Knowing George M. Steinbrenner III

When Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner passed away in July, The Times ran a personal recollection by Mary Jane Schriner of the Boss. Schriner had know George when the two were teenagers, and she remembered him as a “fun-loving, kind and generous young man who brightened my youth.” Schriner revealed that she was still in possession of a series of letters a young Steinbrenner had written her back in 1949, and she wanted to publish these letters, a testament to a budding relationship that was stunted by college and the intervening years.

Today, The Times has a follow up. The Yankees have so far successfully blocked publication of the letters. Yanks’ COO Lonn Trost said the contents “will cause untold embarrassment and damages to the Steinbrenner family and the Steinbrenner’s business interests.” The Yanks claimed that Steinbrenner holds the copyright in the letters and can block as sale. As my Copyright professor explains to The Times, George Steinbrenner’s copyright simply prevents publication, and Schriner can still sell the letters.

For her part, Mary Jane Schriner says there’s “nothing in those letters to upset her. They’re sort of boring.” For now, the Schriners are trying to convince the Hall of Fame to take and attempted to auction them on eBay. The auction, though, set to start at $50,000, drew no bidders. As this saga plays, Schriner has also published a story about her summers with George. The 20-year-old Steinbrenner was a charmer in training.

Gerry Davis set to lead ALCS umping crew

Twenty-seven year MLB veteran Gerry Davis will be the crew chief for the ALCS, Major League Baseball announced today. This is Davis’ 21st career postseason series and his eighth League Championship Series. Joining Davis around the bases and in the outfield will be Brian Gorman, Angel Hernandez, Fieldin Culbreth, Jim Reynolds and Tony Randazzo. MLB has yet announced the home plate umpire rotation for the series.

By and large, Davis and his crew are a great of controversy-free umpires, and one of them — Culbreth — drew the ALCS last year. But the inclusion of Angel Hernandez raises some eyebrows. Hernandez was one of the who resigned in 1999 but managed to retain his job despite being bad at it. He has constantly ranked among the dregs of the MLB umps and was voted third-worst by the players in 2006. Yankee fans may remember him as the ump who ejected Joba Chamberlain for missing Kevin Youkilis with a pitch and the guy responsible for some early-season gripes from Red Sox fans.

The Rangers’ Weaknesses

Right before the ALDS started we took a look at some of the Twins’ weaknesses and how the Yanks could exploit them. They pretty much manhandled Minnesota during all three games, so a marginal gain here or there wasn’t a big deal. Delmon Young did go 4-for-12 in the series, though one of those hits was on the Greg Golson shoestring non-catch in Game One. He didn’t drive in a single run and had as many extra base hits as double plays grounded into. The Yanks didn’t steal off Carl Pavano or take advantage of Jason Kubel’s arm, but in the end they didn’t need to.

With the ALCS a day away, it’s time to break down the flaws in the Rangers’ game, and figure out how the Yanks can take advantage of them.

Elvis Andrus’ “Power”

Just a single. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The production of American League shortstops really fell off a cliff this season, as Alexei Ramirez paced the circuit with a .322 wOBA and 3.8 fWAR. Just one other shortstop eclipsed 3.0 fWAR, and just four total were over 2.0. It wasn’t just Derek Jeter having a down year, the position as a whole hit a one (or more) year slump.

Another one of those AL shortstops is Andrus, who followed up a very strong .322 wOBA, 3.1 fWAR rookie season with a .298, 1.5 effort this year. He started the season off very well, hitting .324/.410/.382 in the first eleven games, at which point Ron Washington moved him to the leadoff spot. Andrus has hit there ever since, and finished the season with a good but not great .342 OBP. Here’s the thing though, he has no power. I mean nothing.

Among the 270 players that had at least 300 plate appearances this season, Andrus’ .036 ISO was dead last. Behind famed noodle bats like Cesar Izturis (.038), Juan Pierre (.041), and David Eckstein (.059). If you don’t know what ISO is, it stands for isolated power and is calculated by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. It removes singles and gives you extra base power only, and Andrus was literally the worst power hitter in the game this year. For perspective, Brett Gardner had a .103 ISO this year. That’s how little of a threat Andrus is with the stick.

Now, he does make up for that lack of power a tiny bit with his legs, swiping 32 bases on the year (he also got caught 15 times, a poor 68.1% success rate). The worst Andrus will do is bloop in a single and steal a base, so Yankee pitchers can’t get cute and try to get him to chase stuff off the plate, possibly leading to a walk. Just go right at him and make him beat you. Chances are he won’t.

The Bottom Of The Order

Long gone are the days of the juggernaut Texas offense, the one that averaged 893 runs a year and topped 920 runs three times in a six year stretch from 1996 to 2001. Those teams were led by in-their-prime versions of Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Juan Gonzalez, among others. The 2010 Rangers’ offense is good, obviously, but after the top six batters (Andrus, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Vlad Guerrero, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler) their lineup thins out considerably.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Assuming Hamilton plays center, either David Murphy, Jeff Francoeur, or Julio Borbon will play left (or right with Cruz moving to left, whatever). Murphy did some damage against the Yanks during the season and is the biggest threat out of that trio, but he struggles against lefties (.311 wOBA) and the Yanks are starting two of them in the first three games. Frenchy will murder a mistake pitch over the plate, but other than that he’s awful. He finished the season with a dead even .300 OBP. Terrible. Borbon is similar to Andrus in that he has no power (.064 ISO) and will steal you blind (15 steals, but again seven caught stealings for a 68.2% success rate, bad), but unlike the shortstop he won’t get on base enough (.309 OBP) for his legs to have an impact.

After the third outfielder comes the catcher, which will be either Bengie Molina (.275 wOBA, .283 with Texas) or Matt Treanor (.268). Yikes. Jorge Cantu was so awful after the trade that brought him to Texas (.270 wOBA) that Mitch Moreland plays first base full-time now, and he’s a zero against lefthanders (.279 wOBA, .368 vs. RHP). Again, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte will start two of the first three games, and three of the first five. It’s not exactly the Brendan Harris-Nick Punto-Matt Tolbert trio that the Twins used at the bottom of their order in last year’s ALDS, but Texas’ last three batters are unlikely to do any damage unless the Yankee pitchers make mistakes.

C.J. Wilson’s Walks

As good as the Rangers’ other lefty ace was this season, and he was certainly very good (3.56 FIP), Wilson did lead the league with 93 walks, zero of which were intentional. He’s got swing-and-miss stuff, but he’s prone to falling behind and putting guys on base without making them swing the bat, something that plays right into the Yankees’ hands. If they’re their usually patient selves and force Wilson to throw strikes rather than chase pitches out of the zone, it’ll be a short night for the lefty, as it was in the three times he started against them this season (14.1 IP, 11 runs, 29 baserunners).

Middle Relief

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Texas has a quality rotation, a pair of good matchup relievers in The Darrens (O’Day and Oliver), and a hard throwing (yet a little green) closer in Neftali Feliz. Between the starters and the late inning arms though, there’s a chance for the Yanks to pounce.

Lefties Derek Holland and Matt Harrison are almost carbon copies of each other. Both throw hard (Holland’s average fastball was 92.1 mph this year, Harrison 92.2) and will walk plenty of batters (3.8 and 4.5 BB/9’s, respectively). Holland does miss more bats though (8.5 K/9 compared to Harrison’s 5.3 mark), so at least he has that going for him. Alexi Ogando is a power righty that struck out 8.4 batters per nine in 2010, but he also walked 3.5 per nine and was significantly worse against lefties (5.23 FIP) than righties (2.07). Righty Dustin Nippert is a walk (5.4 BB/9) and homer (1.1 HR/9) machine, so gimme a piece of that.

There’s a reason that Wilson was available in relief in Game Five and Lee in Game Three, it’s because Texas’ bridge between the starter and setup crew is held together by duct tape and a prayer. If the Yanks knock a starter out early, it could get ugly fast for the Rangers.

* * *

It was a little easier to spot the holes in Texas’ game than it was with the Twins, so maybe that’s a good thing. It’s all up the Yanks to take advantage though, and given how they thoroughly dismantled Minnesota last round, I suspect they will.

Rangers hitters present a different challenge than Twins

The Twins and the Rangers produced similar offensive outputs this season. They scored nearly the same number of runs per game and produced almost identical triple slash numbers. But what holds true for a season does not necessarily carry into the playoffs. Justin Morneau brought up Minnesota’s season numbers, but he wasn’t there to help in the ALDS. The Rangers had a number of poor hitters suppressing their season batting totals, a few of whom aren’t present on the ALCS roster. Determining how these teams stack up takes a bit more work. We’ll have to compare the specific hitters currently on the team.

First Base

With the Yankees leaning heavily on CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte this postseason, teams will face a barrage of left-handed pitching. That worked out for the Twins in terms of production from first base. Michael Cuddyer had a poor year overall, but he did mash lefties. The Rangers have no such first baseman.

They acquired Jorge Cantu to give them some right-handed prowess at the position, but that didn’t work out. He actually hit righties a bit better, which renders him essentially useless. Ron Washington penciled him into the Game 1 lineup, but in Game 5 he went with Moreland. This creates an advantage for the Yankees, since their lefty-heavy pitching staff can take away a power position.

On the flipside, Moreland is about as good against righties as Cuddyer is against lefties. This will give the Rangers an edge in Games 2 and 4.

Second Base

Ian Kinsler had a fine season, but it was shortened by injuries. Right there is a prime example of why overall team numbers might not tell the full story. His batting eye against lefties is superb, even if his power lags a bit. He’ll present a more formidable foe than Hudson against both left- and right-handed pitching. Sabathia and Pettitte could have quite a difficult time keeping him off base.

Third Base

After his excellent 2009 season, 2010 was quite the disappointment for Michael Young. He hit lefties well, which bodes well for him in Games 1 and 3, but he didn’t hit them quite as well as young Valencia. Against righties Young is a bit better, but he still struggles to get on base. Using Hughes in Game 2 will also help offset Young’s advantage in home performance. He was much better there than on the road in 2010.

Shortstop

While the number suggest Hardy’s superiority, I’ll break with them in this instance. Andrus’s wOBA is deflated by his complete lack of power — he had just 18 extra base hits all season. But he did have a respectable .342 OBP, which goes a long way when you have speed. He’s not the best base stealer, getting caught in 15 of 47 attempts, but he’ll be making those attempts against Jorge Posada this series. So while he might not be a threat to hit more than a single, Yanks pitchers still have to be careful for him. He could be standing on third within two pitches.

Left Field

The Rangers employ an outfield platoon that involves David Murphy, Nelson Cruz, and Jeff Francoeur. As you can see, Cruz is an equal opportunity masher, producing similar numbers against both left- and right-handed pitching. He’ll play in left field against lefties and right field against righties. His platoon partner in left is David Murphy, who has done a quality job against right-handed opponents this season. This gives the Rangers a bit more balanced an attack than the Twins, who were stuck with Delmon even against righties.

Center Field

Herein lies the biggest advantage the Rangers have over the Twins. Again, the Rangers overall season numbers were held down a bit because Hamilton missed the entire month of September. But he’s back now. This might look bad for Phil Hughes, who enters the death cauldron by facing Hamilton as a righty and in Arlington. But the Rays’ righties, Matt Garza and Wade Davis, held Hamilton hitless at Arlington in the ALDS. In fact, he picked up just two hits, one in each of the first two games. His rib problems could be the great equalizer in this series. But if he starts to feel better, in the words of Ken Singleton, look out!

Right Field

The Rangers brought in Jeff Francoeur in order to hit lefties, and he has to a reasonable degree. He helps create an ideal outfield situation, wherein Murphy sits against lefties and Francoeur sits against righties. That gives them the best possible production. Frenchy presents a bit more of an on-base threat than Kubel — which is just weird to type — when facing opposite-handed pitchers, but Kubel was the bigger power threat. As long as Sabathia can handle him in Game 1, I think Pettitte will be just fine facing him in Game 3 at the Stadium.

Catcher

While the Rangers clearly have a stronger outfield, they have a complete black hole behind the plate. Molina will start against lefties because apparently he can draw a walk. Sabathia and Pettitte, though, will be stingy. But no matter how they do it, they won’t have a quality catcher at the plate. This discrepancy is on the level of the one in center field.

Designated Hitter

The Yankees did a good job of neutralizing Thome in the ALDS, though throwing two lefties certainly helped. They’ll face a similar situation with Vlad in the ALCS. He’s hit both lefties and righties well this season, but where they’ll really have to watch out is in Arlington. He has better numbers there, understandably so. Sabathia’s changeup and Phil’s high fastball will go a long way in doing to Vlad what they did to Thome.

Kevin Long and the Home Run Drill

This year we’ve heard plenty about Kevin Long’s Home Run Drill, an exercise that he uses to help hitters shorten their swings and generate more power. Today at the Star Ledger Brendan Prunty describes the history of the drill. It started when Long was a hitting coach in the Kansas City system, and he nearly scrapped it before one hitter experienced exceptional results. Now the Yankees are using it to their advantage, none more prominently than Robinson Cano. This is just another reason why Long will become the highest paid hitting coach in the league when he signs a new contract this off-season.

Mailbag: The A.J. Auto-Loss Myth

So the Daily News already has an article up about how pitching AJ Burnett will end up costing the Yankees. I don’t understand why…if the Yankees are up or down 3-0, there’s not a chance Girardi doesn’t go with Sabathia in Game 4. Wouldn’t Sabathia pitch Game 4 anyways with AJ getting the ball in Game 5?

Here is said Daily News article. I suggest not reading it, I’ll instead summarize it with blah blah blah A.J. Burnett will cost them the series blah blah blah he stinks blah blah blah. There’s also some cliches in there and the typical doomsday scenario talk. Fresh and original, you know. Nothing but the best.

Anyway, back to reality.

Look, A.J. Burnett was awful this year. He gave the Yankees no chance to win in almost half his starts, and in half of the remaining half he was slightly better than bad. There’s no denying this, and there’s no going back in history to change things or any amount of anything that can make people feel more comfortable about his Game Four start. But guess what, he’s going to start that game, and anyone that thinks it’s an automatic loss needs to get a grip on reality.

Changeup! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Burnett pitched to a 4.83 FIP over the course of the 162-game regular season, slightly better than the 4.99 FIP put up by Rangers’ Game Four starter Tommy Hunter. Over the last three months and change A.J. had a 4.71 FIP, Hunter 5.47. If there’s anyone in the Texas rotation that you want to start Burnett against, it’s Hunter because he is every bit as likely (if not more given the lineup he’ll be facing) to blow up in horrific fashion. You don’t start A.J. in Game Three against Cliff Lee with the mindset of “well they’ll probably lose to Lee and lose Burnett’s start, so they can kill two birds with one stone,” that completely defeats the purpose. The idea is to beat the Rangers and Cliff Lee, not make easy for them. If you’re willing to do that, then just go root for the Mets, it’s a loser mentality.

The Yankees already have the pitching advantage in Game One and it’s no worse than a push in Game Two. There’s nothing they can do about Lee, he’s going to pitch and chances are he’ll be awesome. It’s what the guy does. They don’t have to beat him though, they have to beat the Rangers. Texas had a five run lead against the Yanks in the sixth inning of this game with Lee on the mound, and you know what? They lost. You know why? Because the Yanks chipped away and then punished the Rangers’ bullpen once their ace lefty was out of the game. Andy Pettitte doesn’t have to beat Cliff Lee in Game Three, he just has to keep the Yankees within striking distance. Then it’s up to the offense to do their thing late in the game, just like they did in the ALDS. It’s doable.

Remember, the Yankee pitching staff is in better shape right now than it was last year in the playoffs, when they beat a Cliff Lee led team in the World Series (a team that was better overall than this Rangers’ club, by the way). There was no Phil Hughes then, and they had no choice but to start Burnett every five days (and once on short rest). The regular season is a marathon, but the playoffs are a relay race, a series of one game sprints where literally anything can happen. There’s no better embodiment of that “anything can happen in one start” phenomenon than Burnett, who on any given day can surrender eight runs in two innings or no runs in nine innings. He’s a roll of the dice every time he touches the mound, and that inconsistency is why he’s starting Game Four, not Game One or Two.

If the Yanks do lose the ALCS, it won’t be because of Burnett’s one start. He’s one of 25, and if they drop three of the other six (potential) games in the series, then a whole lot more went wrong than A.J. They’ll win as a team and lose as a team, as they should. No one shoulders the blame by themselves. It’s trendy to trash Burnett, just like it was trendy to trash Joe Girardi in September and say the Yanks would be one and done in the playoffs because of how horribly they struggled. Look how that turned out.

Anyway, there’s my rant for the night. As for the actual question, yeah, I’m pretty sure they’d start Sabathia in Game Four if they were down three games to none. They’d have no choice, and frankly they would have much bigger problems than worrying about Burnett in that situation.

Yankees announce ALCS roster and rotation

Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees have announced their roster and rotation for the upcoming American League Championship Series. The roster is unchanged, it’ll be the same 25 guys they played with against the Twins, but the rotation is slightly different. CC Sabathia will of course go in Game One, but Phil Hughes will get the ball in Game Two, not Andy Pettitte. Pettitte and A.J. Burnett will then start Games Three and Four, respectively. I assume that the only way Sabathia will pitch on short rest in Game Four is if the Yanks are down three games to none in the series.

Hughes has superb numbers in Arlington for his career, but that covers about 15 innings spread across four seasons. I suspect that had little value when they put the rotation together, and it had more to do with lining up Pettitte for matchups with Cliff Lee.