Curt Schilling reads our blog

As much as we don’t like Curt Schilling for his success against the Yankees, a statement in one of his recent blog posts makes me think he’s reading our site. After I criticized him for seemingly interviewing himself, Schilling wrote, “Since some people mistakenly thought that the Q&A was me interviewing myself, no idea how that could happen, I have taken to pasting questions instead of trying to paraphrase them.” Well, that’s neat. A real live Major Leaguer has read River Ave. Blues!

(Also, I think it was that confusing use of the personal I in the form of the interview, Curt. It wasn’t very clear.)

Counting down to Opening Day

As I sit here at quarter to ten today, I realize that we’re just two weeks away from the start of the season. Well, two weeks, three hours, and twenty minutes. For those of you familiar with my older work, fret not: the WPA graphs will return.

Update by Mike: Down on the Farm will also be returning, though in a slightly abbreviated format.

Another option at catcher — no, it’s not Javy Lopez

The CourierPost ran an article this morning regarding backup catcher Chris Coste’s status on the Phillies roster. He says that lack of playing time has him worried about his spot on the roster. According to the article, “The Phillies view Coste as a third-string catcher and right-handed pinch-hitter.” In my experience, it’s rare to see a team carry a third-string catcher, so yeah, I think Coste’s worries are legitimate.

This led to Steve (who also gets the hat tip for this link) speculating about a possible trade for Coste. To that I say: not a bad idea. I’m not basing that on .328/.376/.505 line in 198 at bats last season; that’s far too small a sample size. But over his storied minor league career, he holds a .805 OPS. If he can be had for a spare reliever — though that’s not a certainty, given Phillie’s reluctance to deal with the Yankees recently (you want Jason Michaels? Our opening bid is Chien-Ming Wang) — I say go for it. Coste should provide a better bat than the pitcher-esque skills of Todd Pratt and Wil Nieves.

I’m just having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of Philly jettisoning this guy. He’s had a solid minor league career and played well once finally called to the majors. And now his backup job — once again, backing up Rod Barajas, who very well may hit worse than Coste — is in jeopardy? Carlos Ruiz (who I blindly assume is the leading backup candidate) is going to be that much better? I just don’t see it.

If Pat Gillick is looking to shed Coste for a middle reliever, Cash should jump on it; he’ll looks to be an upgrade over our backup catchers from years past.

Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

Can Igawa Adjust?

It’s still early, and I know a lot of you are going to rip me for being too negative at this juncture, but I’m very concerned about Kei Igawa. Concerned to the point where I’m hoping that he’s the next Kaz Ishii. Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a little…but only a little. I can only think, he’ll be fine, he’s just making adjustments for so long while staring at his 9.00 BB/9.

Being a stat nut, I’m obviously enamored with his 15.43 K/9, but I realize that he’s not going to sustain that number. Once hitters figure him out, he’ll be lucky to post half that rate. Unfortunately, his walk rate isn’t guaranteed to drop along with it. That would place him right along with Ishii’s peripherals.

Then again, Ishii was a very high-strikeout, high-walk pitcher in Japan, while Igawa was a pretty high-strikeout, moderately low-walk version. What scares me is that Ishii’s strikeouts dropped and his walks rose in America, both significantly. Obviously, Igawa can’t afford to have that happen to his numbers (no pitcher can).

It is unfair to only compare/contrast Igawa to one other Japanese import, so I’ll cease at this point. I’m just trying to make some sense of him, and it’s not working. Emma Span of The Village Voice feels the same way. The only things we have to go on now are 1) his numbers and 2) the knowledge that hitters are going to figure him out and that he’ll need to make adjustments.

Well, we know his numbers aren’t so hot. A 12:7 strikeout to walk ratio seems generous when you see that he’s thrown 142 pitches this spring (over 20 per inning) and only 78 for strikes (55 percent). Soon enough, hitters are going to make their adjustments, and they’ll swing at fewer and fewer pitches out of the zone, meaning fewer strikes for Igawa. He has to adjust, and for my own sanity I’d like to see some degree of adjustment in his next start.

Here’s where the problem gets stickier: the Yanks don’t have many options if he fails to adjust quickly. They’ve invested $46 million into him, so he’s going to be with the big league squad. If he can’t hack it as a starter, the logical step would be to stick him in the bullpen, but the bullpen is a terrible place for a pitcher with control problems. Would they send him to Scranton? Could they, even if they wanted to?

Of course, he could make my ramblings moot if he settles down and quits walking guys. Based on his first three games, though, I’m not so optimistic about that. In fact, I’m trying real hard to resist the temptation to jump on the Jeff Karstens bandwagon. He’s also in the small sample size range, so I don’t want to get too excited. Another solid outing by him and another shaky one by Igawa, though, and I may just take that plunge.

Photo: Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

The Karstens conundrum

Jeff Karstens wasn’t supposed to do this. He wasn’t an All Star in Japan; he doesn’t have an onerous four-year, $39.95 million contract. Karstens, a 19th-round draft pick in 2003, is 24 and doesn’t even make a dent on the Yankees top prospect list.

But Jeff Karstens is making things very difficult for the Yankees this Spring Training. It is a difficulty that many teams would love to have.

In three appearances – two starts, one relief showing – Karstens in 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA. He’s thrown 9 innings of 5-hit baseball racking up 9 strike outs and walking no one. And after an off-season of tough condition, Karstens is hitting his spots with a fastball in the 90s. Last night, during a one-hit, four-inning effort against the Twins, he was flashing two effective off-speed pitches as well.

For the Yanks, their rotation – while shaky – is seemingly filled. Some combination of Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina will fill out the top three slots, and the expensive duo of Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano are slated for the last three slots. But Karstens has shown better poise and better stuff this Spring than Pavano and Igawa.

While Spring Training stats are by and large meaningless, some numbers are telling. Karstens’ zero walks shows he’s not afraid to pound the strike zone and that his control has been stellar so far. Meanwhile, Pavano has looked merely pedestrian in two trips to the Hill, and Igawa hasn’t shown any control even if his strike out rate is high in few innings.

Of course, none of this pitchers has thrown anything close to a significant number of innings. But Karstens looks strong out of the gate. He’s throwing, as Newsday’s new beat reporter Kat O’Brien noted, with a purpose, and he seems comfortable in Big League camp. He doesn’t need to earn his teammates’ trust or the fans’ belief that he can be good. We saw him last year; we know that he can throw.

As Peter Abraham noted, all eyes will be on Kei Igawa this evening. If he can’t show some command and effectiveness today, the Yanks may consider long and hard giving Karstens a rotation spot. He’s certainly earned it.

If nothing else, Karstens is yet another reminder that the Yankees don’t need to and shouldn’t be spending obscene amounts of money on fringe pitchers. Their signing of Igawa was a knee-jerk reaction to the Matsuzaka bidding war, but they have an ample number of candidates to fill out that five slot in the rotation. I hope money and that so-called veteran presence that Joe Torre seems to favor doesn’t trump ability.

Based on cash considerations, the Yankees have invested a lot in Pavano and Igawa. Based on Spring Training performance – indeed an unreliable indicator – Karstens deserves that rotation spot.

Image of Jeff Karstens pitching during the 2006 season courtesy of MLB.com.