The Cliff Lee connection

Cliff Lee pitches in the 2002 AA All Star Game as a member of the Akron Arrows. Credit: AP Photo John Spivey

Since the Rangers downed the Tampa Bay Rays to earn the right to face the Yankees in the ALCS, most of the coverage has focused around Cliff Lee. The Yanks had to beat Lee’s team last year to win the World Series; they almost traded for him three months ago; and they plan to go hard after him this winter when the southpaw hits free agency. It’s a tailor-made situation for a compelling story, and Lee’s story has led sports sections from Arlington to Armonk.

In response to the over-the-top Cliff Lee-Mania, RAB reader Richard Iurilli launched a Twitter phenomenon. “Cliff Lee throws so hard, he can throw a baseball around the world and strike himself out,” he said. The kicker though was was the hashtag: #cliffleefacts. Said Joe Auriemma, “Cliff Lee can win a game of Connect Four in only three moves.” Said Kelsey O’Donnell, “The apocalypse would come if Cliff Lee EVER loses a game.” And on and on it went.

Yet, it’s impossible to talk about the impending American League Championship Series without revisiting July 8, the day Cliff Lee maybe, kinda, sorta almost became a Yankee. In The Post today, Joel Sherman, seemingly the most connected of New York reporters, goes back inside the Cliff Lee negotiations, and for the most part, it’s a story we know well. The Mariners were desperate to pry Justin Smoak from the Rangers, and they either wanted Eduardo Nuñez or Ivan Nova to join Jesus Montero instead of David Adams or were willing to use the Yanks to put the pressure on Texas GM Jon Daniels. Depending upon who you ask, a deal with the Yanks was on the verge of completion. “We had him,” Brian Cashman said to Sherman. “We had a deal in principle pending physicals.”

Sherman sheds some light on the process:

Around 9 p.m. Eastern Time on July 8, Seattle agreed with the Yankeees to accept Montero, Adams and righty Zach McAllister for Lee, and the sides swapped medical info. Around 3 a.m. Zduriencik called Cashman to say Seattle team doctors were concerned about Adams’ right ankle. This confused the Yankees. Adams had been out since injuring his ankle sliding May 23, yet the Mariners kept insisting he had to be included and the Yankees only relented that night.

Seattle’s concerns proved valid, as subsequent tests weeks later revealed a fracture and not a sprain for Adams.
Over the next several hours Seattle asked the Yankees to replace Adams. The Yankees offered touted righty Adam Warren. The Mariners said either Nova or Nunez must be the replacement, which was their initial position a week earlier. Cashman refused, stating the Yankees would not yield significantly more to get Lee for half a season than Philadelphia had given Cleveland to obtain Lee for a season and a half or Seattle had given Philadelphia to get Lee for a season.

Also, the Yankees came to believe Seattle had not shut down conversations with Texas. There are no written rules, but general protocol is that once a deal in principle is reached, then the trading teams go silent with other clubs.

Yankee fans spent the day waiting for the trade to become official on the 9th, and it never did. Now, instead of pitching Game 2 of the ALCS for the Yankees, Lee will face them in Game 3 on Monday night in the Bronx. “So be it,” Cashman said. “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. We will find out in who has the best team. I have no regrets. I am comfortable with not [completing the trade]. In time we will learn if that was the right thing to do.”

In his 3UP post today, Sherman discussed Lee at length and compared it to the Johan Santana situation. A few years ago, we lobbied hard against a trade that would have sent Phil Hughes along with at least Ian Kennedy and one or two other pieces to the Twins for Johan Santana, but this time around, I was more comfortable with the Lee trade. I can’t speak for Joe or Mike here, but I worried about the Yanks’ blown opportunity. I worried about Lee’s future with another team, and I worried that Jesus Montero might just be a little bit overhyped. After all, even though the magazine ranked him the fourth-best International League prospect this year, Baseball America says his defense is highly suspect. If Montero is only a bat but not a catcher, his future value declines.

Of course, the Yankees have a plan, and they’re going to stick to it. Brian Cashman knows that, as Tyler Kepner noted, when it comes to free agency, the Yanks get their guy. They got Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. To the Yankees, money isn’t an obstacle, and if the only thing that separates them from Cliff Lee is two weeks of the playoffs and a $110-million contract, so be it.

Still, even though Lee won’t take the mound for another four days, his presence looms over this ALCS. He is Texas’ savior, an ace they haven’t had in decades, if ever, and he’s the almost-was for the Yankees. Nearly a member of the team in July, Cliff Lee will once again try to stop the Yankees from winning a World Series for what hopefully will be the last time before he joins them.

Open Thread: One more baseball-less night

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It’s been a long week for us Yankee fans, who watched the team clinch an ALCS berth way back on Saturday. Five days later, we are still without baseball, but that’s going to change roughly 24 hours from now. The Yanks arrived in Dallas earlier today and had a little workout session at the park today in advance of tomorrow’s Game One. Every game they play from here on out will be the most important game of the season, and I can’t wait.

Here’s the open thread for the night. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in the action, and the NLCS doesn’t start until Saturday. Looks like one of those nights when you’ll actually have to leave the basement to entertain yourself. I know, what the hell is up with that? Anyway, you guys know what to do, so have at it.

ALCS Scouting Reports

Right before the ALDS started, we took a look at some advanced scouting reports provided by the MSM, and sure enough they held true. The Yankees’ powerful offense took advantage of Minnesota’s pitch-to-contact heavy pitching staff, and when Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes turned in gems behind CC Sabathia, the Twins had no chance.

Now that the Yanks have moved on to the ALCS, let’s look at Keith Law’s (Insider req’d) and Frankie Piliere’s scouting reports for Texas. As you’d expect, both mention that the Rangers will only go as far as Josh Hamilton and Cliff Lee take them. Beyond the two superstars, they need C.J. Wilson to not pitch himself into trouble with walks, which seems obvious enough. Their lineup isn’t terribly deep, with Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler representing the only real threats behind Hamilton. Vlad Guerrero, who had a monster first half, wOBA’d just .327 from July on. Make sure you check the links out, plus this one with four key ALCS matchups courtesy of Piliere.

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.


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.


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.