Selig implements a better LCS format

Baseball will do away with the unnecessary off-day between Games 4 and 5 of the league championship series, Commissioner Bud Selig announced today. In responding to complaints by players, team managements and fans over the voluminous amount of October off-days, the Special Committee for On-Field Matters proposed eliminating the extra day off, and baseball has accepted the change. A seven-game LCS will now take place over nine days instead of ten. “The removal of the off-day,” Selig said, “during both League Championship Series marks the first step in a process that will ultimately result in an improved postseason format for our game.”

As for the Yankees, this news is obviously an interesting development because they used the extra off-day in 2009 to keep their three-man playoff rotation in tact. As much as I enjoyed that pitching advantage, the truth is that the Yanks played 15 games over 30 days in October, and that stop-and-start schedule disrupted the flow of the games. With weather always a fact in mid-fall, the games should be as close together as possible. Baseball might lose some money on this one, but the powers-that-be made the right decision.

Gooden charged with DUI in New Jersey

Former Mets and Yankees pitcher Dwight Gooden has run into legal trouble again. After leaving the scene of a two-car accident in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey on Tuesday morning, Gooden was arrested and changed with, according to the Daily News, “driving while under the influence of drugs, endangering the welfare of a child, leaving the scene, reckless driving and DWI with a child passenger.” According to reports, a child — possibly his five-year-old son Dylan — was in the car during the accident. For Gooden, this is his first brush with trouble after nearly four years of sobriety.

Open Thread: Back to the Stone Age

The Yankees are playing the Nationals tonight, but the game isn’t televised so we’re stuck in the dark. This reminds me of the days when watching Spring Training games on TV was nothing more than a pipe dream. Pretty crazy how far we’ve come. In case you’re wondering, Javy Vazquez is on the bump, and Joe Girardi is trotting the A+ lineup out there. I like the looks of that.

If you’re watching on MLB.tv, then go ahead and talk about the game here. If not, then use this sucker as an open thread. The Rangers play the Islanders in a game that means nothing since both teams have been all but eliminated from playoff contention, and then you’ve got the 7-63 Nets on YES. Enjoy the thread.

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP

Yankees release Malec, eight others

The Yankees released nine minor league players yesterday, including their 16th round pick in 2005, Chris Malec. A cancer survivor who had his battle chronicled by Jerry Crasnick, Malec was never a great prospect but rather a rock solid organizational soldier. Drafted as contact oriented middle infielder, he moved to the corner infield spots in 2007 and sacrificed contact ability for more power. He leaves the Yankees after 512 minor league games, hitting .285-.380-.392 with more walks (230) than strikeouts (215). After five years in the organization, I’m sad to see him do.

Seth Fortenberry, Mike Lyon, Julian Arballo, Isaac Harrow, Griffin Bailey, Buck Afenir, Dan Miller, and Paul Heidler were the other players who were released. Meh.

Sherman: Hughes will be the fifth starter

Phil Hughes, says Joel Sherman today in the Post, will be the Yankees’ fifth starter out of Spring Training. The team isn’t ready to make an official announcement, but the move has been all but decided since February. The job, says Sherman, was Phil’s to lose this March, and although Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves have pitched well during Grapefruit League action, Hughes, 23, has thrown as he needed to do in order to secure that final rotation spot.

Sherman offers up an extended take on the Yanks’ thinking:

But this was never a numbers contest. If so, Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre, both of whom statistically have outpitched Hughes, would still be in the mix. This was more about projection. The Yanks like Mitre and, especially, Aceves. But they view both as back-end starters who already have reached their ceilings.

They envision Hughes as a No. 3 starter or better depending on his ability to keep the aggressiveness he showed last year out of the bullpen while honing what, until this point, had been an unappetizing changeup. Thus, Yankee officials were elated Monday despite the poor overall line by how far Hughes’ changeup had advanced, both in its deception and his trust in deploying it.

The homers they saw more as a function of the wind and Hughes’ still gaining arm strength. His fastball was mainly 89-91 mph, and the Yanks anticipate several mph more over the next few weeks. If that comes along with the changeup, the Yanks really may have a No. 3 starter in the No. 5 spot in 2010. But, just as vital, they also may have a No. 3 starter in the No. 3 spot in 2011 should Andy Pettitte retire and Javier Vazquez leave as a free agent.

Now, I’ve been turning the news in Sherman’s column over in my mind all day, and I can’t come to terms with it. I’m a Phil Hughes guy, and I truly think he needs to have a chance to start. But this leaves Joba dangling in the wind. It throws into the Yanks’ ability to develop pitchers and their patience with young arms into doubt, and it makes me wonder just what the team accomplished after three years of highly-publicized Joba Rules. It doesn’t make sense.

Joba, just 24, hasn’t been bad as a Major League starter. Over 43 starts, many of which were limited by the Yanks’ overly cautious approach, he has thrown 221.2 innings and has struck out 206. His 101 walks are on the high side, but as one of the younger starters in the league, he has done the job admirably enough.

The problem though has been in the way the Yanks have kept the kid gloves on. A full 17 of Joba’s Major League starts were shorter than 15 outs. In some of those outings, Joba was just bad; in one, he left after getting struck by the ball; but by and large, the Yankees pulled him due to an innings limit or a pitch limit or some kind of limit. They kept the leash on for a very, very long time.

Now, we hear that the Yankees are ready to end that experiment for now. Sherman sees Chamberlain in the eighth inning with Aceves and Mitre serving as the team’s sixth and seventh starters should the need arise. Just yesterday, I decried such a move. The Yanks should, if not going with Chamberlain in the rotation, have him log innings at AAA. The team has toyed with Joba for so long that he has finally escaped the innings limit, but now they’re going to take him out of the rotation entirely. Who’s steering this ship anyway?

Maybe Sherman is wrong. Maybe his reading of the tea leaves will have been for naught, and the Yankees will surprise all of the B-Jobber analysts who want Joba in the bullpen. Maybe the Yankees will wake up and determine that, after three years of experiments, Joba’s year to dazzle — or fail — without any sort of limit is 2010.

I’m not too optimistic though, and I have to wonder if the Yankees should begin to think about ways to maximize Joba’s value through other avenues. If they’re not willing to let him take his lumps in the rotation as a 24-year-old pitching behind four others good enough to be staff aces, then cut bait and trade him. As early as 2011, the Yankees will need starters who don’t have innings limits, and these constant bullpen/rotation back-and-forths need to end. Joba’s role in 2010 shouldn’t involve rooting for an injury to another starter or waiting for Hughes to reach an inevitable innings cap. He should be starting. Period.

Link dump: Dead money, regressing starters, standing room

Some lunch time links while we make you wait another two hours for something on the fifth starter situation.

The Mets are shopping Gary Matthews Jr.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Teams that are paying money to other teams

At FanGraphs, Steve Sommer takes a look at teams that are sending 10 percent or more of their overall payroll to other teams. The Blue Jays lead the way at $16 million, or 23 percent of their payroll. In pure dollar terms, though, the Dodgers are paying out the most, $16.6 million. You can check out the whole list here. The Yankees are only shelling out $4.5 million in that regard, a mere 2 percent of overall payroll.

The year-after effect for young starters

At ESPN’s TMI blog, Tango examines young pitchers who break out and then regress the following year. Clayton Kershaw, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, and Felix Hernandez qualify this year, and Tango warns that they could regress just like their predecessors. Check out the accompanying table for more recent examples. Also keep this in mind when you think about Joba Chamberlain. He pitched excellently in the rotation in 2008, but pitched markedly worse in 2009. To that end, Zack Greinke had a 5.80 ERA in the season following his breakout, in which he posted a 3.97 ERA.

Does wOBA undervalue Ichiro?

Jeff Sullivan at Lookout landing takes on the question and makes many fine points. To my mind, this is the best way to argue with stats. To categorically dismiss them is foolish. We can learn plenty by a player’s results. We can learn a lot more by thinking, in specific terms, what the stat might not be telling us.

Everything you need to know about Standing Room Only tickets

Ross at NYY Stadium Insider writes at length about the Standing Room Only tickets the Yankees have offered for the 2010 season. If you’re thinking about getting these slightly cheaper tickets, definitely read over his post.

Other links

I found a lot worth reading, so…

2010 Season Preview: Greatness in the 9th

Mariano Rivera pitches during Game 6 of the 2009 World Series. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

For the fifteenth consecutive season, the Yankees know that during home games when they have a lead in the ninth, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” will begin playing over the Yankee Stadium public address system. The Yankees know that Number 42, Mariano Rivera, Number 42 will come slowly walking off the bullpen mound. He will hit the edge of the outfield and start jogging, slowly and confidently, toward the infield. He will make his warm-up tosses, and he will go about his business as he has done 526 times in his career.

I don’t need to toast Mariano in this post. Regular RAB readers know how much we adore and worship at the Altar of Mo. We know we’re seeing something special every time Rivera comes into the game, and we know we have witnessed greatest unfold since Rivera made his mark in the 1995 ALDS. He is the Yankee Dynasty, an all-time great who will be enshrined in Monument Park and Cooperstown sometime before, say, 2020.

Last year, Mariano was just as good as ever, and it was, in a way, surprising. He threw the last pitch at old Yankee Stadium and a few weeks later, underwent a shoulder procedure to clear up some calcification in his pitching arm. The early going was rough; he allowed back-to-back jacks for the first time in his career. Yet, by year’s end, he sported a 1.76 ERA in 66.1 innings. He allowed 48 hits, walked 12 and struck out 71 while notching 44 saves. Father Time is impervious to Mariano.

Going forward, though, what can we expect from Rivera? He’ll be 40 and one of the top five oldest players in the Junior Circuit this year. Time, as Mick Jagger once did not sing, is not on his side, and Yankee fans will one day have to come to grips with the world without Mariano Rivera.

For now, though, we can ignore that scary future and check out his projections. As a 40-year-old closer, Rivera appears to be doing very, very well for himself. Take a peek (and click to enlarge):

Overall, Rivera’s numbers do show signs of decline; that is, after all, to be expected from a pitcher his age. Still, those numbers are very comforting. His 2.74 ERA would be his highest total since only 2007 when early-season woes resulted in an ERA over 3.00. The strike out numbers remain high; the walks remain low; and the long balls remain few and far between.

There is, of course, still the question of who will follow Mariano and just how much the Yankees will miss him. Mariano Rivera last year had a WAR of 2.0, and for closers, that’s high. But even the worst closers were around only 1.5 wins worse than Rivera. Sure, 1.5 wins could mean a lot in the AL East, but it isn’t life and death. I love Rivera more than any other Yankee I’ve seen in my life, and while his postseason presence is irreplaceable, his regular season results are not. It isn’t realistic to assume the Yankees can find another Mariano Rivera, but the team will have a closer once Mo retires.

This year, though, we don’t worry about that. We see Rivera, healthy and feeling good. We see Rivera throwing easily; we see projections that look rosy; and those familiar guitar strains will soon enough fill the air. Exit light. Enter night. Take my hand. We’re off to Never Never Land.