Open Thread: Travel day

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

Apparently the schedule makers felt the Yankees needed a full day to make the two-hour flight from Boston to Tampa today, because there’s no game. It’s amazing how we wait all winter for baseball, but as soon as it comes back, we get all impatient with scheduled off days. Or at least I do, anyway.

The good news is that the minor league season starts tonight, so that means the first of many DotF‘s will be up later this evening. Until then, you can kill some time with the Islanders, Devils, Mets, and/or Cubs-Braves (MLB Network). Remember, the free preview of Extra Innings runs through Sunday, so every baseball game is available for for all the see these days. Make sure you check in on the Angels-Twins game tonight (10pm ET first pitch), Hideki Matsui is starting his first game in the outfield since June 15th, 2008. That should be fun.

Report: Feds digging into A-Rod’s finances

The Anthony Galea/A-Rod story just won’t go away. Although MLB officials were reportedly “very happy” with Alex Rodriguez‘s explanation of his relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, federal officials are digging into the Yanks’ third baseman’s financial records, according to a report in The Times. Galea, a Canadian doctor who has treated some high-profile U.S. athletes, is under investigation for allegedly supplying HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs to American clients, and the doctor treated A-Rod during the slugger’s rehab from hip surgery last year.

The Times says that the feds still want to meet with A-Rod, and the ongoing delay in arranging a time to talk have led them to contact others in A-Rod’s circle. Reportedly, the feds have asked A-Rod’s assistants, in the words of Michael S. Schmidt, “to determine the number of times he met with Galea, where they met and how much money Galea was paid for his services.” Investigators have also reached Angel Presinal, the tainted trainer who has been on the fringe of a few PED scandals over the past few years. As the season kicks into gear, this is one cloud I’d rather not see hanging above A-Rod’s head.

Baseball does not move fast enough for Joe West

Cowboy Joe has a problem: The glacial pace of Red Sox-Yankees games is getting under his skin, and the players just don’t respect him or the game.

“They’re the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace,” Joe West, umpire, crew chief at Fenway this week and sometimes singer/songwriter, said prior to last night’s game. “They’re two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.”

West’s rant came after players on both teams complained Tuesday night when they were denied time outs by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. With reporters at the ready, West continued his tirade. “The commissioner of baseball says he wants the pace picked up. We try and still almost went four hours,” he said. “All of baseball looks to these two clubs to pick up the pace… The players aren’t working with us. This is embarrassing, a disgrace to baseball.”

A disgrace to baseball. Strong words coming from an umpire who once quit his job as a failed labor negotiation tactic.

The reaction to West has, unsurprisingly, been swift and somewhat critical. Rob Neyer supported West’s statements but wondered if the umpires should be at fault. Jason at It’s About The Money, Stupid highlighted West’s strike zone. Others have questioned West for speaking out in the first place. Umpires, many believe, should be seen and not heard.

But West has a point, and we’ll get to that in a minute. First, I’d like to address concerns about West’s strike zone as one reason for the game’s delay. The argument alleges that West doesn’t call low strikes, and thus, pitchers are throwing more pitches and the game takes longer. That is partially true, but if we take a look at the normalized strike zone, that argument breaks down. Via Brooks:

It’s true that Joe West doesn’t call a low strike, but he’s willing to extend the zone to his left a bit. By my count, he called nearly as many pitches that were strikes balls as he did pitches that were out of the zone strikes. That’s a spurious argument, and it detracts from West’s valid points.

The valid point is that Yankee-Red Sox games are very, very long. Sunday’s game took three hours and 46 minutes to play; Tuesday’s lasted three hours and 48 minutes. Even last night’s 10-inning affair went on for three hours and 21 minutes. According to figures from last year, an average major league game lasts around 2:52 while the Yankees play games that average 3:08 and the Sox 3:04. When the two teams play each other, they averaged nine innings in 3:30 last year, a good forty minutes slower than league average. Pick up the pace, indeed.

But, as always, the question remains: Does it matter? The Yankees and Red Sox both take more pitches than just about any other team in baseball, and the two teams were one and two in the AL in on-base percentage last year. As I said yesterday, the more pitches a team takes, the baserunners they have, the more runs they have, the more pitchers they see, the longer the game takes.

Meanwhile, from the money perspective, few fans care. In the New York area, YES Network enjoyed its second-highested rated regular season game ever on Opening Night, and NESN had its highest Opening Night ratings in its history. ESPN2, airing the game outside of the two major New England and New York media markets, scored a 2.4 rating, just a few thousand viewers behind the NCAA women’s championship game. The fans have repeated said they don’t mind the long games; they just want baseball.

In the end, I think Joe West’s claims are right. The Yankee/Red Sox games do take too long, and some of that is because the games are sometimes managed as though they are Game 7 ALCS chess matches and not just games one, two and three of the regular season. I think baseball should try to cut down on these lengthy games for the overall health of the sport. After all, we want to see game action and not David Ortiz spitting on his batting gloves for the fourth time in three pitches.

But Joe West is also wrong. It’s not his place to call baseball’s marquee teams an embarrassment. It’s not his place to yell at the players. Let Bob Watson spin his wheels arguing with teams over picking up the pace. The umpires just sound as though they’re whining in the face of baseball’s success, and that is what I find to be a disgrace to baseball.

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Update (5:09 p.m.): Mariano fires back

As Joe West’s comments reverberate throughout baseball, Mariano Rivera has slammed the umpire over his remarks. Brian Costello and George A. King III caught up with the Yankee closer who wasn’t too pleased to hear West complaining about having to do his job.

“It’s incredible,” Rivera said to the two Post reporters. “If he has places to go, let him do something else. What does he want us to do, swing at balls?”

Rivera, a player who has tremendous respect for the game and the umpires, didn’t hold back. “He has a job to do. He should do his job,” Rivera said. “We don’t want to play four-hour games but that’s what it takes. We respect and love the fans and do what we have to do and that’s play our game.”

On the one hand, it will, as Costello and King write, be interesting to see how West reacts the next time he’s behind the plate for a Mariano appearance. On the other hand, Rivera, the Yankees and the Red Sox should be insulted by West’s comments. As many have pointed out, West’s partiality is now in doubt, and Bud Selig should step in to calm this escalating situation.

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:05pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

Chan Ho Park: A lesson in unpredictability

No matter how much we preach, it’s easy to fall into the trap of basing too much on small sample sizes this early in the season. We’ve already seen the Joba Chamberlain 8th Inning Machine rear it’s ugly head after two-thirds of an inning, and many fans had already written off Chan Ho Park by Monday morning. Instead of relegating him to mop-up duty like his predecessor may have, Joe Girardi ran CHoP out there again last night in the 7th inning of a tied game, receiving more than acceptable results.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

It’s clear that Park was better last night, and a large part of that has to do with pitch selection. The former starter broke out everything but the kitchen sink during his three innings of work, throwing two types of fastballs, two types of breaking balls, and a changeup for good measure. There’s no better way to use a pie chart than to graphically depict pitch selection, so let’s have a look…

(click for a larger view)

Again, small sample size comes into play, and we’re also at the mercy of PitchFX’s pitch classifications. There’s not much we can do about it, so we have to run with it.

On Sunday night, 13 of CHoP’s 21 pitches were fastballs, including the one Dustin Pedroia lifted over the Monstah for a two-run homer. Tack on six sliders, and more than 90% of the pitches he threw on Sunday were either fastballs or sliders. Jumping ahead to Sunday, and it’s clear from the pie chart that he used everything in his arsenal pretty evenly.

Marco Scutaro, the first batter Park faced, was retired on two breaking pitches, which was followed by Jacoby Ellsbury getting four fastballs and three offspeed pitches. Dustin Pedroia got two breaking balls and a fastball before making an out. In that first inning of work, CHoP threw just one four-seam fastball, but three two-seamers, three sliders, three curveballs, and a changeup. If you were standing in the box, you were playing a guessing game.

Park’s second inning of work was much of the same. He started Victor Martinez off with a curve, then threw a change, slider, and a two-seamer before putting him away with another curve. In a five pitch at-bat, Boston’s catcher saw four different kinds of pitches. Kevin Youkilis made a first pitch out on a four-seamer, and David Ortiz went down swinging on a curve, change, and slider. Through two innings of work, CHoP had thrown two four-seamers, four two-seamers, five sliders, six curves, and three changeups.

In his third inning of work, Park sat down Adrian Beltre on a slider and a four-seamer before J.D Drew singled on a two-seam fastball. Mike Cameron was due up next, and he was set down on the V-Mart Plan: four different pitches in a five pitch at-bat. Facing Scutaro for the second time, Park threw him a curve, a two-seamer, and two consecutive sliders to get him to line out to Brett Gardner.

CHoP started Drew off with two straight changeups, the first time he doubled up on a pitch all night. After mixing in a four-seamer, he threw another changeup, the only time he threw the same pitch three times to one hitter on Wednesday. The back-to-back sliders to Scutaro to end his night was the only other time Park doubled up on a pitch.

When a pitcher is throwing five different pitches, that means there’s a total of 25 different combinations of a two pitch sequence. Park used 17 of those 25 different sequences last night, and only one of them more than three times (see right). He had no pattern whatsoever, he gave the Red Sox nothing to pick up. By the third inning, you can usually tell if a guy likes to follow a fastball with a changeup or a slider or whatever, but not last night.  It was a clinic in keeping hitters off balance.

(Note that the chart only reflects sequences thrown to one batter. So it doesn’t include the last pitch of one at-bat and the first pitch of the next.)

The job Park did with mixing his pitches up was clearly the story of his outing last night, but it’s also worth nothing that he had a little more giddy up on his stuff as well. On Sunday, his four-seamer topped out at 92.8 mph, but last night it didn’t dip below 92.96. The slider also jumped from 85-88 to 88-89. CHoP was reportedly battling some kind of stomach bug earlier in the week, so maybe that came into play somehow on Sunday. Either way, being unpredictable and throwing hard is quite the combination.

Obviously, it was just one outing. Park’s not always going to be as good as he was last night, but he’s also not going to be as bad as he was Sunday. He’ll likely settle in somewhere in the middle, but if he keeps mixing his pitches like he did last night, especially in bursts of short relief, he’s going to one helluva weapon out that pen. It’s not always about pure stuff, keeping hitters off balance works just as well.

Posada and Swisher save the Yanks in the seventh

The Yanks didn’t get much off John Lackey last night. They managed just three hits and drew a couple of walks, and it seemed like the only chance they got to score was when he was tiring in the sixth. A-Rod took care of that, though, grounding into a double play with runners on first and second with one out. Thankfully, Andy Pettitte did his part, pitching six innings of one-run ball to keep the Yanks in it. This led to the decisive seventh inning.

Schoeneweis vs. Posada

After striking out Robinson Cano, Scott Schoeneweis had to face Jorge Posada, hitting righty. This would take a different approach, though Martinez and Schoeneweis seems to stick with a plan. He missed inside with a fastball for ball one, and then went back to the fastball but missed high. Jorge took a rip but could only foul it off.

Then Martinez set up low and in for the slider. Schoeneweis hit his spot, or at least came close enough that Martinez didn’t have to move the glove. Jorge was ready for it and got the barrel of the bat right on it, maybe a little under. It was good enough, though, and a faster runner might have been standing on third with one out.

The slider worked the previous at-bat against Cano. After missing with a fastball inside Schoeneweis threw another one and hit a nice spot low and inside. Cano could only foul it off. In a 1-1 count he turned to the slider and dropped it through the back door. He then went outside with the slider and Cano bit on a pitch he had only a small chance of even fouling off.

One batter later, Schoeneweis threw the same sequence to Jorge, fastball-fastball-slider. Perhaps he was going to switch the slider sequence if he got strike two, trying for the backdoor to end the at-bat. This one went right through the zone, though, and it looked like that was the plan. Jorge swung almost like he knew it was coming. Did the sequence to Swisher inform him?

Adding a bit to his predictability, Schoeneweis also went fastball-fastball-slider-slider to Granderson. The first slider he slung across the upper part of the zone for a called strike. The second was the same as the strikeout pitch to Cano, down and away in the dirt. After he missed with a fastball inside for ball two, he backdoored Granderson, dropping in yet another slider for a called — and probably swinging, too — strike three.

Bard vs. Swisher

With the two lefties retired, Francona went to his setup man Dan Bard to get Nick Swisher. He started off throwing inside gas, a good choice on the first pitch. Swisher reacted late and just barely fouled it away for strike one. Bard and Martinez did the same for the second pitch, though that one caught a bit more of the plate. Swish put another swing on it, this time making better contact but still only managing to foul it away into the left field seats.

An 0-2 count is not a pleasant place to be with Dan Bard on the mound. The next three pitches he can basically do whatever he wants. He can gas you with another fastball, he can drop a curve on you, buckling the knees, or, as he has done a few times this series, he can throw that changeup. It’s not a great pitch, and from what I’ve seen Bard misses with it frequently. He did, however, manage to drop it over the plate to Johnson the next inning.

Bard and Martinez decided to stick with ol’ No. 1 on 0-2, this time going outside. Martinez set up a bit off the plate, as you can see in the screen shot below, and Bard missed by a little. The ball ran back over the plate enough for Swisher to again foul it away. He swung conservatively at it, as he should with two strikes against a hard thrower like Bard. For his own part, Bard reached back for this one, hitting 99 on the gun after hitting 97 on the previous two fastballs.

With the count still 0-2, and with Swisher just having seen a 99 mph fastball, he might have been looking for something off-speed. In the booth, Al Leiter thought Bard could try something else. In an 0-2 count he’d have that luxury. This is what makes Bard tough to hit. At 0-2 it’s impossible to ignore the possibility of a breaking ball, but at the same time you can’t expect it or you’ll whiff terribly on the fastball. With a runner on second it was impossible to decipher what Martinez called for. Here’s where he set up.

It was a similar spot to the pitch before, and against the lefty a curveball away would have made enough sense. Yet it was neither straight fastball nor curveball. Pitch f/x registered the pitch at just 91 mph. It had the vertical break of Bard’s normal fastball, but it had an additional three inches of horizontal break. I’m not sure if Bard meant to throw this or not. The pitch tailed right over the plate, and instead of fighting it off, as Swisher had Bard’s previous three fastballs, he was able to get the barrel on the ball, grounding it through the hole between first and second for a base hit.

To miss an opportunity with Jorge standing on second with one out would have been a huge disappointment for the Yankees. The Sox, however, seemed set up. They had the lefty still on the mound to face Granderson, who has looked a bit frazzled against fellow lefties. It seems like he’s working on his batting eye in those situations at least, so we’ll see how he progresses in that regard. He’ll have David Price as his next test.

Bard against Swisher presents a favorable matchup for the Sox. Swisher has some power in his swing, but it comes at the cost of a little bat speed. Or at least it seemed to last year. Maybe that’s why Bard and Martinez went to the fastball in all four pitches. It took a mistake pitch, but Swish capitalized and tied the game. Unfortunately, Gardner stood little chance against Bard, but that didn’t much matter in the end. Swish did the most important thing, tying the game.

Forbes: Yanks now worth $1.6 billion

The Yankees, baseball’s World Champions, are now worth nearly twice as much as the next most valuable franchise, according to Forbes Magazine. In its annual Business of Baseball report, released last night, Forbes pegged the value of the New York Yankees at a cool $1.6 billion, and more surprisingly, the business mag claims the team turned a profit of nearly $25 million in 2009 after six straight seasons of operating in the red.

Hot on the heels of the franchises’ 27th World Series title and with a new stadium raking in the bucks, the Yanks saw their value increase by more than seven percent over 2009. The Red Sox, at $870 million, are ranked number two, and the Mets ($858 million), Dodgers ($727 million) and Cubs ($726 million) round out the top five. The Pirates and A’s, both valued are under $300 million, are MLB’s two cheapest clubs right now.

According to Forbes, the Yanks’ valuation breakdown is as follows: The Yanks’ sport value — that aspect attributable to revenue shared among all teams — is $146 million. The team’s position as New York’s leading franchise lends it $839 million in value. The new stadium contributes $287 million, and brand management — that famous interlocking NY — is worth $328 million on paper. The team, wrote Forbes, also “boast[s] the richest cable deal in baseball and have begun to make money from their new concession business, Legends Hospitality Management, a partnership with the Dallas Cowboys and Goldman Sachs.”

On the revenue side, the Yanks enjoyed great success at their new home. With player obligations, according to Forbes, totaling $240 million, the team enjoyed $319 million in gate receipts and $440 million in overall stadium revenue used for debt payments. The team’s reported profit before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization checks in at a healthy $24 million, good for tenth in the game. Overall, the Marlins again led the field with a profit in excess of $46 million, and the Red Sox were second at $40 million.

For the Yankees, this report paints a rosy picture. The team had been operating at significant deficits for much of the luxury tax era in the 2000s, but with a new stadium and more success, the franchise has managed to turn a profit. There is however a cloud to this silver lining: The team’s debt/value ratio is 89 percent, second only to the debt-riddled Texas Rangers. The Yankees owe debt on stadium construction bonds and on previous years’ revenue outcomes.

So as we delve into these numbers, it’s worth revisiting the Yanks’ claims of a budget for 2010. For much of the winter, we heard talk about the Yanks’ attention to the bottom line. Brian Cashman adhered to the budget set by the team’s Front Office, and with an eye toward flexibility closer to the July trade deadline, the team was unwilling to stretch that budget.

With a profit, it is possible that the Yanks could have invested more in the team this winter, but at the same time, the franchise owes payment on a significant chunk of debt. As baseball is definitely a business, the team has to keep an eye on both the product on the field and its balance sheet. With the information from Forbes, we have a snapshot of the Yankees as they play out the start of the 2010 season and a better understanding of the economics behind it. The team has never been more valuable, and you can bet that the rest of baseball is well aware of this economic reality.