Archive for Guest Columns

A few weeks back I had the chance to meet Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster. I’ll start off by saying he was an extremely nice, down to earth guy, and from now on I’m a fan of his. While I only had a few minutes to talk to him, my first question was what he thought the Yankees should do with Joba Chamberlain. As a pitcher who has had success in both the rotation and then pen, I was intrigued on what he had to say on the subject.

Dempster first said they need to just make up their minds one way or another, which I completely agree with. The bouncing around Joba has been through isn’t helping anyone and they need to make a decision and stick with it. It’s pretty interesting to note, that while Dempster has pitched in both roles, in his 12 full seasons, he had a defined role and wasn’t switched back and forth. The closest he had to being bounced around was in 2005 where his first 6 appearances were starts and he spent the rest of the season in the bullpen. That is clearly the easy way to transition, from the rotation to the pen not the other way around. There’s no building up of innings or stamina, and once he was moved to the pen, he stuck.

Dempster believes, primarily because of pitching in the AL East, that Joba should probably remain in the bullpen. He mentioned the way lineups wear you down and how the pitch counts can grow pretty quickly, especially for a guy like Joba who racks up a lot of strikeouts. While I do disagree with him in that I am fully in the Joba as a starter camp, it is interesting to think about what Joba’s career path might have been like coming up in another division, or even in the NL as a starter. Obviously there’s no way the Yankees can ease their starters into the big leagues against weaker competition than the AL East, but the bullpen might be the way to go, as long as there is a set path to get a good young pitcher back to the rotation. While both Joba and Hughes have somewhat followed this path, it wasn’t by design, instead it was by necessity.

After talking with Dempster I decided to take a look at his career arc and found that after his time in the bullpen he became a much better starter. Phil Hughes may have gotten a boost in confidence last year in the pen, but Dempster had a full 3 seasons of relieving, and came out of it significantly improved in the rotation. In his 3 years as a starter before going to the pen Dempster had a 4.6 BB/9 ratio and a 6.9 K/9 ratio. In the three years since he’s been back in the rotation he’s at 3.2 BB/9 and 8.1 K/9, all coming in the NL.  While there are likely a ton of reasons why Dempster improved, I wouldn’t be shocked if spending time in the pen was one of the main factors. As much as I want Joba in the rotation (and wanted him there for 2010), I really hope he can take advantage of his time in the bullpen to help him as a starter down the road.

My few minutes with Dempster certainly made me think about what’s going to happen with Joba’s future and how the (hopefully) temporary banishment to the bullpen (and yes, it was a demotion) makes him better down the road As much as I want Joba in the rotation (and wanted him there for 2010), I really hope he can take advantage of his time in the bullpen to help him as a starter down the road (even if with the Diamondbacks).

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2010 All Star Game Thread

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It's a good day for a smile. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s time once again for the Midsummer Classic, the game’s most important exhibition of stars. The AL should win it for home field advantage and win it for George. He was the biggest star of all.

Coverage starts at 8 p.m. on Fox, and Major League Baseball will offer a moment of silence in honor of the Boss prior to the start of the game. Here are Charlie Manuel’s and Joe Girardi‘s lineups:

National League
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Martin Prado, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Ryan Howard, DH
David Wright, 3B
Ryan Braun, LF
Andre Ethier, CF
Corey Hart, RF
Yadier Molina, C

Ubaldo Jimenez, SP

American League
Ichiro, RF
Derek Jeter, SS
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Josh Hamilton, CF
Vladimir Guerrero, DH
Evan Longoria, 3B
Joe Mauer, C
Robbie Cano, 2B
Carl Crawford, LF

David Price, SP

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Give CC his due

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Does one of the C’s in CC Sabathia stand for consistent? He is among the most sure things in baseball for a starting pitcher, and I think it’s this consistency that often has CC overlooked. When he was with briefly with Milwaukee he was mentioned as among the best pitchers in baseball, if not the best. In the year and a half since signing with the Yankees, those mentions have slowed, if not come to a full stop. Should they have?

Any conversation about the best pitchers in baseball undoubtedly includes Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zack Greinke, Chris Carpenter and others. CC’s name is often left out. There are a few main factors which contribute to this: 1. He’s moved to the AL East, clearly the best division in baseball and toughest to pitch in. 2. He’s a high priced Yankee free agent signing. The MSM loves to gloss over the “Core Four” but the hired guns of the Yankees don’t get as much love, as they are often treated as mercenaries. CC doesn’t get bashed like A-Rod does, but he probably had has many glowing articles written about him nationally in his 3 months in Milwaukee as he has in a year and a half in pinstripes. 3. CC is historically a slow starter, so he doesn’t jump out of the gate fast with eye popping numbers. While I know ERA isn’t the best stat out there for pitchers (or close) I will consider it for the sake of this post as I’m questioning the lack of CC love in the mainstream.

What really brought this to my attention was a chat in April/May with Rob Neyer. He listed Lincecum, Greinke, Halladay, Hernandez, Haren and “Your favorite Cardinal” as the best pitchers in baseball. Those guys are all great, but considering the league switch, should Haren, Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lincecum automatically be considered better than CC? When asked about CC, Neyer replied “At the moment, no. He was among the very best when his K/BB ratio was in the 4-5 range. Since joining the Yankees he’s been under 3. Still plenty good, but not mystical.” Isn’t that simple statement explained by joining the Yankees in the AL East? Also of note, a follow up question the next week asked “You mentioned that CC isn’t on the level of the top pitchers in the league, and that when he gets hi K/BB ratio in the 4-5 range, it would be a better argument. Am I missing something, but little Timmy has never had a K/BB ratio in the 4′s for an entire season?” Neyer’s retort “No, he hasn’t. But his HR rate has been absurdly low. Sabathia’s a different sort of pitcher.”

Seriously? Lincecum’s HR is absurdly low not only because he’s a great pitcher, but he pitches in the NL, in an extreme pitchers park, in a division where he also gets to pitch in pitchers parks like LA and San Diego. If CC were pitching in San Francisco, even if his K/BB rate didn’t improve (which it undoubtedly would), wouldn’t his HR rate likely become “absurdly low?” While it’s a small sample size, it’s interesting to note that in CC’s 17 National League starts, his HR rate was 0.4/9. That’s the definition of absurdly low Rob. CC’s HR/9 in Interleague play is 0.5/9 (in 242 innings). Again, absurdly low.

Ubaldo Jimenez got off to a great start in 2010 (and has since, predictably, tailed off) but still hasn’t been as a good as CC was in Milwaukee and has a much shorter track record than CC had by the time he got to Milwaukee. Yet Ubaldo had a ton of articles written comparing him to Bob Gibson a month ago, while CC had articles written about how he can only beat the Orioles (written by a moron, but written and published nonetheless). Ubaldo has been fantastic this year, but can anyone really say he’s a better pitcher than CC? I’m not ready to, not by a long shot.

While the Greinke love has tailed off this year, he’s still a great pitcher and deserves to be discussed among the best in baseball. But better than CC? I don’t think you can say that with any certainty. His 2009 was otherworldly, and better than any season CC has had, but he hasn’t been as good as CC this year when using MSM stats and has been a very similar pitcher by more advanced metrics. Again, considering ERA as the MSM would, Greinke’s ERA is 3.10 since 2007 (including time in the pen) and CC’s is 3.05. Greinke was fantastic last year, but to simply use a one year sample to put him in the best in baseball conversation and leave CC out is shortsighted. It comes back to CC’s consistency. He hasn’t had an off the charts season from April to October, so his peak just hasn’t been as memorable. CC doesn’t have a 2.16 ERA like Greinke (only once under 3, never in the AL), so his consistency is almost a downfall. If he had a 4.10 ERA in 2007 and a 2.00 ERA in 2008, he’d have roughly the same 3.05 cumulative ERA, but in the minds of many, having one off the charts season would make him seem like a better pitcher. Hell, if you had polled around baseball before last October, many of the experts would tell you Josh Beckett is as good as CC. It ain’t close.

Without delving into the case of every top pitcher in baseball, it’s wrong to dismiss CC as not being amongst the best. Neyer mentioned Haren, Carpenter/Wainwright, and doesn’t consider CC in their class? Really? Even Neyer, who for the most part knows his stuff (except for the “Yankees clearly don’t care about defense” nonsense), and should understand the difference in leagues (and divisions within the leagues) made it a point to leave CC out. He didn’t forget CC, he specifically stated reasons why CC wasn’t among the top pitchers in baseball. You can tell me that Felix and Halladay are better than CC and I won’t make much of an argument. Neyer somehow even managed to leave out future Yankee Cliff Lee (was he subconsciously already fitting him for pinstripes?), whom you could certainly make a case for being among the best, but when you tell me that all of those are guys are definitely better than CC, I have to disagree.

For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.

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Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

There are few things in baseball more frustrating than a blow lead, and the Yankees’ shaky bullpen has broken our hearts on more than one occasion this season. Joe Girardi generally does a pretty good job managing his bullpen, but there’s always a better way to deploy your best relievers.

Written by Rebecca of This Purist Bleeds Pinstripes and You Can’t Predict Baseball fame, this guest piece breaks down the concept of using your best reliever in the most important spot of the game for everyone who’s adverse to baseball’s statistical revolution.

Q: What is the leverage argument?

A: The leverage argument states that a manager should use his best pitcher at the game’s most critical points.

Q: So you mean, like, CC Sabathia should be pitching the ninth inning?

A: Well, no. A CC Sabathia who’s pitched eight other innings is probably not as sharp as a Mariano Rivera who hasn’t pitched any that day, and the ninth inning is not necessarily the most important part of the game.

Q: What do you mean the ninth inning isn’t the most important part of the game?

A: Well, in many games, a team will take a lead early in the game, in the first or second inning, and then lead and build on that throughout the game, so that by the eighth inning, they might be up by six runs, than say the one run they led by in the second.

Q: So then you’re saying Mariano Rivera should pitch the second inning?

A: Again, no. Unless your fifth starter is the April 2009 version of Chien Ming Wang, your starting pitcher is always going to be more valuable than the reliever. The leverage argument focuses primarily on what occurs after the starting pitcher has been removed from the game. This will, hopefully for your team, take place in the latter three innings, and not in the second or third inning, unless something’s gone horribly wrong.

Q: All right, hold up a sec and help me out here: how do you determine what the most important part of the game is?

A: Well, if you want to be technical about it, you can go and look at the WPA graphs on Fangraphs (they’re the graphs the RABbis post in the recap after every game with that line that goes ziggy zag zig wheee or zag zig zag oof, and the bars underneath, where the higher the bar, the more crucial that play was in that game).

However, if anything remotely math-y or graph-y rubs you the wrong way, the most important points of the game are pretty much any point in which the lead is in danger of changing from one team to the other. Like on Saturday, the Yankees had the bases loaded with no one out, that was a high leverage situation, because the likelihood that Toronto’s 2-0 lead would go bye-bye became much higher than it would be had the bases been empty and there been two out.

Really, most of the time it’s pretty easy to tell when it’s a high leverage situation–the crowd will get loud because their team is rallying or groan because Joba’s busy imploding again, for example.

That said, here’s the key thing, the thing so important that I’m bolding it: the importance of the ninth inning is nil if you can’t get through the eighth, and the eighth is not important if you can’t get through the seventh.

Q: Okay, I see your point, but you can’t have Mariano pitch the seventh, I mean, what about the saves?

A: Saves are a stupid stat. Did you know that in the game Texas won in 2007 30-3 against Baltimore, they got a save because the same guy, who wasn’t the starter, pitched the final three innings?

Q: But still! I mean, you can’t have Mariano pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth, the dude’s bloody forty years old!

A: Understood. I didn’t say the leverage argument wasn’t without risk. If the most critical point of the game happens in the seventh inning–like it did in Game 5 of the 2009 ALCS, then the leverage argument says you have Rivera pitch the seventh. It means that Joba or Robertson or pitcher X pitches the eighth and the ninth, but I revert back to the bolded statement above: the eighth and ninth won’t matter (as much) if you blow the lead in the seventh inning. The idea is that you get the lead, and keep it: walk offs and dramatic home runs are awesome and everything, but to be in that situation means that you’re relying on an awful lot of pure luck.

Q: Okay, so the Yankees are up 1-0 in the seventh in Game Seven of the World Series and the Dodgers are sending up Russell Martin, Blake DeWitt and Clayton Kershaw. The Yankees should go to Mo?

A: Well, not necessarily. Those three, right now, are the bottom of the Dodger lineup (and we presume this game is at Dodger Stadium). The situation is important, but if you’re winning 1-0, and it’s game seven, chances are CC is busy being CC and cruising. You know that in the eighth inning the Dodgers have Furcal, Eithier and Kemp due up (theoretically much better hitters than the bottom three), and thus that is perhaps more likely to be the more crucial situation.

That said, once Martin or DeWitt reach base, the complexion changes because then, barring ye olde GIDP, Furcal or Eithier will bat in that inning. That’s when you ring the phone and tell Mariano to start tossing.

Q: But what if DeWitt hits a home run?

A: It’s baseball, stuff happens. The leverage argument is about playing probabilities, and doing your best to use those probabilities to your advantage.

Q: That sounds much too much like sabermetrics.

A: Well, it is. That said, you don’t need statistics to tell you that Albert Pujols is more likely to hit Chan Ho(me run) Park than Mariano Rivera or that Chad Gaudin will probably find Juan Pierre and easier out than, say, Manny Ramirez.

Q: Okay, I get you, but this still seems really risky. What if Joe Girardi did go to Mariano in the eighth on Saturday and then Joba blew the lead in the ninth?

A: Alas, it’s one of the risks you’re going to run. That said, think about it like this: would you prefer to be tied 1-1 going into the ninth, or have a 1-0 lead going into the ninth?

The real point, here, however, is what happens when your team is on the road in extra innings. Most managers (still) won’t use their closer on the road in extras, saving them for save opportunities that may never actually materialize. Yet, us Yankee fans got lucky on the last Yankee road trip: two extra inning games preceding off days, Joe Girardi elected to use Mariano Rivera to pitch the bottom of the ninth, instead of other relievers he had at his disposal. The Yankees were lucky enough to score runs in the tenth inning both times, and because the off day allowed him to do so, Girardi went back to Mariano for the tenth inning.

The Yankees won both games.

Q: All right, you got me hooked. Where should I go?

A: Fangraphs and their WPA charts are my favorite, but you may also find Baseball Reference or the Leverage Indexes posted at The Hardball Time useful as well. Mind, these guys get very into it, actually calculating numbers to determine which situations (ie, how many men on base, how many out, the inning, etc) are more critical than others. It’s a baseball stat nerd’s dream, but you don’t need to get that complicated to understand the point.

Q: So what’s the point?

A: The ninth (or even the eighth) inning is not necessarily the most important inning of the game, and boxing in relievers as “the eighth inning guy” or “the closer” without allowing for an occasional adjustment as circumstances warrant can come back to bite you in the ass. Almost everything about a bullpen and the game of baseball is malleable; use it to your advantage.

Q: You’re still mad at Joba, aren’t you?

A: Yes.

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The future of Mark Teixeira

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While I remain unconcerned that Mark Teixeira is done as a top notch hitter, it’s tough to ignore the now 3 month slump he is in heading back to the 2009 postseason.  While we can write off April as he always struggles, he hasn’t yet turned it around the way we expected.  Since the Yankees have Teixeira signed thru 2016 (his age 36 season) I wanted to see how comparable hitters thru age 29 fared from their age 30-36 seasons to see what could be in store for Tex.  I’m simply using Tex’s 5 most similar hitters (per B-Ref), so there can certainly be extenuating circumstances that can explain either a surge in offense or a drop off.  Tex should profile pretty well, as he has been healthy, is a hard worker, and seems to take care of himself off the field.  These guys may be fatter, skinnier, have used steroids, partied harder, etc., so it’s not necessarily a prediction of what Tex will do over the next 7 years (2010 inclusive), but more how comparable bats have fared.

#1 Carlos Delgado

Delgado was a beast from age 30-36.  In his worst season, his last in Toronto, he still managed a .269/.372/.535 129 OPS+ line with 32 HR’s in just 128 games.  If Tex’s production is anywhere near Delgado’s, the contract will play out just fine.  As a hitter Delgado’s best seasons are better than Teixiera’s, but Tex so far has been a little more consistent year in and year out.

#2 Kent Hrbek

Hrbek is certainly the scary name on the list but better than I remember.  He was a beast on RBI Baseball, and while his numbers thru age 29 don’t include any 40 HR seasons, he was  regularly in the mid 20’s when that actually meant something.  He was a solid hitter, but not in the truly elite class of baseball.  He never even made it to 36, retiring after his age 34 season.  Here’s hoping Tex does a lot better than Hrbek after turning 30.

#3 Jeff Bagwell

Bagwell had already slowed by the time he was 30 but was still producing in a big way.  From 26-29 his OPS+ was an astounding 168.  After the age of 30 his high was 162, and never hit 140 once turning 33, dropping every year from the age of 31 until he retired at 37.  I’d love to see Bagwell-type production from Tex, though he certainly was past his prime by the time he hit 32.

#4 Fred McGriff

The Crime Dog was productive from 30-36, but only had 2 great seasons in 1994 and 1999.  Every other year his OPS+ was between 106 and 119.  Clearly not a hole in the lineup, but not the production Tex was brought in to provide.  Of note with McGriff is that while 1994 was a great year for him, it was a great (and interesting) year for offense in baseball altogether.  When the strike hit, McGriff had 34 HR’s in only 113 games, which was just two off his career high.  Tex producing like McGriff from 30-36 wouldn’t be a total disappointment, but also not what the Yankees are paying for.

#5 Jim Thome

Thome is clearly the class of this bunch after the age of 30.  He had the two best seasons of his career at ages 30 and 31 and was still producing up to age 36 (and beyond).  He did have an injury shortened year at 34 which led to him ending up back in the American League as a full time DH.  DH’ing likely helped Thome’s later years, but it’s doubtful that Tex will be spending much time at DH in the future.  I’ll say right now that Tex will not produce like Thome from age 30-36 as he simply isn’t as a good a hitter as Thome was, but hopefully he’ll be able to age like Thome and continue to produce at a very high level.

The good news as you can see as everyone but Hrbek was healthy and played quite a few games from ages 30-36.  Hrbek was done after the strike season in 1994, playing just 81 games with a 99 OPS+.  Everyone else averaged at least 134 games (and that was Thome who was held back as a DH) and produced.  The bad news is that they all had their best seasons at either 30 or 31 and it was downhill from there.  Still productive but downhill.  While that’s concerning enough, it’s even more concerning considering all of these guys played in the height of the steroids era, when the aging process seemed to stand still for many players.  Clearly Tex’ best post 30 season won’t be this year, but even if he’s great again next year, it might be the best we see out of Tex for the remainder of the contract.

For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.

Categories : Guest Columns, Players
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Mike Lowell in pinstripes?

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So the word in Boston is that Mike Lowell is on the outs, and could be gone within a week.  Since he made his displeasure with his semi-platoon with David Ortiz known on May 19th, he has been buried on Terry Francona’s bench.  While some of that can be attributed to  Ortiz’ resurgence at the plate, he has been struggling lately, yet Lowell hasn’t gotten much of a chance to contribute.  In 11 games in June, Ortiz has a .158/.333/.316 line with 1 HR.  Considering Ortiz is also hitting just .217/.315/.326 vs. LHP on the year, they surely could have found more at-bats for Lowell, no?

I bring this all on up on the slight chance that the Sox just release Lowell in the next 10 days or so.  I assume, by eating the rest of Lowell’s contract, the Sox will be able to find a trade partner.  In the offseason, before failing a physical, the Sox had agreed to trade Lowell to Texas for intriguing catcher Max Ramirez.  I expect a trade soon, while the Sox will likely get less of a return, they are in more dire need to rid themselves of a potential problem.


If the Sox can’t work out a trade, and Lowell is soon released, how would Lowell look in pinstripes, returning to his original organization?  Is there room for him in New York?  Would he be happy with the playing time?  Would he even consider crossing to the other side of the rivalry?  My answers are yes, yes, and yes.

The recent injury to Alex Rodriguez, however minor, has shown what a huge hole is created when he is out of the lineup.  While Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada and Nick Johnson have all missed time this year, there were sufficient backups in place which allowed the Yankees to tread water at those positions.  At third base, it’s a different story.  Not only is A-Rod better than the aforementioned trio, his backups are worse.  Ramiro Pena simply cannot hit at the major league level.  Kevin Russo has shown nothing with the bat and has seen limited time at 3rd base.  If A-Rod were to even go on the 15 day DL, it would be a huge blow to the Yankees.

If A-Rod remains healthy, is there a role for Lowell as a DH?  While Lowell is (or was) being used in Boston as a DH against LHP, in his career he has OPS’d .797 against righthanders, so he doesn’t exactly have Marcus Thames type splits.  That .797 OPS of course came primarily as a strong fielding 3rd baseman, and not a DH, so there was a ton of value in that type of offensive production.  Could you bring in Lowell as a backup at the corners, and give him 60-70% of the at-bats at DH?  You could still work Posada in at DH, and have Thames (or now Huffman) DH against lefties.  If you are comfortable with Ramiro Pena in the OF, you can send Kevin Russo to Scranton.  If you are comfortable with Russo at SS, you can send Pena down.  If bringing in Lowell would provide enough of an upgrade, you can make it work roster-wise.

To address my second and third yes votes above, why would Lowell be happy as a part-time player in New York if he’s not happy in Boston?  Lowell, frankly, has been bitter since soon after resigning with the Sox after the 2007 World Series.  He took a hometown discount as the Phillies were offering him a longer deal, but Lowell wanted to stay with the Sox and took fewer years and total dollars.  It wasn’t long before the rumors started about the Sox acquiring new players that would have pushed Lowell out of his starting role.  This displeasure was strongly evident when the Sox made the hard push to sign Mark Teixeira after the 2008 season, which would have moved Kevin Youkilis to 3B, and Lowell on the trade block.  Lowell was pissed.  After winning the World Series MVP and taking a hometown discount, he felt he deserved better.  Lowell’s feelings were only compounded this offseason when the Sox signed Adrian Beltre (after many Adrian Gonzalez rumors) to play 3rd, pushing Lowell to the bench.  This, a nearly two-year-old chip on his shoulder, just might be enough for Lowell to not only accept a reduced role for another team, but also to do it for the Yankees, just to spite the Red Sox.

There are a lot more questions than answers, and at the end of the day I don’t think the Sox will cut Lowell knowing that he could end up in pinstripes.  We don’t know whether Lowell can play even a passable 3rd base anymore.  He was terrible in 2009, but was struggling with a major hip injury.  We don’t know how much is left in his bat; in 2008 and 2009 he was about league average, and he has just 74 ABs this year.  We don’t know if he would consider a part-time role — or any role — with the Yankees.  If the Yankees had the opportunity to get Lowell for the minimum, I think it’s something they would have to look into, and see if they can catch lightning in a bottle.  If not, they can cut him themselves, no harm, no foul.

For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.

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There has been a much discussion around Phil Hughes and his lack of secondary pitches this year. Sure enough, he has primarily relied on the fastball and cutter, rarely broken out the curve, and the changeup we read about all winter is seemingly non-existent. There’s certainly some concern here as he starts to see teams for the second, third and fourth times this year, but if he can get by without mixing his pitches too much, should he?

We all remember Hughes’ start against the Red Sox where he couldn’t put anyone away and the Sox were fouling off pitches left and right. It was concerning, and was prefaced by a post that was questioning how Hughes would do the second time around.  The post turned out to be spot on for that appearance. While that start seems to stick out amongst a ton of great starts, I think we as fans are coming back to that start a little too often. I have read and heard a bunch of people talking about Hughes’ lack of mixing his pitches and that Sox start is being used as an example. He certainly struggled that night without being able to put batters away, but what do the stats tell us about Hughes’ ability so far to get people to swing and miss?

In researching this, I came across some pretty interesting info, but Hughes certainly isn’t struggling with foul balls and getting batters to swing and miss. He is inducing swinging strikes right up there with the best pitchers in the game (a group he may be on the way to joining). So far Hughes has managed to get swings and misses on 9% of his total pitches. Without context that’s somewhat meaningless, but let’s take a look at how some other pitchers are doing.

Lester 10%
Burnett 7%
Price 8%
Buchholz 10%
Verlander 8%
Halladay 10%
Jimenez 9%
Johnson 11%
Lincecum 13%
Wainwright 10%

In the AL, Verlander and Burnett possess some of the most lethal, swing and miss stuff in baseball, and yet Hughes is getting more swinging strikes than them. He’s also ahead of Price, and just below Boston’s duo of Lester and Buchholz. John Lackey, (not to be confused as having great stuff or being a great pitcher despite being paid like one) has garnered swings and misses on just 6% of his pitches this year. Clearly the guys in the NL have an advantage in that they are facing weaker lineups, but Hughes’ is getting as many swing and misses as Jimenez, who is off to a historic start, and is just behind Halladay and Wainwright.

I think a lot of the concern with Hughes’ pitch usage so far stems mainly from that Red Sox game, and sure enough that was his worst game all year in terms of swings and misses with just 5. We, as people, do a great job of remembering the outliers, not the norm. Is there a chance that the Yankees and Hughes have decided to try to get by early in the season on a limited repertoire, only to unleash everything else as the season goes along? It’s pretty far fetched, but if he’s having so much success with primarily two pitches, what’s the use of using the curveball and change? The obvious answer is that he doesn’t want to lose the feel for those pitches, though maybe he is focusing on those pitches in his side sessions. Again, I don’t think that was the plan, but he may be comfortable enough, and having enough success, that it’s not worth throwing the kitchen sink at the Detroit Tigers in a game in May. I don’t think Hughes will continue to have the same success going forward without mixing in more curves and changes, but in the meantime, I don’t mind the pitch selection. As soon as he starts getting hit (and that could mean within a game), they need to switch it up ASAP.  He’s not always going to have his best fastball, in terms of location or velocity, and while he hasn’t had major struggles yet, when the time comes, Hughes and the Yankees will need to respond.

For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.

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Interviewing Horace Clarke

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Unfairly or not Horace Clarke has an era in Yankee history named after him. It was an inglorious time in Yankee history when CBS owned the team, and the Yanks, fresh off decades of dominance, faded into irrelevance. Clarke was supposed to be a part of the new guard, but instead he became known as a player who symbolized Yankee failure. For more on Clarke’s story, check out this piece from the Daily News and this extensive biography from SABR’s baseball biography project.

Recently, baseball author and New York City firefighter Kenneth Hogan caught up with Clarke at his home in the United States Virgin Islands. Hogan offered us the interview to publish, and I present now that piece.

“Your time is your time.”

Yankee fans speak about Don Mattingly, the Captain, in sympathetic terms due to his never having played in a World Series. He was a victim of bad timing. He is, however, not alone in knowing what it is to play in pinstripes for a decade timed perfectly between dynasties.

Horace Clarke was a quite, reserved second baseman who came up to New York in 1965, immediately after the team’s appearance in the World Series. The difference between Clarke and Mattingly, two men who both went about their business in a dignified way while shunning the limelight, was that while Mattingly is revered in New York Clarke still curiously bears the brunt of the blame for the Yankees poor showing. I caught up with Clarke recently while he was home in Frederiksted, St. Croix, USVI.

Growing up in St. Croix in the in the 1940’s and 50’s how did you come to be a switch-hitting baseball player in a nation of cricket players?

We didn’t have little league programs back in those times when I was 10, 11, or 12. In those days we played on a basketball court that was next to the ocean so we used to go there and pick sides and get our little teams together after school. Most of us were right-handed hitters and there was a rule, because we were so close to the ocean and we were strong enough to hit balls into the water, that right-handed hitters would hit left-handed and visa-versa in order to avoid losing baseballs which we didn’t have many of. We got to the point where we could handle the bat from the opposite of what we were.

Were you exposed to Major League Baseball at all?

Mostly on the radio when I was growing up, and I was a Yankee fan back then! I was always a Yankee fan and knew the players like Phil Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio, Jerry Coleman, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra. Phil Rizzuto was my idol because he was a small guy and he was a shortstop just like I was. It was great that when I got to the big leagues I got to meet some of the people that I used to hear on the radio. When I was a boy these were young, elite players then I caught them on their way out. That began the whole what you would call revising of the Yankees.

You wind up being signed as an amateur free agent by the Yankees in 1958. Was that intimidating?

Well, no. Not intimidating. You see, in 1953 or ’54 an amateur baseball team left from here for the first time to go play an amateur tournament in the United States in Minnesota. I don’t know if you remember the name Joe Christopher but Joe was three years older than me and I used to play against him. Joe was scouted at that tournament by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Because of him being signed some of the Major League Baseball organization people told the scouting staffs. It was then that MLB scouts from Puerto Rico started coming here. I was in my last year of high school in 1958 when I got signed by a Yankee scout.

While still a minor leaguer you started playing winter ball in Puerto Rico where you lasted nine seasons.

That was an eye-opening experience to see guys like Orlando Cepeda, Ruben Gomez, Roberto Clemente, Jose Pagan, and a number of other guys who were already playing in the Major Leagues. It was really enlightening even though I didn’t get to play much for the team, the San Juan Senators. Clemente was on that team and he was quite an inspiration to the younger guys. Puerto Rico is not really for minor league players because minor league baseball is for getting players ready to play in the big leagues. In Puerto Rico they want teams that can win so they are going to play the more veteran and experienced players. After about three years, when I was in Class A ball, I got moved to Ponce and that is when I got to play regularly for about six years, the rest of my time in Puerto Rico.

In May of 1965 you got called up to the Yankees. This was still a star-studded team. What was that like?

I was in two spring training before I made the team, so I knew some of the guys. To meet guys like Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek, Elston Howard, and Bobby Richardson was a treasure. It was a treasure to be among players who were winning pennants and series for years with the Yankees.

Every time someone asks the question, “What was the greatest thing that you can remember in baseball”, I always mention this. When I got called up I joined the team in Boston and then we went to Baltimore and after that back to New York. The first day I suited up and went out onto the field at Yankee Stadium before practice I looked around in awe. Then I went out to center field where the greats were with their plaques. That was one of my biggest thrills, just putting on the uniform and going out onto the field. There were other times over the years where I did something, something that stands out, but just walking out onto that field was special. I remembered that I used to listen to the radio broadcasts about the stadium and the great players that played there; it was really a thrill and a terribly nice feeling.

During you first couple of years with the Yankees was there a sense among the players that the dynasty was over or that the team was in trouble?

There was not a sense of that but with all the big guys who were great players and were successful in New York leaving the game we realized that most of us were there to replace them. As a matter of fact it was because Richardson told the Yankees that he would retire in a couple of years when I was down in Richmond (AAA) that I got recalled. I was a shortstop all of my minor league career and they told me they were going to convert me to a second baseman. I didn’t know at that time that Richardson had warned them about getting out of the game. It was timely that he was leaving and I got to come to the big leagues and see him play along with Kubek and Boyer and see the way that they played. It was very impressive because I never saw some those plays made in the minor leagues.

Crosetti was their old third baseman and he was a coach there for 15-20 years after he retired, he was a fixture. I always sat by him when he was on the bench between innings and he would say certain things to me about playing the infield. I took so many ground balls in practice that I had a coach in Puerto Rico say to me that I was going to give him blisters on his hands. I was always a work horse when it came to bettering myself.

Mel Stottlemyre, Roy White, and yourself came along during a downturn in the organization. Your career story is similar to Mattingly’s in that you played between the dynasties. Do you feel any frustration about that?

Well sure, it’s a disappointment but the reality is we had talent that would get better with experience but there are not too many guys that are going to come up and replace Mantle, Maris, Rizzuto, Richardson, Boyer, Ford. Not too many players could replace those guys (Laughs). We had catchers on the team during my tenure there but the one guy who came up that everybody knew once he started playing was going to be a first-class catcher was Thurman Munson. So, players like that don’t come about everyday. I didn’t play on a championship team or a pennant winning team but in 1970 we were the second winningest team in baseball. We won 93 games and the Orioles won 108. We got a $600.00 check for coming in second place and home we went (Laughs). I didn’t have an opportunity to be in the wild-card like they have now, that might have made a difference. You know how many teams have been the wild card and have become champions? Maybe four or five. I was so happy that they went to the World Series in 1976 and then again in ’77 and ’78. I left five or six guys who were able to win a championship. They won after that long stretch of not being in a series.

I believe in some respect you were a victim of baseball history. Although the Yankees didn’t have all bad teams while you were there the fans had become accustomed to being in the World Series. The Yanks were there 22 times from 1936-1964. The advancing age and injuries to the team’s stars appear to be the reasons for the organization’s drop-off. Regardless, that period is often called “the Horace Clark Era”. This unfair label fails to recognize you as the Yankees most durable player of the late 60’s and early 70’s. (Clarke led the Yankees in hits twice, at-bats four times, triples twice, runs twice, stolen bases four times, and average once, and led the AL in at-bats twice.) Do you have any thoughts on this?

You see (Laughs) every time I hear “the Horace Clarke Era” I don’t know how to take it but I think it is mostly because we were losing and I was a member of all of those teams. I could understand because fans, writers, and commentators were spoiled at being so successful for so long. I know how the fans feel about the drought that we went through, it was a let down during that losing era. But when I hear it I think, “Here we go again. The Horace Clarke Era, the Horace Clarke Years”. I’m going to tell you something, while I was there some guys (writers) always target me, I was targeted more than anybody I think because I played just about everyday. When I was traded to San Diego a writer wrote, “You know, that guy wasn’t so bad after all.” Because he had gone to the record books and saw what I had done over those years.

They said I couldn’t make the double-play but Gene Michael and I were tops in double plays a couple of years. I have looked in Yankee books and compared my stats to some of the older second basemen over the years and they didn’t do any better then me but they were among elite players that won World Series. My play was consistent over the years. I got on base and scored runs everyday. During the time I played I had the 3rd leading fielding percentage among second basemen. How could I be that bad?

Did you stay in the game at all?

After the ’74 season I didn’t get any offers from Major League teams, just offers from Mexico and Japan. I said wait a minute, I played 17 years and I’m not going back to the minor leagues in Mexico or even Japan. I came home to St. Croix and I instructed the kids in baseball for 20 years retiring in 1995. That was something I was happy to do.

I was at opening day at the new Yankee Stadium. There was about 40 of us there and they called us out onto the field. It’s also nice that when I go back to the Old Timers Game and they announce you and you get some applause from the people who remember you. I don’t think it was all bad. I’m going to tell you this; your time is your time. I wouldn’t say that I was at the wrong place at the wrong time because I got to play 17 years in baseball and 10 years in the big leagues. I am able to retire and collect a pension from Major League Baseball. That alone, playing so long and collecting a pension, is great.

Kenneth Hogan is a New York City Firefighter who lives in Rockaway, Queens. He has written four books including America’s Ballparks, The 1969 Seattle Pilots; Major League Baseball’s One-Year Team, and Batting 10th for the Yankees; Recollections of 30 Yankees You May Not Remember (due August 2010). He has appeared on NBC’s “The TODAY SHOW” and White Plains Cable’s “Beyond the Game.”

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The video above comes to us from our friend Ross at NYY Stadium Insider. He shot it in April as the crowd did the wave while Curtis Granderson legged out a triple. Few fans were paying attention to the actual game, and the audio on Ross’ video is quite hilarious. It serves as a great introduction to this morning’s guest column on the wave.

Written by Larry Koestler of Yankeeist, this piece explores why many die-hards and more than a few newcomers can’t stand the modern phenomenon of the wave. I’ve always enjoyed the “Take the wave to Shea” chant, still relevant today even if Shea is just a parking lot.

A disturbing trend has come to pass at Yankee Stadium during the 2010 campaign. No, it’s not the seemingly automatic way in which the Yankees continue to compile wins at their beautiful ballpark. Or the proliferation of ridiculous Yankee paraphernalia that fans deign to wear to the Stadium. No, I’m talking about something much more sinister and disturbing: people at Yankee Stadium have — shockingly, and much to many long-time Yankee fans’ collective chagrin — resuscitated The Wave from its rightful place in the mausoleum and have been seen performing this paean to boredom at nearly every Yankee home game thus far this season.

That’s right. The Wave. At Yankee Stadium. God help us all.

The Wave began in the 1980s as a way for fans of National League teams to pass the time, because nothing says fun like a lame human ripple effect ringing around the upper deck of a baseball stadium. Then again, if I had to watch my pitchers hit I’d be bored as hell, too.

Kidding aside, participating in The Wave is basically the most insulting thing you can do to your team. You are literally telling everyone — as you wait to see if it’s going to make it all the way around and back to your section — that (a) You absolutely do not care about the fact that you are fortunate enough to be attending a baseball game, and (b) You have absolutely no interest in what or how your team is doing. You may as well have switched caps with a fan of the opposing team, because seeing as how they made the trip out to Yankee Stadium from wherever they’re from, they actually give a damn about the fact that a baseball game is being played.

In addition to displaying a complete and utter lack of interest in the events unfolding directly in front of you, The Wave also serves as a distraction to the folks who showed up to watch a ballgame. While playing at home may not statistically hold much of an advantage, a team’s fans still play a large role in both cheering the team on and trying to psyche the opposition out. Perhaps the most frequently recurring comment from opposing teams — at least about the old Yankee Stadium — was that once those 55,000 fans got going, there was no other noise on earth quite like it. The sound was deafening. The acoustics of new Yankee Stadium don’t allow for quite the same decibel level, but the proceedings can still get pretty loud, especially come playoff time. If people are trying to start up a Wave, it can be an immense distraction to the paying fans who know better, and also takes the crowd out of the game — how can 45,000 people will their team to victory through intense cheering and clapping when forced to shake their heads in disbelief that their fellow fans would rather throw their arms up in the air than clap for two-strike fever?

As far as I’m concerned, real Yankee fans don’t do The Wave. I attended well over 100 games at the old Yankee Stadium, and I honestly can’t remember a single instance of people even attempting to do The Wave. While I’m sure it broke out several times over the years — most likely during the dark late 80s/early 90s — it must have dissipated as the Yankees got better, because I seldom recall seeing it this past decade. At the old house, if you tried to do The Wave in the Bronx you’d have been more mercilessly razzed than a Red Sox fan.

Speaking of which, do you ever see fans at Fenway Park do The Wave? If you have, it probably happens fairly infrequently — I don’t remember seeing The Wave take place during any of the Yankee-Sox games I’ve watched over the years. Do you know why? Because Boston fans are obsessed with baseball and love and respect their baseball team. The idea of The Wave rarely if ever crosses the mind of a Boston Red Sox fan, because BoSox fans live and die with every single pitch. Every single pitch. And it should never be crossing the mind of a New York Yankees fan.

Clearly one of the reasons behind this atrocity is that a good number of classic, die-hard Yankee fans have been priced out of the new Stadium, and their seats are now being filled with people who barely even realize they’re attending a baseball game. However, that does not excuse things, and also begs the question: Why are you spending money to attend a baseball game if you’re going to be that bored? Do you know how many Yankee fans would kill to have your seats on any given night? Additionally, I don’t care if the team is losing 30-1; I’d rather you leave in the 6th inning than feel the need to participate in this atrocity.

I can’t believe I even feel the need to write about this; but it keeps coming up and something needs to be done about it. I was apoplectic when I saw The Wave at the first Yankee game I attended this season and actually had to stand up and put both hands up in an effort to “stop” The Wave while scolding everyone in my section. The Wave reared its ugly head again when I was back at the Stadium a couple of weeks ago, and I once again went hoarse yelling at people to quit doing it. And last week, Michael Kay even pointed out that people at Yankee Stadium were doing The Wave on the YES broadcast, which was the last straw.

So to the people who have been attending games at Yankee Stadium this season, I implore you: Stop doing The Wave. It’s incredibly disrespectful to the game and the players and makes all Yankee fans look like we couldn’t care less. Obviously that couldn’t be further from the truth, and I know not everyone attending a baseball game at Yankee Stadium is going to be hanging on every single pitch through all nine innings like obsessives such as myself, but if you’re really that bored, then go home. Or if you absolutely must do The Wave at a baseball game, then become a Mets fan and bring it to Citi Field, where it belongs.

Larry Koestler eats, drinks, sleeps and breathes the Yankees at his blog Yankeeist.

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The best of the rest

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In light of Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game this week, I decided to take a look at the 10 greatest pitched 9 inning games of all time that weren’t perfect games or no-hitters.  It’s a pretty interesting list, and be assured that many of these guys likely pitched better than the perfectos, just didn’t get the bounce or two needed.  I used a variety of metrics, but didn’t base my choices on any one statistic.  While I compiled the list, I came across quite an interesting nugget.  Since 1920 there have been 62 games in the majors with at least 14 k’s, 9 innings (or less) and a WPA of at least .50.  Randy Johnson is responsible for 12(19%) of them, but did he make my list?

#10. Since the theme of this post was based on Galarraga’s performance this week, I snuck him on at #10, though his 3 strikeout performance really doesn’t belong here.  The Indians put a ton of balls in play against him, and the Tigers fielders managed to make a bunch of plays behind him to get him just one blown call away from a perfect game.

#9. In the first of the “who?” pitchers on the list, Stoneman pitched a gem this day. Stoneman managed just 54 wins in his big league career, but was dominating for this game.  For a guy who twice led the league in walks (in only 4 full seasons), Stoneman managed to walk just one guy while striking out 14 in a 2-0 victory.  He also managed a base hit and drove in 1 of just 2 runs for the Expos.  He does get knocked back a little, as like Galarraga, the team he was facing was pretty weak.  Amazingly enough, despite just 170 games started in his career, Stoneman managed 2 no-hitters in addition to this dazzling performance.

#8.  In a 1-0 game, Seaver had to be great and was against a Pirates team that included both Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, who went 0-7 with 5k’s.  The only thorn in Seaver’s side was Al Oliver who went 2-3 with two singles.  Seaver walked none and struck out 14 on his way to #8 on my list.

#7. Lefty outdueled Juan Marichal, holding the Giants to just 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 14.  It was 1-0 until the 8th when the Phillies pushed two runs across to give Carlton a little breathing room that he clearly didn’t need. Of his 14 k’s, Carlton didn’t strike out anyone 3 times, instead getting 5 guys twice each, and 4 more one time, including a pinch hitting Willie Mays.  After giving up a leadoff single to Chris Speier, Carlton allowed just one baserunner the rest of the game with a walk in the 6th. Carlton even managed to chip in with one of only 6 hits off of Marichal, also scoring a run.

#6. Nomo, who like Stoneman also had two no-hitters came close to perfection in this 2001 game against the Jays, giving up just a 4th inning double to Shannon Stewart.  This was a solid Toronto offense in the heart of the steroid era that had 8 guys end up with double digit HR’s. Nomo struck out 14, including tough lefties Carlos Delgado and Brad Fullmer 3 times each.  The final score was 4-0, but it was a pitchers duel up until the 8th when the Sox scored 3 times to provide the final margin of victory.

#5. Santana only went 8 innings on this night, but he was too dominating not to include.  While the Rangers are generally a top offensive team the 2007 version wasn’t great with the bat.  Santana struck out 17 in his 8 innings, including 31 swinging strikes.  A well past his prime Sammy Sosa was the only batter to get a hit off of Johan, managing a single and a double.  Johan didn’t get his shot for 20 strikeouts as Joe Nathan closed out the 1-0 victory in the 9th with 2 k’s of his own.

#4. In another 1-0 game, Maddux was at his best, striking out 14 (with just 109 pitches) against the Brewers.  This was a pretty solid Brewers offense with 8 guys in double digit HR’s and 6 of their 8 regulars with OPS+’s over 100.  The Braves got their run in the 2nd, and Maddux took care of the rest.  Maddux walked the first batter of the game, who was quickly thrown out trying to steal and gave up both of his hits by the 5th inning.  From the 6th inning on, Maddux struck out 8, including 5 swinging.

#3. A month before Johan Santana dominated the Rangers in 2007, another lefty in Bedard took his turn making Texas look foolish.  Bedard gave up 2 hits while striking out 15, and was in the strike zone all day with 79 of his 109 pitches going for strikes. Bedard went to a 3 ball count just twice and got outs both times.  Jerry Hairston was the only Ranger to avoid being K’d by Bedard but was still hitless.  I couldn’t find video of a postgame interview, but I’m sure, even despite his domination, Bedard was his usual pleasant self.

#2. Neither of Clemens’ 20 strikeout games made the list, as he allowed a run in 1986 and gave up a whopping 5 hits in his 151 pitch 1996 performance.  Against Kansas City in 1998, Clemens gave up just 3 hits while striking out 18 in a 3-0 win.  While it was the Royals, they did throw a out a lineup that included Johnny Damon, Jose Offerman, Dean Palmer, Jeff Conine and Jermaine Dye, so they weren’t total pushovers.  11 of Clemens’ strikeouts were swinging and despite 6 3 ball counts, Clemens walked no one.

#1. The gold standard of games pitched in my lifetime and maybe ever.  Wood was just a light single that could have been fielded away from a no-hitter.  Wood had all of his pitches going on that day, dominating a Houston team that won 102 games and had 4 guys in the lineup that day that ended the season with an OPS+  greater than 120.  Houston led the league in scoring in 1998 by 29 runs.  This was a great lineup and they had absolutely no answer for Wood. Wood struck out every batter at least once, and the 3-4-5 hitters went 0-9 against him with 9 strikeouts.  On the other side of the diamond Shane Reynolds gave up just 1 ER while striking out 10 of his own, but the final score might as well have been 20-0.  13 of Wood’s strikeouts were swinging.  Wood went to 5 3 ball counts, and all of them ended in strikeouts.  If Kevin Orie had just a tiny bit more range at 3B, I think this would be widely considered the greatest game ever pitched.  While this game is often cited when discussing Wood’s later breakdown, the 122 pitches he threw weren’t totally unreasonable (he had 6 more of 122+ and another at 121).  In just his 7th career start, Wood made baseball history in pitching a game that I will never forget.

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Categories : Guest Columns, Pitching
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