The Ultimate Small Sample Size

"This might send the Yankees to the World Series!" (AP/Charles Krupa)

It can only take one game – one play, even – to make a career. With a single pitch, throw, hit or game, a player can lock in their legacy forever. The funny thing is, the play that makes the player can be absolutely nothing like the rest of his career.  I don’t think this is Yankees or even baseball specific. Olli Jokinen, once a New York Ranger, will always be remembered by Rangers fans for the shot he missed in the shootout in the last game of the regular season last year, knocking the Rangers out of the playoffs and allowing the Philadelphia Flyers to go on their Stanley Cup run, even though they were bested by the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals. Jokinen had been, by most hockey measures, at least a half-decent player all his career. The one-play legacy is the ultimate example of small sample size, the very thing that we basement-blogging nerds rage against. Small sample size is the worst enemy of most statistics. Alex Rodriguez batting .156 looks pretty terrible before you find out that’s only in eight games. Francisco Cervelli batted .360 with a .848 OPS….in April 2010.

Think about it. As Yankee fans, we’ll always remember Aaron Boone’s game 7 home run off Tim Wakefield.  Boone played major league baseball for thirteen years, and out of all those years (4329 career plate appearances), he showed up in a hundred games or more for only half of them. He was traded for in the middle of 2003 and appeared in only 54 regular season games with the Yankees. He never hit over 30 home runs. He never batted over .300. His career batting numbers are .263/.326/.425 with a 94 OPS+. There is absolutely nothing notable here.  He was a Randy Winn or a Josh Towers. But then, of course, he came up in the eleventh inning of the ALCS Game 7 after pinch running in the eighth, and now no one will ever forget him. The ad on his baseball reference page even features the play.  My favorite part about the Aaron Boone home run is that we lost that World Series against Josh Beckett’s Marlins, and this never, ever comes up in the Aaron Boone discussion. That memorable home run, viewed through the lens of contemporary Yankees success mentality (World Series or bust!) was ultimately futile. It did nothing aside from give Yankees fans one more year to rub “the Curse of the Bambino” in Boston’s face. Little did we know what awaited us next year….

Just like Boone’s single plate appearance lifted him from forgettable bench player to historical Yankee figure, one play can make fans think a good ballplayer is worth absolutely nothing. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to go into detail about Luis Castillo given my audience, but he dropped a routine pop-up in an effectively meaningless summer game, allowing the Yankees to score two runs, win the game, and eventually win the World Series. Okay, maybe the two things weren’t connected, but Castillo’s error lead to an exaggeration in his vilification (which was already prevalent) by Mets fans and a massive increase of ribbing by everyone else in baseball. When Castillo was released not too long ago, even Sandy Alderson was quoted over at ESPN saying, “I don’t think there’s any question that there’s some linkage between his situation and a perception of the Mets that has existed to this point. That’s something that was taken into account. At some point, you have to make an organizational decision that goes beyond just an ability to play or not play.” As Mets blog Amazin Avenue, pointed out, Castillo was certainly good enough to be on the Mets: his career .290/.368/.351 is solid, and the 2009 where he hit .301 is closer to his norm than the .234 he hit in 2010. It’s worth noting that he also only played in 84 games last year due to a lingering foot injury caused by a nasty bone bruise.  Castillo’s not a bad baseball player, but the fact that everyone knows him for one error makes him seem far, far worse than he actually is.

Bill Buckner. Bucky Dent. Armando Galarraga. Dallas Braden. These names have plays – or in the case of the two pitchers, games – that stand out in their careers. Despite throwing an almost-perfect game (for our purposes, it was perfect on Galarraga’s end), the Tigers wouldn’t even carry him on their roster in 2011, and he’s now pitching for Arizona. Braden’s 4.00 FIP and 4.20 ERA are not as remotely impressive as the perfect game he threw on Mother’s Day. It’s these kind of events that highlight the unpredictability of baseball and, even more so, remind both us as fans that anyone can do anything – but when you’re trying to build the best baseball team you can or blame a losing streak on someone, it’s probably worth looking at the long-term numbers and not just remembering the best or worst play you can think of.

Yankees do not plan to pursue Carlos Silva

Via Jack Curry, the Yankees have no plans to pursue the recently released Carlos Silva. Larry Rothschild was Silva’s pitching coach with the Cubs last year, so I assume he had some input here. Had the Yankees not signed Kevin Millwood or watched Bartolo Colon have such a strong camp, I assume they’d be much more interested. Silva’s not great but he’s useful (3.75 FIP last year, sub-4.65 in three of the last four years) and dirt cheap since Chicago is on the hook for his $11.5M salary, save the league minimum his new team will pay.

Then again, Silva had an atrocious spring (27 runs and 34 baserunners in 17.1 IP), got into a fight with a teammate in the dugout, and trashed his pitching coach on the way out, so I can certainly see why they’d pass. It’s one thing if the guy’s a jerk and highly effective, it’s another thing if he’s just a marginal pitcher like Silva.

Sunday Night Open Thread

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Cheer up, this was the last Sunday without meaningful Yankees baseball until (hopefully) late October. Run out the clock on the weekend with this open thread, so go nuts.

Yankees get Lance Pendleton back from Astros

Via Alyson Footer, the Astros have returned Rule 5 Draft pick Lance Pendleton to the Yankees. The right-hander has already clear waivers and been assigned to minor league camp, so he’s not on the 40-man roster. Pendleton, 27, was dubbed Houston’s 29th best prospect by Baseball America this spring, and they called him a fifth starter/long/middle reliever-type. He throws a low-90’s fastball, a sinker, curveball, slider, and changeup, none of which particularly stand out. Just another arm for the Double- or Triple-A staff.

George Kontos, the other guy the Yankees lost in the Rule 5 Draft, was returned by the Padres earlier this month.

Feliciano likely to begin season on DL; Romulo move in the works

Via Chad Jennings, lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano is almost certain to start the season on the disabled list because of his triceps issue. He was scheduled to throw today, but the session had to be canceled because his arm just wasn’t up to it. It seems likely that Feliciano’s temporary replacement will be fellow lefty Steve Garrison, who’s already on the 40-man roster. I wrote about him earlier this month, and he has the requisite breaking ball (curveball and an occasional slider) to get out same-sided hitters.

Meanwhile, Joe Girardi indicated that something is in the works with right-hander Romulo Sanchez, who is out-of-options and was a long shot to make the team. It could very well be a trade, but the return is likely to be small.

New Year’s Resolutions

There’s the Jewish New Year, the Chinese New Year, the fiscal new year and January 1st. Baseball has its own new year and it is now a mere four days away. With that in mind and in order to enjoy a more purposeful and ordered baseball life in 2011, I have prepared 5 of my Baseball New Year’s Resolutions. Please feel free to leave yours in the comments.

Resolved: to cultivate a deep hatred for the Tampa Bay Rays

I’ve hated the Boston Red Sox for as long as I can remember, and there is little about them for which I do not have disdain. There is the swath of unlikeable players, the smug ownership (“the MT curse?” indeed, John), the media cheerleading, the obnoxious fanbase, the whining about Yankee payroll, and, of course, Kevin Youkilis. When it comes to the Rays, though, there is little to hate. Yet they aren’t going anywhere any time soon. If I can’t ignore them, then it’s high time I figure out different ways to mock and loathe them.

The irreverent and hilarious NFL blog Kissing Suzy Kolber and sports blog Deadspin often publish what they term “Hater’s Guides”. Essentially these guides a compilation of all the things, fair and unfair, for which a team could be mocked. Last fall Drew Magary wrote one up for the MLB Playoffs, and this is what he had to say about the Rays:

I am so aggressively indifferent towards the Rays that I can’t even produce the vitriol needed for this preview. I think about the Rays, and all that comes to mind is a giant white void, free of any objects or even intangible thoughts. Just a wide expanse of nothingness that wipes out the color and soul of anything it comes into contact with.

Now, one could mock the the Rays’ low attendance figures or the fact that Yankee fans appear to outnumber Rays fans when the two teams face off at Tropicana, but this is low-hanging fruit. It’s also the hatred of absence, hating a team because of things that it can’t do. I’d like to discover specific things to hate them for.

It won’t be easy. The most distinguishing factor about that club right now is their intelligent management and the smart, likeable group of analysts like Jonah Keri and R.J. Anderson. For now the best target seems to be the way that people go out of their way to point out Extra 2 Percent-ness. The first entry in the book comes from Jayson Stark: listening is the new market inefficiency. Trust me, I’ll stay tuned.

Resolved: to enjoy a potentially dominant bullpen

Angst about the Soriano contract aside, the Yankee bullpen has the potential to be the best in baseball this year, and one of the best in recent memory. Without including their names, here are the relevant statistics for the Yankees’ four best relievers in 2010:

Reliever A – 62 innings, 2.81 FIP, 8.23 K/9, 2.02 BB/9.

Reliever B – 61 innings, 3.58 FIP, 10.42 K/9, 4.84 BB/9.

Reliever C – 60 innings, 2.81 FIP, 6.75 K/9, 1.65 BB/9.

Reliever D – 71 innings, 2.98 FIP, 9.67 K/9, 2.76 BB/9.

These relievers (Soriano, Robertson, Rivera and Chamberlain, for the record) will form a potent end of game corps and should lessen the burden on guys like Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes. Hopefully the fourth and fifth starters will be able to eat up innings, keeping the bullpen fresh and preventing burnout. If so, the final three or four innings of Yankee games will be very tough for opposing teams. It’s always fun to watch a dominant bullpen at work. It lends a sense of invincibility to late game leads. With Feliciano and Logan, Joe Girardi should have every tool necessary to lay down the hammer on opposing clubs. Use it well, Joe.

Resolved: to get overly excited about Derek Jeter‘s 3000th hit

There will be plenty of people this summer who will downplay Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Some will do it out of earnest honesty, some will do it because they’re contrarian, and some will do it because they just don’t like the Yankees. Whatever the motive, and it can be hard to divine motive, I fully expect to hear a lot of reminders that the 3,000th hit doesn’t mean all that much per se and that it’s not nearly the best way to appreciate prodigious offensive production. Rob Neyer is the early odds-on favorite to do this, memorializing Jeter’s feat with something like, “Well, do 3,000 hits mean all that much? When I talked to Bill James, he wasn’t so sure. It’s hard to say. But it does seem that all this hubbub about Captain Captain is a bit overblown. Would we be paying that much attention if he was on the Pirates? It’s possible, but there’s no way of knowing.”

It’s true that hits aren’t the best barometer of offensive production. Yet just like reaching 300 wins the 3,000th hit is a rare feat, one that speaks to longevity, ability and consistency. The club is populated by only 27 players, some of them among the very best to ever play the game. Of these players, four spent time on the Yankees: Ricky Henderson, Dave Winfield, Wade Boggs and Paul Waner. There is, however, no player in the 3,000 hit club who spent his entire career with the Yankees. This is rather fascinating. Despite the illustrious history of the club and the sheer amount of time it has been around, Derek Jeter will become the first lifetime Yankee to join the 3,000 hit club.

Jeter is in the twilight of his career. There may be more World Series trophies, October heroics and Canyon parades in the cards for him, but the days of elite offensive production are likely behind him now. The 3,000th hit will be a time to reflect, a time in which the entire baseball world will stop and watch and recognize just how good Jeter has been. I’m going to count down to 3,000 like a little kid waiting for Christmas and go crazy when it arrives. It will be a moment to remember.

Resolved: to ignore media trolls

The New York media market is a tough media market. In fact, the members of the New York media market seem to delight in commenting on just how tough the New York media market is while simultaneously causing it. It’s a lovely self-referential trick.  Those responsible for covering the Yankees are no different. Unlike the coverage in Boston, which often leans towards excessively positive, the New York reporting crew has a combination of hostility towards certain players, the manager, ownership, the fans, and advanced statistics. There are exceptions, Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger being the most notable one.

This year, I will not let them get under my skin. If someone wants to make a tremendously unfunny joke about Joey Looseleafs, I will not pay attention. If someone wants to argue that single-season pitcher wins are a good barometer of pitching skill, I will plug my ears. Often times, the goal of making incendiary comments is simply to get attention. I can’t control what others do, but I won’t feed the fire. Eventually the market will sort this out and news organizations will realize that disdain for new ways of thinking, the consumer, or the object of the reporting isn’t what fans are looking for. Until then, I will go about my business in a state of happy ignorance.

Resolved: to say a proper goodbye to Jorge Posada

Jorge Posada’s contract expires after this season, and it’s very well possible that this could be his final season as a professional baseball player, or at least as a Yankee. I’ll miss him. I’ve always loved watching Posada hit, particularly from the left side of the plate. There’s something about that swingthat struck me as dangerously powerful. Posada’s never been the flashiest guy in the Yankee lineup, although he certainly put up some MVP caliber seasons in his time. He’s always been the guy you think of fourth or fifth when you’re running through a list of Yankee sluggers in your mind. He’s never had the pizzazz or the swagger of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield or Jason Giambi but he’s always been there, year after year, getting it done.

Jorge has had more than his fair share of major injuries. The torn rotator cuff/labrum and the brain injuries were particularly brutal, and he’s constantly getting beaten up behind the plate. Yet Jorge has always fought back, and it seems like he’s always been there when the team needed him. I will never forget the bloop double off Pedro in Game 7 of the ALCS and the way he pumped both of his fists and screamed at the top of his lungs as the Stadium rocked and rolled. I’m excited for the dawn of a new era of Yankee catching; Jesus Montero, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are some seriously talented cats. But I’ll miss Jorge when he’s gone, and I’m going to cheer a little louder this year when he clubs his home runs and trots slowly around the bases. Who knows how many more he has left?

Open Thread: Grandy’s 50-50 for Opening Day

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There’s good news and bad news about Curtis Granderson‘s oblique injury. The bad news it’s rendered him questionable for Opening Day, but the good news is that it’s not serious enough that a stint on the disabled list is a foregone conclusion. The Grandyman took some swings off a tee and played a little catch today, saying that he thinks he’s got a 50-50 chance of being ready by Thursday. In other news, Gustavo Molina caught CC Sabathia in a minor league game this morning before catching the big league relievers in the official game this afternoon, so yeah, pretty good indication that he’s making the team.

Anyway, here’s the open thread for the night. MLB Network is showing the Twins and Red Sox (live), plus the Knicks, Nets, and Devils are playing. Oh, and there’s college basketball as well. You all know what’s up, so have at it.