Archive for Better than the Mets

Via LoHud, the winner of this weekend’s series between the Yankees and Mets will have the Empire State Building lit up in their team colors in what has to be the biggest set of bragging rights ever (both literally and figuratively). For the time being, the city’s largest building will sport blue and white lights on the north and south sides, and blue and orange on the east and west sides. Get a good look Mets’ fans, that’ll be gone in two days.

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Coming off three straight losses to division rivals, the Yankees needed to get out of the Bronx just to get the awful taste out of their mouths and get a fresh start. Luckily they didn’t have to go that far, just a few extra miles to play their little brother in Queens. Javy Vazquez was making his first start in nine days, but if anything, it looks like the extra rest agrees with the guy who, oddly, has been the team’s best pitcher the last two times through the rotation.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

The Rookie Gets It Done

With players dropping left and right due to a variety of sometimes comical injuries, the Yankees have had to use their bench a little more this month than they would have liked. Today’s hero was making his first big league start, at a position he’s played a grand total of seven times before, no less. Such is life when dealing with the wrath of the injury gods.

"Ruuuuuuuusso." Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Kevin Russo, a 20th round pick in 2006, picked up his first big league hit in his first plate appearance of the night, a legit single to center. With that milestone out of the way, Russo went ahead and got his first career ten pitch at-bat out of the way his next time up, and moved on to the runs batted in his third at-bat. With the game still scoreless in the 7th inning, the Yanks had a rally brewing after a leadoff walk and a classic Mets’ self-destruct error. Men were on second and third with no outs, so all the rookie had to do was slap a ball to the right side to get the job done. Even if he made an out, it was all good. The Yanks would take the lead.

An out wasn’t acceptable to Russo, who jumped all over an 83 mph slider from hey-look-he’s-still-in-the-league Elmer Dessens and sent the ball deep into the rightfield corner. Both runs scored with ease, and Russo trotted into second with his first career double, first career RBIs, and first career game-winning hit. Not a bad day, not a bad day at all.

You Jav To Be Kidding Me

Some things in life just aren’t fair. Given how poorly the season started for Javy Vazquez, you couldn’t help but feel good for the guy after his strong start in Detroit and big time relief appearance on Monday. He was returning to his National League roots tonight, so things were in his favor right from the get go, and he took advantage.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Even though his velocity sat in the high-80′s for most of the night, Vazquez cruised into the 4th inning having allowed just one baserunner, a 6 pitch walk to Alex Cora. Walking the worst non-pitcher hitter in the other team’s lineup is pretty inexcusable, so of course Javy walked him again (on four pitches!) to lead off the 4th. However, he managed to escape the inning on a pair of fly outs and a caught stealing, which was a common theme on the night. Javy was getting easy outs, nothing too difficult for the fielders, nothing that hard hit, it was all going according to plan.

The Mets didn’t pick up their first hit until there was one out in the 5th, and Vazquez pitched right around that baserunner and cruised through six innings of work on 70 stress-free pitches. It was a complete game pace, which was something the Yankees would have welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately Vazquez never got a chance to complete the game, or even start the 7th inning because he suffered a bruised right index finger laying down a sacrifice bunt in top of the frame. Thankfully, x-rays were negative, though his next start is in question until further notice.

It’s just par for the course these days.

Squandered Opportunities

The Yanks have developed a bad habit of not capitalizing on scoring opportunities, and that trend continued tonight. Frankie Cervelli led off the 3rd with a hard fought walk after falling behind 0-2, and Russo followed with a single. Vazquez bunted Russo over (Cervelli went first to third on the single), giving Derek Jeter a chance to drive in a run even by making an out. Instead, the Cap’n took three strikes (out of five total pitches) to gift Mets’ starter Hisanori Takahashi the second out of the inning, and Brett Gardner wrapped up the frame with a relatively weak ground out to third. Leaving men in scoring position would soon become the theme of the night.

With runners on first and third with one out in the very next inning, Nick Swisher swung and missed at three junk balls in a five pitch at-bat when a moderately deep fly ball would have given the Yanks a lead. The speed on those three pitches he swung through: 80, 70, and 79. Just brutal, he was out in front of everything. The inning ended one batter later when Cervelli flied out harmlessly to center.

Fast forward to the 6th, when Alex Rodriguez started a late rally by doubling to right with two outs. It was a pure hustle double given Jeff Francoeur’s strong arm. I guess you could say he needed all four legs to beat it out. Robbie Cano fought valiantly to work the count full, but he swung through an 80 mph somethingball (Gameday says it was a sinker, but whatevs) to end the frame.

The Yankees lineup is far too good to keep squandering these opportunities, but it’s definitely cost them over the last week, and it wasn’t far from costing them again tonight.

Things That Were Good

How about that Joba Chamberlain character? After a pair of dreadful outings, he came out and grunted and farted his way to a pair of huge strikeouts to end a 7th inning threat, then he came out to work a completely uneventful 8th inning. Five batters faced, three strikeouts, one ground out, and one lazy fly. Just like Joe Girardi drew it up.

Russo and Vazquez saw 18 pitches combined in the 5th inning. Even though they both made outs, what more could you ask for from your 8-9 hitters? All told, Vazquez had three productive at-bats (for a pitcher) when you add in the two sacrifice bunts.

Just because it needs to be mentioned: Russo is the sixth player from the Yanks’ 2006 draft class to make it to the big leagues. That’s an unreal number just four years out. Zach McAllister and Colin Curtis are right on the doorstep as well.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

How about Cervelli throwing Cora out at second from his knees to end the 4th? From his knees!

Things That Were Bad

Gardner squaring around to bunt with Jeter on first base in the 1st (!!!) inning. That’s just terrible. Just because you’re in an NL park doesn’t mean you have to play an NL style.

Two walks to Cora? Two?! C’mon Javy, you’re better than that.

This was my first time at CitiField ever, and it seems like balls hit to the outfield just die here. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to play 81 games in this place.

WPA Graph & Box Score has the old school box score, FanGraphs the new school funny acronyms.

Up Next

Same two teams tomorrow night in a rare Saturday night game. FOX will have the prime time broadcast, and Joe will be in the press box to bring you everything your heart desires. Phil Hughes vs. Mike Pelfrey in a battle of former first round picks.

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"And that's when I was like 'easy lady, 40 is too young for me." (Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP)

History is being made tonight, folks. For the first time in the history of the universe, River Ave. Blues is covering a game as a credentialed member of the media. We had to travel to lovely Flushing, NY to make it happen, but that’s a small price to pay. In case you missed it, here’s my pregame notes with a big Curtis Granderson update.

As for tonight’s game, well the Yankees can really use a win, regardless of who it comes against. This weekend will get an undue amount of hype as a big series, but the Mets are in last place in their division and have lost nine of their last 12 games. At least someone’s been worst than the Yankees recently. Javy Vazquez is making his first start since shutting down Detroit more than a week ago, but Mets’ starter Hisanori Takahashi is making his first start in the United States. It seems like no matter how bad things go for the Yanks, it’s just a little worse for the Mets.

Here’s tonight’s lineup…

Jeter, SS
Gardner, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Cervelli, C
Russo, LF

And on the mound, Javy Vazquez.

First pitch of the 2010 edition of The Subway Series is scheduled to be thrown at 7:05pm ET, and you’ll be able to watch on either YES or SNY. I totally cut in front of Gary Cohen on the line to get a drink in the media lounge earlier. Anyway, enjoy the game.

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With the loss to Tampa Bay last night, the Yankees fell below .500 on their latest home stand, to 3-4. Thankfully, they still have three more pseudo home games to go. While they won’t be playing in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, they’ll still have a hometown crowd behind them this weekend as they face off with the Mets at Citi Field. A bout with the National League might be just what the Yanks need to rebound from a tough week at the Stadium.

The Teams

The New York Mets

At 20-22, the Mets currently reside in the NL East’s basement. That’s not as bad as it sounds, of course, since there are more than a few terrible NL teams. Five teams have fewer wins than them, one has the same number, and two have just one more, so the season is far from lost for the Flushing faithful. They need a strong series just as much as the Yanks.

Batting stats (NL rank)

BA: .246 (13th)
OBP: .320 (14th)
SLG: .385 (12th)
wOBA: .315 (13th)

The Mets lineup features a number of poor bats, including right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who has cooled off considerably after a torrid start. Management finally wised up and jettisoned Mike Jacobs and replaced him with Ike Davis, and the difference has been tremendous. Jose Reyes has also turned in an underwhelming season so far.

Pitching stats (NL rank)

ERA: 3.97 (7th)
FIP: 4.37 (12th)
K/9: 7.70 (5th)
BB/9: 4.54 (16th)
WHIP: 1.49 (13th)
LOB%: 76.5 (4th)

That last number pretty much explains the rest of them. The Mets have a good team ERA, but that’s because they’ve been able to strand the inordinate number of batters they’ve walked. This appears a bit odd, considering the Mets have the third lowest ground ball percentage in the league. Keeping the ball on the ground can help prevent base runners from advancing more than one station. Still, the Mets have fared well with men on base, and it has helped their run prevention unit considerably.

New York Yankees

Even after the rough homestand the Yankees still own the second best record in the AL at 25-16. A few teams are close — Toronto has as many wins but two more losses — so the Yankees have to make a quick turnaround after a rough patch. They’re still missing Jorge Posada, Nick Johnson, and Curtis Granderson, but will have Nick Swisher back for the weekend series.

Batting stats (AL rank)

BA: .279 (1st)
OBP: .365 (1st)
SLG: .453 (3rd)
wOBA: .364 (1st)

Even while missing a number of starters in recent weeks, the Yanks have only gone through one real dry spell with the bats. Otherwise they’ve hit the cover off the ball, as their AL ranks indicate. For what it’s worth, and it’s probably only worth something to die-hard statheads, the Yanks are obliterating the rest of the league in advanced metrics. Their wOBA lead is by .010, and they’ve produced 13 more wRAA than the next closest team.

Pitching stats (AL rank)

ERA: 3.93 (3rd)
FIP: 4.41 (9th)
K/9: 6.88 (7th)
BB/9: 3.35 (6th)
WHIP: 1.30 (3rd)
LOB%: 74.0 (4th)

Like the Mets, the Yankees have prevented a good number of runners from scoring, at least relative to the league. They have also done a good job of preventing hits on balls in play — their .280 BABIP ranks second lowest in the AL. Part of that low BABIP comes from a high groundball rate, 44.9 percent, which ranks fourth best in the AL. This is even better, because the Yanks have the highest HR/FB ratio in the bigs. Keeping that fly ball rate down, then, means fewer home runs.

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As we wait for the second game of the Yanks-ChiSox series, I thought it was worth pointing out this piece of nonsense. Daily News reporter Kevin Deutsch apparently rolled into Citizen’s Bank Park last night for the Mets-Phillies series wearing Mets gear, and taunting Phillies’ fans. Chants of “FIRST PLACE METS,” and “”Phillies suck” were delivered not far from the city’s famed LOVE sculpture.

And people wonder why the newspaper industry is on life support. Facts and objective reporting have been benched in favor of brash over the top accusations and discernible bias. Deutsch is not part of the team, he’s a reporter covering the team. Apparently he’s also a Mets’ fan, which is perfectly fine, but his job description is to report facts and not taunt opposing fans. Report the news, don’t be the news.

His article ends with “First place never felt so good,” which is both sad and laughable. You know who was in first place last year on May 1st? The Blue Jays, White Sox, Mariners, Marlins, Cardinals, and Dodgers. Exactly two of those teams were in first place at the end of the year. Enjoy first place while it lasts Mr. Deutsch, there’s only 86% of the season left to play.

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If you were to survey a random group of 1,000 baseball fans about their most hated team, I suspect the Yankees would be the most frequent answer. There are just so many reasons to hate them. They buy their team via free agency. They have an unmatched payroll. They win, a lot. And their fans have developed a sense of entitled arrogance. I think this picture sums up how fans of other teams view Yankees fans.

According to a recent study, though, there are other teams that face a bit more net hate than the Yankees. David Biderman of The Wall Street Journal describes a survey conducted by Nielsen Co. — the company that determines television ratings with their set-top boxes. They developed an algorithm that searches the internet to determines the positive and negative reactions to various brands. Among baseball teams, the Yankees somehow did not score the lowest.

That honor belongs to the Cleveland Indians with a score of 0.9 on the -5 to 5 scale. The Red Sox were the next most hated team at 1.1. You have to get past the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros before you get to the Yankees, in the No. 5 spot, at 1.8. The Mets rank as the ninth most hated team, and our very own Ben Kabak has a quote in the article regarding that.

“Even Yankee fans don’t hate the Mets these days,” says Benjamin Kabak, a writer for the River Avenue Blues Yankees blog. “We just feel bad for them.”

I suspect this survey suffers from a volume issue. Are the Indians, Reds, and Astros really more hated than the Yankees? Obviously not. The issue, I think, is that there is so much positive reaction to the Yankees that it offsets a lot of the negative remarks. Again, I’m not sure of the exact algorithm, but I’m pretty sure that the positive reactions from the large Yankees fan base played a big part in their ranking. Compare that to the fan bases of the Indians, Reds, and Astros, all of which have experienced a few losing seasons lately.

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Yankees win the sAL East

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If we’ve learned anything over the past six months, it’s that spreadsheets love the Yankees. Back in October, on the eve of the ALCS against the Angels, we found out that the Yankees won the sALCS. Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus ran simulations of the ALCS and then World Series and the Yankees came out on top more frequently than their opponents. This time SG at Replacement Level has done it, and you can expect a familiar result.

He explains his methodology, which involves running five projection systems through 1,000 Diamond Mind simulations. He puts them all together and outputs projected standings. You can see the NL results at the methodology link, and you can see the AL here. The Yankees won the AL East 40.7 percent of the time, with the Red Sox winning 30.3 percent. We ran the numbers for many of these projection systems in our 2010 season preview series, and little, other than Javy’s aggressive projection, stood out. Everything’s relative, though.

SG did a fantastic job here, writing up capsules for each team and creating some neat pie charts. I’ll share my favorite with you. Head over to see the rest.

When I read these posts I couldn’t help but think of my favorite FJM ever.

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As the Hot Stove League rounds third and heads for home, the Yankees are again in everyone’s crosshairs. With the World Series trophy once again ensconced in the Bronx, the Yankees are baseball team’s to beat, and as AL teams gear up to take on the champions, the runners-up have their eyes on them too.

During his first press conference of the year, the svelte-looking Charlie Manuel, manager of the NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies, spoke about the Yankees. First, he spoke about losing to the Yanks in November:

“If you go back and look and followed us playing the Rockies and the Dodgers, we played real good. We didn’t really play as good as we can against the Yankees. It might have been because of their bullpen and their pitching. We ran into a situation in the World Series with how it went, the Yankees were a well-balanced team with their offense. At the end, Rivera did what he’s been doing all these years. We can play better and we can pitch better offensively and defensively. I felt like in the ones they beat us, they were like a step ahead of us. We were always chasing them and trying to catch up. They were always ahead of us … It was who got the breaks and they got the good breaks. We can beat them. At the end of the World Series last year when I talked to our team, I told them that I feel like we owe the Yankees one … They got us.”

Later, he spoke again about facing the Yankees and beating them the next time around. “We can play with the Yankees. We could have beaten the Yankees but we didn’t,” he said. “That give us more determination and everything. We definitely want to get back to the World Series. I know that. I know we want to go back to the World Series and win it. It’s hard to go two years in a row to win the World Series. We got there but didn’t get it done. This year, we’re going to key on that. We’re going to keep our same philosophy.”

As we sit here on the edge of February, it’s not a stretch to imagine an October rematch between the Yankees and the Phillies. With Javier Vazquez aboard to beef up the rotation and Curtis Granderson patrolling the outfield, the Yankees have more depth from the get-go and are becoming younger in the field while maintaining their prodigious offensive output. The Red Sox have put together a defensive-minded team that should score runs, and they have the pitching to compete; the Mariners are the prohibitive favorites in the West; but the Yanks remain the American League’s team to beat.

In the National League, the Phillies are the clear-cut pre-season favorites. They will enjoy a full season of work from Roy Halladay and have a solid rotation behind him. Perhaps the Cardinals could unseat them; perhaps everything could go just right for the Marlins; perhaps the Rockies have the pieces to regain their 2007 NL title. As the Yankees are in the AL, though, the Phillies should be primed for a wire-to-wire run at their third consecutive National League crown.

As the Yankees and Phillies remain baseball’s crown jewels heading into 2010, I can’t help but think about the Mets, a historical rival to both teams and a rival to neither right now. In an e-mail to me and Joe last night, Mike expressed his condolences for Mets’ fans. In the face of their worst finish since 1993 and their second highest loss total since 1993, Omar Minaya and the Mets have basically stood pat. Their biggest move came when Jason Bay signed with them for too many years and too many dollars, and their loudest recent splash involved a move that netted them an outfielder who can’t hit, can’t field and hasn’t flashed much power lately.

It’s true that some of the Mets’ 2009 failures stemmed from bad luck. The team was not equipped to handle the injuries that befell them. But at the same time, they’re heading into 2010 with Fernando Nieve as their fifth starter and Omir Santos as their starting catcher. Bengie Molina saved the team from themselves, but they couldn’t find a league average innings eater type such as Jon Garland to shore up a shaky rotation.

I don’t root against the Mets. I have nothing against the Flushing Faithful, and I believe the city benefits with two competitive baseball teams fighting it out for a playoff spot and media attention. But as the Mets reach a recent nadir, I’m glad to be a Yankee fan. I’m glad to see Brian Cashman actively working to improve the team and generally knowing what does and does not work. If the stars align properly, the Yankees and Phillies should be back in the World Series, and as long as Omar Minaya is in charge in Queens, the Mets will be at home watching.

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As the Mets bumble through another off-season and make headlines for all the wrong reasons, the Yankees find themselves pulling far ahead of the Flushing Nine in the stadium memorabilia race as well. As The Post reported over the weekend, Yankee Stadium seats are far outselling those from Shea Stadium.

According to Melissa Klein, only 10,311 of the 16,000 Shea Stadium seat pairs put up for sale over 16 months ago have been snatched up. The Yanks, meanwhile, have sold 15,000 seats in the last eight months. To make matters worse for the Mets, the Yanks’ seats at selling at $1500 a pair while the Mets’ seats go for just $869 per duo. That’s quite the revenue disparity.

Over at NBC’s Circling the Bases, Craig Calcaterra ponders the meaning of this discrepancy. He writes, “I’d be curious to hear New Yorkers’ take on the subject, but given that the Yankee Stadium seats only date back to the mid-70s renovation at the oldest, this can’t be a matter of some overwhelmingly disparate historical relevance of the given seats. On a gut level this just seems about right in terms of weighted fandom.”

I don’t agree with Calcaterra’s take about general views of weighted fandom in New York City. When it comes to seat sales, only the diehards with money are going to drop a grand and a half on some plastic seats. While the Mets have struggled in recent years to put a good product on the field, the diehards are always there, and the Mets don’t have appreciably fewer fans than the Yanks. The team should be able to sell out 15,000 seat pairs.

Rather, I think these numbers — wide even in the face of a huge price gap — show the love people had for Yankee Stadium and the general disregard even Mets fans had for Shea Stadium. Even though Yankee Stadium lost a lot of its original character in the mid-1970s renovations and even though many of the seats and other memorabilia for sale date back to just the Reggie Jackson era and not the Babe Ruth era, Yankee Stadium was still a baseball cathedral in the Bronx. It was a spot of Mystique and Aura, and it witnessed, even in its post-renovated incarnation, magical moments. It was also a baseball destination.

In Queens, meanwhile, Shea was often called the toilet bowl of Flushing. With a moving lower bowl, it was a hybrid baseball/football stadium that was state of the art for a few years and then fell into disrepair. Even when a replacement was no sure thing, the stadium suffered through years of tough love. The site lines were bad; the upper decks far recessed; and the amenities bare bones. It was just another cookie-cutter stadium built in a parking lot surrounded by chop shops. Can you blame the Queens faithful for wanting to put the Shea Stadium past behind him?

In the end, the seats will sell, and the stadiums will fade into baseball memory. One of them — that House in the Bronx — will live on in memory. The other will become a relic of a bad era of stadium architecture, and that is why the seats won’t go quickly into the night.

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NPB Tracker passes along a report (translated article) that says the Mets have asked agent Arn Tellem for the medical reports on Hideki Matsui‘s knees. We’ve already seen some speculation that the Mets could bring Godzilla to Flushing, possibly to play first base.  Despite his fantastic year with the stick, Matsui is a man without many options. There are more available DH’s than DH spots (like every winter), so Homer-deki needs all the leverage he can get, even though he’s going to use it against the Yankees.

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