Joba and the Yankees’ playoff choices

ALDSLogo138x115 A mea culpa: Yesterday afternoon, I mocked Jon Heyman for posting a note on Twitter concerning Joba Chamberlain. With little context, Heyman said that the Yanks could have a bullpen of both Joba and Phil Hughes for the playoffs, and I called that statement an unfounded one. I was wrong.

Because the team with the best record in the league can pick which Division Series schedule to play, the Yankees, nursing a 6.5-game lead in that race over the Angels, will probably get the luxury of that choice. Joba Chamberlain, of course, will play into it.

The Yankees’ choice comes down to one of days off. Take a look at the Division Series schedules. If the Yanks opt for the A series, they play five games in eight days and could bring back their games 1 and 2 starters in games 4 and 5. If they opt for the B series, they play five games in seven days and would either bring back their game 1 starter on three days’ rest or use a fourth starter.

At this point in the season, with his recent spate of poor pitching, Joba Chamberlain is nominally the fourth starter. That designation though is still very much up in the air and with 22 games left in the season, Chad Gaudin could potentially claim that spot or Joba could pitch his way out of it. If that is our playoff reality, then the Yankees would probably go with a three-man rotation and the A series. As an added bonus, Joba, facing an innings limit, would earn some extra rest with the A series.

If Joba can reemerge as the top flight starter we know he can be, it would behoove the Yankees to pick the B series. They wouldn’t need to burn their top two starters at the back end of the first round of the playoffs, and they would have a depth advantage over their potential opponents. Lights-out Joba as the fourth starter is nearly unparalleled throughout the rest of baseball.

The opponents, of course, matter. If the season were to end today, the Yankees would draw the Detroit Tigers in the first round. Giving them the A series would result in tougher pitching match-ups for the Yankees. They would have to face Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson in four of the five potential Division Series match-ups. If the Yanks draw the Tigers and choose the B series, the Tigers would have to throw Rick Porcello and Jarrod Washburn. Choices, choices, choices.

For his part, as Tyler Kepner reported, Joe Girardi is staying a bit mum. “There are two different division series,” the Yanks’ manager said. “In one, you need three starters, and in one you need four. I’ll just leave it at that.”

I’ll leave at this: It will come down to Joba. If he pitches well, the Yanks will want him in their rotation. If he doesn’t, they can avoid the question for a round and figure out how best to deploy him from the bullpen, if they are to use him in the Division Series at all. On the verge of October, it remains all about Joba.

Yanks set post-season ticket prices, policies

Once upon a time, I went to a few classic post-season baseball games in the Bronx. I saw the first home game of the 2001 World Series, Game Six of the 2000 ALCS, Game 1 of the 2000 World Series and that fateful Game Two of the 1998 ALCS. I had tickets to Game Five of the 1999 World Series and Game Seven of the 2003 World Series. Those both proved to be unnecessary for vastly different reasons.

Yesterday, with the Yanks’ Magic Number at 27 before their Monday night win over the Orioles, the team announced their potential post-season ticket pricing plans, and once we wade through the licensing fee language, tickets for post-season games wind up being cheaper than those for the regular season. As the Yankees note in a press release detailing the pricing schemes, “prices for the vast majority of postseason tickets are less than those that were charged by the Yankees for equivalent seating in the 2007 postseason at the original Yankee Stadium.”

The details please:

Regular season ticket prices for full-season ticket licensees (non-Suites) will be replicated for the 2009 American League Division Series (i.e., a Main Level ticket that costs a full-season ticket licensee $60 in the 2009 regular season will cost the same licensee $60 for the ALDS), however, full-season ticket licensees (non-Suites) of $325 Field Level seats may purchase their seats for the ALDS at the lower price of $275 each.

For full-season ticket licensees (non-Suite), prices will range from $5-$275 per ticket for the ALDS, $10-$350 per ticket for the ALCS, and $50-$425 per ticket for the World Series.

Full-season Suite licensees in the Legends Suite, Delta Sky360° Suite and Jim Beam Suite, have all already paid their Suite license fees. Accordingly, they will only be required to purchase their Suite tickets, which will range from $65-$275 per Suite ticket for the ALDS, $115-$350 per Suite ticket for the ALCS, and $150-$425 per Suite ticket for the World Series. As with the regular season, Legends Suite licensees will also be required to pay a per-game food and beverage fee, but not a Suite license fee.

There is, however, a rub: Those of us without post-season options in our season ticket packages — or those of us without season ticket packages at all — will be at the mercy of the secondary ticketing market. The Yankees are going to give season-ticket holders first crack at the post-season apple, and the team also made sure to blame Major League Baseball when many fans are faced with the sold out reality of October baseball in the Bronx.

Please note that the quantity of postseason tickets available to those who are not 2009 season ticket licensees will be limited and vary for each postseason round. Yankee Stadium has a seating capacity of 50,235, excluding standing room. For each postseason game, the first opportunity to purchase tickets is provided to current season-ticket licensees, which represent in excess of 37,000 full-season equivalent ticket licenses. Major League Baseball directs clubs to dedicate approximately 3,000 tickets per game for players of the participating clubs and to accommodate the media. In addition, Major League Baseball requires approximately 5,500 tickets per ALDS game, 7,000 tickets per ALCS game and 9,500 tickets per World Series game.

Considering that the Yanks have yet to hit that 50,325 barrier, the team is playing a bit fast and loose with their attendance figures. Still, for the early rounds of the playoffs, the team will make at most 5000 per game available to those who do not hold a ticket license. Such are the economics and costs of success.

What the Yankees should do before the post-season, though, is work out this standing room aspect of the stadium. The team continues to mention it in official attendance figures and ticket-related press releases. I have yet to see, however, a single standing-room only ticket. What better way to inaugurate this new aspect of the new stadium than with some October baseball.

The “crapshoot” nature of the playoffs

“My shit doesn’t work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is fucking luck.” – Billy Beane

Many fans I know object to that quote. They think that the inefficiencies Billy Beane exploited work well in the long-haul, but fail miserably in a short series. And, in their defense, Beane’s playoff run in the early 00s bears that out. However, the recent play of the Yankees and Red Sox better illustrates Beane’s point than his words do.

After rolling through the first four teams after the All-Star Break, the Yanks hit a snag, dropping three straight to the White Sox. The Yankees are obviously a good team, but hit a rough patch. It happens to the best of teams. The Red Sox also hit a bad patch, right as the Yankees were rolling. Both teams are on the same level, yet both have slumped, and slumped hard, over the course of the season.

What if those teams hit a rough patch in the beginning of October? It’s unfortunate, but it happens. The 2006 Yankees are a good example. They had a great regular season, but hit a terrible patch against Detroit in the playoffs. Hell, they even played well enough in the first game, but slumped in the final three. It happens during the regular season, and it can happen in the playoffs.

You hope your team can focus and avoid a slump when the games matter the most. The great teams, so goes the reasoning, will be able to do this. But in an age of increasing parity, rough patches hurt that much more. A team can hit a few bumps in the road over a 162-game season, but if they slump just a little during the playoffs it’s over. Even the best team in the long haul can have four bad games.

This is just something to chew on as we enter the off-day. We’d like to believe that players can elevate themselves in October, but sometimes they just can’t. I don’t think that’s necessarily a reflection of the team’s character. I think it’s in the nature of baseball’s marathon schedule.

On parity and the playoffs in baseball

The writers at Pinstripe Alley post a question about a parity in baseball. They note a recent Peter Gammons column about parity in which Gammons writes:

In those 30 years, 20 different teams have won World Series titles, and it would likely be 21 without the 1994 strike that cost the sport’s best team — the Montreal Expos — a chance to win it all. In those 30 years, 14 different teams have won the Super Bowl, 13 have won the Stanley Cup, nine have won the NBA championship.

PA asks, “Does the three tier playoff system create parity in baseball, or do the short series create the illusion of parity?”

Now, assessing parity is a dangerous exercise. If you go back in time too far, as Gammons did, you run the risk of heading from one economic era to the next. In baseball, the past 30 years has been an eternity. The average salary in 1978 was just under $100,000. That’s just $325,000 in 2008 or less than the current MLB minimum.

So let’s start in 1995, the year after the strike and arguably the beginning of current economic era in baseball. We’ve witnessed 14 seasons of baseball and nine different World Series champions. More impressively, 26 different teams have made the playoffs since 1995.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. In the AL, five teams — the Yanks, Red Sox, Indians, A’s and Angels — have made the playoffs five or more times, and in the NL, that numer is four (Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, Astros). Is that parity? It’s hard to say.

I think jscape’s question is tougher to answer than with raw numbers. By having a field of eight head into October, MLB guarantees that 26.6 percent of its teams will make it to the postseason. That’s enforced parity. But if the same teams return on a near-annual basis, are different World Series victors simply illustrative of the fact that in a short series anything can happen? Perhaps so.

What I do know is that of the 2007 playoff teams, just two — the Cubs and Red Sox — made encore appearances in 2008. Money may give teams a natural advantage, but in the end, I’d say that baseball has done an admirable job of creating parity. Most teams have a shot at the playoffs each year, and any team can win in October. That’s good for the game no matter how you slice or dice it.

GMs may do away with the coin-toss tiebreakers

It’s a quiet night in Yankee-land. The GMs are heading home, and the dealing won’t come down for a few more days. But for playoff-watchers, the General Managers are close to making a significant change. They want to do away with coin-flip tiebreaker scenarios. Right now, MLB determines home-field advantage for potential tiebreaker games based on a series of coin flips. The GMs would rather see the advantage awarded to the teams with the best records in head-to-head competition. Either way, it’s all kind of arbitrary, but this seems more fair than a bunch of coin tosses.

One for the ages

Seven years ago, I was a freshman in college. The country was just seven weeks removed from the horrible events of Sept. 11, and the Yankees were battling it out against the Diamondbacks in the World Series as the city poured its heart and soul into the games.

The night before, I had been at Yankee Stadium. Of course, I had leaped at the chance to go to game three of the World Series. With the Yanks down 2-0 to the Diamondbacks, they needed a win and got a solid, steady performance. As I returned to suburban Philadelphia and settled in to watch the rest of the series from the couch in our lounge, little did I realize the excitement and utter heartbreak the next five days would bring.

Halloween in 2001 was a Wednesday, and this midweek game would pit Curt Schilling against Orlando Hernandez. Prior to the game, Schilling lambasted the Yankee Stadium mystique and aura. He said that mystique and aura sounded more like cheap strippers than anything related to baseball. Little did Curt realize who would show up in the 9th and 10th innings.

For seven innings, Schilling and El Duque put on a show. Curt struck out nine in seven innings and gave up just three hits. The only blemish on his record was a Shane Spencer home run in the third. El Duque allowed eight baserunners in 6.1 innings, but Mike Stanton got Tony Womack to hit into a double play. Through seven, the game was knotted at one.

In the top of the eighth, Arizona broke through and carried a two-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. The Yanks were in trouble, and I and my fellow Yankee fans were slumping on the couches, dejected at the thought of a 3-1 Diamondbacks lead in the World Series. Byung-Hyun Kim was due to pitch, and he had been stellar that year with 113 strike outs in 98 innings.

Derek grounded out, but a Paul O’Neill single kept the inning alive. After Bernie Williams struck out, the Yanks’ fortunes rested on the bat of Tino Martinez. The Yanks’ first baseman wasted no time. On the first pitch — BAM! — tie game. Tino’s blast to nearly straight-away center field brought life back to the Yanks. It was his first hit of the series.

Kim would allow two more baserunners that inning, but it wouldn’t be until November that the Yanks would win this game. Shortly after the clock on the scoreboard hit midnight, Derek Jeter blasted a home run into the night as the Yanks drew even with the Diamondbacks.

I went to bed that night quite content. I wondered if I’d ever see anything as dramatic as that Yankee rally in the World Series again. Little did I realize what the next night would bring.

Fixing the playoffs

It’s cold outside. With the temperatures in New York hovering at an unseasonable 40 degrees and the ever-present wind chill making it much, much worse. As the wind in New York howled, as Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske, as the Philadelphia Phillies downed the Tampa Bay Rays in a disjointed and prolonged World Series, winter finally settled upon the baseball world.

For the Yankees, this winter promises to bring change, and we’ll get to that over the next few days, weeks and months. Tonight, let’s bury the baseball season.

The last few weeks have been a trying time for many baseball fans. We’ve seen a lot of starts and stops in the playoffs. We’ve suffered through a series of mostly dull games that, outside of a seven-run Boston comeback on a day that seems like it was ages ago, left little to the imagination. While there may only be one October, this October, for the vast majority of baseball fans, failed to elicit much excitement.

For the most part, national baseball writers have focused on the World Series. Jeff Passan’s Tuesday column about the indifferent reaction to the World Series is indicative of the prevailing views. Between games that normally start too late, one game held to 10 p.m. due to a rain and another — the clincher — suspended mid-inning because Bud Selig failed to read a Doppler forecast, this World Series came off as irrelevant to baseball fans outside of Philadelphia and insulting to baseball purists.

But the truth is that this problem extends well beyond one boring World Series. This year, it extended back to a postseason that really laid bare how badly MLB sells its baseball soul to the networks. It started with five-game sets that take seven or eight calendars days to play, followed by seven-game series spread out over 10 days. Do teams really need three days off over seven games? Do we have to sit through a 2-2-1-2 format for a seven-game set and a 1-1-2-1 format for best-of-five series?

Now, while the playoffs aren’t as far gone as the baseball writers would have you believe, this format seems broken. Allow me to humbly present a few suggestions for fixing what should be the game’s crowning tournament.

First, excitement for the World Series and the playoffs has to begin well before October. It has to start with FOX and TBS’ broadcasting schedule. While New York, Chicago, LA and Boston offer big markets, baseball — and good baseball at that — exists outside of the major media markets. While it may not be in the best interest of FOX’s bottom line to broadcast the games between Tampa and the Twins, these games should be on national TV as part of an effort to promote the game of baseball. If Bud Selig and the owners didn’t negotiate contracts with FOX and TBS that allows for the national TV rights to promote the best interests of the game, then they have failed at their jobs as the game’s gatekeepers.

Second, Bud Selig has to retain more control over the postseason schedule. It simply isn’t doing anyone any favors to have sets that don’t make sense given the daily nature of the regular season. During the season, teams don’t play a game, have a day off, play another, have another day, play two, have a day off and then play again. This isn’t hockey or basketball. In baseball, the teams play every day, and the same should hold true in October. If the sport needs to schedule travel days for the Anaheim-to-Boston trips, then play a 2-2-1 set. Everyone else should be able to survive on one or no days off.

Breaking up the series simply curtails fan enthusiasm. If fans get into a game only to have to wait 48 hours for the next, they simply grow impatient and disinterested. Again, the network suits might like it, but baseball’s overall national popularity should transcend the wishes of a few rich executives.

Third — and this point is related to the second one above — start the games earlier. There is no good reason why a game between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia should start at 8:30 p.m. I understand that West Coast fans can’t see the games if they start much earlier, but an East Coast-dominated World Series will draw predominantly East Coast fans. The supporters in these two towns can’t stay up until midnight or later to watch a game, and forget about the kids.

When the Yankees were in the World Series throughout my years in high school, the games would start between 8:08 and 8:17. Over the last few years, FOX has inserted a creep into the broadcast, and for once I’m not talking about Joe Buck. Every year, the first pitch is later and later. This practice should end. Games should start at 7:30 p.m. local time. I doubt ratings would dip that much if at all. The game should be more accessible for the fans.

Fourth, in a rather dismaying exchange, Bud Selig expressed his desires for more October day games but says that the networks flat-out said no. This is a completely wrongheaded approach to baseball. If Selig wants day games, if everyone else wants day games, if no one wants to sit outside on a cold night in 38-degree weather, then schedule some day games. While FOX is well within their rights to say no — they did, as David Pinto points out, after all, pay for night games — baseball should hold the line the next time they can and demand day games from whoever is paying. Again, it’s for the good of the game.

And finally, I can’t leave out good old New York. In the annals of American society, New York holds a special place these days. While for a few months in 2001, Americans rallied around New York, we’re once again the city too good for the rest of the country. Everyone hates us, and that’s the way we like it.

To that end, the playoffs need the Yankees. It’s no coincidence that the Yankees draw the highest TV ratings; baseball fans need someone to root against as much as they need someone to root for. When that someone to root against is also from the country’s most arrogant and insufferable city, even better. Baseball shouldn’t root against the Yankees.

Now, granted that final point is a rather contrived conceit. I want to see the Yankees in the playoffs every year no matter what, but there is some truth in it. The Yanks are a draw. But the playoffs should be a draw no matter what. If they weren’t exciting this year, if they’ve gotten less compelling as time marches on, then something is wrong not with the games or with the fans but with the system. It’s time to fix it.