This time, it’s personal

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Just a bit less than a year ago, I wrote  a piece detailing my inability to let go of caring about the Baseball Hall of Fame process. Now, all this time later, I still can’t stop caring. I’ve managed to let go of caring about the postseason awards voting, but the Hall of Fame stuff still lingers. In 2015, I talked about the idea of rational debate, of a love of logic and reason being behind my enduring attachment to the Hall of Fame process; this year, though, it’s different. I care his year for reasons that are wholly personal.

The first baseball mitt I clearly remember using was a small black one that I used up until middle school. On the palm in gold lettering was a signature that read “Tim ‘Rock’ Raines.” It wasn’t until recently that I realized just how good Raines was as a player, that he was more than just the dude whose signature adorned my first mitt, which I’ll seemingly never forget. Given that this is his last year on the ballot, it’s hard not to care, not to want to see him get in. It’s possible–maybe even probable–that he does this year. That would be sweet and a long time coming or a great, great player.

Jorge Posada, on the ballot for the first time–and probably the last–was a favorite player of mine growing up. The same is probably true of a lot of you. Whether it was his consistent, excellent bat or his passion for the game, it wasn’t hard to root for Jorge. Always the player surrounded by stars, Posada’s career is likely highly underrated by anyone outside of Yankee fandom. He’s not going to garner a lot of support–and he probably shouldn’t be a Hall of Fame player–but it’d be nice for Georgie to get some recognition.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All of us–well, except Michael Kay–loved Mike Mussina’s time on the Yankees. Combining his peak performance for the Bombers and his longevity, he’s got a case as one of the Yankees three best starters of the last twenty years.  He was a fantastic pitcher for a long time and is also underappreciated on a large scale and deserves Cooperstown just as much as any pitcher has in recent years.

The odds of all three of these favorites of mine getting in are incredibly long, nigh impossible. But having that connection to them is why I can’t stop caring, at least not this year. Maybe once this spate of ex-Yankees–ending with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and (hopefully) Alex Rodriguez in the next few years–comes to an end, I can finally put an end to caring about this damned process. Until then, though, I’ll continue to root, root for the home team and hope my favorites make it in.

Jorge Posada among newcomers on ’17 Hall of Fame ballot

Count 'em. (Getty)
Count ’em. (Getty)

For the first time ever, a member of the Core Four (groan) is eligible for the Hall of Fame. Longtime Yankees catcher Jorge Posada is one of 19 newcomers on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. The BBWAA officially released the 34-player class of Cooperstown hopefuls earlier today. Here’s the ballot.

Posada played his entire career with the Yankees and is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball history. He retired as a career .273/.374/.474 (121 OPS+) hitter with 275 home runs in parts of 17 seasons from 1995-2011. During his peak from 2000-07, Posada hit .283/.389/.492 (130 OPS+) and averaged 23 homers and 136 games caught per season. He won five World Series rings too, though he wasn’t exactly an integral part of the 1996 team.

Among the other first time eligible players joining the Hall of Fame ballot this year are Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Vlad Guerrero. Manny won’t get in because he was suspended not once, but twice for performance-enhancing drugs as a player. Rodriguez never tested positive but there was plenty of suspicion. Vlad? With Vlad it’s a question of whether his career warrants induction, not PEDs.

In addition to Posada and Rodriguez, other players on the ballot with ties to the Yankees are Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Gary Sheffield, and Lee Smith. Fred McGriff is also on the ballot. He never played for the Yankees because they traded him as a minor leaguer, but they did draft him. Raines is on the ballot for the tenth and final time, so this is his last chance to get in.

My guess is Rodriguez, Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Trevor Hoffman get in this year with Vlad falling just short. Raines, Bagwell, and Hoffman all came close to getting in last year and I expect them to get over the hump this time around. Posada’s case is borderline, and while I don’t think he’ll get in, he’ll no doubt receive enough votes to remain on the ballot going forward.

As a reminder, players need to receive 75% of the vote for induction and 5% to remain on the ballot another year. The Hall of Fame voters have to send in their ballots by the end of the year. The 2017 Hall of Fame class will be announced during a live MLB Network broadcast on Wednesday, January 18th.

Spring Notes: Captain’s Camp, Tanaka, Pineda, Pettitte

Soon. (Presswire)
Soon. (Presswire)

We are now a day and a half away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Tampa for the start of Spring Training. Of course, a bunch of players are already working out at the minor league complex, so a bunch of spring notes have been trickling in the last few days. Here’s a quick roundup, via Bryan Hoch, Anthony McCarron, and Erik Boland.

2016 Captain’s Camp underway

The second annual Captain’s Camp is underway and the Yankees have been shuttling in former players, executives, and media folks to talk to their top young prospects. CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Alfonso Soriano, and Darryl Strawberry have all stopped by the Tampa complex to spend time with the kids. Derek Jeter took them all out to dinner last night.

“What’s encouraging to me is that we don’t pay anybody to come. We have a lot of really good people that are coming in to talk to our guys, just to voluntarily share what they’ve learned over the years,” said farm system head Gary Denbo, who came up with the idea for Captain’s Camp last year. Denbo confirmed more prospects were invited this year as the Yankees look to groom their next young core.

Interestingly, the Yankees selected two Captain’s Camp “leaders” this year: outfielder Aaron Judge and right-hander Brady Lail. “We picked a pitcher and we picked a position player that we thought could lead by example and through their actions. They’ve done a tremendous job,” said Denbo. I think the whole Captain’s Camp idea is pretty cool. Being a big leaguer is hard and it’s great the Yankees are doing whatever they can to help their prospects get to the next level.

All goes well as Tanaka throws off a mound

Over the weekend Masahiro Tanaka threw off a mound for the first time in Tampa — he threw off a mound at Yankee Stadium last week — and everything is going well with his surgically repaired elbow so far. “(Tanaka) didn’t try to push it too much, but it was good. He wasn’t midseason form, but he was where he should be,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild of the 20-pitch throwing session. Tanaka played long toss yesterday as well.

Tanaka had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in October and depending who you ask, he is either right on schedule or the Yankees are handling him carefully. I suppose both can be true. Tanaka says he’s unsure if he’ll ready for Opening Day, Rothschild says he’s right on schedule, and Brian Cashman says they’ll take it easy with him in camp. Either way, so far, so good. “We’ll keep throwing. We’ll probably do a mound (session) within the next couple days, and then just keep progressing from there,” said Rothschild.

Pineda wants to throw 200 innings in 2016

Standard Spring Training story alert: [Pitcher] who has never thrown 200 innings in a season wants to throw 200 innings this year. In this case [Pitcher] is Michael Pineda. “I want to throw 200 innings this year. That’s my goal,” he said. “You always want to do better. Sometimes we have good games, sometimes we have bad games … Now it’s a new year and a new season is coming and I want to be ready and prepared to have a great year.”

Pineda built a gym in his home this offseason and he is “looking slimmed down,” according to Boland. Of course, the biggest issue with Big Mike is health. He was on track to throw roughly 200 innings last season before missing most of August with a forearm issue. Pineda seems like the biggest wildcard on the staff. His upside is so obvious and yet, as we saw last year, the results don’t always match the stuff. He’s frustrating and also way too talented to give up on.

Pettitte throws batting practice, may be back later in spring

While in town for Captain’s Camp, Pettitte threw batting practice to several of the team’s top prospects for about 30 minutes yesterday. “If I’m going to be here, y’all ought to use me. The wind was blowing out. Judge, I think, hit a couple on Dale Mabry (Boulevard),” he joked.

Pettitte may return to Spring Training in a few weeks — he was asked about coming back as a player and answered with a straight “No,” in case you’re wondering — depending on his schedule. “I’m going to try to, but I have to see the kids’ games, the way it works out” he said. “I love being down here, love being around these young guys. It’s extremely important to me, also, because of what the Yankees have been to me.”

Hip, Hip: Previewing the Hall of Fame Case for Jorge Posada

It's a Jorge Posada kind of day. (Chris Trotman/Getty)
It’s a Jorge Posada kind of day. (Chris Trotman/Getty)

I would not have realized this without Mike mentioning it in a post last week, but Jorge Posada will be up for induction into the Hall of Fame during the next round of elections. He last played in 2011, a season that was humbling for him to say the least. His career ended on a positive note, though, as he was one of the few Yankees to show up during the ALDS against Detroit; in that disaster series, Jorge hit .429/.579/.571, notching six hits in the five game set. Amazingly enough, he didn’t drive a single run home in the series. Regardless of the ugly times in 2011, it wrapped up a fantastic career that deserves its share of inspection.

Posada’s Major League career started in earnest in 1997, when he played in 60 games and racked up 224 PAs for the Yanks; it got fully rolling in 1998, when his playing time jumped up and he played in 111 games and went to the plate 409 times. 1999 was rather similar; he played in 112 games and had 437 PA. 2000 was Jorge’s real breakout. Amassing 624 PA across 151 games, Posada raked, hitting .287/.417/.527 with 28 homers and an OPS+ of 139 (.405 wOBA; 140 wRC+). It started a string of four straight All Star Game appearances and four straight Silver Slugger awards. All told, Posada made it to five All Star Games and won five Silver Slugger awards (2000-3, 2007) and had a career line of .274/.374/.474/.848, good for a 121 OPS+ and a .367/123 wOBA/wRC+.

(Photo via NY Daily News)
(Photo via NY Daily News)

If we judge a player by the company he kept, then Posada was nothing short of an offensive leader at his position. His only offensive “sin” during his career was that he was not, in fact, Mike Piazza. Among catchers with at least 5000 PA from 1995-2011, Posada ranks second to Piazza in wOBA; wRC+; and home runs. He’s third in fWAR (44.3) behind Ivan Rodriguez (60.3–whom Posada outhit by 19 points in wOBA and 16 in wRC+) and Piazza (51.2).

Doubtlessly, Jorge Posada was the AL’s best offensive catcher for the years of his career; hitters like Mike Napoli and Joe Mauer definitely caught up to him in the later years of his career, but Posada’s offensive longevity and consistency were marvelous. Only twice–1999 and 2011–did Posada fail to hit at a league average rate, and that’s not adjusting for his position. Eight times, he notched marks at least 20% better than league average.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)
(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

But in the end, it probably wasn’t enough. Jorge wasn’t as good a hitter as Mike Piazza and he wasn’t as good a catcher as Ivan Rodriguez. He falls somewhere in the middle there, which definitely hurts him. This isn’t to say that his numbers are necessarily Hall-Worthy, but to say Posada was anything short of the second best offensive catcher of his time is unfair. The other big slight against him is another over which he had no control. Posada appeared in games for the Yankees staring in 1995, but wasn’t the full time catcher until 2000. Those years of being a part time player robbed him of the counting stats that a lot of voters take into consideration. Regardless, Posada managed to club 275 homers and drive in over 1,000 runs in his career, good marks for anyone, let alone a catcher. had he received more consistent playing time before 1998-2000, his candidacy might be more than something to dream on.

Considering the fate we just saw Jim Edmonds suffer–falling off the ballot ungraciously and undeservingly after just one appearance–it’s not likely that Posada sticks around very long. That wouldn’t be a big injustice or a travesty or anything, but as a player we feel a lot of emotional connection with, it’ll be a touch sad to see Jorge–like his teammate Bernie Williams–disappear from the ballot easily. In the end, though, it doesn’t change anything about the man and the player Jorge Posada was for the Yankees for so many years. It’s years too late, but thanks for the great career, Jorge. A retired number in Monument Park isn’t Cooperstown, but it’s a damn fine consolation prize.

The Speed of the Game

It’s Friday night and I’m standing in left-center at Teufel Field. It’s the bottom of the first inning and there are runners on first and second with one out and the fourth hitter for the opposing team is at the plate with a 1-1 count (thank you, speed up rules). Our pitcher sets on the mound, rears his arm back, and arcs the ball towards home plate. The batter swings and sends a sinking line drive in my direction, slightly to my left. Eyes squinted in the less-than-idea lighting, I sprint towards the ball charging forward, sliding at the last second, securing the second out before popping up and trying (and failing) to double up the runner at second. This play could’ve happened at least three times in the amount of time it took me to write this and for you to read it. The game is fast, and that’s just slow-pitch softball. On Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, I got even more education on the speed of the game.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time, I sat in the Legends seats–Section 14B, Row 2. As someone who played ball growing up and has watched and attended countless games, viewed from all over various in-stadium locations, I certainly knew how quick the game could be, but being so close hammered the point home (rudely at times, like Abraham Almonte’s screaming foul liner that buzzed our collective tower).  From Didi Gregorius‘s speed to the velocity of the pitches delivered by Luis Severino, Danny Salazar, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller, “fast” was the best way to describe yesterday.

With regards to that ‘micro-level’ speed, sitting so close to the action only furthered my appreciation for just how incredibly difficult baseball can be. The way hitters can react quickly enough to not just hit the ball, but hit it with authority, driving it all over the place, never ceases to amaze me. The way infielders can react to sharp ground balls and calmly field them is a near marvel; that they can seemingly flick their wrists and throw the ball harder than I could overhand is another feat that leaves me speechless. Because the players aren’t zooming around the field like they would be in basketball, hockey, soccer, or football, we don’t necessarily think of baseball as a speed sport, but it is unavoidably so.

On the ‘macro-level’ of speed, there was the pregame ceremony for Jorge Posada. As I watched him receive his plaques and gifts, I couldn’t believe almost four calendar years have passed since Jorge suited up for the Yankees. While his former teammates lined the infield grass, I remembered playing Wiffle Ball with friends in my front yard, imitating the batting stances of the men I was looking at–Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Posada himself… Obviously, many years have passed since then, but the memory didn’t–and still doesn’t–seem all that distant. Like the thrown and batted balls, like the lighting-fast pitches, the memories of players passed reminds us that the game moves quickly no matter how you look at it. We could all do well to slow down and appreciate it, from the tiny bursts of speed on the basepaths, to the (hopefully) magnificent careers blossoming in front of us.

Game 122: Jorge Posada Day

Jorge Posada is not my all-time favorite Yankee but he is definitely in the top three. A switch-hitting catcher with power, patience, and a fiery attitude? How did anyone not like the guy? Posada is one of the four best catchers in franchise history, and, among all catchers in MLB history, he ranks third in walks (936), eighth in homers (275), ninth in OBP (.374), 15th in OPS+ (121), and 17th in WAR (48.4).

I don’t know if Posada will ever get into the Hall of Fame, he’s a borderline candidate, but he is going into Monument Park this afternoon. The Yankees are retiring his uniform No. 20 and will also honor Posada with a plaque. He helped the team to five World Series titles — he was a key contributor to four of them — and holds several franchise records, including games caught (1,518). Simply put, he is one of the best catchers in both Yankees and baseball history.

The Yankees want fans in their seats by noon for the pre-game ceremony, but, knowing how these things go, the ceremony itself probably won’t start until 12:15pm or 12:30pm ET. Will Derek Jeter make his second appearance at Yankee Stadium since retiring? I have to think so. The whole gang will probably be there. The weather’s great and it should be a really fun day.

As for the regularly scheduled afternoon game, here is the Indians’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 1B Greg Bird
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. C John Ryan Murphy
    RHP Luis Severino

This afternoon’s game is scheduled to begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. The Posada ceremony will only be on YES, I believe. MLB Network usually doesn’t carry that stuff. For shame. Enjoy the ceremony and the game, folks.

Injury Updates: Michael Pineda (forearm) will rejoin the rotation Wednesday, Joe Girardi announced. Barring something unexpected, the team will do with a six-man rotation. Predictable … Bryan Mitchell (face) has passed all concussion tests and will throw a bullpen session tomorrow. Geez, sounds like he might be back fairly soon, huh?

Roster Moves: The Yankees have called up Branden Pinder and designated Chris Capuano for assignment, the team announced. Pinder was sent down ten days ago, so the Yankees brought him back as soon as possible.