On behalf of A-Rod, I’m declaring war

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I hope the Baseball Schedule Gods take note: Baseball in New York during the first week of April is a Bad Idea. It’s miserable playing baseball in 30-degree weather with snow swirling; it’s miserable watching baseball in 30-degree weather. So try as I might, I just cannot fault the Yankees for the way last night’s game unfolded.

Luis Vizcaino, the only Yankee with a record, said it best. According to Tyler Kepner of The Times, it was too cold for pitchers to grip their breaking balls. And it showed.

So while Steve Lombardi accurately summed up last night’s game, much like Mark McGwire, I’m not here to talk about the past. Instead, let’s see how reporters summed up this game.

As the lovely montage above shows, the New York tabloids seemed fit to lay the blame squarely on Alex Rodriguez‘s much-maligned shoulders. But that wasn’t the worst. Note this excerpt from the AP’s game summary:

Alex Rodriguez had a great opportunity to turn Yankees fans in his favor.

Once again, he flopped….

A-Rod, who is 4-for-41 (.098) without an RBI in his last 12 playoff games dating to 2004, tossed his bat aside in disgust after the popout and muttered to himself as he waited for a teammate to bring out his cap and glove. Often booed at Yankee Stadium for failing to deliver in crucial situations, he heard plenty of catcalls again — even from a crowd diminished by the cold.

Such drama for the second game of the season. A-Rod completely and utterly flopped. And let’s not forget to mention his post-season struggles even though it’s April and the regular season. That’s sound reporting and writing right there.

To this, I say, “Enough!” Enough dumping on Alex Rodriguez; enough laying the blame for every single Yankee loss on his shoulders.

Leverage Index experiments aside, let’s review a few key points that are seemingly glossed over in the articles about last night’s game.

  1. The Yankees gave up two unearned runs last night because Golden Boy Derek Jeter made two more errors to add to his league-leading error total. Those errors were costly. Does he get lambasted? No. Other than a brief mention on the cover of the Daily News and some lip service to playing sloppily, Derek gets off free.
  2. Jorge Posada forgot how to catch the ball.
  3. Melky Cabrera cannot bunt. Period. That was a terrible strategic decision and a terrible bunt. Pinch run for the slow Mientkiewicz if you really want to run.
  4. Derek Jeter – oh, him again – grounded into what should have been the second out of the inning in the 8th. His 20-foot fielder’s choice sure was clutch. Only a bad play by the Devil Rays kept the inning alive for Alex Rodriguez to come to the plate later on.
  5. Bobby Abreu, with the bases loaded and one out, could have done just about anything to get the run in short of what he did. Instead, he takes a mighty hack at a terrible pitch…and grounds it right back to the pitcher. Maybe a squeeze should have been in order there. It would have been more effective. And this, folks, is your Goat of the Game. Not Alex Rodriguez who had to hit with two outs but Bobby Abreu who simply needed to hit a fly ball. Where are the writers criticizing Abreu?
  6. No one at all mentioned the brilliant decision to pinch run for Jason Giambi in the 7th inning of a tie game. So Joe Torre used Miguel Cairo to run halfway from second to third before the inning ended. Instead of Giambi facing Al Reyes in the 9th, the Yanks had to use Josh Phelps, proving yet again that Joe Torre doesn’t know how to use his bench.

So there are six factors that contributed to the loss tonight absent the weather and terrible pitching by the Yanks’ bullpen. But of course, the media just dump on Alex Rodriguez. They dump and dump and dump.

They mention Alex Rodriguez’s game 1 error but not Jeter’s three errors in two games. They mention Alex Rodriguez’s pop up with two outs but not Abreu’s disastrous at-bat. And Newsday and The Post couldn’t even come up with an original headline. Do they sit around their offices wondering how best to dump on A-Rod tonight?

Why do so-called Yankee fans want to see A-Rod fail? Why do his plays get magnified? This guy is the leading slugger in baseball over the last 10 years, and Yankee fans would rather see him play elsewhere. You are the people ruining baseball in New York.

Enough.

Another Alex trade rumor

I try not to give much consideration to such rumors, but I thought I’d throw this out there for you all to digest (since Angels fans are already talking about it). Anaheim is one of the oft-reported destinations for Alex Rodriguez should he opt out of his contract at the end of the year. According to Halos Heaven, we may not have to wait that long. They’re reporting that the two teams could perform an early-season swap:

Stoneman and Cashman have reportedly agreed on a three-tier wait-and-see:

1. Audition Moseley

2. See if the boo-birds flock on A-Rod and how Boras then responds to a trade proposal (as Rodriguez can ultimately veto it)

3. Assuage Boras by adding Jered Weaver to the deal, as WTY in Yankee Stadium = Visions of future big bucks to tempt Scott B.

4. Yankees get Weaver, Moseley and Jose Molina for A-Rod.

First off, I don’t buy into this scenario at all. Why would the Angels give up Weaver if they can have Alex AND Jered next season? The only reason would be that they think their pitching is good enough without Weaver, and that Alex is the missing piece to their World Series quest. I’m not familiar with the inner workings of the Angels, but by knowing their roster, I’m not quite sure this is the year for them.

Second, why would Cashman trade his only right-handed power bat for Weaver, Moseley, and Molina? Jered has had one good season, and could certainly falter in the future, especially under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium (need I even mention his brother at this point?). I’m unsure why Moseley would be even remotely attractive as a trading chip. Sure, he’s had a good spring (1.98 ERA), but what are you going to trust, 13.2 spring innings, or a minor-league track record littered with 4.50+ ERAs at the AAA level? Finally, while Molina is an adequate backup catcher, he sure doesn’t fill the hole Alex’s bat would leave in the lineup.

No, no, no, that won’t do at all. I understand that the Yankees risk getting nothing for him after the season (though, if he opts out, he’s a free agent…the Yanks would get a first-rounder out of it, right? Mike, I’m looking at you.). But to trade Alex for that proposed package would do serious damage to their chances in 2007. Beyond losing significant power, the question remains of who the hell would play third base?

The strangest part of all is that the few commenters on this post, for the most part, don’t want to execute the deal. Understand that if (biiiiig if) the Angels were to acquire Alex, an extension would surely be the price of him waiving the no-trade clause. Hypothetically, the Angles would acquire one of the best hitters in the history of the game (and the best third-baseman or shortstop in the American League) for a young pitcher with one good year under his belt (and who is currently battling injury) and a load of dog shit.

My question to you, our loyal readers: would you pull the trigger? If so, I’d like to hear some arguments. I just can’t see risking the 2007 season, especially when the Yanks don’t look to have even a replacement-level player to man third base should Alex depart.

Hat tip to MLB Trade Rumors.

What part of “shut up and play” doesn’t he understand?

As should be well-known by now (because this is one of those water cooler topics), Alex discussed opting out of his contract with Mike and the Mad Dog yesterday at Legends Field. Per Pete Abraham, Alex was the one who brought up the subject.

I’ve always tried to defend him, mainly because I thought the fans were being way too unreasonable. At this point, though, I’m ready to give up. If he’s going to say the things he said, he’d better put up the numbers to back it up. And until he does, there’s nothing else to talk about.

Can we put a gag on this guy?

Update: Ken Rosenthal has the same idea.

Bat Alex Fifth

An article on lineup protection by Ken Rosenthal inspired some thought on the state of the Yankees lineup. It has been widely speculated that Alex Rodriguez needs protection in order to hit at his best. Why people think this, I have no idea. He’s Alex freakin’ Rodriguez; shouldn’t he be the one protecting others in the lineup?

The short, short version of the protection myth: hitters benefit from having a power hitter behind them because a pitcher is more likely to pitch more cautiously and throw more strikes so that he won’t have to face said power hitter. Anecdotally, this makes a degree of sense. A pitcher working extra cautiously can be prone to making mistakes, and mistakes lead to big plays. Even absent a screw up, the increase in strikes should lead to more hittable pitches.

Ah, but what of the hitters in front of the power duo? Ryan Howard, via Rosenthal’s article, believes that the guys in front of him contribute to his success just as much as the guy behind him. This also makes a degree of anecdotal sense. Wouldn’t a pitcher become more cautious with a few men on base — particularly if they’re in scoring position — than he would in fear of the on-deck hitter?

In the Yankees lineup, batting Alex later seems to be the best choice. Sabermatricians may disagree, arguing that lineup order doesn’t have much affect on the number of runs it can produce. While that’s true in a purely statistical sense, Rosenthal makes an excellent point to the contrary:

The numbers that statistical analysts produce to debunk the importance of lineup protection are difficult to ignore. But those numbers are mere outcomes that reveal little about a pitcher’s process — his approach to an at-bat, a game situation, a lineup as a whole.

We obviously cannot measure these factors as they relate to a pitcher’s approach. This is why a study of the effect of lineup protection would likely yield less than accurate results. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put together a case based on circumstantial evidence, right?

The top of the Yankees order is filled with on-base machines. Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter and especially Bobby Abreu find themselves on base well more than the average player. Add Jason Giambi‘s exquisite plate discipline and you have an excellent chance that Alex hits with plenty of men on base. Plus, don’t forget that dude hitting behind him…what’s his name…Hideki Matsui. He may not be Manny Ramirez, but he provides a more than adequate degree of protection.

I’ll admit that the next bit of evidence is a bit disingenuous. Nothing here speaks of the players hitting in front of Alex in these particular at bats, and it also comes with the caveat of a small sample size. All that aside, in 461 career plate appearances when batting in the fifth slot (roughly a season’s worth with a stint on the DL), his line is .334/.422/.641, good for a monstrous 1.063 OPS, his highest of any position in the batting order. Of course, he has much larger samples when hitting in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th spots. But it’s not like we’re working with a sample size of 40 plate appearances.

Many fans would object to this because they don’t want Alex hitting with men on base. “He chokes,” they say. “And he was pressing last season,” they add, and in both instances they’re not wholly inaccurate. However, in 294 at bats with runners on last season, his OPS was .938 (.293/.404/.534). Not too shabby.

The Yankees high on-base guys, combined with Alex’s career trends, is, I believe, reason enough to place him fifth in the order, at least to start the season. The guys ahead of him will afford him many opportunities to hit with men on base, and the guys behind him — from Hideki to Jorge to Robby (sorry, MInkie) — basically make protection in the Yankee order a non-issue.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

The Alex and Derek show marches on unnecessarily

It’s funny how some things work out. As I was searching for a suitable picture of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, I found that the first Google hit for jeter arod is a story from 2004 about the how the friendship between the two stars remained in place but had cooled in the then three years since this infamous Esquire article.

Funny, I could swear that is nearly the exact same story as the one developing this week about A-Rod’s comments and Jeter’s response. Are the reporters in Tampa really that hard up for news?

Let’s be honest: It is unreasonable to expect that 25 guys on a baseball team will be best friends. I know this from experience. For ten years, I played on numerous teams. I played on after-school teams, summer teams and high school baseball teams. There were plenty of guys with whom I was friends and with whom I’m still friends nearly six years after my last game, but there were also plenty of guys about which I could care less. That’s all part of being thrown together into a situation with people who start out as complete strangers.

But when we stepped into the dugout, it didn’t matter who we ate lunch with in the cafeteria, how well we did or didn’t do in classes and what our weekend plans were. It didn’t matter if we were best friends, passing acquaintances or bitter enemies. We played baseball as a team. We were on the field to win, and we worked hard together to achieve that goal. We put aside our differences, sucked up our past problems and played to win.

That’s exactly what Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter have to do now.

It’s clear that these two stars aren’t exactly best buddies. While the staid Chad Curtis once called out Jeter because of his friendship with Rodriguez, those days are long gone. That fateful Esquire interview in April of 2001 drove that nail deep into the coffin.

But that was six years ago, three of which the two superstars have spent on the same team. It’s time for these men to put aside their differences and support each other on the field.

I’m going to lay the blame for this soap opera squarely on the shoulders of the usually untouchable Yankee Captain. Last season, Jeter, who has publicly supported the oft-beleaguered Jason Giambi over the years, refused to come to Alex Rodriguez’s support. It’s not his business, Derek said, who the fans cheer on and who they boo.

Well, as captain of the Yankees, it’s certainly his business to lead the team and stand up for his teammates. If that means sticking his neck out for the psychologically fragile Alex Rodriguez, so be it. If his words would help the team, then Derek must deliver.

(Image of Derek and Alex getting along from Scout.com)