Open Thread: Se7en

Brett had a little uniform malfunction today. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Seven, seven wins in a row. Ah ah ah. [/The Count]

The Yankees took care of business and knocked the magic number for a playoff spot down to 20 by clubbing Brandon Morrow this afternoon, but the Red Sox game was already postponed due to Hurricane Earl, so it won’t go any lower tonight. The magic number for the division title is 27, and could be 26 if the Orioles take care of business against the Rays this evening. Let’s not get greedy though, the Yanks control their own destiny and that’s all we could ask for.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Mets have already played, but depending on where you live, either the Reds-Cardinals or Braves-Marlins will be on the MLB Network. I’m not sure, but chances are there’s some college football on somewhere as well. It’s Friday though, I recommend going out and doing something you won’t remember in the morning. Talk about whatever, just be cool.

Tickets available for tomorrow’s game

A reader has two tickets available for tomorrow’s game against the Blue Jays. They’re located in Section 233B, Row 16, Seats 9-10, which is the second deck in the leftfield corner under the Audi Club. Face value is $50 per ticket ($100 for the pair), but the seller is willing to take the best offer.

It’s a day game (1:05pm ET start) that features Javy Vazquez and Marc Rzepczynski. Email me if interested and I’ll put you in contact with the seller.

Yanks winning the Jay-Z/Eminem ticket prices battle

When the Yankees hit the road next week, Yankee Stadium won’t remain empty. Instead, on Monday, September 13 and Tuesday, September 14, Jay-Z and Eminem will bring their concert to the stadium. Hip hop fans are eagerly anticipating these shows, and many Yankee fans will get to see Jay-Z perform “Empire State of Mind” in the Bronx again. Who doesn’t love the de facto 2009 playoffs anthem?

So far, the reviews out of Detroit have been strong. B.o.B. is opening up for the co-headliners, and last night, Dr. Dre, Drake, 50 Cent, and Young Jeezy made guest appearances. Of course, RAB Tickets and TiqIQ have some seats for those still looking to grab a spot at the show.

As the graph above shows, the ticket prices in New York, a city not facing a foreclosure crisis and economic death, are far outpacing those in Detroit, and the secondary market is insane right now as well. For the Sept. 13 show, tickets in the 400 section behind home plate are averaging $267 while tickets in the 300s sections for the Sept. 14 show are going for an average of $245. Tuesday, it seems, is the best bet.

Meanwhile, baseball remains on everyone’s minds this weekend, and the Blue Jays, while a popular draw, aren’t burning down the house. Tickets for this series are going for below the season average of $95, but the Saturday and Sunday games, when sunny weather and cooler temperatures sweep through the area in the wake of Hurricane Earl, aren’t exactly cheap. As always, RAB Tickets has all the best seats for this weekend’s games.

Tickets available for Monday’s game

A reader is trying to unload a pair of tickets for Monday’s game against the Orioles. They’re bleacher seats, in row nine of Section 238. That’s one section over from the restaurant and directly behind the visitor’s bullpen. Face value is $12, so it’s $24 for the pair. Remember, it’s a day game with a 1:05pm ET start. A.J. Burnett will square off against Jake Arrieta.

If you’re interested, email me and I’ll put you in touch with the seller.

Update: These tickets have been claimed.

Game 135: Stay hot

The Yankees kicked off their longest homestand of the season in style, pummeling the A’s in all four games the two teams played. Things get a little tougher today, when the Blue Jays come to town for the first of six times the two clubs will meet this month. Jose Bautista will surely try to hit his homers, but the Yanks can’t let him or his theatrics bother them, they simply need to win. They’ve won six straight and don’t have time to waste on a fourth place team.

Brandon Morrow will be making his final start of the season for the Jays today; they’re shutting him down to control his innings. We still have nightmares about how he’s dominated the Yanks this season, but it’s worth noting that he’s got a rather massive home/road split. He’s pitched in the Bronx twice already this season, giving up five runs in six innings and then again in five-and-a-third innings. Fingers are crossed.

Here’s the lineup, with the Cap’n getting a regular day off…

Gardner, LF
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Berkman, DH
Kearns, RF
Pena, 3B
Nunez, SS

And on the bump, it’s the rookie Ivan Nova.

It’s a bit overcast in the Tri-State Area and there’s a chance of rain during the game, but as far as we know they plan on starting this one on time.

What purpose September baseball?

As the East Coast awakens this morning to news of a hurricane making its way up the coast, nothing in the American League East can rival that storm for excitement. The Yankees and Rays are locked in a pennant race that almost doesn’t matter, and while October might be more exciting with the top teams involved, the suspense of a race where the second place team goes home empty is gone.

Right now, the Yankees are in the driver’s seat. They’re 84-50, 34 games above .500 for the first time this year, and the Rays are nipping at their heels, 82-51. Even though Tampa Bay’s schedule remains easier, the Yankees, according to Cool Standings, have an edge in the race for the AL East crown. The Red Sox remain eight games out, and although their schedule gives them a slight opportunity to get back in it, they’re nearly dead.

But it all doesn’t matter. Because of baseball’s grand experiment, both Tampa Bay and the Yankees, division rivals to the end, have a better than 98-percent shot at October. If either team misses the playoffs right now, it will be due to a nearly historic collapse. Outside of the New York Mets, teams just don’t easily relinquish eight-game leads on playoff spots with 28 left to play.

For baseball purists, this 1990s development still rankles the soul, and in his column in the Wall Street Journal today, Jason Gay bemoans the division race that isn’t. “Feel the passion!” he writes. “Aren’t you just riveted by back-and-forth Yanks-Rays suspense? Either the Yankees will begin the playoffs at home or—hold on, just wait for it—the Rays will.”

What bothers Gay most is how the Wild Card — admittedly, as he says, a positive development for the game — has robbed baseball of what should be an exciting story line. “It’s hard not to feel a little cheated,” he said. “The two best teams in baseball—with amazingly paradoxical story lines and operating philosophies—have been playing each other razor-close for weeks (they recently spent eight days tied for first, a record this late in the season) and meet seven more times this month. Had this been the 1950’s, it’d be the kind of race they’d write show tunes about. Or books you buy in airports. But it’s not. It’s not a meaningless September in the Bronx. It’s just not as meaningful.”

It’s not as meaningless because the two teams are playing for something. As I noted earlier this week, home field advantage remains up in the air, and it’s tough to understate the importance of that advantage in the playoffs. In five of the past six seasons, the AL team with home-field advantage won the championship series and advanced to the World Series.

The problem though with playing for home-field advantage is that it’s an obtuse goal that doesn’t play well in marketing campaigns. Come see the Rays and the Yanks duke it out for home-field advantage! Come watch a potential playoff preview three weeks before the games truly count! The draw just isn’t there.

For the Yankees, September is important because the club has to get healthy. They have to align their rotation; they have to secure that playoff spot. There will be no Bucky Dent moments here, no situation where two teams win over 100 games and one goes home, no winner-takes-all moments. It’s just a September to get ready, not one to remember.

Mailbag: Montero, Jeter, Injuries, Stats, Mets

Time for another edition of the RAB mailbag. This week we’ll tackle questions about Jesus Montero‘s future power, Derek Jeter‘s future everything, pitching injuries, ways to measure a pitcher’s volatility, and how I’d fix the Mets. If you ever want to submit a question, just send it in via the Submit A Tip box underneath The Montero Watch in the sidebar.

Sheepmeister asks: Guys, why all the hype around Jesus Montero. Everyone tabs him as a 40 HR guy but this year he has 18 in 417 ABs (Ed. note: this was sent in a few days ago, he’s at 19 HR in 438 AB now), what makes him so special with the bat (other than the C position)?

You’re looking at this entirely the wrong way. He’s 20-years-old, he hasn’t physically matured yet. Montero will add power naturally that way, and also by benefiting from a big league coaching staff, a big league training and conditioning program, big league advanced scouts and video, all of that. Albert Pujols played one year in the minors and hit 19 homers. Miguel Cabrera never hit more than ten homers in a minor league season. I could go on all day. You don’t want players to peak down in the minors.

Montero is also a .314 career hitter in 1,560 plate appearances, and he has a good enough approach at the plate to draw his fair share of walks (though I don’t think he’ll ever be a 90-100 walk guy). He’s a complete hitter, not just a mindless brute that will club 40 homers while hitting in the .220’s with 200 strikeouts. He’s a very natural all-around hitter, and that’s extremely exciting.

Shai asks: Is there any chance that Jeter’s pride will make him decide to retire and not have anymore of these embarrassing seasons? He doesn’t need the money, so whats in it for him?

Zero. He’ll play next year to get his 3,000th hit at minimum, and probably play a few years beyond that. I doubt it’s just about money, Jeter was set for life financially before he signed this soon-to-expire monster contract, there’s probably a huge part of him that just wants to win.

Also, I certainly wouldn’t call his season embarrassing. Disappointing yes, but not embarrassing. Cesar Izturis is embarrassing. Chone Figgins is embarrassing. Jason Kendall is embarrassing. Jeter’s just been a letdown compared to his lofty standards.

Anonymous asks: It was disappointing and alarming to see Stephen Strasburg go down. What really hit me was that they say it was a sudden thing – i.e the elbow was 100% fine for one pitch, then the next pitch, hello Tommy John. No lingering problems building up over time, no mismanagement of his young arm by the Nats, nothing. My question is: are all pitchers essentially time bombs that could go off at any instant? We all take for granted that CC has been in perfect health during his Yankee career – is he somehow at less risk for the next pitch being his last?

Yeah, pretty much. It can go at any moment. Some guys are lucky with health, others aren’t. It really is that simple. A guy could have fine mechanics, good genetics, be in great shape, and it still might not matter. All it takes is one pitch, one mistake with his delivery, to pop that UCL.

That said, some guys obviously manage to stay healthier over the long term like Sabathia, but I have no idea what makes him less of an injury risk than say, Rich Harden. It could be his size, but Roy Oswalt’s skinny as a twig and he’s been a horse all these years as well. If I knew the answer to this question, I’d auction the info off to whatever team offered the most money for it.

Wade asks: Do any of the advanced pitching metrics take into account volatility? I assume (certainly for a team like the Yankees) a pitcher who goes out and gives you 7 IP and 2 or 3 ER every single time is more valuable than one who goes 9 shutout innings in half his starts and 5 IP with 6 ER in the other half. I couldn’t find any metrics that consider this, so maybe I’m just wrong in assuming it matters over the course of a year.

Not that I know of, everything’s generally based off the big picture. If there was such a thing as a stat that measured volatility, I’m guessing A.J. Burnett would lead the league in it. I suppose one way you could do it is by have something that’s the opposite of a Quality Start, say a Weak Start at 6 IP, 5 ER, then use a +/- system. A guy gets +1 for a Quality Start, and -1 for a Weak Start. The closer a guy is to zero, the more unpredictable he is.

Looking quickly at the Yanks’ rotation, I come up with this:

  1. CC Sabathia, +20
  2. Andy Pettitte, +12
  3. Phil Hughes, +8
  4. Javy Vazquez, +4
  5. A.J. Burnett, +4

For the fun of it, I get +23 for Felix Hernandez and +2 for Kevin Millwood. I took a quick glance at the bottom of the ERA leaderboard and couldn’t come up with anyone in the negatives (that made 20-something starts). Last year Sabathia was at +17, Burnett +16, and Pettitte +11.

My arbitrary definitition of a Weak Start could be tweaked (you could say the same for Quality Starts), but I guess this general approach works as a way to attack the volatility question. I’m not sure how useful a stat like this would be for analytical purposes, but it is a nice reference number and obviously you’d prefer a more consistent starter.

Tom asks: Congratulations! You have been given a job in the Mets organization (Maybe I should have said “My condolences”) your task is to clean house and fix the broken organization. What steps do you take to fix it? Who do you fire? Who do you hire to take their place?

Oof, I don’t even know where to start. Since you can’t fire the owner(s), I guess I would start by cleaning house with the field staff (Jerry Manuel, Howard Johnson, all of ’em) and re-assigning Omar Minaya. He’s pretty bad as a GM, but he’s actually got one hell of a scouting background. He’s the guy that found Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Ryan Church, and a bunch of others with the Expos and Rangers way back when. Just make sure he’s not in a position to trade them away. With something like four years left on his contract, some kind of advisory role works. He can be an asset when used in the right capacity. Bring in a new scouting department (both pro and amateur) and a new(er) school manager. Call me crazy, but I’d at least consider David Cone.

As for the player personnel, the first step is figuring out who is part of the team’s core going forward and who isn’t. David Wright absolutely is, he’s your franchise cornerstone. Johan Santana is. Ike Davis, Jon Niese, and Bobby Parnell probably are. Carlos Beltran and the one year left on his contract aren’t, ditto the dreck like Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. A decision will have to be made about Jose Reyes, who has just one year (an option year at that) left on his deal. I’d probably take advantage of a barren shortstop market and trade him, but that’s easier said than done, especially with no obvious replacement available.

It all starts with strength up the middle, and frankly the Mets have very little of it. Josh Thole is a nice young catcher, but very few project him as an every day player. Is this Angel Pagan’s career year, or his true talent level as a centerfielder? Who plays second? What about short if Reyes is dealt? Lots of questions, almost no answers. Finding those answers will not be easy, but that’s where you have to focus your efforts. Acquire as many young up-the-middle players as humanly possible, then sort it all out later.

I’d also at least try to do something with CitiField. Bring the walls in, shorten them up, do something. Part of the problem are getting people in the seats, and a more offense friendly environment helps with that problem a little bit. I’m not saying you turn the place into Coors East, but league average is a nice start. At least make an effort.

Fixing the Mets will take some time and patience, but thankfully it doesn’t have to be a total rebuild given their above average financial flexibility. You could probably turn this team around the “right way” and compete by 2013, maaaybe even 2012. The Phillies aren’t getting any younger, ditto most of Atlanta’s key pieces. Ownership needs to be convinced to go big on the draft and international market, which is where it all starts. When you spend big bucks on free agents, spend it on complete players capable of impacting the game in multiple ways and power pitchers that miss bats. Quite simply, I’d just follow the Yankees blueprint.