Will the owners decide to lengthen LDS?

While we were busy following the hot stove this week, baseball owners met down in Arizona to discuss, as Bud Selig put it, “everything, from A to Z.” Afterward he seemed optimistic, perhaps even excited, but he would not go into the specifics of the meeting — nor would he give a solid reason for maintaining secrecy. It kinda sounds like Bohemian Grove. He did say, though, that the group discussed a wide range of topics, and that at least one will go into effect before the season starts.

Despite the silence from involved parties, we can be pretty sure of one discussion topic: postseason off-days. Selig had already said he’ll do something about it before this October, and surely he’ll involve the owners in the process. This might not be the change they implement before the season, since they have some time to work out the details, but it’s certainly one of the aspects I want to see changed in 2010. Players and fans alike want to see fewer off-days, and I see little reason to not make this a high priority.

How can MLB cut the off-days and maintain a sane postseason schedule? While there are a few options, I agree with Hal Bodley of MLB.com: lengthen the division series. All parties win that way. The players play more often. The fans watch more baseball. The owners make more money. There are a few kinks to work out, of course, but the owners can make this work.

The biggest snag in this plan, as is always the case with the playoffs, is the necessity to schedule each series for the maximum games. There doesn’t appear to be an easy solution for teams who sweep; they’ll have to wait out the schedule in any case. What MLB can eliminate, however, are the days off during series, and perhaps those between the three playoff rounds. Here’s how such a schedule would break down.

A seven-game series, on a 2-3-2 format, takes ten days. That includes two off-days for travel, plus a day off between rounds. It sounds reasonable, a 30-day playoff schedule that includes three seven-game series. If MLB can start the playoffs on October 5 this year, which I presume they will, that means the World Series ends, at the latest, on November 5, which it did this year. At least in the first year of implementation, that sounds reasonable enough.

In future years, in order to avoid November baseball, the schedule will need altering. MLB might have to start the season on April 1 instead of April 4 in order to finish the regular season by the end of September — something they used to always do, it seemed. If the playoffs start by October 2, that means a 30-day playoff schedule keeps it completely within the month. Just one issues here goes unaddressed.

Because of the TV revenue it generates in the postseason, MLB likes to stagger the schedule, ensuring at least one game per day. If one series starts later than the others, that messes up the compact 30-day playoff schedule. It will mean at least two days between the end of one series and the beginning of the next, since one series will finish before the other. All of the sudden, we’re back to November baseball. This is probably the No. 1 reason why MLB will not expand the LDS right now.

Yet there’s a solution to this as well. Again, the players have expressed their desire to play more often in the playoffs. Would they be amenable to eliminating one of the travel days? That would reduce a seven-game series to nine days maximum. This would allow MLB to stagger the schedule, still staying within the 10-day guideline that would ensure no November baseball. Even after eliminating one travel day, the players would still see more off-days than in the regular season, so perhaps they’d agree.

This is clearly a complex issue, so perhaps it will take more time to work out. It should be a goal of both players and owners. Michael Weiner, executive director of MLBPA, doesn’t see it happening this year. “I expect it’ll have to be dealt with in collective bargaining, so we would have to wait until after the 2011 season,” he said.

The Yanks’ ten longest homers since 2005

For the second time this week, I’m totally going to steal a post idea from another site, this time Lookout Landing. I can’t help it. Those guys over there do some great stuff, plus the dog days of winter can make it tough to find decent content. What we’re going to do today is look at some long balls. The ten longest hit by a Yankee during the last five years in fact, the entire Hit Tracker era. Actually, we’re going to look at 13 homers, because a few tied and I figured I’d include all of ‘em.

The Yankees have been lucky enough to have some tremendous power hitters on their roster over the last, oh I dunno, 90 years or so. The last half-decade has certainly been no exception, and we’ve seen some truly majestic blasts come off the bats of the good guys in that time. We’ve seen balls go into the upper deck at the Old Stadium, off the hotel in Toronto, into the rocks in Anaheim, pretty much everywhere you think a baseball couldn’t be hit.

Using Hit Tracker’s true homerun distance, here are the longest homers hit by the Yankee in the last five years. I linked to video when it was available, which sadly isn’t nearly enough.

10. Alex Rodriguez, Aug. 15th, 2005, 435 feet
With the game scoreless in the top of the 4th inning, A-Rod stepped to the plate against Tampa Bay’s Casey Fossum with Gary Sheffield on first and two outs. After taking strike one and fouling off the second pitch for a quick 0-2 count, Fossum tried to bury two of his signature curveballs in the dirt for the strikeout, but Alex took both pitches to work the count back even. Fossum’s fifth pitch of the at-bat wasn’t so lucky, as A-Rod turned it around and sent it over the left field fence for a two-run lead. It was the 36th homer of A-Rod’s first MVP season in the Bronx.

9. A-Rod, Sept. 15th, 2005, 448 feet
Exactly one month after clubbing the tenth longest homer of the last half-decade, A-Rod outdid himself by teaching Seth McClung of the Devil Rays a lesson. Rookie Robbie Cano hit a grand slam off McClung just three batters earlier to the tie the game at five in the 7th inning, and Alex gave the team the lead by driving in Derek Jeter and himself with a long fly ball to center. It was his 42nd homer of the season.

8. Robinson Cano, July 29th, 2009, 451 feet (video)
The Yanks were just about ready to enter into cruise control by this point of the season, and with two outs and a two-run lead in the 6th inning, Cano showed Matt Garza his oh face. After fouling off a tough 1-2 splitter, Garza left the next split up in the zone and Cano destroyed it, sending it over the right-centerfield wall for a 3-0 lead and his 15th homer of the season, eclipsing his 2008 total with 61 more games to go.

7. A-Rod, July 21st, 2006, 460 feet
Another A-Bomb from A-Rod, except this time he took current teammate A.J. Burnett deep for a milestone blast. The Yanks were down 4-0 in the 4th, when Alex drove Burnett’s 1-1 fastball deep to left, driving in three to get his team back in the game. It was A-Rod’s 450th career homer and 2,000th career hit. Two stones, one bird. That’s how Alex rolls.

6a. Hideki Matsui, April 24th, 2007, 465 feet
Back when he had knees, Matsui was known to do some damage with the stick. Of course, he still does damage, but back then Godzilla was just a bit less fragile. Leading off the second inning of a scoreless game in Tampa, Matsui took Scott Kazmir’s first two pitches off the plate for a hitter friendly 2-0 count, then sent the third pitch of the at-bat down the right field line and into the people for a quick 1-0 lead. It was Matsui’s first of 25 dingers on the season.

6b. Hideki Matsui, May 28th, 2007, 465 feet
About a month later, Matsui matched his gargantuan blast in garbage time of a game the Yankees would lose 7-2. With Jeter on first, Matsui took Dustin McGowan’s final pitch of the night and sent it straight over Vernon Wells head towards the hotel in center field in Toronto. It was the only runs the Yanks would score on the day, but an impressive blast nonetheless.

5a. Jason Giambi, April 16th, 2006, 466 feet
The Giambino hit some major bombs during his time with the Yanks, just like this one off of Brad Radke at home. Scuffing along at 11-19, the Yanks were on the verge of being swept by the Twins, but Giambi took matters into his own hands and gave the team a 2-0 lead in the second inning with a mammoth shot to dead center. He took Radke deep again a few innings later to further increase the team’s lead, and both blasts were part of his memorable nine homer April.

5b. Wilson Betemit, June 29th, 2008, 466 feet (video)
This one’s over a year old and I actually remember it. The Yanks were down 3-0 to the Mets in Shea, when Betemit hammered an Oliver Perez meatball over the left field bleachers in the 7th inning to get the Yanks on the board. He didn’t hit much, but when he got a pitch he liked, Betemit sure could hit the ball a long way. He’s hit just two big league homers since this blast.

4. A-Rod, Aug. 9th, 2008, 467 feet (video)
It was the 6th inning of scoreless game in Anaheim on a nationally televised Saturday FOX broadcast (a recipe for disaster) when A-Rod took John Lackey way deep to give the Bombers the lead. Lackey tried to bust him inside, but he left the heater up and out over the plate, which Alex promptly turned around and hit into the rock pile beyond the left-centerfield wall. It was glorious.

3a. A-Rod, June 30th, 2008, 469 feet
Already down 2-0 to his former team at home, A-Rod jumped all over Scott Feldman’s first pitch in his second at-bat of the game. The ball landed in the garbage area next to the visitor’s bullpen at the Old Stadium, though it wasn’t enough as the Yanks dropped the game by a 2-1 score. It was A-Rod’s 16th jack of the season, though it was the second in a seven homer binge that spanned three weeks.

3b. Juan Miranda, Oct. 2nd, 2009, 469 feet (video)
This one was crushed. The Yanks were just running out the clock on the season, down 11 runs to the Rays on the road with all the regulars on the bench catching some rest before the postseason. Miranda worked the count full against Dale Thayer, who I’m certain he’s faced in Triple-A several times during the last few years. Miranda put that familiarity to work, sending the ball to the last row of the right field bleachers for his first (and only) big league homer.

2. Jorge Posada, Sept. 19th, 2006, 472 feet
Fuggedaboutit. The Yankees were in Toronto with about two weeks left in the season, and at this point they were nursing a double digit lead in the division. Posada took three balls and a strike against Shaun Marcum to lead off the second inning, then sent the fifth pitch of the at-bat over the right field wall for his 20th big fly of the season. The Yanks would go on the win a meaningless game, but Georgie’s homer will go down as the second furthest by a Yankee of the last five years.

1. A-Rod, June 15th, 2006, 488 feet
You were expecting someone else? The Yanks were trailing the Indians 6-1 in the 7th when Alex came to the plate to lead off the inning against future Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. After taking the first two pitches for a favorable 2-0 count, Lee went to the get-me-over fastball and A-Rod sent-it-over the left-centerfield fence for a solo shot. It was just his 14th homer of the year and a rather meaningless one at that, however no Yankee in the last five years has hit one further. It’s a shame we don’t have video of this one.

Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall, AP

Could LaRoche make Conor Jackson available?

Now that the Diamondbacks appear to have landed Adam LaRoche, they have themselves a bit of an old fashioned logjam at first base and left field. No one in their right mind will take on the corpse of Eric Byrnes and his $11M salary, nor would the Diamondbacks even entertain the idea of moving dirt cheap and extremely talented youngsters Brandon Allen, The Justin Upton, and Gerardo Parra. Chris Young is stuck in limbo given his declining performance and contract that runs through 2013, so it seems that if GM Josh Byrnes wants to maximize an asset and optimize his roster, his best bet would be to move former Cal-Berkeley star Conor Jackson.

What makes CoJack so desirable is pretty obvious, the guy is a tremendous offensive player when healthy. He’s a career .281-.361-.431 hitter in the big leagues, .292-.371-.451 with a .369 wOBA in his three full seasons, though that’s just part of the story. Jackson does his best work against lefty pitchers (.297-.396-.470 career vs. LHP), and he’s demonstrated the ability to hit both fastballs and breaking balls, finesse pitchers and power pitchers, you name it.

Adding on to that, Jackson also fits the Yankee mold of being a patient hitter, seeing just about 3.7 pitches per plate appearance in his career. He’s swung at just 18.9% of the pitches he’s seen outside of the strike zone during his career, and despite working all those deep counts, Jackson is also a high contact hitter that comes without the caveat of high strikeout totals. He’s struck out just 211 times in 1,624 career plate appearances, and has made contact on 87.6% of the swings he’s taken, which is Robbie Cano territory. It’s easy to see the value in that.

Defensively, Jackson is a bit better than I originally thought in left. In just over 850 innings at the position (an admittedly small sample size), he’s posted an essentially league average -0.3 UZR, and Jeff Zimmerman’s age-adjusted UZR Projections have him at +2 UZR next year. The Fan’s Scouting Report grades him out decently as well. He’s also capable of playing first, though that doesn’t matter much to the Yanks. Jackson has been worth 1.62 runs above average on the bases in non-stolen base situations during his career, although he’s been steadily improving in recent years. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just assume he’s a slightly below average defender in left and dead average on the bases.

Last year was the first (and only) time Jackson has hit the disabled list in his career, and it was because of a bout with Valley Fever of all things. It ended his year in mid-May, though Jackson showed he was healthy by hitting .425-.561-.589 with more walks than strikeouts in 23 winter ball games after the season. He’s had a few day-to-day soreness type of things throughout the years, but who hasn’t. No big deal. The problem, well two problems, are that Jackson is under contract with the Diamondbacks, so the Yanks would have to trade to acquire him, plus he’s not cheap.

In 2009, his first year of arbitration, Jackson pulled in $3.05M, and tonight we found out that he agreed to the same $3.1M salary for 2010 as Melky Cabrera. The Yanks reportedly have only $2M to spend on left, so some money would have to be moved to make it work. Given Arizona’s need for another arm, maybe Chad Gaudin (likely to get $2.5-$3M in arb) and a quality prospect would work. Jackson is arbitration eligible for the final time in 2011, so any team that acquires him would be getting two years of service. Given their lack of outfield depth in the farm system, the Yanks could certainly benefit from having that extra outfielder around next year.

Like anything else, the price has to be right. Given Brian Cashman‘s absurd track record of thievery on the trade market, I trust his ability to pull off a favorable deal for the Bombers. Arizona already hasĀ  seven guys on the 40-man capable of playing the same positions as Jackson, most of whom are considerably cheaper as well. Diamondbacks’ GM Josh Byrnes has himself a surplus and a valuable trade chip, and the Yanks match up in a potential deal. Hopefully they at least kick the tires.

Photo Credit: Matt York, AP

Dominican court rules in favor of former Yanks’ exec

Via Jorge Arangure, a Dominican court awarded former Yankees’ Latin American scouting director Carlos Rios nearly $700,000 in damages after the team fired him in 2008 for his role in a bonus skimming scandal. Rios, who signed Jesus Montero and countless others, was accused of pocketing more than $130,000 in bonus kick backs from various players. “I understand [the Yankees] were pressured into this decision by major league baseball,” said Rios. “They handled it how they thought was correct. But the Dominican court didn’t agree. I’m no criminal.”

The court awarded Rios the remainder of his contract, which ran through 2012. “There’s no bitterness,” he added. “I know it’s been a difficult case and it hasn’t been easy for me. Hopefully I’ll get to close this chapter and the Yankees can continue to sign players in Latin American and continue to be a quality organization and I can continue my career in baseball.”

Despite the negative press stemming from Rios’ dismissal , the Yanks remain a major presence on the Latin American prospect scene, and you need not look any further than Gary Sanchez’s deal for proof.

Open Thread: Win a trip to Cooperstown

So here’s a fun little contest for your open thread tonight. The Cooperstown Cookie Company has announced a sweepstakes that will run through April 16. The prize? A free two-night trip to Cooperstown for the winner and a companion. Also included is a membership to the Hall of Fame, meals and some non-baseball- and baseball-related prizes from some of the upstate town’s local merchants.

Entering is easy. Just head on over to this page and take a short survey. More info is available here, and the hat tip for this one goes to David Pinto at Baseball Musings. He took a break from his Sisyphean and alphabetical project of posting a short piece on every single baseball player in the Majors Leagues. For more on Cooperstown and the Hall, check out the photos from Mike’s recent visit.

In local action tonight, the Senators are visiting the Rangers at the Garden, and the Devils are facing off against the Coyotes at 9 p.m. MTV is airing two episodes of the critically-acclaimed Jersey Shore this evening, and Conan should be in fine form again come 11:35 p.m. Be good to each other.

Is Jeter the second greatest shortstop ever?

In the eyes of Yankee fans, Derek Jeter can do no wrong. Even when it was apparent that his defense at short was detrimental to the team, most stuck by him because of everything he’s done for the franchise. I’m sure many will argue that he’s the greatest shortstop of all time, however David Schoenfield at ESPN ran through all the data, and shows that if Jeter isn’t the second best shortstop in baseball history (behind Honus Wagner), he’s darn close to it. His main competition for the title is Cal Ripken Jr., who of course played an entirely different game than Cap’n Jetes.

For what it’s worth, Ripken’s best seasons were far greater than Jeter’s best seasons. However, if he continues to defy age, Jeter will be right there with Cal at the end of his career.

The stats we use: UZR

Have you ever read an article on this site, only to encounter a strange acronym that you don’t understand? For the most part they’re either inside jokes or advanced metrics. The increasing amount of data available makes it easier for us to take raw numbers and put them into context, allowing us the ability to compare players using stats that give us not only numbers, but context. These advanced stats tell us not one thing — OBP, for instance, tells us just one thing and ignores other factors — but many things that go into a player’s value.

Over the next week or so we’ll discuss the most commonly used stats on this site. Many of these require heavy math, and we know that can turn off many people. This series of articles will attempt to explain what goes into these stats without getting into any of the heavy math. We’ll include as many resources as possible, however, in case you want to dive into the calculations yourself. By the end of the series, we’ll replace our woefully outdated and partly inaccurate guide to stats.

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