I hope the Baseball Schedule Gods take note: Baseball in New York during the first week of April is a Bad Idea. It’s miserable playing baseball in 30-degree weather with snow swirling; it’s miserable watching baseball in 30-degree weather. So try as I might, I just cannot fault the Yankees for the way last night’s game unfolded.
Luis Vizcaino, the only Yankee with a record, said it best. According to Tyler Kepner of The Times, it was too cold for pitchers to grip their breaking balls. And it showed.
So while Steve Lombardi accurately summed up last night’s game, much like Mark McGwire, I’m not here to talk about the past. Instead, let’s see how reporters summed up this game.
As the lovely montage above shows, the New York tabloids seemed fit to lay the blame squarely on Alex Rodriguez‘s much-maligned shoulders. But that wasn’t the worst. Note this excerpt from the AP’s game summary:
Alex Rodriguez had a great opportunity to turn Yankees fans in his favor.
Once again, he flopped….
A-Rod, who is 4-for-41 (.098) without an RBI in his last 12 playoff games dating to 2004, tossed his bat aside in disgust after the popout and muttered to himself as he waited for a teammate to bring out his cap and glove. Often booed at Yankee Stadium for failing to deliver in crucial situations, he heard plenty of catcalls again — even from a crowd diminished by the cold.
Such drama for the second game of the season. A-Rod completely and utterly flopped. And let’s not forget to mention his post-season struggles even though it’s April and the regular season. That’s sound reporting and writing right there.
To this, I say, “Enough!” Enough dumping on Alex Rodriguez; enough laying the blame for every single Yankee loss on his shoulders.
Leverage Index experiments aside, let’s review a few key points that are seemingly glossed over in the articles about last night’s game.
- The Yankees gave up two unearned runs last night because Golden Boy Derek Jeter made two more errors to add to his league-leading error total. Those errors were costly. Does he get lambasted? No. Other than a brief mention on the cover of the Daily News and some lip service to playing sloppily, Derek gets off free.
- Jorge Posada forgot how to catch the ball.
- Melky Cabrera cannot bunt. Period. That was a terrible strategic decision and a terrible bunt. Pinch run for the slow Mientkiewicz if you really want to run.
- Derek Jeter – oh, him again – grounded into what should have been the second out of the inning in the 8th. His 20-foot fielder’s choice sure was clutch. Only a bad play by the Devil Rays kept the inning alive for Alex Rodriguez to come to the plate later on.
- Bobby Abreu, with the bases loaded and one out, could have done just about anything to get the run in short of what he did. Instead, he takes a mighty hack at a terrible pitch…and grounds it right back to the pitcher. Maybe a squeeze should have been in order there. It would have been more effective. And this, folks, is your Goat of the Game. Not Alex Rodriguez who had to hit with two outs but Bobby Abreu who simply needed to hit a fly ball. Where are the writers criticizing Abreu?
- No one at all mentioned the brilliant decision to pinch run for Jason Giambi in the 7th inning of a tie game. So Joe Torre used Miguel Cairo to run halfway from second to third before the inning ended. Instead of Giambi facing Al Reyes in the 9th, the Yanks had to use Josh Phelps, proving yet again that Joe Torre doesn’t know how to use his bench.
So there are six factors that contributed to the loss tonight absent the weather and terrible pitching by the Yanks’ bullpen. But of course, the media just dump on Alex Rodriguez. They dump and dump and dump.
They mention Alex Rodriguez’s game 1 error but not Jeter’s three errors in two games. They mention Alex Rodriguez’s pop up with two outs but not Abreu’s disastrous at-bat. And Newsday and The Post couldn’t even come up with an original headline. Do they sit around their offices wondering how best to dump on A-Rod tonight?
Why do so-called Yankee fans want to see A-Rod fail? Why do his plays get magnified? This guy is the leading slugger in baseball over the last 10 years, and Yankee fans would rather see him play elsewhere. You are the people ruining baseball in New York.
Eek. Alex didn’t help himself much in the Leverage Index experiment. I suppose Abreu hitting a dinker the at bat prior didn’t help much, either. Anyway.
The viewer fatigue started kicking in during the top of the second. After a quick, eight-pitch first, Pettitte labored…and labored…and labored. I’d have blamed it on the cold, but Jae Seo didn’t seem to be having the same control problems on his end.
By the third, we were in “pull your hair out” territory. The Yanks were playing so sloppy, and the only reason they weren’t getting killed was because it was the freakin’ Devil Rays. Wild pitches, errors, passed balls (three, three, and one for the game, respectively). The inning did get a bit better, though, as Pettitte snuck in strike three on Jonny Gomes (decent acting job; I’d put him on par with Keanu Reeves). But then he blundered again by throwing to second on a pickoff play. Come on, Andy. Getcha head in the game!
I felt really bad for Matsui in the fourth. Poor guy couldn’t buy a hit, and when he finally hits one hard, Wiggington snags it. Yeah, I know he reached base and that it was officially scored a hit, but that was the Official Scorekeeper feeling bad for him. It was a hit, then immediately changed to an error. About three minutes later, it’s a hit again. Such a move should be illegal; OS’s should only be able to flip-flop once. Unless, of course, he goes by the name of John Kerry.
So after the Matsui “single,” Minky pops one up to center, but Elijah Dukes must have misjudged it, because he sprinted, then jogged, and the ball feel about five feet in front of him. Gotta catch those, rook! Anyway, at this point, Girardi suggests a bunt, since there are men on first and second with none out. So I whip out the trusty WPA calculator, and lo and behold, the current WPA with runners on first and second and none out in a tie game is .695. With men on second and third with one out, the WPA is .733. Sac bunt validated.
(For the record, I understand that more goes into the sac bunt than just the WPA outcome of one. It’s just that most objective evidence shows that the sac bunt normally amounts to merely a wasted out. It can be used effectively on occasion, as shown here.)
Despite him letting both inherited runners score, I thought that using Proctor in the fifth was an excellent idea. With Vizcaino and Farnsworth capable of handling the seventh and eighth, might as well use arguably your second or third best reliever to get out of a jam. Had he just let in the runner on third, I would have called it a success. Now I’m just calling it an experiment that will work more often than not, despite the sole sample we got last night. That’s the kind of flexibility this bullpen has — though you’d like to see that kind of situation in the seventh or eighth rather than the fifth, if for no other reason than starter longevity.
I made three notes during the top of the sixth inning:
- Holy shiiiiiite
- These are just long innings
The first was in reference to Duke’s tater, and the last is self-explanatory. The second I’ll allow the guys at NoMaas explain:
On defense, no one has looked worse than Derek Jeter. He committed two more errors to bring his total to three in just two games. In addition to his errors, Jeter has shown the range of a 75-year old woman. There were several balls on Thursday night which Jeter could have made a play on, but his lousy first step prevented him from doing so. How he wins Gold Glove awards is beyond our comprehension.
Speaking of Jeter’s defense, anyone catch Zobrist in the seventh? He made the Jeter-esque backhanded pick, leaped, and decided against making the throw. Smart man that Zobrist is. It looked like he realized mid-jump that he simply is not Derek Jeter — though he’s probably a better all-around defender. Okay, I promise not to bash Jeter’s defense…until they play another game.
The eighth is where the whole damn thing got frustrating. First, Stokes hands the Yanks a bases loaded situation by trying to get the lead runner instead of getting the sure out. So then we have this scrub against Abreu, and Bobby nearly gets doubled up. Okay, so now Alex is up. He took this chump deep on Monday, so things were looking bright. That is, until he popped one up to end the inning. It’s one of those moments where go from being so tense to basically losing all muscular tension and collapse on the couch.
Even after all that, though, I had one gasp of hope left as the ball left Jorge’s bat in the ninth. It looked good, and I tried to fool myself into thinking it had a chance, but the crack of the bat never lies. He just missed it, and the Yanks lost a close one.
Normally, I’m livid when the Yanks lose a game like this. It was a one-run affair, and they had more than their share of chances to take the lead at various points in the game. You can’t lose the winnable games. However, they played so damn sloppily that I can’t even get pissed at the loss. I’d like to blame it on the cold, but I’ll hold off on that, since tonight’s weather doesn’t look much better.
Moose vs. Cy Loewen. Let’s see if Phelps can figure this guy out. Lord knows the rest of the team hasn’t.
Baseball is not a cold weather sport, and tonight’s game certainly proved that. Sloppy fielding, bad pitching and untimely hitting led to on ugly loss on possibly the coldest April night I can remember. And since I was sitting in the Stadium, I felt that one. Now excuse me while I duck until some hot water and try to forget Bobby Abreu’s amazingly clutch fifteen-foot groundball with the bases loaded and one out with the Yanks down by a run. · (1) ·
Man, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a line drive homer like the one Elijah Dukes hit. Talk about a laser.
Anyways, in honor of Opening Day, here’s the full lineups for all four squads.
Many thanks to David Appelman at FanGraphs for allowing me to use their WPA data on this site. As I mentioned Monday night, the WPA spreadsheet I used last year doesn’t work on a Mac, so I thought I was SOL regarding individual players’ WPAs. But, thanks to David and his wonderfully comprehensive website, we’re all back in the know when it comes to WPA.
Using this system has also opened a new area of analysis: Leverage Index. What this shows is how critical each situation was in which a player appeared. The stat shown on the table below, pLI, is the average Leverage Index per player plate appearance. The average LI is 1.00, and obviously increases as game situations become more critical.
So, without further ado, here’s is Monday’s WPA chart:
Even though Jeter’s WPA was nearly 10 percent lower than Giambi’s, we can put that into a better perspective by noting that Jeter hit in higher pressure situations. We can see that Minky didn’t add or take away, which is mitigated by his 1.83 pLI. Had he been in the negatives, we could have fumed a bit. Matsui had a bad day, but he was up in situations that were less pressured than average. So at least he didn’t kill the team with his bad day.
Of course, none of those caught your eye first. As Yankees fans (or even if you’re not), your eye likely went straight to Mr. Alex Rodriguez. Yes, his WPA is a modest .065, but his pLI was just 1.33. However, maybe it’s not best to only compare and contrast pLI and WPA.
Here’s the deal: I’m going to log each and every one of Alex’s plate appearances this season. It will be very simple: Leverage Index and the outcome of the at bat. Maybe this, combined with his WPA, will allow us to understand the whole “he doesn’t come through in the clutch” argument.
Otherwise, enjoy the numbers. Once again, if anyone has any questions about WPA, please e-mail me at RABJosephP (at) gmail (dot) com.