Hello, Angels. We’ve met before, haven’t we?

Tomorrow night, there will be baseball. Tomorrow night, the Yankees and the Angels will take the field, and at 7:57 p.m., CC Sabathia will throw the first pitch to Chone Figgins. As Thursday dawns, though, we still wait for that first ALCS in the Bronx in five years.

When last the Yankees reached the ALCS, they played a Red Sox team that had just dispatched the Angels in three straight games. This year, the Angels returned the favor, and the Yanks play a team they have beaten in three of their last four contests instead of eight of nine. Now, all that stands between the Yanks and the Fall Classic is a well-rounded ballclub from Orange County.

To prepare for the Angels, let’s look back at how these two teams fared in games against each other. On the season, the Angels outscored the Yanks 65-55, but the two clubs split 10 contests. The Yanks won the first two and last two but didn’t do too well in the middle.

April 30, 2009: Yankees 7, Angels 4 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Phil Coke
LP: Justin Speier
SV: Mariano Rivera
HR: Mike Napoli, Johnny Damon
In the first match-up of the year between these two teams, A.J. Burnett faced off against Anthony Ortega, but neither starter would factor into the decision. Burnett worked his way through seven decent innings, allowing four runs on eight hits and a walk, and the Yanks tagged the forgettable Ortega for four runs over 6.1 innings. The Yanks wrapped this one up with a big 7th against Justin Speier. With one out, Robinson Cano singled, Jorge Posada hit a ground-rule double and Nick Swisher walked. Melky singled home Cano, and Ramiro Peña, playing for an injured A-Rod, doubled in Posada and Swisher. [Read more…]

Why are the Angels starting Saunders in Game 2?

Unlike the Yankees, the Angels will change up their postseason rotation order for the ALCS. As we learned yesterday, the Angels will start Joe Saunders in Game 2 in place of Jered Weaver, who started Game 2 against Boston in the ALDS. Manager Mike Scioscia’s reasoning is that he wants a lefty to pitch in Yankee Stadium to somewhat neutralize the Yankees power threat to right field. That’s a fine tactic, but why would Saunders get the nod over Scott Kazmir?

Scioscia didn’t elaborate on the decision, noting only that Saunders “has the tools to succeed in that stadium.” This is quite the vote of confidence from the Angels’ skipper, considering Saunders has yet to pitch in the new Yankee Stadium. Even in the old park, Saunders started just one game, allowing two runs over six innings. So why would Scioscia say that he has the tools to succeed in a place he has almost no experience pitching?

Before hitting the DL in early August, Saunders was having a terrible year. Through 136.2 innings he had allowed 81 earned runs for a 5.33 ERA. Even more pathetic was his 72:51 K/BB ratio. The DL stint seemed to help, though, as Saunders finished the season strong, allowing just 14 earned runs over 49.1 innings and improving his K/BB to 29:13. The knock is that just two of those starts were against playoff teams. Saunders got hit pretty hard by the Red Sox on September 16, though he did pitch well against the Yankees in his next start, allowing two runs in 8.1 innings.

The problem with evaluating Saunders based on his late-season run is that it’s exactly that: a late-season run. Teams call up their minor leaguers in September, which creates a different environment than we see from April through August. Bench players get more playing time, especially on non-contenting teams. And, lo and behold, five of the eight teams Saunders faced since his return from the DL had no shot at the playoffs. That makes it difficult to evaluate his performance post-DL. For all we know he could be the same pitcher as in the first half who happen to get lucky down the stretch.

(Remember, there’s a reason that more no-hitters are thrown in September than any other month.)

If we assume that the DL stint fixed whatever was wrong with Saunders, perhaps the decision makes a bit more sense. In his breakout 2008 season, Saunders pitched much better on the road, a 2.55 ERA and .643 OPS against, while pitching to a 4.27 ERA and .736 OPS against at home. The difference was mostly in home runs: he allowed 13 at home and only eight at home (in an equal sample of 99 innings each). Both his strikeout rate and walk rate were better at home, though.

Mike Scioscia surely knows his pitchers better than I do, but given the performance evidence it seems like a questionable decision to let Saunders pitch Game 2. It assumes that his 2008 breakout season is a true indicator of his ability, and that his late-season surge is a better indicator than his early season struggles. It’s tough to make a case for either claim. Saunders, a lefty with fringy stuff, doesn’t appear to be a guy who can sustain a 3.41 ERA. Even in 2008, his FIP was 4.36 and his tRA was 4.49.

It makes sense that Scioscia doesn’t want Weaver to pitch at Yankee Stadium. He pitched there twice this season and surrendered nine runs over 13.1 innings. In 16 career innings at the old Stadium, Weaver wasn’t much better. He allowed 10 runs in that span, including six home runs. As Dave Allen notes, Weaver’s extreme fly ball tendencies make him a liability at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees mash fly balls over the wall. (Though, in good news for the Yankees, his extreme fly ball tendencies, at whichever park, help negate the Angels infield defense.)

If Weaver is scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Anaheim, why not flip-flip him with the ALDS Game 3 stater, Scott Kazmir? Despite his early-season struggles, he pitched well against the Yankees this year. Over 19.2 innings he allowed just seven runs, striking out 14 to just four walks. He’s been a Yankee killer for the most part, allowing just 26 runs over 87.2 career innings, with 86 strikeouts and 39 walks — but more importantly, just five home runs. The only knock is that he performed poorly at the old Yankee Stadium, allowing 14 runs over 25 innings. So perhaps that’s why Scioscia chose Saunders.

Keeping Jered Weaver away from Yankee Stadium is a good tactic for the Angels. However, in choosing his Game 2 starter, it appears Scioscia got a little too cute. Instead of going with his No. 3 starter, he’ll go into battle with a guy who didn’t start in the ALDS. More importantly, he’s starting a pitcher who was terrible most of the year, and only made a run when most teams were out of contention. This is good news for the Yankees, though. Instead of facing Kazmir, a perpetual nuisance, they’ll face Saunders, whom they should hit a bit easier. The decision also means that they’ll face Kazmir just once, in Game 4.

We won’t know how it will play out until the game happens, but from the ivory tower, it seems that Scioscia made the wrong call.

Romine stars in another Surprise win

Why can’t every DotF be this easy?

AzFL Surprise (6-4 win over the Peoria Javelinas)
Austin Romine: 3 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 PB - allowed two stolen bases, but did gun down another
Colin Curtis: 1 for 4, 1 R
Mike Dunn: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 2-0 GB/FB – just 13 of 25 pitches were strikes (52%)

Still no Dominican Winter League or Puerto Rican League rosters.

Yanks on Kikuchi’s U.S. itinerary

yuseikikuchi Yusei Kikuchi is The Next Big Thing to come out of Japan. An 18-year-old prep star, Kikuchi could join Junichi Tazawa as a Japanese player who skips the Nippon Professional Baseball league to come straight to the Majors, and although the Yankees are going to be preoccupied with the Angels over the next 10 days, the team, according to reports, is going to meet with Kikuchi next week.

Via MLBTR, NPB Tracker reports on Kikuchi’s recruitment schedule. This week, he will meet with Japanese teams as his hometown league attempts to convince him not to jump the puddle for the Majors. After meeting with the NPB reps, Kikuchi will meet with the Giants, Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, Rangers, Mariners and Indians.

If Kikuchi leaves Japan, he will be the second big-name pitcher to head straight to the States in two years, and the NPB could be facing a severe young talent drain as more kids look to Major League Baseball for a more international stage and a quicker payday. Patrick Newman at NBP Tracker wonders if the Nippon leagues will look to collude with Kikuchi to ensure that he is drafted by the team of his choice and stays in Japan.

With Kikuchi coverage ramping up, Newman also published a scouting report on the young left-hander. He seems to be a smart kid with a good head on his shoulders, and he throws between 87-96 mph. Generally, his fastball sits low in the zone at around 90. Keep in mind that he is also just 18 and will probably add a bit of velocity as he fills out.

It will be interesting to see how the Kikuchi sweepstakes shake down. As young undrafted kids look across the Pacific, international baseball could be gearing up for a sea change, and the Majors may soon enjoy a stream of young talent from Japan. After the Yanks opted against going after Tazawa last year on the grounds of honoring the NPB draft, it’s intriguing to see them in the mix on Kikuchi. Perhaps they think higher of him than they did of Tazawa.

Feel free to use this as a discussion on the merits of international poaching of young players or use it as your regularly scheduled open thread. Oh, and today is Joe Girardi‘s birthday. So a happy 45th to the Yanks’ skipper. You know the drill; play nice.

Jackson ranked 2nd best outfield prospect in the IL

Baseball America finished their league top 20 series today, wrapping up with the Triple-A International League. Austin Jackson was the only Yankee prospect to make the list, ranking 7th overall. Only Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates placed higher among outfielders. The subscriber only scouting report called Jackson “most exciting player to spend the full season in the IL,” noting that he drew comparisons to Torii Hunter, albeit with less power. I’d take that in a heartbeat.

Umps and Angels pitchers announced for ALCS

Although the Yankees are keeping their pitching plans under wraps for now, Mike Scioscia has unveiled the Angels’ ALCS rotation. John Lackey will get the Game 1 start against CC Sabathia with Joe Saunders to follow in Game 2. Jered Weaver will pitch Game 3, and Scott Kazmir draws the start for Game 4. I’m intrigued by the decision to go with Saunders in Game 2. Joe will have more analysis on that move later tonight, but Saunders does not match up particularly well against the Yanks in New York.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has announced the umpire crew for the ALCS. The good news: No Phil Cuzzi or C.B. Bucknor. Tim McClelland, a 28-year vet, will be the Crew Chief, and joining him will be Dale Scott, Jerry Layne, Fieldin Culbreth, Laz Diaz and Bill Miller. That strikes me a solid bunch of men in blue.

The other new Yankee Stadium

On Friday, a few hours before the Yanks’ classic ALDS Game 2 victory, ESPN.com unleashed a rather interesting Outside the Lines on us. Wright Thompson went quasi-undercover to experience the $2500 $1250 Legends Seats at the new Yankee Stadium, and he wrote a treatise on sports ticket prices. He piece goes a long way toward explaining why the Yanks’ premium seats were priced so high, why the prices will crash and whether or not this experiment in ostentatious stadium experiences was a success.

Generally, we know the story. In April, the Legends Suites were embarrassingly empty and not until the Yanks halved the sticker price did the seats start to fill up. Meanwhile, Thompson, who bought his one seat on StubHub, got just a print-out to show for it. For $1250, he doesn’t even get a real ticket stub. This trend in digital ticketing, writes Thompson, is just one part of the death of fan faithfulness. How can you make an archive of ticket stubs if all you have is a black-and-white 8.5×11 print out?

As Thompson explores the champagne and Chilean turbot that Legends fans can enjoy, he talks about how Wall St. created this new Yankee Stadium seating monstrosity. The demand created by a flush Wall Street fed the Yankee Stadium ticket market throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s. Seats in the lower ring became more and more expensive simply because firms were willing to pay for them. But the Yankees, says Thompson, overplayed their hand:

In the same way, the use of tickets has changed, though it has less to do with the market collapsing and more to do with the Fidelity guys getting busted. You can probably guess what happened next: a proposed SEC rule governing expenses that could forever alter the way Wall Street entertains. To get out front of the SEC, many firms have instituted their own internal controls requiring gifts worth more than $100 to be reported. A computer program has been purchased by more than 200 companies that, for the first time, allows statistics to be kept on ticket use, including how much business each one brings in.

So … just as companies were trying to limit extravagant spending, the Yankees came out with the most extravagant tickets in the history of sports, designed in part for a group of people who could no longer buy them. “They killed the golden goose,” a former Bear Stearns guy says. “When the new prices came out, everybody said, ‘Are you kidding? We can’t even give these to clients.'”

Why? Well, first of all, the sell-side guys now face greater scrutiny about what they can gain by using the tickets. I talked to one Barclays big shot who explained it like this: “The real issue is: Do you want to go to the trouble of taking your client to the Yankee game when you know your boss has an expectation of what’s supposed to come out of the game that’s different than what the client has. Before, the firm’s expectations were low because the investment was low and the client’s expectations were low. Now we’re laying out eight grand on these tickets and you get paid on a 10 percent rate. That’s 80 grand worth of commissions that needs to get done before you get back to even. And 80 grand of commissions at 2 cents a square, in the equity business, what’s that, 4 million shares of stock? If this client does 4 million shares of stock with you, then you’ve made your investment back.”

Second, the buy-side now believes the tickets cost so much that they’d feel a quid pro quo. Yankees games went from something small to something like a trip to the Masters. One buy-sider told me: “I’ve been offered really good seats a couple of times, but I haven’t taken tickets from a broker in the new stadium. I’d feel like I owed the guy.”

As the piece goes on, we know where it’s going. Thompson talks to Louis Gimble IV, a hops magnate whose family had owned Yankee Stadium season tickets since the Great Depression. The Yanks wanted to move Gimble and up his per-game ticket price from the unaffordable $225 to the outrageous $900 level.

In the end, I know where I want to be. I’ve grown to like the new park. While I was opposed to it at first, the stadium is here for good. I’ll stick with what Thompson calls the “regular fans” in the 400 level. Those are my seats.

Meanwhile, the Yankees will have to come to terms with a failed experiment. They couldn’t get $2500 a seat and are already reducing next year’s ticket prices for the Legends Suites. It was worth a shot, but the bad economy, market regulation and the economics of commission-driven deals on Wall Street eluded the stadium planners. Greed might have suited Gordon Gecko, but the Yankees will be subject to the whims of the open market when it comes to pricing their tickets.