Game 56: Bacck on tracck

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Jay?? via Creative Commons license)

The Angels took yesterday’s series opener, but that’s it. They don’t get anything else and CC Sabathia will make sure of that. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia, SP

The game begins shortly after 9pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Open Thread: Hughes throws live BP

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Anna Moony via Creative Commons license)

Phil Hughes faced live batters for the first time since hitting the disabled list today, throwing a round of live batting practice with the team in Anaheim. He went through his usual warm-up routine then threw 22 pitches to batters, essentially simulating one inning of work. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Hughes did a good job of maintaining his arm speed and he’s pleased with the outing. Assuming he feels good over the next few days, the next step for Phil will be a trip to Extended Spring Training to get stretched out in advance of a minor league rehab assignment. Good news, but he’s still a long ways away.

Here’s an open thread to keep you occupied before tonight’s game. The Mets are playing the Braves (Jurrjens vs. Gee), and you’ve also got Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals (8pm ET on NBC). Talk about whatever, go nuts.

A Long-Distance Relationship

Usually in baseball, a sports fan grows up loving a team near them. Of course there are exceptions, but what I’ve found is that the best guess of a person’s rooting interest is usually a team near their childhood home. The problem is, when a person moves (for college, a job, or just because they want to), the team doesn’t come along with them. It’s nice to live in the future and keep our teams on our computers, in our phones, and on our PS3s with MLB.tv, but it goes without saying that the ballpark experience of rooting for your hometown heroes is way, way better than sitting in your living room and yelling at the announcers.

I feel safe in assuming that most of the audience here is probably within a drive – perhaps a long one, but a drive nonetheless – away from Yankee Stadium. If that’s the case, then going to see a game is really more based on your schedule than the schedule of the team. It might be difficult to avoid familial duties or work, but assuming you’ve got the money and the time, the Bronx might not be too far away.

For those of us who have been displaced from the NY-NJ-CT tri-state area, it’s not that easy. You might be lucky if you’ve only moved to say, Virginia or Massachusetts for location or stayed within the division, be it Baltimore or Boston, even Toronto or Tampa. While traveling to the House that Ruth (Jeter?) Built might be impossible, at least there’s the comfort of knowing the Bombers will be showing up nine times over the season. If you’re unlucky or stupid enough to move away from those places, your Yankees-viewing chances go down dramatically.

I moved to the bay area last year for work and end up faced with this scenario every year. When the Yankees come out here for one of their rare appearances – the previous series is the only one they will play in Oakland all year – I drop everything and pick up the best tickets I can. Appointments are canceled, work is ignored, life stops.

The funny thing about having a limited amount a games to see your team is that you find yourself wishing for a whole bunch of scenarios which, under usual circumstances, are the exactly the kinds of things you want the team to avoid. I’m an avid David Robertson fan, and there was not a single Robertson appearance during those three games. Really, it’s a good thing – he only shows up when there are jams to be gotten out of – but it also meant that I won’t be seeing his knee-buckling curveball in person until October (unlikely) or next year. Bartolo Colon pitching a complete game was freaking amazing (he looked dominant in person, too), but there was concern in my mind that I would go a whole three game series without a single Mariano Rivera appearance. I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting that when Joba Chamberlain had first and second with one out, I wanted to see him walk a guy so Robertson would in and strike everyone out.

Luckily, Russell Martin only sat the first game out, and Rivera came in to preserve a two-run lead in the third game of the series. I even got a Lance Pendleton and a Luis Ayala sighting. I saw AJ Burnett throw a pretty damn decent game and Freddy Garcia confound the A’s with junkballs. But sadly, there are things that I missed and won’t get to see until next year. I never got to fill in Derek Jeter as the DH on a scorecard. I didn’t see CC Sabathia’s four-seamer. There was no David Robertson appearance. Jorge Posada didn’t get a hit (sigh).

Don’t get me wrong: I love the bay. You can’t beat the weather, they designed the roads for high congestion, you’re surrounded by nerds, and they make amazing Filipino food.We have a great hockey team and two baseball teams, all available by mass transit. But none of them are the Yankees. And I really, really, really miss the Yankees, especially when I only see them three live games out of the massive 162 game season. I’m sure this isn’t exclusive to California, either, but moving away from your sports team is rough.

(On the bright side, the Legends-equivalents seats I sat in in the Coliseum cost me $55. I love cheap baseball.)

2011 Draft: Baseball America’s Mock Draft v3.0

Jim Callis posted his third mock draft yesterday, and you can see all the picks for free right here. You’ll need a subscription to see the analysis though. This came out before we learned that the Pirates are going to take UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole first overall, so Callis has them taking Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen. He went with Cole going in the top spot in v1.0 and Rice 3B Anthony Rendon in v2.0. A number of big money high schoolers are falling to the end of the first round in Callis’ mock draft, including RHP Dillon Howard (#25), LHP Daniel Norris (#28), RHP Joe Ross (#29), and C Blake Swihart (#33). Hopefully at least one of those guys makes it to the Yankees at #51, which is pretty much the best they can do right now.

The amazing incredible durable A.J. Burnett

We’re all very busy people so I won’t bury the lede: when the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett there were significant concerns about his injury history, but he has defied those concerns to become a veritable innings-eater. Given how much roster variance and injury risk the recent squads have exhibited, and despite the decline in his performance relative to his gold-standard 2008 campaign, the signing has to be deemed a mild to moderate success nearly halfway through the life of the deal if only for the fact that he has stayed healthy.

The principal worry about A.J was his extensive injury history. Prior to signing with the Yankees, A.J. had topped 200 innings only three times in his career, two of which were contract years. He had already had Tommy John surgery, and he had battled shoulder problems as well. As a result, many Yankee blogs greeted the news of Burnett’s union with the Yankees with disdain. Some were humorous – I specifically recall a delightful NoMaas photoshop of Brian Cashman as the Heath Ledger Joker lighting a pyramid of money on fire. Others had no use for humor and went straight to the gallows. Cliff Corcoran sounded like a man on the brink:

I cannot help but react emotionally to this signing. It is an inexplicably awful, irresponsible, wrong-headed move. I hate hate hate it. It makes me physically sick. Combined with the New Stadium, it is enough for me to question my allegiance to this team. I cannot be consoled. I assume many of you feel the same way.

Hang in there, Cliff! Overall at Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe questioned whether this move represented a gigantic step back for Brian Cashman as general manager:

Burnett’s combination of fragility and perceived squeamishness calls to mind the darkest chapter of Yankee GM Brian Cashman’s tenure, the two deals he inked at the 2004 Winter Meetings with a pair of injury-riddled pitchers coming off rare healthy, effective seasons, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright.

I wasn’t writing in 2008 – I didn’t even have a Twitter account – so I’m thankful that no one can blockquote my reaction to the signing at the time, a reaction that would no doubt have been similarly angry. R.J. Anderson’s reaction in retrospect was a bit more measured, more calculated:

Kudos to Dave for nailing the years/money here. A.J. Burnett is a 3 WAR starter, and he’s being paid as one. This is a buyers market, and the Yankees are absolutely thriving in it. A lot can be said for spending money and a lot more should be said for Brian Cashman and the Yankees paying these free agents exactly what they’re worth. Of course, the Yankees are one of the few teams who can pay what they’re worth, but that might be a market inefficiency within itself.

Sadly, A.J. Burnett has not been a 3 fWAR pitcher since coming to New York. He was a 3.4 fWAR pitcher in 2009 and a 1.3 fWAR pitcher in 2010, and he’s currently on pace for 1.6 fWAR in 2011.This adds up to about 7 fWAR in 2011, 2 shy of his projection. Assuming a straight-line valuation of $5.0M per win, his performance will have been worthy roughly $35M to the Yankees at the end of this year. This is a little over $14M shy of the amount the Yankees have paid him for his services. Of course, we know the value of those 7 fWAR isn’t necessarily best calculated on a straight-line method. We know that the marginal value of a win as the Yankees approach 90 wins goes up a great deal. We also know that the Yankees won the World Series in one of those years, and that they have so much money that they can afford to pay A.J. Burnett more than what he ends up being worth.

So A.J.’s performance has missed the mark a bit so far, and it’s fallen well short of any expectation set by his superb 2008 campaign in Toronto. At the same time, the fears that Burnett would be Carl Pavano 2.0, while well-founded, have not come to fruition. Since the start of the 2009 season Burnett has thrown 468.1 innings, a few shy of John Danks and Zack Greinke and ahead of Matt Garza and Chad Billingsley. Here’s a more relevant fact: since he signed with New York he’s made 78 starts. Only eleven pitchers have made more, and the most anyone has made is 81. In other words, Burnett has made just about as many starts as anyone in the game. He may not be the most efficient pitcher in the game, as evidenced by the fact that Sabathia has thrown over 100 innings more than him over that time period despite making only 2 more starts, but he’s been there.

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is just showing up. Like most aphorisms, there’s a kernel of truth there. How you perform once you arrive matters too, and A.J.’s performance hasn’t always been what we’ve wanted. There has been more than enough Bad A.J., more than enough meltdowns, more than enough “Oh good Lord, A.J.” moments. But he’s more or less gotten the first 80% right, which is more than you can say about Daisuke Matsuzaka or John Lackey over the course of their contracts so far. Burnett has shown up. When one examines what the expectations were – not worst-case scenarios, actual expectations – and realize how low the bar was set for Burnett, this is not nothing.

It was axiomatic that A.J. Burnett was an injury risk; it was a given that he would disappoint and hurt himself. Things usually become axiomatic for a reason. They acquire discursive weight and momentum because of something – an observation, a stereotype, good or bad data, a presumption, a reasonable expectation. All of the observations about Burnett’s health risk were mostly accurate, if not a bit histrionic. And yet there’s a lesson here that past performance is no guarantee of future results, that you can’t predict baseball, that sometimes your 50% weighted mean forecast doesn’t turn out to be what actually happens. We know this, or at least we tell ourselves that we do, but sometimes we don’t always act that way when put on the spot. This doesn’t mean that we should start expecting the outlier, but it’s a good reminder that once in awhile this game tosses you a pleasant surprise. And who doesn’t love a pleasant surprise?