Almost a different look for the Yanks on the road

Thanks to the tireless uniform report Michael Kay used to give out on the radio, we all could describe the Yanks’ road uniform in our collective sleep — gray background, New York in blue across the chest outlined in white, yadda yadda yadda. But once upon a time, the Yankees almost changed that design. In a Uniwatch column published last week, uniform guru Paul Lukas with former Yanks’ PR director Marty Appel to discuss the near-change to the Yanks’ road digs.

As Appel described in his 2001 memoirs, he walked into then-GM Gabe Paul’s office to find the sample. “They were the opposite of the home pinstripes — they were navy blue with white pinstripes. The NY logo was in white. Gabe liked them. I nearly fainted,” he writes. “I think my dramatic disdain helped save the day and saved the Yankees from wearing those awful pajamas on the field.”

In his interview with Lukas, Appel rehashes this tale — which happened to take place in Robert Moses’ old office at the World’s Fair grounds — and talks about how his reaction ensured that George Steinbrenner never even saw this abominable uniforms. Interestingly, Lukas notes that the Yanks were the first team to commemorate anything with a sleeve patch, and the mock-up of Jeter and A-Rod in the alternate uniforms is a classic.

Exploiting Minnesota’s weaknesses

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The Twins finished the regular season with the fourth best record in baseball (94-68) and on a three-plus month hot streak that saw them go 47-25 down the stretch. They did that primarily by crushing their own division and the AL West, because their 15-18 record against the AL East is hardly awe-inspiring. Like every other team they have their flaws, some more noticeable than others. Exploiting those weaknesses is going to be important for any team playing the Twins, and it just so happens that they draw the Yankees in the ALDS.

Here are two of Minnesota’s biggest drawbacks, two things that the Yankees wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of in years past because they lacked a little something called speed.

Running On Carl Pavano

Yankee fans are well aware of their team’s problem with allowing stolen bases. Jorge Posada and Frankie Cervelli hardly ever throw anyone out (just 17.3% combined), and some pitchers on the staff seem allergic to holding runners (coughA.J. Burnettcough). The Twins have a bit of a stolen base problem of their own, and it comes in the form of former Yankee Carl Pavano.

Pavano, who has always been slow to the plate, allowed 31 stolen bases in 39 opportunities this year (79.5%). Essentially one out of every seven baserunners with an opportunity to steal have at least attempted it, and most of them were successful. Joe Mauer, who threw out 42.2% of attempted basestealers from 2004-2008 is down to just 26.2% over the last two seasons. He also battled some shoulder soreness this summer, so he’s more susceptible to the stolen base than ever before. Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Derek Jeter need to take advantage in Game Two and swipe bases whenever possible.

It’s not just about stealing bases to get runners in scoring position either. Pavano is a ground ball pitcher (51.2% grounders this season) and has gotten a double play in 11.5% of his opportunities this year, so swiping some bases will help avoid those twins killings, particularly when Jeter and his league leading 65.7% ground ball rate are at the plate. Run boys run.

Jason Kubel’s Defense

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Justin Morneau’s injury hurt the Twins in more ways than one. Sure, replacing his .447 wOBA is basically impossible (though Jim Thome did a helluva job trying), but it also forced an unfavorable defensive shift. Michael Cuddyer stepped in as the everyday first baseman, pushing Jason Kubel into rightfield full-time. There’s a reason that 60% of Kubel’s starts in 2008 and 2009 came as a designated hitter, and that’s because the man is awful with the glove.

Over the last three seasons, his -17.5 UZR in right ranks 35th out of 39 qualified fielders (min. 1,000 innings), and that’s mostly because of an awful range score (-14.5). Kubel simply doesn’t get to all that many balls out there, and that’s a bit exacerbated by spacious Target Field. Beyond just catching the ball, his throwing is a big time liability and something the Yanks can absolutely take advantage of.

In baserunning situations such as first-to-third on a single, first-to-home on a double, second-to-home on a single, and sacrifice flies with the runner at second and/or third, Kubel’s “hold” rate is just 39.3%. The league average is close to 46%. His “kill” rate checks in at just 3.4%, well below the 6% league average. A “hold” is when he limits to the runner to just one base on a single or two on a double (so first-to-second on a single, not first-to-third, etc.), nothing more. A “kill” is when he actually threw a runner out attempting to take the extra base.

Clearly, Kubel’s arm is something guys like Gardner, Granderson, Jeter, Robbie Cano, and even Alex Rodriguez need to exploit. He’s very unlikely to throw them out trying to take the extra base, so they should push the envelope as much as possible, particularly with Francisco Liriano on the mound. They simply won’t get many opportunities to generate extended rallies against him, so they have to create offense in other ways.

It’s also worth noting that Delmon Young is equally awful in left, with a -43.3 UZR over the last three seasons (dead last among qualified fielders). His hold rate on first-to-homes on a doubles, second-to-home to singles, and sacrifice flies to score a run (it’s not often a runner goes first-to-third on a single to left, or advances from second on a sac fly) is just 38.3%, his kill rate 5.3%. Like I said earlier, run boys run.

* * *

I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s not just the Yankees that have weaknesses heading into the playoffs. In addition to the above, the Twins are likely to be without top setup man Jon Rauch because of a knee injury (though he had it drained and claims he’s good to go), and their bullpen had the fourth worst strikeout rate in baseball this year at 6.74 K/9. If you’re going to let the Yanks put balls in play in the late innings, bad things will happen. With any luck they’ll take advantage.

Mitre, Moseley, and Golson make ALDS roster

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With the team on its way to Minnesota in advance of tomorrow’s ALDS opener, the Yankees have released their 25-man roster for the series. They’re carrying 11 pitchers and 14 position players, with Sergio Mitre and Dustin Moseley grabbing the final two bullpen spots. They beat out the unimpressive quartet of Javy Vazquez, Chad Gaudin, Royce Ring, and Ivan Nova, all of whom pretty much bombed their September auditions. Nova’s the only real surprise, but he didn’t exactly shine in his relief appearance on Saturday night.

We know that CC Sabathia (Game One), Andy Pettitte (Game Two), and Phil Hughes (Game Three) will be the primary starters, though A.J. Burnett‘s status was a bit unclear. He made the roster and will pitch in relief, joining Joba Chamberlain, Mariano Rivera, Kerry Wood, David Robertson, Boone Logan, Mitre, and Moseley out in the bullpen. Given the scheduled off days between Games Two and Three (and Four and Five), the four core setup relievers (Joba, Wood, D-Rob, Logan) should be able to pitch almost every inning between the starters and Rivera. I’m curious to see if and how A.J. will be used, he could be a weapon if comes in and just airs it out for an inning, but does Joe Girardi trust him?

Greg Golson beat out Eduardo Nunez for a bench spot, since he offers top notch outfield defense and has no worse than equal baserunning ability. Ramiro Pena gets the nod over Nunez likely because of seniority, but it was the correct choice anyway. Neither player can hit and at least Pena can play stellar defense. Regardless, the utility infielder is going to be glued to the bench all month. The starting eight position players are clear and do not need introductions, and as expected the DH spot will be a Marcus Thames/Lance Berkman platoon. Golson, Pena, Austin Kearns, Frankie Cervelli, and the non-starting half of the DH platoon will occupy the bench.

Thames figures to get a lot of at-bats in the ALDS with lefties Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing scheduled to start two of the first three games for Minnesota, so Berkman’s going to play a big role coming off the bench as a pinch hitter in the late innings. His power appears to be pretty much gone, but he’s gotten on base 40 times in his last 100 plate appearances, which has definite value. Golson will likely get the call as the primary pinch runner since they have two outfielders on the bench and just one infielder, and he should be well equipped for the job. He’s swiped 60 bags in 73 tries over the last three years in the minors (82.2% success rate).

The Yankees are only going to go as far as their star players take them. The decision to carry Moseley over Nova, or Pena over Nunez will not determine their playoff fate. They might contribute a little something at some point, but that’s it. We’ve known who this team will rely on come playoff time all season, so for all intents and purposes the last three or four ALDS roster spots are inconsequential.

Burnett out as Yanks set ALDS rotation

Updated (1:07 p.m.): This news shouldn’t come as much surprise to Yankee fans, but George A. King of The Post reported this morning that the A.J. Burnett will not be in the ALDS rotation. Instead, as the Yankees just announced via Twitter, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes will make up their rotation for the best-of-five game set against the Twins. Sabathia will take the ball in Games 1 and 4 on short rest while Pettitte will pitch Games 2 and 5 on full rest and Hughes will go on Saturday nigh at Yankee Stadium.

The decision to sit A.J. is a no-brainer for the Yanks as Burnett showed little ability to command his pitches or get outs consistently during the second half of the season, but the move to start Hughes at home might raise an eyebrow or two. Hughes’ home/road splits are extreme, and the young right-hander had a road ERA 1.35 runs lower than his home mark while giving up 0.6 HR/9 IP on the road against a 1.7 mark at home. I have no problem, however, with Pettitte’s taking the ball for a potential Game 5 either. The Yanks have not yet said if Burnett will be on the ALDS roster.

As an addendum, Major League Baseball also announced the umpire crew for the Yanks’ set against the Twins. We’ll have Jerry Crawford, Hunter Wendelstedt, Greg Gibson, Brian O’Nora, Gary Darling and Chris Guccione for the ALDS. That crew seems to feature no one too awful as an umpire. Additionally, Major League Baseball announced that Game 4 will start at 8:07 p.m. ET on Sunday and Game 5 will start at either 8:37 p.m. on Tuesday or 8:07 p.m. ET if the Tampa Bay/Texas series is over.

Introducing the Yankees Attitude Matrix

During the talk with Bernie Williams yesterday, one point stood out to me. Bernie talked about the attitude required to succeed on the big stage of New York. You need to be even-keeled, he said. Naturally, I asked him if he played with anyone who had that attitude, but failed as a Yankee. Yes, he said, and it can be doubly troublesome. If you have an even-keeled attitude and aren’t producing, you can be perceived as not caring. Lord, how many times have we heard people say that?

This leads to the Yankees Attitude Matrix. There are essentially four states of a player in New York. Either he has an even-keeled attitude, or he’s fragile. On the other end, he has either good numbers or bad numbers. Here’s what the combinations mean.

Bernie and Derek Jeter obviously fit in the upper left quadrant. A.J Burnett and Robinson Cano circa 2008 fit into the lower left. A-Rod used to be in the upper right, and I don’t think anyone exemplifies the bottom right better than Javy Vazquez. After all, he’s been here twice.*

*This is not to say that I believe that Vazquez is fragile. That’s just the perception.

So the next time you hear the media talk about a player, just understand where they fall on the matrix. It will make life a lot easier.

Bernie Williams talks baseball, music, Steinbrenner

It’s not everyday that you get an opportunity to talk baseball with a Yankee great. So when Don Povia of HHR Media Group and Taylor PR invited me, along with a number of other bloggers, to speak to Bernie Williams, I couldn’t say yes faster. The roundtable discussion was sponsored by MasterCard, which is currently running a Reserved by MasterCard promo. Just go to to find out more.*

A big thanks to Hugging Harold Reynolds, which has a video of Bernie talking about the Yanks-Sox rivalry.

With Bernie Williams it would seem that two topics are appropriate. We were all there because of Bernie the Yankee, but there is also Bernie the musician. He’s had no modest music career — last year he was nominated for a Latin Grammy. Those were the two obvious discussion points, and for much of the time our questions centered on those topics. But towards the end we hit on a related topic, George Steinbrenner. While Bernie was comfortable and affable the entire time, he really shined when discussing Mr. Steinbrenner. You could tell he meant a lot to Bernie, not necessarily by the content of the stories, but by how animated he became when telling them.


One of the bloggers started the afternoon’s discussion with a question about Bernie’s music career, asking him how he’s handling the change from baseball. As he did with every question Bernie gave a thoughtful response. I was impressed by his humbleness. He admitted, without prompt, that he isn’t as skilled as many other popular recording artists. But it seemed more like he was expressing a desire to continue improving. He was also honest about how audiences receive him. Yet he’s not just some ballplayer who used his fame to start a different career. That plays into it, of course, but unbeknownst to me until yesterday afternoon, Bernie attended a performing arts high school.

Still, as interesting as Bernie has made his musical career, I was more interested in his amateur efforts. In the late 90s I remember reading in the papers that Bernie and Paul O’Neill used to jam in the clubhouse. O’Neill played drums, so it was only natural that the two would get together and pass the time playing their instruments. I was kind of skeptical — did they really jam? — but Bernie took right to the topic. They jammed plenty, he said: after batting practice, in rain delays, and even after games. Sometimes O’Neill would bring in some of his buddies and they’d jam with four, five instruments going.

O’Neill wasn’t the first Yankee to hammer at the skins. The kit he used, according to Bernie, was actually Ron Guidry’s. It was set up in a storage closet near the clubhouse, making for easy access. Bernie did mention that he developed an affinity for rock and the blues in high school, which I’m sure helped him meet O’Neill stylistically — I can’t imagine O’Neill being into the kind of music Bernie enjoys now. But it’s clear that Bernie has a passion for music. It makes me glad that he was able to find his niche in the industry following his baseball career.


Bernie might talk about passion in music, but he really shows it when he talks about his upbringing with the New York Yankees. This was a topic that always interested me because, in the same way as many other Yankee fans at the time, I didn’t warm to Bernie at first. He came up as an injury replacement for Roberto Kelly, at the time one of my favorite players, and he did’t exactly hit well in his stead. Bernie, though, says he was just happy for the opportunity, and didn’t feel the additional pressure of filling in for a popular player. It’s not like he had many fans in the Stadium to impress.

He was surprised, he said, when the Yankees ended up trading Kelly. He thought he was the one to be traded. That’s an understandable position, given how the Yankees operated in the 80s. They routinely traded young talent for established veterans. But when they traded Kelly and decided to keep Bernie, he thought they were changing philosophy; and they were. The decision to hang onto Bernie came when George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball, a period when the Yankees hung onto a number of young players who would become the core of their championship teams.

The other major point he hit on, one that we discuss frequently in the comments, is the ability to succeed in New York. It’s true, he said. Some people have an attitude conducive to surviving and succeeding in New York. He described it as even-keeled — the ability to weather some bad play and realize that when you’re yourself and performing well, the fans will love you. Bernie clearly has that attitude himself. I did ask, without getting names or specifics, if Bernie had come across a player or two who had the requisite attitude but just had a few bad years in the city. He clearly wanted to bring up an example, but held back. His response, though, led to the Yankee Attitude Matrix, which we’ll debut later today.

George Steinbrenner

Towards the end of our time together we started asking questions about Bernie’s relationship with George Steinbrenner. He had two stories that illustrated what the Boss meant to him, and both were his most elaborate moments of the afternoon.

The first involved his contract negotiations after the 1998 season. After being tied to the Yankees for so long, he said, he wanted to test the market. He received interest from a number of teams and, as we know, a large offer from the Red Sox. His agent, Scott Boras, and Brian Cashman were talking about a deal, but Bernie didn’t feel they were getting it done the way he wanted it to be. So he reached out to Mr. Steinbrenner.

Bernie recalls that he called Mr. Steinbrenner and told him that he wanted to remain a Yankee. That, apparently, is what Steinbrenner wanted to hear. His response, according to Bernie, was, “OK. What do you want?” Bernie mentioned Mike Piazza’s seven-year, $91 million contract, and George said he’d do what he could. This was at a time, remember, when the Yankees were looking at Albert Belle — wining and dining, Bernie said. But George came back hours later with a seven-year, $87.5 million offer. That got the deal done.

At some point during his tenure in pinstripes, though he can’t remember which year, the team apparently cancelled a family day for the players. This is when they can bring their kids to the park and let them play on the field. This dismayed Bernie, but more importantly it dismayed his wife. He called up Mr. Steinbrenner and asked him to reconsider family day, saying how important it had become for his kids. The answer, “I’ll think about it,” turned into a yes later that day. Bernie thinks it’s because the Yankees won. I don’t doubt that.

The afternoon was nothing but enjoyable. How could it not be? It was a bunch of fans sitting around and asking questions of a guy who helped deliver four World Series titles. Bernie had plenty to say, and he certainly gave us elaborate answers to each question. Major thanks go to him, Taylor, and MasterCard for hosting the afternoon. If you want a different angle on the event, you can check out Emma Span’s write-up at Bronx Banter. Amanda Rykoff at The OCD Chick will have a comprehensive recap up later in the day. Which is good, because I surely didn’t get in everything.

* Brought to you by Carl’s Jr.

Do the Yankees need Burnett at all in the ALDS?

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

As you surely know by now, the ALDS schedule lines up in a way that allows the Yankees to use just three starters, the same formula that helped bring home World Championship #27 last year. CC Sabathia gets the Ball in Game One and then again in Game Four on short rest, with Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes taking Games Two, Three, and Five (on regular rest) in some undetermined order. That leaves A.J. Burnett in a precarious position, and the best solution might be to leave him off the ALDS roster all together.

A fourth starter isn’t necessary obviously, and the Yanks will carry presumably at least one long man from a group that includes Dustin Moseley, Ivan Nova, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Mitre (Javy Vazquez isn’t even an option, sadly). If Burnett were to be included on the playoff roster, you’ve basically got a guy that won’t be needed to start or even be used in relief since the setup crew of Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Boone Logan figure to do as much of the heavy lifting between the starter and Mariano Rivera as humanly possible. Yeah, there’s always the possibility of extra innings or blowouts, but that’s what the guys in the first sentence are for.

It comes down to what is more useful for the Yanks against the Twins, Burnett or a more strategic reliever like Royce Ring, a second lefty for Minnesota’s lefty heavy lineup. Granted, we’re not debating between filet mignon and lobster here, it’s more like we’re on line in the McDonald’s drive-thru trying to pick stuff off the dollar menu. Chances are it’ll all make you just as sick in the end, kinda like A.J. and Ring.

Seriously though, Ring hasn’t been very impressive over the last several weeks, retiring just five of the nine lefties he was brought in to face. It was a brief but underwhelming audition, yet with Damaso Marte‘s injury* he’s the best option for a second bullpen lefty. Both Jim Thome (.477 wOBA vs. .334) and Jason Kubel (.341 wOBA vs. .297) have considerable platoon splits, so perhaps it’s worth it to have that second matchup lefty for low-leverage work even if it’s a five-piece nuggets like Ring. Sometimes the low arm slot alone is enough to throw a batter off.

It’s entirely possible that we’re overthinking things here. Considering his sheer velocity, the best option might be to just carry Burnett and let him air it out one relief inning at a time. There’s no holding back, he wouldn’t have to worry about getting through the order two or three times. It could be one of the most electric things we’ll ever see on a baseball field, or it could blow up in everyone’s face.

I’ve never been a fan of carrying a lefty reliever just because he was a lefty reliever, I’d rather take the X best pitchers regardless of handedness, but in a short series there’s a definite tactical advantage. The tenth and eleventh arms on the staff aren’t likely to see much action in a short series because of all the off days anyway, not unless something goes horribly wrong or wonderfully right, but in the off chance that one is needed, another southpaw against a lineup like that could be mighty handy.

Aside: Seriously, how awesome would it be to have both Logan and Marte in the pen in this or any other series? For shame.