Archive for Rants

When I walked by the newstand on Saturday morning, the cover of the Daily News caught my eye. On Friday, one day after the Yanks’ crushing loss to an inferior Tigers’ team in Game 5 of the ALDS, the esteemed paper polled its reactionary readers about the future of the Yankees. Who should stay, who should go, who should bear the weight of the world — or at least the ALDS loss — on his shoulder?

The answer, of course, was A-Rod. It always is A-Rod. It always has been, and it always will be. As of now, 69 percent of poll respondents say the Yanks should dump A-Rod. That’s actually down from upwards of 75 percent earlier this weekend. Time heals all wounds or something.

This need to lay the blame on someone for the ALDS loss is both obviously New York and entirely frustrating. The Yankees lost the ALDS due to a confluence of factors. Joe Torre in the Commissioner’s Office couldn’t read a weather forecast on Friday before Game 1, the Yanks couldn’t score off of Max Scherzer in Game 2, CC couldn’t control the strike zone during Games 3 or 5, and the team failed to get that one big hit that would have put them over the top on Thursday. Along the way, their 4, 5 and 6 hitters did absolutely nothing with the bat, and despite hot series, Robinson Cano scored no runs via anything other than his own home runs and Jorge Posada had no RBIs despite going 6 for 14.

Still, it’s A-Rod the Choker, A-Rod the guy who did this rather than the guy who blasted a Joe Nathan offering deep into the night in October 2009. It was A-Rod who went just 2 for 18, offering up a close replica of his 1 for 14 showing in 2006 against the Tigers. He struck out with the bases loaded, and he struck out to end the Yanks’ season.

By no stretch do I think A-Rod had a good ALDS. He made a few nice plays in the field but couldn’t get his groove back at the plate. For Alex, in fact, that was a theme this August and September. After starting the year at .295/.366/.485 through mid-July, A-Rod found himself on a 27-home run pace when he had to undergo knee surgery. In his first game back in late August, he jammed his thumb, and played just 19 games the rest of the way. In 84 plate appearances, he hit just .191/.345/.353 with three long balls as he battled aches and pains.

Had Joe Girardi bumped him out of the four spot during the playoffs, he would have a legitimate reason for doing so. The A-Rod the Yanks had in October wasn’t the A-Rod the Yanks had in May or June. But Girardi was far more willing to be flexible — almost too flexible — with the bullpen and not flexible enough with the lineup. Brett Gardner and his hot bat were minimized in the nine spot, Jorge Posada knocked the ball around hitting behind some cold bats and A-Rod hit fourth as though it were inscribed on stone tablets as the 11th Commandment. Thou shalt bat A-Rod fourth no matter his health.

What makes the Daily News poll somewhat less outrageous though is the hidden nugget of truth in it. The Yanks probably can’t dump A-Rod; after all he has no-trade protection in his contract. But if the Yankees had their druthers, they wouldn’t have A-Rod under contract for the next six years and owed $143 million to boot. A-Rod will be a fine third baseman for the next three years or so, but after that, things could get ugly as his decline continues. Already, New York sports media folk write about Jesus Montero and the DH as though he’s hogging A-Rod’s eventual position and will have to be traded for it. Talk about shooting off your nose to spite your face.

Basically, then, we as Yankee fans are stuck with A-Rod. He’s our problem when he struggles; he’s our superstar when he drops A-bombs into the left field bleachers. Blemishes and all though, A-Rod ain’t going anywhere before 2017, no matter how hard the Yankees try. We can learn to like it or boo him for the next half a decade. We’re going to war with the A-Rod we have and not the A-Rod we might want or wish to have at a later time. No amount of ALDS struggles or reactionary polls will change that.

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It was mid-February, and we were jonesing for some baseball. At Bloomberg headquarters we got a close approximation. In 2010 Bloomberg decided to expand into the sports realm, offering a products for both consumers and professionals. To help spread the word, they held an all-day event to introduce their fantasy baseball and Pitch f/x analysis tools. As expected they both impressed. In 2011 Bloomberg was ready for a update, and again they invited Ben, Mike, and me, among many other blogging and media types, to their headquarters for another day of baseball in February. This time around, we got something out of it.

One feature they touted frequently was the implementation of their pro tool — the Pitch f/x analysis — on the iPad. They had developed an app that players could use at their lockers, at their hotels, or really any place when they had some free time. The app gave them not only information on hitters they would face, but also information on themselves. They could, for example, pull up a screen that would list every cutter they threw on the season. They’d not only see the Pitch f/x information on said pitch, but also videos of every instance. As you can imagine, the three of us salivated over the possibilities.

Of course, the app was not available to us. It was marketed to teams, and they paid top dollar for this level of analysis. Even if Bloomberg made it available to other entities, RAB clearly could not afford that type of application. But it did spark an idea. As we broke for lunch, Ben, Mike, and I huddled together to talk about how the tools they introduced — particularly the free fantasy ones — could help us at RAB. Only that’s not where the conversation went. Ben gets all the credit here, because he was the first one to blurt it out: “We should get iPads.” I wasn’t about to say no to that. Nor was Mike. And so, while in Arizona for Spring Training, we each picked up an iPad on launch day. I can’t speak for Mike or Ben, but it has changed the way I watch baseball.

By combining the MLB At Bat 11 app with my MLB.tv subscription, I’m able to watch any game, at any time, on my iPad. This works greatly when I’m already watching the Yankees game. It allows me to keep up with other games around the league at the same time. If Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw are going head-to-head at the same time a Yankees game is on, it’s no issue. Yankees on the TV, Dodgers-Giants on the iPad. Keeping up with the division rivals has been easier, too. In fact, MLB.tv on my iPad has essentially been my Red Sox tube. What better way to keep up with the rivalry than keeping tabs on the other side?

Beyond that, the At Bat app offers condensed games and tons of highlight clips, all of which load almost instantly. If I did miss a game, well, I didn’t really miss it. This works for the Yankees, too. I can jump right into the condensed game if I happened to miss it the night before. It takes just 15 minutes, and most of the action gets chronicled on the condensed game. Highlights, too, allowed me to keep up with the entire league and, for the first five months of the season, write my daily recap column on FanGraphs.

There is only one downside to all this, though: I want more ways to watch live Yankees games. Yes, this is an issue because of broadcast and rebroadcast rights. YES doesn’t want to lose TV viewers, because they then lose ad revenue. Since it’s more difficult to track people who are watching mobile devices, they clearly prefer I watch it through my cable subscription. But that doesn’t always play. See, the iPad is a portable device. It doesn’t just live in my living room. It goes to friends’ houses and on plane and train rides. And yet, unless I happen to be traveling outside of the Yankees broadcast area, I can have this big, beautiful tablet and no way to watch the Yankees on it.

There are some solutions. For instance, my cable provider, Cablevision, has an app that allows me to watch TV right on my iPad. Yet that’s still restrictive. It only works on my home WiFi network, meaning I can only watch those games at home. There are uses for that, of course; during day games I can just prop up my iPad and watch at my desk (which faces away from the TV) while I work. It also allows me to work a bit later in the evenings if necessary. But it doesn’t help me when at a friend’s house who doesn’t have cable. Really, it doesn’t help me watch the Yankees when I’m out of the house.

Recently I’ve been playing with the BlackBerry PlayBook, a tablet PC competitor to the iPad, as a review unit. While it’s not as pretty as the iPad, it does offer a number of advantages. For starters, it’s a ton smaller than the iPad, meaning it’s more portable. I can see toting this around town, on train rides, at coffee shops, etc. Yet there is no way to watch baseball on the PlayBook. The screen is great, and video, even streaming video, renders very well on its 7-inch screen. But there is no At Bat app, never mind one for my cable provider. That’s a bit disheartening.

There are clear conflicts here that prevent me from watching baseball wherever I want. YES has the exclusive rights to broadcast most Yankees games, and they need to make money. If they’re not making money off me watching on my tablet, they have little reason to allow that type of usage. At the same time, I already pay a hefty monthly cable and internet bill, and I’m not inclined to pay too much more for the same viewing privileges on different devices. Hence, consumers and broadcasters are at something of a stalemate. Nothing seems to make sense for both sides, and so we maintain the status quo.

It has become pretty clear that tablet computers will play a large part in our lives for the next few years. They provide entertainment in ways that other devices cannot. Yet, at the same time, given current broadcast regulations, it can be difficult to get the most out of these devices. The ability to watch the Yankees wherever I am makes a tablet that much more valuable. Hopefully these forces will move broadcasters closer to consumers and perhaps create offerings that allow us to watch the Yankees on our tablets while still in the YES home area. It’s really all I want for Christmas.

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Brett found a way to relax between games yesterday. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

As you’ve probably heard by now, the Yankees and Orioles will make up one of this weekend’s games on September 8th at 1pm ET, a mutual off day for the two clubs. Apparently some miscommunication between the O’s and the MLBPA resulted in the decision to postpone the game to that date, which the Yankees most certainly did not want. It was their only true off day of the month, and now they’ve got to play three games in three cities on two coasts in the span of about 60 hours late next week. They’ll play the Orioles in the Bronx on Wednesday, the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday, then fly to the west coast to play the Angels in Anaheim on Friday.

As he’s prone to do, Buck Showalter ran his mouth about the Yankees being “disrespectful” towards the Orioles following Mike Flanagan’s death by wanting to play two games on Friday. “I’m sure if they stopped and thought about it, if the same thing happened to one of their greats, they probably would have given a lot of consideration to how they were going to handle that day,” said Showalter, apparently failing to realize that the Yankees have lost a number of all-time greats in recent years, including George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard last summer. Obviously a tribute to Flanagan was important to the O’s, but they did hide behind that excuse to distract from the real reason why they didn’t want to play two games on Friday: they didn’t want to lose the gate revenue.

Rosters expand this Thursday, so getting the important players rest won’t be too big of a deal down the stretch, but there’s no doubt that the travel schedule is a hassle. The Yankees will play the second of 18 games in 18 days today, a stretch that includes stops in five cities with the last six games on the west coast. By the time they finish up their game with the Mariners on Sept. 14th (10pm ET start) and fly to Toronto, it’ll probably be nine or ten in the morning on the East Coast when they land. Sleep all day before starting the three-game series the next day, and there’s the team’s only scheduled day off the rest of the season. Hardly qualifies as an off day, really.

Thankfully, the Yankees are sitting pretty at the moment, leading the Rays by 6.5 games for the wildcard with only 31 games left to play. If they go 14-14 in their next 28 games, the Rays would need to win 17 of their next 27 games just to make that last series of the year against the Yankees in Tampa interesting, and even then they’d need a sweep to force a Game 163. There’s very little to worry about here, and remember, New York will always be the bad guy. That’s why you have columns supporting the Orioles being written while Josh Beckett gets his ass kissed for complaining about the schedule. The double standard never ceases to amaze.

Hurricane Irene is still causing massive problems in Upstate New York, Vermont, and in parts of New England, so it does feel a little callous to discuss the storm’s ramifications on he Yankees and baseball in general. It’s just a game, a kid’s game, but it’s also part of our lives and a pretty big one for me (and I’m sure several of you). The Orioles were unwilling to be flexible with their schedule, so now the Yankees are going to be stuck feeling the impact of this weekend for another two weeks, if not more. They’ll get through it just fine, but that doesn’t mean they (or us fans) have to like it.

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Jun
23

The Jesus Montero SNAFU

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Let’s start with something Kevin Goldstein wrote for ESPN today (Insider req’d)…

“[The Yankees] just don’t seem to trust their young players,” said one big league executive. “Look at what the Braves did. When they needed a warm body, they had no issue with calling on [Julio] Teheran or [Randall] Delgado, even though those guys weren’t fully big-league-ready.”

Nobody is saying to call up one of the new killer Bs for good, but to go through all of the machinations for [Brian Gordon] instead of leaning on what you already have for a handful of outings shows either a lack of confidence in their own prospects, or maybe more telling, an almost perverse fear of failure.

The same applies to position players, as the Jesus Montero situation showcases some of the unique variables that the Yankees are dealing with.

In nearly any other system, Montero would be a big leaguer and multiple scouts who have seen Montero play during his disappointing .291/.336/.414 showing at Triple-A say that there is a frustration and lack of effort to his game this year, with one talent evaluator just coming out and saying, “He looks like a player who knows he’s stuck in Pennsylvania.”

Do the Braves deserve credit for going with Teheran and Delgado in those starts? Sure, those were some ballsy moves. It’s also worth noting that they lost all three of those games and neither of the kids lasted more than 4.2 innings in any of the starts. I get why the Yankees signed Brian Gordon and I have no issue with it whatsoever, I explained that this morning. This has more to do with Montero, who is stuck in the minors because they want him to play everyday.

I mean … that’s fine, I get it, but I also don’t agree with it. The kid has 756 plate appearances at Triple-A to his credit and he’s a .290/.348/.480 hitter at the level. Robinson Cano didn’t hit that well in Triple-A, neither did Melky Cabrera or Bernie Williams or Jorge Posada or pretty much any position player the Yankees have called up in the last 20 years. Montero’s batting line this year is just a convenient excuse to leave him down more than anything else. If he’s doing that as a frustrated 21-year-old against Triple-A competition, what is he capable of after a deserved promotion?

All this stuff about him being frustrated and lacking effort isn’t a sign of some greater problem either, even though it will be spun that way. Have you ever been stuck at a job when you know there’s no promotion to be had? It freaking sucks, and situations like that often lead to people looking for employment elsewhere. It’s completely normal, and Montero’s frustration just shows he’s human, that’s it. He did what he had to do in Triple-A, let’s stop pretending he hasn’t and should instead be some kind of model person incapable of frustration and disappointment.

The Yankees are tilting at some serious windmills here. Whatever move they make will be scrutinized, whether they call Montero up or keep him down or trade him. That’s life. There’s an obvious path for him to get playing time in the big leagues which involves getting Frankie Cervelli‘s complete lack of positive impact off the roster and letting Montero serve as the backup catcher and part-time designated hitter. He could get four starts a week that way (two at catcher, two at DH), which is what the Yankees did with Posada a decade ago and how teams regularly broke in young players back in the day. There’s nothing unconventional here, the kid is so obviously ready and able to help. Stop fearing failure and let him do it.

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Jun
09

The Alfredo Aceves Mistake

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(Photo Credit: Flickr user tedkerwin via Creative Commons license)

Last night’s loss to the Red Sox sucked for a million different reasons, and Al Aceves recording the final eleven outs was just salt on the wounds. He wasn’t great by any means, serving up singles to the first two men he faced before Derek Jeter* took the wind out of the Yankees’ sails with the bases loaded double play to end the sixth inning, but he was effective. We’re used to seeing that from Aceves following his stint in New York, and now ten weeks into the 2011 season, it’s pretty obvious the Yankees completely screwed up by letting him walk.

As you probably remember, Aceves’ final game as a Yankee came against the team he pitches for now, the Red Sox. The Yankees were in Fenway Park when he threw both a pitch and his back out all in one motion last May, an injury that kept him on the shelf the rest of the season. It was eventually diagnosed as a herniated disc, and two different attempts at rest and rehab resulted in setbacks. Then after the season, Aceves fractured his clavicle when he fell off his bike, an activity that may or may not have been against his back rehab regime. We have no idea and it’s unfair to speculate one way or the other.

That broken clavicle was supposed to keep Aceves on the sidelines for three months, meaning he would be a few weeks behind the other pitchers in Spring Training. The right-hander was non-tendered the very next day (relative to when we found out about the injury, not when it actually happened), and Brian Cashman explained the decision like so…

“Because of the back issue, we could not give him [a major league contract]. He was throwing off the mound for us and he always hit a wall,” Cashman said. “So we ultimately continued to fail throughout the entire process to get him off the DL and active. He had a lot of success for a period of time, but then ultimately we’d had to take steps back and we’d have to shut him down and re-do the treatment.

“We decided to non-tender him and offer him a non-guaranteed deal. But obviously when healthy you certainly know what he can do.”

Aceves sat in the free agent pool for a while, reportedly drawing interest from the Rockies, but it wasn’t until early-February that he signed a big league deal with Boston worth $650,000. He reportedly to camp completely healthy on the first day, showing that he was well ahead of schedule with the clavicle rehab, and he’s been healthy ever since. In 41 big league innings this year, he owns a 3.29 ERA and a 4.25 FIP. He also threw another eight innings in Triple-A.

I don’t know who it was and we probably won’t ever know for sure, but someone on the Yankees’ made a big mistake here. Maybe it was the medical staff that evaluated Aceves, maybe it was Cashman, maybe it was someone else we don’t even know exists or maybe it was all of them. Whoever it was, Aceves’ condition was misevaluated and the Yankees foolishly let an asset walk away. That he joined their biggest rival, both historically and with regards to the 2011 AL East title, just adds insult to injury.

The facts of the matter are this: Aceves was still in his pre-arbitration years (so the Yankees could have renewed his salary for something close to the league minimum), he had four years of team control left, he had two minor league options remaining, and he also had (has, really) a history of back trouble. Remember it kept him on the shelf a few times in both 2008 and 2009 as well. At that point of the non-tendering, the Yankees were still unsure about Andy Pettitte‘s status for 2011 and they still appeared to be the front-runner for Cliff Lee. But still, Aceves’ experience working both as a starter and as a reliever is nothing but a plus. I don’t put much stock into the whole “he can pitch in New York” thing, but we all knew he could do that as well.

The risk was minimal. We’re talking about a 40-man roster spot (and there were seven or eight open at the time of the non-tendering) and a six-figure salary, which is peanuts to pretty much every club, especially the Yankees. It’s not like they had to keep him in the show no matter either; he has options and could go down if he was performing poorly or something. That flexibility is something you usually something you don’t get from free agents. Instead of assuming that little bit of risk, they got cute and tried to bring him back on a minor league deal when they would have been able to sent him to the minor leagues anyway. It essentially boils down to the 40-man spot and the salary, which is a little ridiculous.

It’s not a massive, franchise crippling blunder or anything like that, but the Yankees absolutely screwed up by non-tendering Aceves. That he went to the Red Sox only makes it worse, but it would have been bad even if he joined those Rockies or another team. Even if he blows his back out tomorrow, the evaluation of his condition was obviously wrong and a potentially valuable piece was let go for nothing. With $19.15M worth of relievers on the disabled list and the likes of Amaury Sanit, Jeff Marquez, and Lance Pendleton in the bullpen, the Yankees really could use a multi-inning option with experience in the late-innings right now.  There’s no other way to put it, they straight up screwed the pooch by non-tendering Aceves.

* Brett Gardner gets an assist.

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May
17

Time For A Shake-Up

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More high fives, pls. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Six losses in a row and ten in the last 13 games is cause for panic around these parts, but I thought Joe Girardi put it perfectly last night when he compared the team’s situation to a trip to the tooth man: “It’s like when I have to go to the dentist,” said the skipper. “I know I’m going to get through it, but I still dread it every time I go.” They will get through it, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees should just sit back and wait for things to happen. I think they need to be a little more proactive right now.

Don’t get me wrong, when I said shake-up in the headline by no means did a major one. You start releasing players or firing coaches or whatever and all you’d be doing is adding to chaos. Minor tweaks are the best place to start, especially with a roster like this one. Dip your toe in the pool before diving in, know what I mean? So here’s what I have in mind…

Alex Rodriguez

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

To say A-Rod is slumping would be kind. The Yankees clean-up man is hitting just .180/.253/.281 following last night’s 0-for-4 with three strikeouts  in 23 games since that stiff back/oblique issue in mid-April. He’s either popping up or fouling off pitches he should at least hit hard, even if it’s into a defender’s glove, and that’s when he’s not swinging through low-90’s fastballs or over top of anything with some break to it. There’s no other way to say it, Alex has been horrible lately.

This isn’t the first time he’s slumped though, you don’t play in the big leagues as long as he has without going through some rough patches. After coming back off the disabled list in 2009, A-Rod went through a 21-game stretch in which he hit .176/.337/.297 from late-May into June. Joe Girardi took advantage of an off day to give Alex two consecutive days off in mid-June, sitting him in a series opening contest against the Marlins. The third baseman came back seemingly rejuvenated, hitting .324/.490/.730 over his next 11 games and .317/.415/.561 over the remainder of the season. Maybe a few days off would do Alex good right now. It certainly wouldn’t hurt.

The Lineup

Something has to happen here. You can only run the same lineup out there so many days in a row and watch it not play to its potential before changing something. Doesn’t have to be drastic, but sometimes moving pieces around just works. Brett Gardner is hitting well (.373/.484/.490 over his last 18 games), maybe it’s time to give him another shot at hitting leadoff. Russell Martin is hitting just .196 over his last 14 games but you know what? He’s also getting on base 35.1% of the time during that stretch. Maybe he gets move up ahead of the (supposed) big bats. After A-Rod’s hiatus you could flip-flop him and Mark Teixeira in the three-four spots. I’m just spit-balling here, there are a lot of different things they can try. They just actually have to do it instead of running the same order out there day after day and expecting things to magically fix themselves.

A Sensible Bullpen

Major League salary and I don't even have to pitch! What a country! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A seven-man bullpen is probably overkill, but I can live with it. An eight-man bullpen is just nutso. Hector Noesi has been on the big league roster for a total of 14 days this year and has yet to face a batter. Give me a break, get the kid back to Triple-A so he can pitch and develop while that roster spot isn’t being wasted. If Rafael Soriano‘s elbow is bad enough that he has to do back to New York to see the doctor, then just retroactively DL him and stop wasting a roster spot.

With Noesi down and Soriano on the shelf, that frees up one bullpen spot since the Yankees should get back to a normal 12-man pitching staff. Amaury Sanit if the de facto long man, Luis Ayala that only-when-losing short relief guy. Fine. Give the other spot to one of the short relief kids that can miss bats in Triple-A and see if they can help take some of the load off Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson. Kevin Whelan is a fine candidate, but there’s also Ryan Pope (8.59 K/9, 0.00 BB/9 in limited time back from injury) and George Kontos (23 K in 23 IP this year, 61 K in 68 IP since coming back from Tommy John surgery last year). Remember, Robertson got his first real chance this same way in 2009. The Yankees have options, they just have to try them out. You’d be amazed at what could turn up.

Another Offensive Weapon

If they cut the bullpen down from eight men to seven, Girardi’s going to have another bench guy to play with. Eric Chavez is still a few weeks away, and I’ve already suggesting waiting just a little more before turning Jesus Montero lose on unsuspecting AL pitchers, but he’s not the only option. Justin Maxwell (.401 wOBA, RHB) and Chris Dickerson (.340 wOBA, .366 OBP, LHB) are both on the 40-man roster and could be more useful than a pitcher that never pitches anyway. I’m not bullish on Jorge Vazquez (.403 wOBA, RHB), but sheesh, it’s worth a try. Given all the slumping bats, a few more days off for the regulars and pinch-hitting appearances wouldn’t be the end of the world.

* * *

Again, these aren’t major changes, but they’re changes nonetheless. Give A-Rod some time off to forget about baseball and heal up any nagging injuries, rearrange the lineup some, optimize the bullpen, add a usable bench player and go from there. I’m all for patience, and I still recommend it, but a little tweak here won’t kill anyone.

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May
12

Filing Some Complaints

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Games like last night’s happen throughout the course of a 162-game season, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating. The Yankees are still in first place and (more importantly) still have the second best run differential (+39) in the league. It hasn’t been pretty over the last few weeks, so let’s break out the old complaint box…

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

.208/.330/.299

That’s what the Yankees are hitting with men in scoring position over the last two weeks or so, since the second game of the Detroit series*. I usually don’t put an overwhelming amount of stock in performances with RISP since it’s generally a small sampling of plate appearances (just 90 over that time, which is nothing in context of the entire team), but that doesn’t mean the Yankees’ failures in those spots don’t drive me insane. Last night was the epitome of RISPFAIL, as they went just 2-for-16 with men on second and/or third and stranded 15 runners in 11 innings. Just awful.

A-Rod‘s Slump

Popup-Rod. (AP Photo/Matt Strasen)

The newer, slimmed down version of Alex Rodriguez was a monster at the outset of the season, hitting .385/.500/.821 with four homers in his first 13 games before missing one game and part of another with a stiff back/oblique. He just hasn’t been the same since, hitting .194/.260/.269 in his 17 games back. The grand slam in his first game back against the Orioles seems like a distance memory. It’s clear that Alex’s timing is off at the plate; he’s fouling off pitches he should crush and completely whiffing on others he should at least hit hard somewhere.

Other slumps of note: Robinson Cano (six for his last 30), Russell Martin (six for his last 40), and the year-long ugliness of Jorge Posada (.162/.273/.352) and Nick Swisher (.217/.336/.296).

David RoBBertson

I had some fun with David Robertson‘s knack for pitching out of other people’s messes yesterday, but you know what? The guy has a serious walk problem. He’s always been a little wild, sure, but this year he’s unintentionally walked nine men in 14 innings (5.79 uIBB/9), and that includes eight walks in his last 5.2 IP. Robertson’s walked at least one batter in his last six appearances after walking just two in his first ten games. Is it possible that warming up practically every game in April is taking a toll on his arm now? He’s never been known as a control freak, but the sudden spike in free pass rate is a nice piece of anecdotal evidence. That leads me to this…

Innings Roles

I hate ‘em. Mariano Rivera in the ninth? Perfectly fine with me, no issue there whatsoever. $35M setup man in the eighth? Fine, I can live with that. But having a designated seventh inning guy? Now we’re really pushing the envelope of common sense. There needs to be more flexibility with Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and even Boone Logan in those spots, if for no other reason than to avoid wearing one or all of them out given all these close games the Yankees have been playing.

D'oh. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Fundamentals

How many rundowns have we seen the Yankees botch this season, especially when pitchers are involved? Whatever the number is, it’s too many. Rundowns have to be viewed as guaranteed outs, and they’ve not only failed to convert a number of them, but they’ve often ended up costing the team runs. We’ve also seen instances of pitchers forgetting (or being too lazy) to cover first base, or just muff balls grounded to their area. Did they just skip PFP in camp because four-fifths of a rotation is made up of veteran guys? Whatever it is, the sloppy play needs to be cleaned up.

* * *

These are just a few of the more … annoying aspects of the team right now, but there’s certainly several others. Those include the heavy use of the sacrifice bunt, Buddy Carlyle’s presence on the roster, Logan’s general inability to get out lefties, Cano’s hackiness, so on and so forth.

* Cherry-picking at its finest.

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As I sat in the Terrace section of Yankee Stadium three weeks ago, I pondered the scene around me. For the second year in a row, I nabbed some tickets to the home opener, and while last year’s crowd celebrated the World Series ring ceremony on a sunny day in early spring, this year’s sparse crowd seemed more focused on huddling together to stay warm. With rain falling and highs reaching only 43 degrees, the weather seemed better suited to football than Opening Day.

Now, over the years, I’ve spent many a cold night at Yankee Stadium. I’ve sat through blistering winds in early May and chilly but crisp nights in late October. I’ve seen snow fall early in the season and have worn more layers than I care to count to the stadium. But on Opening Day, sitting there in three shirts, a sweater, a winter jacket and with a wool hat and gloves on, I said to myself, “No more.” Unless it’s Opening Day, I’d rather just wait until the weather is warmer.

Yet, last Friday and Saturday, when game-time temperatures were in the upper 40s, I again found myself at Yankee Stadium, bundled up to brave the cold. By the time the Yanks had won Saturday afternoon’s affair against the Rangers, I had spent around seven of the previous 22 hours in the cold at Yankee Stadium. I realize that was my choice, but it was a tough one. By the end of the second game, my friend Jay who also went to both games said he wasn’t sure he could keep going to these freezing games. It’s impossible to deny that the dog days of summer are much, much better for baseball than the rainy days of early April.

Somehow, though, the Yankees were scheduled for home games throughout April. Already, they’ve had 13 home games scheduled. Two have been rained out, and for two others, the team has offered to give fans make-goods for a future date because the weather was just that miserable. They end the month with six month home games, and luckily, temperatures may actually be in the upper 50s or low 60s then.

Meanwhile, baseball has been wringing its collective hands over attendance woes. CNBC’s Darren Rovell noted this week that attendance was down slightly across the board, but that a few teams — including the Yankees — had seen steep declines. Even though the Yanks are third in home attendance in the Majors right now, the current average — 41,685 — is nine percent lower than 2010’s per-game average.

The Yankees are blaming the weather, and I’m inclined to agree, at least in part. “The fact that we’ve had this early April schedule has hurt us,” Randy Levine said to ESPN New York. “Over the course of the season, we expect everything to equalize. But early on, the fact that the weather has been so bad [and] we’ve had so many games in April has hurt.”

On the other hand, though, a good number of partial season ticket holders have dropped their plans. The Yankees either cut benefits and postseason access from the plans or the costs became too high. The attendance issues too are reflected on the secondary market. It’s now possible to buy reasonably good seasons for well under $10 a pop. With markdowns so far below face value, supply is outstripping demand.

As we can’t yet draw too many statistical conclusions from the Yanks’ play, it’s also early to condemn the attendance numbers. But I’m comfortable saying the Yanks shouldn’t have 19 home games — or nearly 25 percent of their home slate scheduled — for before May 1. It’s not a secret that spring is a cold, wet time in the northeast, and baseball has plenty of warm-weather teams and domed stadiums to play host to most April games.

Despite my promises to myself, I’ll keep going to games, and I’ll keep bringing layers and gloves. I know we’ll be complaining about the heat in New York come mid-July, but these early April home games are a bit brutal. I don’t blame anyone for staying home. It’s much warmer on my couch, after all.

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Apr
14

Bad Process vs. Bad Results

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"You okay, Pedro?" "Si, si ... no." (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Baseball is a game of failure, whether you’re a hitter or a pitcher or a coach or a scout or a general manager. Everyone’s going to make mistakes, it’s part of life and it’s part of the game. Some make more than others, and if you’re the Yankees, you make more high-profile mistakes more than others. That’s what happens when you play in the deep end of the pool. The team got some bad news last night following Pedro Feliciano‘s MRI, as the left-hander has (what we can infer is) significant damage in his throwing shoulder and may need surgery. Depending on the severity of the injury, he could miss the entire year and possibly even the start of the next season.

Unfortunately an injured lefty reliever is nothing new for the Yankees. The reason they signed Feliciano in the first place was because Damaso Marte is going to miss a significant chunk of the season after having shoulder surgery himself. Since signing his three-year, $12M contract before the 2009 season, Marte has thrown a total of 35 innings for New York, and that’s regular season plus playoffs. The team clearly hasn’t gotten its money’s worth.

When the previously ultra-durable Feliciano hit the disabled list to start the season, Brian Cashman lashed out at the lefty’s previous employer by saying flatly “he was abused.” That was a head-scratcher simply because any dunce with access to Baseball-Reference could tell you that Feliciano had been overworked by the Mets in recent years, but the real head-scratcher is why they still signed him if they knew he was abused. The “limited market” for left-handed relievers was used as an the excuse, but that doesn’t really pass the sniff test. There were no fewer than 13 big league caliber LOOGY’s on the free agent market this offseason, and six of them were still on the board when the Yankees pulled the trigger on Feliciano. Plus, they’re the Yankees, there’s no such thing as a limited market for them.

Failure in baseball comes in two forms: results failure and process failure. Results failure is when you do everything right and it still doesn’t work out, something we see every day. A batter squares a ball up but hits it right at a fielder. A pitcher buries the changeup down and away but the hitter just throws the bat head out and bloops a single the other way. The relief ace enters the game in the right spot but still blows the lead. That’s life, and it’s part of what makes baseball so great, the unpredictability.

Process failure is another matter entirely. That’s when the decisions leading up poor results were bad. Stacking the lineup with lefty batters against Randy Johnson. Leaving the LOOGY in to face an elite right-handed batter. Sacrifice bunting a runner up a base when he’s already in scoring position. That’s the kind of stuff that qualifies as a process failure, the straight up bad decisions. Hey, sometimes they do work it, but more often than not they don’t. Signing Feliciano to a market rate and multi-year deal when the team was obviously aware of the risk and there were viable alternatives on the market, that’s a process failure.

Let’s just ignore the multi-year contract aspect of it. We know those are generally bad ideas in the first place, and the Yankees have seen first hand over and over and over again. The whole idea that they knew Feliciano was at heightened risk of injury (remember, he’s already 34, he’s no spring chicken) and still gave him a market value contract just seems like a good old fashioned swing and a miss. Either they didn’t evaluate him properly, they didn’t evaluate the alternatives properly, or they got too caught up in the name value. Maybe it was all three.

Yes, swallowing Feliciano’s $4M salary is no big deal for the Yankees this year. That barely makes a dent in their bottom line. But being able to do that shouldn’t necessarily be a reason to take on added risk, not in the situation like this. He’s a lefty reliever, Feliciano’s impact would have been minimal even if he was perfectly healthy. Maybe they take on that risk for a front-end starter or a power bat, but a LOOGY? Now they’re stuck with no Feliciano, a budget missing $4M (more when you count the luxury tax), and a real limited market. All the free agents are gone and no one’s ready to make a trade yet, certainly not when it comes to left-handed relievers anyway.

Feliciano won’t be anything more than a footnote in the history of the 2011 Yankees, but his signing will hopefully serve as lesson like Marte, Kyle Farnsworth, and Steve Karsay apparently didn’t. Giving multi-year contracts to non-Mariano Rivera relievers is a terrible idea, especially when there are obvious physical concerns with the player. Luckily the Yankees can absorb the mistake and move on like nothing happened, but they definitely goofed on this one.

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Mar
29

My Fifth Starter Mini-Rant

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(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Over the weekend, the Yankees announced that Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will be their fourth and fifth starters when the season opens while Bartolo Colon shifts to the bullpen and does the long man routine. I don’t think anyone has an issue with Nova being in the rotation, he showed enough in his cameo late last year and continued to impress in camp. Given the alternatives, there was no reason not to give him one of the open spots. That last spot is a little more up for debate.

The decision was made with heavy influence from the 157 innings Garcia mustered for the White Sox last year. That part is pretty clear. They weren’t the best innings (4.77 FIP), but hey, a typical fifth starter is 14% worse than league average and Garcia wasn’t all that far off from that mark last year (16.9%). Colon didn’t pitch at all last season and has managed just 101.1 IP in the bigs since 2007. The Yankees need reliability at the back of the rotation and their decision reflects that based on each guy’s recent history.

However, my thinking about the fifth starter’s spot is a little different. We know that both Garcia and Colon have battled some major, major shoulder issues in the last few years, and I think we all expect both guys to break down at some point this season. Ironically enough, we consider them band-aids for the rotation. At some point, we’ll just rip them off and throw them away. So anyway, my thinking is that when you have two guys this close to the end of the line, two guys that slip right off the cliff at any moment, their recent histories don’t mean all that much. At some point you have to look at what you have in the here and now and ignore what happened last year or over the last three years or whatever.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Colon, by any measure, beat out Garcia (and really Nova too, for that matter) for a rotation spot in camp. We know that Spring Training stats mean nothing, but if you’re the kind of person that puts value in them, then you probably know that Colon’s 17 strikeouts leads Yankees pitchers this spring, and he walked just one batter in 15 IP (four runs). Garcia, on the other hand, had another ugly spring in a career full of them, allowing nine runs in 13.2 IP. He did strike out a dozen and walked just two, but he gave up a hit per inning. At a time when he had to pitch well, he was underwhelming.

Just looking at the stuff, and it was painfully obvious that Colon was better. He’s not the guy he was in his prime, when 96+ mph fastballs were the norm, but he was consistently at 92 and touching 94 on occasion with his four-seamer while his sinker sat just below that. His offspeed offering – whether you want to call it a changeup or splitter or forkball or junkball is unimportant – did the job of keeping hitters off balance. Garcia’s kitchen sink approach featured a lot of fastballs in the 80’s and various breaking balls just off the plate. The kind of breaking balls that get hammered if they aren’t located properly. Based on what we saw in camp (an albeit limited sample), Colon has much more margin for error right now. That isn’t to say he has a lot, but it’s more than Garcia.

Chances are I’m making too much of nothing, but I would have started the season with Colon in the rotation to get as much out of him as humanly possible before his arm explodes. He’s throwing the ball better than Garcia is right now, and I would have milked it for all it’s worth. Then again, it’s not my neck on the line, and we are talking about two guys brought in to be placeholders. The Yankees will eventually find someone better and move on, and we’ll all look back at this fifth starter/long man debate and laugh. But for now, I would have done things differently.

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