Saying the Right Thing, Part 1

You should have swung at that, Grandy. See guys? He sucks.

Now that we’re a good ways into the season, the excitement of baseball has faded away into the grind that is rooting for the team that you love. It’s hard to watch guys play a sport where, for hitters, they will only be successful 30% of the time and for pitchers, they’ll usually give up a couple of runs and get in and out of trouble. After the second or so week of the season, this ceases to be entertaining and it’s time to start complaining about everything.

Now, a successful team like the Yankees always has a lot going wrong with it. The pitching might be bad, the bullpen might be bad, the hitting might be bad, and to top it off, the front office might be running the entire organization (most notably player development) into the ground. What’s more important than making sure you’re pointing out to everyone how bad the team is when you’re pointing out what. There are times when pointing out the flaws within the team makes you a good fan and times when it just makes you seem obnoxious and whiny. Timing, as they say, is everything. In this two-part series, I’ll cover what to complain about when you don’t know what to choose amidst the catastrophe that is a 39-29 record with a +89 run differential and a 3.56 team ERA.

The Lineup

The greatest thing about the lineup is that it changes a couple of times a week, and there’s almost always something wrong with it, even on good days. Complaining about the lineup works on any game day, and since lineups come out early, you can get a good head start on the whining. Anyone but Gardner leading off? It should obviously be Brett Gardner. Gardner leading off? Obviously he’s going to get caught stealing. Derek Jeter leading off is a great fallback but is obviously not applicable when he’s injured. Lineups also are also the first place you’ll see where the A-list players are getting a day off, and this is totally not okay. The only options should be a) Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Russell Martin never get a day off and never get injured or b) they are replaced with players who are as good as them. Anything else is worth talking about how bad the lineup is today. I’ll cover the B-listers in more detail below.

B-List Players

Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena, Chris Dickerson, Andruw Jones, and Francisco Cervelli essentially make up the Yankees bench and get their fair share of starts. The problem is, none of these players are as good as who they’re replacing. If any of these players are in the starting lineup, sound the alarm, alert your friends, and start whining. If there’s more than one of them? Well, you could could complain for days and everyone would just keep on agreeing with you. It’s simply not acceptable that these very young (or in Jones’ case, slightly older) players perform at a lesser level than their A-list counterparts, many of which have collected awards for their offense and/or defense. Ramiro Pena, why are you not as good as Alex Rodriguez? Sheesh, he totally sucks. Eduardo Nunez, why do you not possess the skill and grace of Robinson Cano or the fielding, uh, prowess, of Derek Jeter? Come on guys. Seriously? And the last one….

Francisco Cervelli

The man gets a category all of his own. He can’t hit, he can’t catch, he can’t throw, he’s too enthusiastic, he’s annoying, he’s overplayed. Did I miss anything? Frankie is the ultimate great fallback punching bag for when everything seems to be going right. Even when he goes 2-for-3, he still makes two errors in the field, like he’s allowing the fans to have a place to focus all their rage. I think it’s really quite noble of him, to be honest. I don’t understand why we’re not blaming him for Montero playing every day in AAA and Martin’s back spasms, to be honest. I mean, we’re already getting on him for being in the lineup. So what’s one or two more things that he has absolutely no control over? He was probably getting everyone to lose to Doug Davis from the bench, even. At least he’s a better dresser than most of the Yankees.

Slumps

Both the fans and the players know that every player is expected to perform at his career numbers or better at all times. If there’s even the slightest hint of a slump – say, ten PAs or so – it’s time to start making people aware how bad this player is. And the worse the slump gets, the more vocal you can to become. Screaming your head off about Jorge Posada in late May? Totally acceptable. However, you have to be careful to quit complaining the moment they break out of the slump. Jorge Posada is now great. It might be a good time to start complaining about Russell Martin (before he can heat up) or Nick Swisher’s left side, where he is still struggling. Andruw Jones, despite his relatively few appearances, is also a great target for this complaining, though it’s only good to do this when he’s actually striking out playing.

Not Hitting Against Crappy Pitchers

Phil Humber. Carlos Carrasco. Doug Davis. Last year, it was Bryan Bullington and Josh Tomlin. I feel like I speak for everyone when I say it’s annoying that the whole lineup all decides at once to stop hitting against a particular pitcher, especially when it’s a bad one. These kind of decisions are made with absolutely no respect to the fans. Seriously, guys, if you’re not going to hit, can you at least decide not to hit against someone who is throwing well this year (like Alexi Ogando?). You had a perfect opportunity to go down without a peep and instead you whacked everything and decided to do nothing against Doug Davis. It’s obvious that the Yankees decide what games to hit in and what games to be put down in, and complaining about that choice is perfect when those quiet games are being played.

Not Hitting

When you have a lineup that contains names like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano, you should score a billion runs every day. Never mind that getting on base 30% of the time is considered successful. That is stupid. Everyone should always get hits and runs. All the time. This is another great fallback complaint when Cervelli isn’t playing, because someone will probably go 0-for-4. If you’re lucky, there will be a few 0-fers that make for easy targets due to mass strikeouts or weak ground balls.

Tune in tomorrow for part two, featuring pitching and and the front office. I know you can barely hold your breath in excitement. One additional note: Ryan Dempster isn’t really that bad, so no complaining about not hitting against him. Complaining about not hitting in general is, of course, totally acceptable.

Al, what makes CC so good?

Photo by alexabboud on Flickr/ licensed through Creative Commons.

For Thursday’s Red Sox game, Michael Kay, Al Leiter, and Paul O’Neill were in the booth and Kay asked Leiter the title question. One of the things I love about the ever-changing Yankees booth is that you get a  lot of different opinions and views on the game from the various ex-players that cycle through. I’m sure you all have your opinions on the best booth (I think Cone-Singleton wins it. Was Leiter there too?) but I love all the ex-player stories, and I love even more listening to how retired players view current ones. We get on certain announcers basing their opinions on players on intangibles, weak stats, and clutchness, but Leiter managed to avoid basically all of these things as he explained why Sabathia is such a great pitcher. He was insightful, comprehensive, and interesting. I want to see if he’s right. I’ll blockquote his words words here:

Yeah, you start with stuff…I think his ability to pound the zone, get ahead. He is somewhat unpredictable. He’s got the ability to have control on both side of the plate He’s aggressive. Delivery-wise, he stays closed….He’s a big man. He has good trajectory or downward plane, has an idea.

And now, for fact checking:

Sabathia pounds the zone: True. For his career, Sabathia has thrown 52.3% of all his pitches inside the zone, and 64% for strikes. In 2011, he’s right on the money with 65% strike percentage and 46.6% being in the zone. This also includes a career 60.4% first-pitch strike and a 59% in 2011.

Sabathia gets ahead in the count: Partially true. For his career, 3085 hitters have taken hacks when they’re behind to CC, and they’ve batted a worse-than-Jorge .190/.197/.276. Only 3027 hitters have hit when they’re ahead, and their .275/.441/.441 is decent at best. But the majority of hits and outs have been made with an even  count. 3116 have done it, and they’ve hit .278/.283/.417. The first pitch strike lends to being ahead, though it doesn’t always work out that way.

He is unpredictable: True. Sabathia throws a fastball, a slider and a changeup. While the slider is usually his out pitch, everything looks the same coming out of his hand, and for his career he throws the same percentage of sliders and changeups (15.9%). Should you be looking for a changeup that averages around 85 MPH or a 80 MPH slider in the dirt? Good luck figuring that one out. You’ll need it.

He controls both sides of the plate. True. While Sabathia prefers to throw the fastball away to righties, he has absolutely no problem throwing it inside or throwing it for a strike. He also can throw it high or low for strikes, too. Here’s a heat map of Sabathia’s fastball vs righties in 2010 to prove it, with a more yellow area meaning more pitches were thrown to that area:

He’s aggressive: True. Aggressiveness is really a combination of a number of the other stats above. Sabathia throws strikes. A lot of strikes. He isn’t afraid to blow a pitch over the plate (just look at all that yellow in the middle!) and overwhelm a hitter. He usually doesn’t throw around batters, either.

Delivery-wise, he stays closed: Plausible. Without a stat to back this one up, we’re finally left to depend in our eyeballs. That Leiter started with the numbers things and moved slowly into observational notes was very cool to me. From what I know about studying a pitcher’s delivery (absolutely nothing), Sabathia’s always had a relatively simple delivery. He keeps it close to his chest. His release points stay the same. It’s not complex, it’s not violent, just a big man throwing a baseball.

He’s a big man: True. No comment.

He has good trajectory or downward plane: True.  Considering the fact that CC is 6’7, I’d say he’s throwing down off the mound, yeah. Plus, his release is nice and high.

Has an idea: Plausible. What does this mean? I think it might have something to do with  that Sabathia knows what pitches he’s going to throw. He has a plan about how each at-bat is going to go, or at least, knows how to change his approach based on the game, the hitter, and so forth. He’s reached that point in his career where he knows what’s good and what’s bad.

Like your baseball players, you don’t choose your announcers. Unfortunately, when your announcers are really bad, you can’t bench them or DFA them or anything. You’re stuck with them. Now, Kay isn’t the greatest announcer the world has ever known, but having Cone, Leiter, Singleton and Flaherty rotating up with him makes him a lot more bearable. And when the guy in the booth actually knows what they’re talking about, it’s pretty wonderful. I’m willing to bet Al Leiter knows just a little about what makes a good pitcher, and he totally nailed it here. Hooray for him.

A Long-Distance Relationship

Usually in baseball, a sports fan grows up loving a team near them. Of course there are exceptions, but what I’ve found is that the best guess of a person’s rooting interest is usually a team near their childhood home. The problem is, when a person moves (for college, a job, or just because they want to), the team doesn’t come along with them. It’s nice to live in the future and keep our teams on our computers, in our phones, and on our PS3s with MLB.tv, but it goes without saying that the ballpark experience of rooting for your hometown heroes is way, way better than sitting in your living room and yelling at the announcers.

I feel safe in assuming that most of the audience here is probably within a drive – perhaps a long one, but a drive nonetheless – away from Yankee Stadium. If that’s the case, then going to see a game is really more based on your schedule than the schedule of the team. It might be difficult to avoid familial duties or work, but assuming you’ve got the money and the time, the Bronx might not be too far away.

For those of us who have been displaced from the NY-NJ-CT tri-state area, it’s not that easy. You might be lucky if you’ve only moved to say, Virginia or Massachusetts for location or stayed within the division, be it Baltimore or Boston, even Toronto or Tampa. While traveling to the House that Ruth (Jeter?) Built might be impossible, at least there’s the comfort of knowing the Bombers will be showing up nine times over the season. If you’re unlucky or stupid enough to move away from those places, your Yankees-viewing chances go down dramatically.

I moved to the bay area last year for work and end up faced with this scenario every year. When the Yankees come out here for one of their rare appearances – the previous series is the only one they will play in Oakland all year – I drop everything and pick up the best tickets I can. Appointments are canceled, work is ignored, life stops.

The funny thing about having a limited amount a games to see your team is that you find yourself wishing for a whole bunch of scenarios which, under usual circumstances, are the exactly the kinds of things you want the team to avoid. I’m an avid David Robertson fan, and there was not a single Robertson appearance during those three games. Really, it’s a good thing – he only shows up when there are jams to be gotten out of – but it also meant that I won’t be seeing his knee-buckling curveball in person until October (unlikely) or next year. Bartolo Colon pitching a complete game was freaking amazing (he looked dominant in person, too), but there was concern in my mind that I would go a whole three game series without a single Mariano Rivera appearance. I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting that when Joba Chamberlain had first and second with one out, I wanted to see him walk a guy so Robertson would in and strike everyone out.

Luckily, Russell Martin only sat the first game out, and Rivera came in to preserve a two-run lead in the third game of the series. I even got a Lance Pendleton and a Luis Ayala sighting. I saw AJ Burnett throw a pretty damn decent game and Freddy Garcia confound the A’s with junkballs. But sadly, there are things that I missed and won’t get to see until next year. I never got to fill in Derek Jeter as the DH on a scorecard. I didn’t see CC Sabathia’s four-seamer. There was no David Robertson appearance. Jorge Posada didn’t get a hit (sigh).

Don’t get me wrong: I love the bay. You can’t beat the weather, they designed the roads for high congestion, you’re surrounded by nerds, and they make amazing Filipino food.We have a great hockey team and two baseball teams, all available by mass transit. But none of them are the Yankees. And I really, really, really miss the Yankees, especially when I only see them three live games out of the massive 162 game season. I’m sure this isn’t exclusive to California, either, but moving away from your sports team is rough.

(On the bright side, the Legends-equivalents seats I sat in in the Coliseum cost me $55. I love cheap baseball.)

The Obvious Next Step

While the Yankees’ winning ways have returned a little bit, I can’t be the only one who’s still worried about their production. Even when the Yankees win, there’s places where improvement could be had. A weak outing by a starter, a fat 0-fer in the middle of lineup, a barely-avoided bullpen meltdown – it’s these kind of things that the Yankees have to knock out of their system to become the champions we all know they are. A World Series team has no weakness, never loses, and always gets strong production out of the lineup 1-9.

I think it’s safe to say that the Yankees have probably pushed as far as can without external help. It’s silly to expect recoveries out of Posada and Jeter, and equally ridiculous to believe that Ivan Nova will actually start striking people out on his own. Likewise, it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect that Bartolo Colon will keep his ERA nice and reasonable and that Curtis Granderson will hit approximately seven gazillion homers, mostly off lefties. But what they’re doing now, even if it stays the same, needs to be helped out. This is where you and I come in, noble fans.

The best way for a fan to help their team of choice is to appease the baseball gods for games to come. I’m not talking about actual god (Mariano Rivera, blessed lord of the cutter, ruler of the bullpen, etc), but rather those magical beings up in the sky who give Cliff Lee doubles and have Jay Bruce fly out with Wilson Valdez pitching in the nineteenth inning. When annoyed that a pitching duel turned out to be anything but – look at Halladay v. Lincecum in the 2010 NLCS after one thew a no-hitter and one whiffed 14 – your wrath should be pointed at the baseball gods. My sources are trying to track down why the baseball gods love Edgar Renteria (2-time WS MVP) so much, but no dice yet.

It’s time to sacrifice one of our dear Yankees to the baseball gods above. Trust me, I know it’s not easy to bring this topic up, but there’s nothing else we can do. The Yankees have reached the limit of improvement that can be gained through normal options such as talking to Kevin Long, taking extra BP, and learning extra pitches. Supernatural options are the only options left. The question becomes – and this is the most important question – who?

When picking your sacrifice to the baseball gods, you need to toe some very careful lines. On one hand, sacrificing your stumbling, scuffling and occasionally-benched DH is like laughing at them, like throwing them your trash. Here, we don’t need this! Maybe you can do something with it. The baseball gods are not the waiver wire, and they demand respect. On the other hand, you don’t want to be sacrificing your star prospects or monstrously powerful cleanup hitters. After the sacrifice happens, after all, you still need some power in your lineup. A sacrifice will improve the way the baseball gods look at your team, but they’re not going to have Eduardo Nunez slug 30 homers. Then, there’s the matter of team history: a rule five pick or a half-season rental really has no attachment to the team, whereas a pointlessly long and overpriced contract is a burden on both the team and the gods.After a long and rigorous selection period, I’ve narrowed down exactly who should be sacrificed:

Pitching

In many ways, this is a totally obvious answer and required very little thought on my part. There is only one pitcher on the Yankees staff that is good (but not too good), could be replaceable (but not easily), and has the mystique and aura of the team all bundled up inside of him:  Joba Chamberlain.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Joba’s strong numbers from this year make him a worthy candidate, and his Yankee history makes him as sentimentally valuable as any family heirloom. No one else on the current 25-man has been hailed as both the next Mariano Rivera and the next potential number one starter, all while suffering a role-changing injury. On top of that, Joba’s farm heritage and extensive history of being ripped by the New York media about everything to his performance to his weight make him a quintessentially Yankee sacrifice. In basically every way, Joba is the perfect sacrifice to make sure Bartolo Colon’s arm doesn’t fall off andhave Nova learn a strikeout pitch in a vision. Also, the baseball gods love a good fistpump.

Other alternatives: Phil Hughes (pending injury), Ivan Nova (pending effectiveness)

Hitting

This one was tougher, but I made the decision and decided the best option was Brett Gardner.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

While Gardner may not seem the best option at first, a longer look at his numbers and history prove he’s the right choice. He got off to a terrible slump, he’s managed to pull himself together over the past couple of weeks and has created a slash line acceptable for a sacrifice (.262/.350/.404). Like Joba, Gardner is a product of the Yankees farm system and was part of the magical 2009 World Series team, despite his less-than-stellar numbers in the postseason. Gardner makes a prime target because he doesn’t hit home runs, and sacrificing him is an implicit agreement to forgo smallball and acknowledge that homers are the only way anyone will score this season. Additionally, Gardner wears high socks, and there’s nothing the baseball gods love more than a ballplayer in high socks.

Other alternatives: Nick Swisher (pending ability to hit the ball), Mark Teixeira (too many homers)

It’s tough when a baseball team has reached this point in its life, but with the obvious solutions looming in front of both the team and the fans, there’s nothing any of us can do but follow through. Knowing that both these players will most likely go to baseball heaven is, of course, one of the few positives. In baseball heaven, Joba truly is the number one starter we all know he can be, and Gardner never gets caught stealing.

(note: Emma Span of baseball prospectus helped formulate this idea.)

Posada Hitting? It’s More Likely Than You Think.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Psssst. Guys.

Don’t look now, but Jorge Posada is actually getting on base. I know, it’s hard to believe, right? I was under the impression the guy was going to be batting .160 all year and would never hit another extra base hit*, ever again. That’s what ESPN told me, at least. But I looked up some of his splits today, and he’s actually getting some hits. Now, I know statistics are only for people in their parents’ basements, but I just couldn’t help but notice some things:

Last 7 days: .333/.500/.556 with two strikeouts (12 PA), .400 BABIP

Last 14 days: .316/.480/.421 with four strikeouts (25 PA), .429 BABIP

April/March: .125/.232/.374, .065 BABIP

May: .261/.393/.348, .353 BABIP

Obviously, we’re dealing with some small samples, but if there’s anyone who’s saying that Posada’s done from his horrific start, they should probably also take into account Posada’s current (relatively speaking) hot streak. A lot of this is fueled by the fact that his BABIP has risen from a phenomenally, almost impossibly bad .081 to an only moderately terrible .188. Posada’s been a clear example of how regression towards the mean works: while the man is due for some decline (that’s what happens when you’re 40 years old), the chance that he’s going to go from hitting .248, last year’s average, to .160, is not impossible but not exactly likely. Yeah, you can’t predict baseball, but you can safely make some assumptions. The lowest single-season BABIP by any player (min 250 PAs) in the past ten years was Mark McGwire’s .171 in 2001.** While it’s possible Posada could do worse than that, it’s probably not likely, and you’re more safe in thinking there will be some bloop hits dropping in for him eventually.

I’m sure that his slow improvement will, at least in the bigger media outlets, be associated with the whole 9th hole drama, whatever you want to call it, but honestly I don’t think it has anything to do with that. I just think that Posada was slumping, and now he is not. The fact that the Yankees can’t hit with RISP and all their other associated problem just made the struggles of their 40-year-old catcher-turned-DH more evident. There’s been so many narratives flying around Posada it’s hard for me to keep them all straight. He’s 40. His contract is up this year. He will never catch again. He’s adjusting to the DH. He’s prideful. He has a temper. And so on.

If Posada follows his career track, his strong May will be swallowed up by a terrible June, which is usually his worst month. Curiously enough, his numbers between the first half and the second half are almost exactly alike, so his season month-by-month will either continue to play this terrible on-off game or will smooth out somewhere in between.

Whether Posada gets into the Hall of Fame or not, I don’t think a season in decline is going to change the opinions of the voters. And although the Hall of Fame voters’ opinions can have some…. interesting twists, I think having a final season in the decline isn’t something that should be the game-changer in the voting on Posada. Plus, there are some players that had some pretty bad seasons and still got in. So, Posada fanboys and girls, if your dream is to have him in the Hall of Fame, you’re probably still safe. If you’re a Posada hater, well, you’re wrong.

*Did you see him try to stretch that single into a double? Apparently he didn’t think he was ever going to have another XBH either.

**McGwire hit hit 29 home runs in 94 games and had a .187/.315/.492 line that year. His OPS+ was 105. Heh.

Does David Robertson Create His Own Leverage?

“I like to walk a couple guys, make it interesting.” - Robertson

For those of you who know me (or at least follow me on Twitter), you may know that I am extremely, extremely fond of David Robertson. Is it the socks? Yes. Is it that 14.26 k/9? Yes. Is it the curveball? Yes. Is that way he likes to get slotted into jams and work himself out of them? Yes. But really, it’s all of that and more combined. What’s even better is how good he’s been for the Yankees. It’s really, really easy to like a guy when he comes out into a second-and-third-no-outs jam in the seventh and leaves without giving up a single run.

Here at River Ave Blues, that last reason is why we like him as a blog. Robertson’s proven to be an extremely effective fireman for the team, reaching out to pull any other pitcher’s ass out of the fire on any given day. He’s especially excelled in that role this year, so far posting career highs in every category: GB%, K/9, LOB% are the nicest ones to look at, all with a BABIP even a bit higher than his usual. This all means one thing: either Robertson is going to have a career year, or there’s a really dark cloud waiting to envelope him somewhere later on in the season. I’m going with the former and there’s nothing anyone can say or do to convince me otherwise.

Robertson’s one failing is his abysmally high walk rate, which currently stands at 7.64, sky-high over his career notch of 5.06 and last year’s total of 4.84. That walk rate is what’s keeping him from turning that stellar K/9 into an equally impressive K/BB ratio. Robertson’s holding onto an impressive 2.87 FIP even with all those walks, and if he could just knock some of them off….

Anyway, the point is that what do you get when you are put into that second-and-third-no-outs jam and then you walk a guy? Additional leverage. And what does Robertson have a lot of this year? High-leverage situations. I wonder how much he makes his own fireman situations just as much as he covers up for everyone else’s. Now, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t do this intentionally (though it would be funny, awesome and terrible if it was on purpose), but does David Robertson inflate his average leverage index (aLI)? If he does, it’s his own walks that are causing him to be such a capable fireman, and if so, it’s not really something we should be loving him for.

Robertson’s aLI for this year is 1.55, which means he’s coming in more and more in those high leverage situations (1.5 is defined as “high”), second only to Mo (and Noesi, but I’m excluding him based on small sample size). The leverage of at-bats when he comes in is about 0.97 when he comes and 1.46 when he comes out, which is more of a result of him coming out in late innings than anything else. What we’re looking at is what happens in between.

At this point in the season, the fireman’s had five appearances with aLI of 2.5 or higher, which is pretty freakin’ high. His highest aLI this year so far was the bases-juiced jam he got AJ Burnett out of on April 19th in Toronto, with an aLI of 4.60. No walks there; that’s pure David Robertson magic. His next-highest aLI was 3.69 against the Royals on the 10th of May. Robertson relieved Freddy Garcia in the seventh with no outs and men on first and second. He got Aviles to fly out before letting Frenchy steal third. Current LI: 2.9. However, he loaded up the bases by walking Matt Treanor, bumping the leverage up to 4.4, code-red high-lev. He struck out the next two batters, making himself look awfully good and using the walk to inflate his own aLI. Another prime example would happen in the very next game, where he started the eighth inning with the Yankees up 2-1 over the Royals. The LI of a clean 8th up by one is 2.2, pretty absurdly high to begin with, and Robertson walked a guy, struck a guy out, walked another guy and struck another guy out, pushing the LI of the situation up to an abysmal 4.0. Rather than follow the pattern, Robertson gave up the game-tying hit before getting out of the inning. Wouldn’t it have been nicer if Robertson could have secured the win, kept the strikeouts, and gotten out clean? Keeping the walks off the bases would have kept the leverage of the situation to a relatively tiny 2.1 and would have stranded the tying run at first. Fallacy of the predetermined outcome, I know, but still.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Robertson should cut down on the walks, but the fact that he’s continued to be so successful regardless of all the free passes he gives out (nearly a walk per inning) really speaks to how good his stuff is. Obviously, the most important part of Robertson’s job is to go in there, make outs quickly, keep runs from scoring, and throw as few pitches as possible. That being said, the fewer free passes the man gives out, the smaller his aLI is. I’d rather be complimenting him on clean innings and his high leverage ability, after all, and it’s not like an 8 BB/9 only comes around and hurts you when there’s a base open. No matter what his aLI is, a high BB/9 will continue to get him in trouble regardless of how houdini-esque he can be.

Fans Divided

Nope. (AP/Matt Strasen)

This morning, I was talking with the wonderful and amazing Joe Pawlikowski (also known as my boss), and he brought up a very valid point to me: there are only really two fan-related sides to the Jorge Posada story, and they are not at all exclusive to Jorge Posada.

The Yankees (and Yankees fans) have been blessed by players who are consistently great all the time, and have the money to retain these players for, theoretically, as long as they want. The upside is that the team builds a core of players that they can reliably depend on to provide a potent offence. When you’ve got guys who come in every year and tear the snot out of the ball, it’s something you never have to worry about. It’s stress off everyone in the organization’s shoulders. The additional great thing is that you have fans that grow up with these players, building both the team and the player as a brand. As a result, you have a great player who contributes to the team, an easy answer to the question of who plays every year, and a person who the fans adore.

But.

Time is not kind to athletes. Players who perform at extraordinary levels for extended periods of time are expected to, day in and day out, perform at that level. They are expected to be immune to absolutely everything: situations off the field (“Everything sucks in my life right now.”) or the very fact that everyone – yes, even Albert Pujols – slumps. There’s nothing the players or the coaches or anyone can do about that.

A struggling franchise player puts teams into two individual camps, and depending on how long and how public and how dramatic that struggle gets, those camps get more and more divided. Now, correct me if I’m wrong on these two camps:

Camp 1: A franchise player should get special treatment due to how well they’ve performed thus far. This includes (but is not limited to), an extended period of time to work themselves out, a fat contract, and the ability to, effectively, do what they want (within reason).
Camp 2: All players should be treated the same when they struggle, regardless of who they are.

Like I said, these two camps aren’t exclusive to Posada. These are the same groups that have been rallying for (or against) a drop in the lineup to the great and mighty Derek Jeter. These are the same groups that wanted one or five years on Derek’s new contract, five or twenty million dollars. I wonder if these people who fall into either camp took similar stances in regards to Bernie, who ended his career batting 6th, not cleanup. Granted, 6th isn’t the nine-hole, but it was probably still a demotion to him.

I don’t think going either way makes you more or less of a fan (and what a ‘good fan’ and a ‘bad fan’ is might be a post for another day), but I think it’s interesting to see where people fall.  People in camp one look over at people in camp two and say that they can’t stick by the guys who’ve done great and, statistically speaking, are better than their numbers and are ticketed for improvement. People in camp two say that those in camp one are too emotionally attached to these players to do what they think the team needs to do regarding them to improve the team.

Personally, I’m torn up on the matter. On one hand, no one can deny how poorly Posada is doing, even though I think it’s a terrible slump and he’ll figure himself out soon, and moving someone batting an absolute pitiful .165/.272/.349 to the ninth spot isn’t an unreasonable thing to do. MLB 9-hole hitters average .209/.262/.295 (including pitchers!) and have wracked up a thousand strikeouts already (AL only: .246/.310/.360). On the other hand, Jorge Posada is a quintessential New York Yankee, and it doesn’t take a giant leap of faith to see how being moved to ninth could be perceived as an insult, even given the circular lineup that the Yankees use day-in and day-out.

Which side do you fall on? For Jeter? For Posada? And if you fall on different sides for two different players, why?

(Side note: This absolutely terrible team that includes both Posada and Jeter and can’t hit with RISP still leads the AL in runs/game, OBP, and SLG, and is second in walks and OPS+.)