If you asked him, Mariano might tell you that he feels the same way.

Scouting Phil Hughes

When long-heralded prospects make it to the major leagues, the exciting scouting reports on them tend to stick around long past their expiration dates. We hear about potential based on a perception of the player that is no longer reasonable or based on existing attributes. We cling to those old scouting reports, hoping that the player will eventually reach the level of performance that they promised, not willing to accept that circumstance and lack of development have altered the player’s ceiling.

Phil Hughes provides a good example of this phenomenon. While many of us have moved on and have lowered their expectations when it comes to Phil, we still cling to him as a guy who has long had potential and could eventually capitalize on it. However, his myriad injuries and the stunted development associated with them have altered Hughes such that the previous scouting reports no longer apply. He was a guy with a fastball at 91-94 that he had stellar command of, an excellent curveball that he could finish hitters with, and a changeup that always seemed to be on the cusp of being a usable pitch. However, the updated scouting report reads differently:

Hughes, turning 26 in June, has a classic power pitcher’s build, coming in at a solid 6’5″ and a listed 240 pounds. However, he seems to have put on a bit of weight in recent years, and the Yankees sent him to their fat camp last spring to try and shed those extra pounds. The Yankees have long liked his makeup and believe he has the mental ability to be a successful pitcher in this league, but his conditioning is something worth keeping an eye on.

As for his stuff, he is primarily a two pitch pitcher, featuring a fastball and a curveball. While he has used a cutter fairly often in recent years, he seemed to have slowly removed in from his repertoire over the course of 2011, a smart decision considering its ineffectiveness throughout the season. He occasionally mixes in a changeup, but it is not much of a pitch and is unlikely to become a major part of his arsenal.

His fastball sits at 89-92, and is pretty straight. However, he does have very good command of the pitch in the zone, and he uses that ability to draw plenty of foul balls and get ahead in counts. His curveball, once a pitch that he could throw for strikes and use to finish hitters off, has become adequate at best. It was always a bit loopy, but it had a lot of depth and hitters would swing over it. It has lost some of that depth and just tumbles up to hitters, who can usually catch up to it and foul it off or drive it somewhere. He has also struggled to throw it for strikes in recent seasons. Hughes tinkered some with a spike curve last season, but did not see great results and is unlikely to lean on it in the future.

This two pitch combination allows him to get to two strikes by way of his fastball, but once he is there he has nothing to finish hitters off with. He cannot throw the fastball by them, and they are not swinging at the curveball out of the zone. Eventually, Hughes makes a mistake and hitters are ready to pounce.

Outlook: Hughes did have a major jump in innings from 2009 to 2010, so it is possible that some of his 2011 struggles could be attributed to overuse. But unless he recovers some of his velocity, has his command go from good back to great, or recaptures his old curveball, Hughes profiles as a #4 starter or possibly a good reliever. His fastball command is still good enough to keep him in a MLB rotation, but he needs to find another positive attribute in his arsenal to surpass his current back-of-the-rotation ceiling. As he nears his age 26 season, the likelihood that he does that grows ever more slim.

That is my scouting report on Hughes at this point. I’ve discarded the one that marked him as the next Yankees ace, as those expectations simply do not match the skills that Hughes currently brings to the table. I hope to be forced to pull that old one out of the trash, dust it off, and use it once again, but I do not expect that to happen. It is time to stop judging Phil Hughes on what he could have been, and start addressing what he is.

On Joy and the Expectation to Win

In some ways, the Knicks and Yankees are very much alike. Both franchises have long been run by families that believe you have to spend to win, and have attacked the free agent and trade markets with zeal. Both have therefore been subjected to various luxury tax and revenue sharing plans that are aimed at their ability to spend at a much higher level than other clubs. Finally, both play in recently built or refurbished spaces that allow them to charge their fans exorbitant fees to enjoy the gameday experience.

However, when it comes to the most important elements, these two franchises could not be more dissimilar. The Knicks were, for a very long time, the worst run franchise in the NBA and possibly all of sports. The GM tenures of Scott Layden and Isaiah Thomas were riddled with terrible trades for aging and overrated stars, long term contracts given to injury risks, poor drafting, scandals, and worst of all, interminable losing. The Knicks were a punchline for over a decade, so much so that many Knick fans have been wary to jump back on board now that the team seems headed in the right direction.

Conversely, much like DJ Kahled and Tim Tebow,  all the Yankees do is win. Over the last 13 years, the Yankees have been run shrewdly by Brian Cashman, and with a major assist from the Steinbrenner wallet have continued to build the legacy of the winningest franchise in sports. They have numerous marketable stars and fan favorites, and have also added a solid farm system to provide the franchise with exciting young talent. They have long provided a striking contrast to the Knicks, throwing the Dolans’ failures into stark relief.

This contrast also manifests itself in how fans react and relate to the two clubs. One thing that constant winning does is breed the expectation of success from fans. We no longer hope that the Yankees can contend, but expect it, and we have not experienced an expectation-free season since 1996. We get a bit confused and upset when the Yankees claim they want to cut payroll, as they have set a certain standard and we fear that they may no longer be able to meet it. This kind of attitude lends a certain tension to each season, as high expectations also leads to a greater fear of failure. I know I am not the only one who feels a modicum of relief mingled with the joy I experience when the Yankees clinch a playoff spot or win a playoff series.

Conversely, the Knicks enter the upcoming season with a different sort of expectation. They finally put the club in the capable hands of Donnie Walsh, and he has handed things off to Glenn Grunwald, who also seems to know what he is doing. The team finally looks ready to contend, but it is hard to tell at this point whether we can expect a deep playoff run or whether they are built to win one round and then bow out. When they lost in last year’s first round, most Knicks fans shrugged it off and looked excitedly to the future. There is a great level of mystery to their upcoming season, and any success will likely be met with the pure, unbridled joy reserved for a team and a franchise that has long suffered as a laughingstock and a perennial loser.

That sense of pure joy is somewhat missing from Yankee fandom. With frequent winning comes a greater fear of failure, and that greater fear of failure will by nature cause some measure of relief to be part of the emotions we feel when the club comes out on top. There is nothing we can do about it, and I would definitely rather have the frequent winning rather than that emotion in the long run. But I look with a bit of jealousy at my 12-year old self and wish there was some way I could recapture that joy I felt in 1996.

Brian Cashman, Prevaricator Extraordinaire?

In recent days, while teams like the Marlins and Angels snapped up every big name free agent on the market, Brian Cashman preached patience and fiscal responsibility. When Yu Darvish was posted at the end of last week, Cashman said the following (courtesy of Chad Jennings):

“Sometimes, if you like somebody a great deal, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be in a position to participate,” Cashman said. “I think, obviously he’s extremely talented. If he’s going to get posted, it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out and how everybody on this side of the fence – meaning all Major League clubs – how they decide to or not to participate, and at what level. But that’s all for another day.”

“We’ve got a lot of depth (in the rotation),” Cashman said. “Can we add to it? We’d like to. But is it realistic? It’s not necessarily that realistic because for me to be able to push through something, I’m probably going to have to overpay to do that. And that’s a tough thing to do, especially when you’re sitting with a lot of talent, a lot of people you could slot in and (have them) do this job. It’s just, do you want to bet on somebody doing it significantly better at the expense of payroll flexibility going forward or (the loss of a prospect in a trade)? I’m OK with the balancing act. I’m OK with the decision making. I didn’t expect much, and it’s hard to improve on what we already have.”

Couple these quotes with the recent reports that the Yankees are trying to cut their payroll in anticipation of being below the luxury tax threshold in 2014, and you have the makings of another quiet offseason for a team that seems to need some established starting pitching. However, despite the fairly pervasive reports that the Yankees are unlikely to bid on Darvish, sign a free agent to a large deal, or give up major prospects to acquire a top starter, there is precedent to suggest that Cashman is simply working to muddy the informational waters.

The most famous example comes from late-2005, when Brian claimed that the Yankees were going to enter the 2006 season with Bubba Crosby as the center fielder. No one quite believed it at the time, but most fans were still stunned when Cashman stole Johnny Damon from the Red Sox a few weeks later. Prior to the 2009 season, the Yankees’ GM suggested that the rumors of the Yankees adding Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and either Derek Lowe or A.J. Burnett were “crazy talk” from a “fantasy land.” He suggested that even acquiring just Sabathia and Teixeira was a ridiculous idea that had no merit. A scant few weeks later, Sabathia, Teixeira, and Burnett were all in pinstripes.

On two other occasions, Cashman made forceful public statements only to later be overruled by management. He stated quite clearly that if A-Rod used the opt-out in his contract following the 2007 season, the Yankees would not participate in his free agency. And just last offseason, he declared that he would not surrender his first round pick, only to be effectively overruled by management a few days later when they signed Rafael Soriano.

The fact of the matter is that it is usually in Cashman’s best interests to be less than forthcoming with the entire and absolute truth. It does him nothing but harm to effusively express interest in a free agent or to suggest that the club has major holes that desperately need to be remedied. Furthermore, when it comes to this particular offseason, with Darvish finally on the market, it actually behooves him to actively spread misinformation:

The process of acquiring players from Japanese baseball includes a blind posting system. Interested teams get to make a single bid for the exclusive rights to negotiate with the player, without knowledge of the bids being made by other clubs. Essentially, clubs need to guess at the market and then make their bid accordingly. This can prove to be extremely difficult, as evidenced by the Red Sox’s $51 million bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka, which reportedly exceeded the next highest bid by at least $15 million.

The guesswork nature of this process lends itself towards misinformation. Teams that are interested in Darvish have an incentive to downplay their level of involvement, which could help suppress the market and lower the range of bids. Conversely, teams that have little interest might feign heavy internal consideration of a large bid, so as to drive up the price for rivals and generally push the market upwards. Taken together, this means that almost all of the information you might hear on Darvish, regarding any team, is likely to be filtered through the lens of self-interest and may be being released to influence the bidding environment. As we saw with the Daisuke situation, until the Nippon Ham Fighters announce the winner, everyone will be in the dark on the posting process.

I entered this offseason expecting the Yankees to add some pitching, and I still believe that all the talk of an austerity budget is a ruse designed to keep the bidding on Darvish reasonably low. That said, the events of last offseason, in which Cashman claimed not to feel a desperate need for pitching and then followed through by not adding a major starter all year, give me pause. The Yankees and Brian Cashman may actually feel that Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Hector Noesi provide them with enough options to construct a quality rotation behind CC Sabathia. It’s also possible that they are running a misinformation campaign, but one targeted at next offseason and players like Cole Hamels. Whatever the truth is, Brian Cashman’s history suggests that we should not be too quick to believe what we read.