I saw only bits and pieces of the George Steinbrenner Yankeeography this week. At some point, I’ll sit down and watch this entire odd to the Boss, but what I saw was reminiscent of a distinct era in Yankee history, one long gone.
The Boss of the 1970s and 1980s was a man unto himself. He was loud and brash. He wanted the Yankees; he wanted headlines; he wanted championships. Despite his early promises of hands off management, he courted controversy and attention as a moth to a flame.
Steinbrenner’s shenanigans worked in the late 1970s as the Yankees won. The team members hated each other, and many players had a love-hate relationship with their boss – the Boss. Yet, the Bronx Zoo years remains one of the more colorful eras in Yankee and New York history, and nostalgia for that era reigns supreme. Whether we should yearn for those days of Billy and Thurmon and Reggie is another question entirely.
In the 1980s, a few years removed from the Yanks’ last world title, George wore thin. He hired, fired and rehired managers on a whim and was impatient with his GMs. A revolving door of players came and went, oftentimes in a matter of months as George tried to put together a team according to his and his so-called Baseball People’s ideas, and the farm system was neglected. The Yanks won more regular season games in the 1980s than any other AL team but post-season success eluded them.
In the 1990s, a new Boss emerged. Suspended at the start of the decade, George couldn’t interfere, and Gene Michael, Brian Cashman and the Yanks’ Front Office were free from the constraints and demands of the Boss. A last-place finish in 1991 guanranteed them Derek Jeter in the following year’s draft, and the rest is history.
George came back and let his employees run the team. He would roar, but it was all for show. No one was fired, and the good times rolled.
Today, George is ailing. Rumors of Alzheimer’s have swirled around him for the better part of the decade, and he rarely makes appearances at games. He speaks primarily through Howard Rubenstein and has turned control of the team over to his sons and daughters.
This week though George showed up at the office for a few hours, and he made some headlines. Promising to come to New York for the playoffs, he said, “Let’s keep it going.”. And that was it. No threats if failure follows; no promises of an easy October. Just a weak encouragement.
Once upon a time, we would yearn for George-inspired stories. Nothing makes for better headline fodder than a roaring lion. But that’s not George anymore. His influence is on the wane, and while we might pine for the Boss-inspired Years of Terror, the Yankees are better off without it.
Over the past two seasons we’ve come to see sub-par, by their standards, velocity from two Yankees young pitchers, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Hughes was up first in 2008. He was throwing around 91, when minor league scouting reports had him up around 93, hitting 94 and 95 on occasion. When he dropped down in 2008, we at RAB said not to worry. Velocity isn’t everything, after all. Then came Joba this year. Up around 95 as a starter last year, he’s been in the 92 mph range for most of this year. Again, we said don’t panic, he has other offerings which can help him excel at the major league level.
As it turns out, we might have overstated the “velocity isn’t everything” argument. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus (sorry, subscription required) takes a look at a pitcher’s velocity as it relates to his major league success. While both Joba and Phil could survive with 91, 92 mph heat and a couple of quality secondary pitches, any lower and they might be in some trouble. Velocity, it would seem, is the best predictor of whether a pitcher can hack it at the major league level.
Yes, there’s plenty more that goes into it, but as the data shows, 92 percent of major league pitchers this season (who have thrown more than 300 fastballs) throw at 89 or higher. For those throwing softer, it takes a bit of deception to bridge the divide. Sidewinders like Brad Ziegler and Cla Meredith, and deception artists like Chris Young and Yusmeiro Petit can survive by hiding the ball from batters. But for your run-of-the-mill pitcher tossing 88, 89? That’s probably not going to hack it.
So, to answer the question of the headline, velocity isn’t everything. But it does appear to be the best single predictor of a pitcher’s ability to hang in the majors. Of course, it can’t be done without some semblance of command — see Jason Neighborgall — or secondary pitches, but without velocity it might not be attainable at all. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Yankees declined to trade for Brian Bannister.
When Jorge Posada deposited a Jason Frasor pitch into the second deck at Rogers Centre last night, he became the seventh Yankee to reach the 20 home run mark. Not many teams have seven guys who hit 20 or more homers. In fact, Jorge pushed the Yankees into a tie for first place all time, with the 1996 Orioles, 2000 Blue Jays, and 2005 Rangers. At the rate the Yankees have knocked pitches out of the park this season, this feat isn’t completely unexpected.
With 28 games left to play, Derek Jeter will have plenty of chances to put his team in first place by itself. He needs just three home runs to reach the milestone, and is right on pace to hit it. Not that the Captain really cares. “I could care less if I ever hit another home run,” he told reporters. Classic Jeter. Not that he’s wrong. It’s a pretty meaningless record in the grand scheme of things. More than anything, it’s a testament to how well this offense has hit.
It doesn’t look like the Yankees will tie the record for most players with 30 or more homers, four, held by 10 teams. Unsurprisingly, four of those squads are the Colorado Rockies, from 1995 through 1997, and then again in 1999. Mark Teixeira is over 32 already, but the next closest, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon, are ate 24.
As a team the Yankees have 210 home runs, tops in the AL by a decent margin. That puts them on pace for 253 homers (254 rounding up), which would fall 11 short of the all-time record of 264 set by the Seattle Mariners in 1997. The Yankees team record is in sight, though. They hit 242 as a team in 2004. The only way they don’t reach that is if they decide to rest their starters amply in the final weeks of the season. (Which, may I add as an aside, didn’t work too well in 2006.)
Many will write off this achievement, saying the Yankees are propped up by the comfy dimensions of the new Stadium. Yet that completely discounts the bombing they’ve done on the road. Their 93 road homers also leads the league. With a team .832 OPS on the road, it’s tough to argue that they’re getting it all done at home.
The homers aren’t necessarily essential to the team’s success, but they’re sure fun to watch. The sheer number of them, both the raw totals and compared to the rest of the league, demonstrates what an offensive force the team has become — or returned to being. It’s one more fun aspect in an eminently enjoyable 2009 season.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees again looked into acquiring Mike Cameron before the August 31 waiver trade deadline. Over the winter it seemed like the Yankees were close to a deal for Cameron, but Brian Cashman put on the brakes. A few weeks later, they landed Mark Teixeira. After getting Andy Pettitte to sign on the dotted line, it appeared as if the Yankees were done spending for the winter, and the Cameron talks evaporated.
As the season progressed, it became clear that taking on Cameron and his $10 million salary might not have been the most prudent move. Melky Cabrera had a hot April, and Brett Gardner picked it up when Melky fell off a bit. They made a serviceable tandem through July, for a fifth the price of Cameron. There were some murmurs of a deadline deal possibility after Brett Gardner broke his thumb in late July, but that looked like more speculation than substance.
Come the end of August, things looked a bit different. Melky, playing every day with Gardner still on the shelf, fell into a major slump. He hit .223/.264/.350 on the month, and that gets even worse if you look at his numbers after hitting for the cycle: .202/.248/.277 in 102 PA. Why Jerry Hairston didn’t take more reps in center I do not know (and I doubt it has anything to do with his Type B free agent status, which will be compromised if he plays much more in the outfield). In any case, by the end of August a platoon partner for Melky seemed like an attractive option.
The Yankees, according to Rosenthal, didn’t want to add the remainder of Cameron’s salary, roughly $1.5 million, to their ledger. Again, some might wonder what a mere $1.5 million means to the Yankees. As I mentioned yesterday, there was a similar story regarding Brian Bannister, where the Yankees were interested but didn’t want to pick up the tab. These cases are similar, but it’s not a pure money issue.
In both cases it seems that the Yankees didn’t want to take on the salary because they believed the player in question wasn’t worth the upgrade. They didn’t want to pay the remainder of Banny’s salary because they believed that their in-house options could provide similar production at no increase to the payroll. With Cameron, they thought it wouldn’t be worth the money and the roster spot to add Cameron, especially when Brett Gardner should be making his return soon.
Adding a veteran like Mike Cameron is nice, but when you have an in-house tandem that has worked, taking on him and his salary, in addition to the roster spot he’d cost, doesn’t seem all that worth it. Perhaps when he hits free agency the Yankees can entice him. He could platoon with Gardner or Melky next season, freeing the Yanks up to trade whoever brings the bigger return for another part. I do find it doubtful, though, that Cameron would come into such an obvious platoon situation which also involves a soon-to-be-promoted top prospect.
On the Brad Penny front, it appears the Yankees were deadly serious about adding him. Rosenthal says that they “recruited him with calls from manager Joe Girardi, outfielder Johnny Damon and Penny’s former teammate in Florida, right-hander A.J. Burnett.” From the Yankees standpoint it made sense. Despite Penny’s failings in Boston, he’s still probably a better option than Chad Gaudin. But unlike some other upgrade options which would have costed prospects and/or money, Penny was essentially free — he’ll cost the Giants just around $100K.
Penny was smart to go to the NL. After pitching poorly for the Red Sox he had a chance for a fresh start. Why press your luck in the AL East when there are two NL teams looking to employ your services? Both the Giants and the Rockies were better options, and Penny made the right move by going to the better pitcher’s park. The guy wants to get paid this off-season and he wants to pitch in the postseason. San Fran presents the best of both worlds.
The Yankees were — well, not necessarily smart, but certainly shrewd to decline a trade for Cameron. He’s an offensive and defensive upgrade over Melky, but the question is of how much. Probably not $1.5 million worth. Plus, with Gardner on the mend, that would make three center fielders on the roster. Sure, they can carry 40 men on the bench now, but come playoff time would the Yankees carry all three? Doubtful.
It looks as though the Yankees were active in exploring deadline deals in both July and August, but each time found little to their liking. It seems to be Brian Cashman’s M.O. He doesn’t make moves for the sake of making moves, though he’s more than apt to make small moves, and those have worked out well this year. But when a deal doesn’t represent a clear and significant upgrade, it seems like he’s more than willing to hold. Sometimes that’s the right move.
Twenty minutes into Thursday night’s game against the Blue Jays, it looked as though the Yankees were going to walk away with an easy win. While Derek Jeter grounded out, Johnny Damon walked, Mark Teixeira singled and A-Rod walked. Hideki Matsui then hit an RBI single that led to a bases-clearing error by Travis Snyder. Jorge Posada added another single, and the Yanks had a 4-0 lead before the Blue Jays came to bat.
In the end, the score belies the game. While the Yankees held on to win 10-5, it wasn’t that much of a blow out, and it wasn’t ever a really close game. It was though a rather boring game and an endless one to boot. The Yankees needed five pitchers to get through a hapless Blue Jay team, but when the dust settled, the Magic Number had dipped to 22.
With Sergio Mitre nursing a bruised arm, the Yankees turned this game over to Chad Gaudin. For three innings, he threw an OK game. In the fourth, he was anything but OK. Nursing a 5-0 lead, Gaudin couldn’t throw strikes. He walked Vernon Wells, struck out Randy Ruiz and then watched the wheels fall off. After a single, an HBP, a single, a sac fly and a single, the Yankees saw their lead wither to two runs, and Gaudin’s night was over.
Chad gave way to Alfredo, and for a few innings, the Yankees continued to roll. Jorge Posada added a pair of RBIs to give the Yanks a 7-3 lead, but in the sixth, Aceves lost the zone too. A few doubles, an error and a passed ball brought the Blue Jays to within two, and while Aceves would get out of the inning, it wasn’t the best of performances. He couldn’t throw strikes in the sixth, and his stuff, electric early on, wasn’t doing much of anything by the end.
Yet, despite these lackluster pitching performances through six innings, the Yanks wouldn’t encounter any more problems. David Robertson struck out two in one inning of work, and Brian Bruney carried them through a solid 8th. Then, the Bombers returned. A-Rod lined a two-out home run just over the left field wall. Hideki Matsui walked, and then Jorge Posada capped off his four-hit night with a two-run home run deep into right. Jason Frasor, by the way, had given up just one home run in 45.1 innings before running into the Yanks in the 9th.
With that win, the Yanks moved to 38 games over .500. They held their 7.5-game lead over the victorious Red Sox, and every win brings them one game closer to the AL East title. It was a long slow three-hour and 37-minute affair, but I’ll take the W every day.
John Sickels reviewed his preseason list of the top 20 Yankees prospects. A lot of the guys who’ve broken out this year – Manny Banuelos, Ivan Nova, etc – weren’t on his original list, so lots of negativity in there.
Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread.
Triple-A Scranton (4-3 loss to Buffalo in 10 innings, walk-off style)
Brett Gardner: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 SB – played 5 innings in the outfield
Cody Ransom & Colin Curtis: both 0 for 1 – Ransom pinch hit for Gardner, Curtis took over for him in the outfield
Freddy Guzman: 1 for 3, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 K 1 SB – he’s reached base 9 times in his three games with SWB
Austin Jackson: 1 for 5, 1 RBI
Shelley Duncan & Doug Bernier: both 2 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 K
Juan Miranda, Reegie Corona & Chris Stewart: all 1 for 4 – Miranda doubled, drew a walk, scored a run & K’ed twice … Corona walked … Stewart allowed a passed ball & was hit by a pitch
Kevin Russo: 0 for 5, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
Josh Towers: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 HB, 0-6 GB/FB – 15 of 25 pitches were strikes … not sure why he was taken out, but Chad Jennings says it wasn’t injury
Luke Prihoda: 2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-2 GB/FB – 21 of 30 pitches were strikes (70%) … just promoted all the way from Charleston to replace Jon Albaladejo, who’s with the big boys
Zach Kroenke: 3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 6-2 GB/FB – 23 of 33 pitches were strikes (69.7%)
Amaury Sanit: 2.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4-2 GB/FB – 23 of 35 pitches were strikes (65.7%)
Kevin Whelan: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB - just 2 of 7 pitches were strikes
One more thread to bring this one home…
Instead of Sergio Mitre, who took a grounder off the forearm in his start last week, Chad Gaudin will take the hill for the Yanks tonight as they open a four-game set in Toronto. He’s been up and down in his stint with the Yanks to this point, alternating scoreless appearances with multi-run ones. The bad news: he allowed no runs in relief of Mitre last time out. The good news: he also allowed no runs in his only start for the Yanks this season.
The further good news is that the Yanks will trot out their A lineup in back of Gaudin. So even if Gaudin gives up four or five runs, the Yanks will still have a fighting chance. With that lineup, they’re never really out of a game. Obviously, the hope is that Gaudin can go five or six solid against a Blue Jays team that has been all downhill since May.
The Jays will send out Ricky Romero, who is having himself a fine rookie campaign, though he’s slowed a bit since the All-Star Break. In that span he’s thrown 49.2 innings, averaging about five and a half innings per start (though what the hell is a half inning?). His 5.62 ERA doesn’t look pretty, and a lot of it has to do with the Red Sox. He’s faced them three times in the past month and a half, and hasn’t fared particularly well in any of them. His best effort was a 5.1-inning, three-run affair. Romero threw 116 pitches that game.
This will be Romero’s third appearance against the Yankees. He’s allowed three runs in each prior start, going 6.1 and 6 innings. The Yanks will look for a little more than that tonight with Gaudin on the mound.
The Yanks recalled Jon Alabaladejo today, further lengthening the bullpen. Apparently he looks pretty banged up after missing a throw from Edwar Ramirez, taking it right off the noggin.
And on the mound, number forty-one, Chad Gaudin.
Tom Kaminski is starting to pull out our heartstrings. The man behind the camera in WCBS’ Chopper 880 has been making the rounds over old Yankee Stadium as crews work to tear down the park, and the pictures are heartbreaking. As the shot above shows, the stadium will soon be without its frieze. A full photogallery of these shots is available here.
Meanwhile, over the last week, Kaminski has spotted some interesting goings-on inside the House that Ruth Built. The stadium is being reclaimed by nature. Weeds and wispy plants are sprouting out of the former infield and outfield areas while the stands are covered in moss. The foul poles have been removed as well.
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While the old stadium will soon be but a memory in the minds of Yankee fans, the new stadium has become a campaign issue in the Bronx. Helen Foster, City Council representative from the 16th district, is facing Carlos Sierra in the primaries in two weeks, and both politicians are unhappy with the stadium. Gotham Gazette’s David King had more:
For both candidates, the stadium symbolizes how projects the rest of the city might want are not necessarily best for their low-income district. During her time on the council Foster has been outspoken in her criticism of the stadium. “I was the lone voice on the council against Yankee Stadium,” she said, “and now we are seeing a lot of what we were afraid of come to fruition. Local vendors have been left out. There was a recent article about a fruit stand there that is bringing fruit from out of state, from Washington and New Mexico.”
Sierra has been active at protests at the stadium and says he intends to keep pressuring the team to build parks to replace the ones that existed where the stadium now stands.
While stadium supporters pushed the local angle turning construction, most urban policy experts are not surprised the stadium has not been a boon for near-by neighborhoods. This is a nation-wide trend, and sports stadiums continue to exist uneasily with the surrounding areas. That’s why sports economists generally do not support public investments in private sports stadiums.
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Finally, the Chicago Tribune reports that the Yankees are courting a Big Ten team for a football game at the stadium. Northwestern has been in talks with team officials about playing a game in the new park, and the Big Ten and Big East may turn to the Bronx for a bowl game.