Sunday Open Thread

Alex Rodriguez
"You pay attention to someone else, I'm gonna take a nap." (AP/Kathy Willens)

You know what happens in exactly three weeks? Spring Training officially opens. Pitchers and catchers are due to report on February 19th, which just means they just have to physically be in the Tampa area and let the club know they’re there. They don’t even have to show up to the complex, that will happen for the first time the next day. Either way, we’re down to just three weeks of offseason. Hooray for that.

Here’s your open thread for the night. You folks know what to do by now, so have at it.

What’s Your Countdown?

Holy crap, baseball is so close I can almost taste it. Like many of you, I have several countdowns going, one at work, one on my computer, on my calendar… and so forth. It’s only a matter of time before we have to stop paying attention to less interesting sports to turn our attentions to diamonds, curveballs, dingers and TOOTBLANs. I can’t believe I’m this excited to complain about Derek Jeter leading off and Robinson Cano swinging at crazy pitches to foul them off rather than just taking a damn walk every once in a while.

The problem is, there’s a lot of different was to go with your countdown. Do you start at when pitchers and catchers report? Wait for Spring Training for begin? Is Opening Day the only one that really counts? Let’s break down the different events and see what the best place is to be waiting for.

Pitchers and Catchers report.
Pro: It’s the first thing to happen.
Con: There’s no games to be had.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In less than a month, the optional reporting date for batteries rolls around. The pitchers and catchers can show up if they want and begin their stretches, long-toss, short-toss, running up and down the steps – whatever it is they’d like to do. Here’s where a few pictures start trickling in from the beat writers and official twitter accounts, along with Best Shape of His Life stories and subtle comments about who was lazing off during the offseason (Phil Hughes, don’t hide). It’s hard not to be excited about the reporting date, because getting the pitchers to the spring complexes is pretty important — hard to play a game if you don’t have a pitcher — but in essence, you’re waiting for a day when there’s no games.

The fact is, it’s an optional reporting day for only a small part of the team. There’s a solid chance that most of the people won’t even be there, and Mo only knows when all the beat guys are going to show up. The day, besides being a great day when the cogs of baseball start to break the rust and begin to turn, is a day of nothing. If you’re counting down to actual baseball, you’re going to be sorely disappointed, unless you can be satisfied by pictures of CC Sabathia running steps and Phil Hughes looking not-so-chubby. Like the pitchers and catchers themselves, the fans need to warm up to the constant stream of baseball information that we haven’t had in what seems like so long. The cold, dark offseason is done. Baseball is back. (Cue YES music.)

Or…. maybe you’re waiting for some actual games. Maybe you can only be satisfied by the crack of the bat and the thwock of the catcher’s mitt and the analyzation of pitch types and batting stances. In that case, you’re most likely looking forward to…

Spring Training games begin.
Pro: Actual baseball being played!
Con: Games don’t matter, and managers treat them like so.

(AP Photo)

In Spring Training 2011, A.J. Burnett didn’t issue a single walk.

There’s so much hope in the Florida sun! So much excitement! Baby Yankees running around striking out major leaguers! Rotation competitions (that aren’t actually competitions)! Hope for the hopeless! The weak competition, plus the rust coming off the rest of the league, usually makes the fans feel pretty optimistic about everything. This is gonna be the year. Look at all our players! They look awesome! Totally get a ring in 2012, guys. I can feel it.

There’s nothing better than Spring Training in the sense that after a cold, hard offseason nothing hits the spot like baseball. It’s like hot chocolate after dragging yourself down a snowy street or your air-conditioned house when it’s boiling and humid outside. Real baseball, with hits and strikeouts and eye-rollingly bad plays, and pitchers, and outfielders… God, what’s better, honestly? It’s a breath of fresh air with the hopes and dreams of everyone waiting.

Of course, the games don’t matter. They’re try-outs for the invites and practice for the veterans, and usually feature three to four innings of what one might call “competitive baseball” before the AAAA outfielders come in. There’s funky lineup changes, pitchers trying to make pitches work (when they don’t), hitters testing out new everything, players in strange positions, all the stuff that makes a fan go nuts when he (or she) sees it happen. And, as I mentioned earlier, the wins and the losses are both equally meaningless. It’s frustrating, when watching a game, to know it means nothing.

If you actually need that competition, you’re stuck waiting for…

Regular Season begins.
Pro: Actual, real baseball that counts.
Con: Far away.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s here. The real season. Stuff counts. Anything could happen. The rotation is (probably) set. The lineup has been decided. Alex Rodriguez has hopefully avoided embarrassing himself for a whole month. Phil Hughes is skinny again.

Go time.

Is there any better guaranteed day in the year than Opening Day? Real, actual baseball, with players and teams that mean it, and games that matter towards that offseason that seems like it’s never going to come. While game one is, relatively speaking, just as important as game 162, the first is always the best. Our acceptance level of bunting, manager dumbass-ness, and general stupidity is at a high because baseball is baseball and thank god it’s back. Hell, maybe no one will actually whine about the lineup because it’s been so long.

Ok, that’s unlikely.

But just think about how long the regular season is from now: over two months. It doesn’t seem like a lot typed out, but every day with no real baseball is a painful one, especially when you’re watching Spring Training and waiting and waiting and waiting for it to matter. Staring at a baseball game knowing it’s utterly insignificant can be pretty bad, and knowing even more there’s a month or a week to go before things start counting sounds worse.

For me, pitchers and catchers is the day. It’s just so soon, and there’s so much possibility, and everything’s so close – I just can’t help it. I’ve got a countdown widget and everything.

What are you waiting for?

Mailbag: Quality Starts

(AP Photo/Rob Carr)

David asks: What do you think about QS % as an important measure of starting pitchers? Given the Yankees’ ability to score runs, and their strong bullpen, I’d place a high value on a pitcher’s ability to deliver quality starts, i.e., to be “consistently good.” On that basis we of course notice or confirm a number of things from 2011 AL pitchers with 140+ innings:

  • CC Sabathia was of course consistently good at #10
  • Michael Pineda was #8!
  • A.J. Burnett‘s problems are NOT the occasional blow up; he’s consistently ineffective (worst in the league)
  • Freddy Garcia wasn’t too far behind CC in consistency at #17
  • Ivan Nova was middle of the pack at #27 (in the neighborhood of Gio Gonzalez, John Danks, Alexi Ogando, Phil Humber)
  • Hiroki Kuroda was #14 in the NL, as a solid number two should be

I think that “quality starts” themselves are kinda silly, or at least the term “quality start”  is silly. Three earned runs (why don’t we count unearned runs? they count on the scoreboard) in six innings is a 4.50 ERA, and that would have been a 116 ERA+ in 2011. If they changed the name of the stat to something like “decent start” or “winnable start,” them maybe it would be easier to swallow. That’s how I think of a quality start, it’s a winnable game for the Yankees with their offense and bullpen. My extension, QS% would just tell you how often a certain pitcher threw — not will throw — a decent or winnable game.

Quality starts are in no way predictive, they’re an output stat. They tell you the end result of the game without telling you how it happened. Did the pitcher throw eight innings of one-run ball with four hits, one walk, and nine strikeouts? Or six innings with three earned runs, two unearned runs, ten hits, three walks, and two strikeouts? In terms of quality starts, those two are the same thing. They’re kinda like the pitching version of RBI. We know the run came in, but we don’t know how it came in. Quality starts and RBI don’t tell us how likely the player is to do it again.

Like I said, I consider a quality start to be a winnable game for the Yankees, and that’s basically all I look for out of the back of the rotation, the Burnett’s and Hughes’ and Garcia’s in 2012. If the Yankees get a quality start out of those guys half the time, they’re well ahead of the fifth starter curve. I wouldn’t consider QS% to be a great measure of success or a high one percentage to be all that great without knowing more. It’s a great quick reference thing, but I have a tough time putting more stock into it, kinda like OPS. We have better metrics these days, but the old ones are still okay for a quick glance.

Saturday Night Open Thread

Had a pretty crummy day dealing with some computer issues, so I need something to cheer me up. For whatever reason, remembering that A.J. Burnett was good once upon a time always seems to do the trick. Where do you think that curveball went?

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks are playing, plus the NHL Skills Competition is on at 7pm ET (on NBC Sports). That’s kinda like there Homerun Derby, but with more events and not as boring. Talk about whatever you like here. Enjoy.

Kuroda speaks for first time since joining Yankees

The Yankees officially announced the Hiroki Kuroda signing — a one-year, $10MM contract with a full no-trade clause — earlier this week, and yesterday he spoke publicly for the first time since agreeing to come to New York. “[The Dodgers] were unable to ever make a formal offer, I couldn’t wait any longer,” said Kuroda to Dylan Hernandez. The right-hander confirmed he received offers from several teams but only seriously considered the Yankees and the Hiroshima Carp, his former team in Japan. He turned down more lucrative offers to wear pinstripes.

“They have an incredible tradition,” said Kuroda of joining the Yankees. “They contend for the championship every year. I wanted to play for a team like that. When you get to my age, you don’t know how much longer you can pitch and I wanted to experience that before my career ended.” Kuroda never got to pitch in the playoffs in Japan, and the Dodgers qualified for the postseason only twice in his four years there. “To be a part of a team like that is something I will be proud of.”

Kuroda also spoke briefly about his relationships with Russell Martin, Clayton Kershaw, and Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. Hernandez says that Kuroda’s wife and two school-age daughters will remain in Los Angeles while he is in New York this summer, and he’s preparing for 2012 as if it will be his last season. “There will be a lot of change,” he said. ““Not only a baseball player, but also as a person, I think this will be an important year for me.”

Open Thread: What?!?

With all due respect to the people who put this photo gallery/slideshow together, there is absolutely no chance that David Robertson‘s bases loaded, no outs escape act in the 11th inning of Game Two of the 2009 ALDS is the FOURTH most clutch moment in team history. No chance. None. Nada. I’m not even sure that would make the top forty clutch moments in team history, and hell, that wasn’t even the most clutch moment of the game. That would be Alex Rodriguez‘s game-tying, two-run homer off Joe Nathan in bottom of the ninth.

Sorry, I just caught that thing being passed around Twitter this afternoon and it blew my mind. We all love Robertson, but that’s nuts. Here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks and Nets are both playing tonight, but talk about whatever you like here. Enjoy.

Report: Yankees show interest in Raul Ibanez

Via Kevin Kernan, the Yankees have some interest in Raul Ibanez. Ibanez’s representatives contacted the Yankees about their DH opening last week, but apparently now the interest is mutual. I’m not the guy’s biggest fan, but Joe did made a decent case for him a few days ago. We have to be talking about a minor league contract at this point in the offseason, and I suppose it’s worth noting that Ibanez has posted a .337 wOBA with a .181 ISO against right-handed pitchers over the last two years. He’s unusable against lefties and on defense, though. The Yankees could do worse, but they probably could do better as well.