Sports Outside the Beltway

At least Scranton can win

On a day when the Yankees lost a series to the pitiful Mariners, Phil Hughes pitched Scranton into the International League finals.

“I can’t tell you how amazing it was watching Phil on the mound today,” Duncan said. “That’s the best I’ve ever seen him pitch. He commanded all his pitches. He kept the hitters off balance, threw it where he needed to throw it. It was a special thing playing behind him.”

Some of the numbers are amazing, starting with the 94 pitches, 75 for strikes — “That’s unbelievable,” manager Dave Miley said — but those numbers get even more impressive when you look at just the fastballs. Chase Wright was charting tonight’s game and said Hughes threw 54 fastballs, 48 for strikes. That’s six balls. Six!

Hughes got better as the game progressed. He needed just 23 pitches to get through the sixth, seventh and eighth, and 21 of those pitches were strikes. Final four outs: He got Gil Velazquez by throwing three straight curveballs, he got Jeff Corsaletti to groundout on a good changeup, then he struck out both Keith Ginter and Jonathan Vane Every. Those two combined to go 0-for-6 with six strikeouts against Hughes. Adding Ginter’s strike out against Scott Strickland, they were 0-for-7 with seven Ks.

“I’ve faced (Pawtucket) a couple of times, but I didn’t have a great idea of what everyone could do, what their strengths were,” Hughes said. “First time through the order, I kind of got an idea of what they were trying to do and I adjusted accordingly.”

The adjustment worked, because Hughes kept his velocity up in the late innings. Josh Wilson, who had three of Pawtucket’s five hits, singled on the first pitched of the sixth, but Hughes got the next batter to hit into a double play and retired the last eight batters he faed, three on srikes and only one in the air.

“Right from he get go, really, I felt like I had my best stuff and Colon was throwing the ball equally as well,” Hughes said. “Sometimes you’re going to run into that, when two guys are just on in the playoffs, and you’re waiting for one little thing that’s going to make the difference.”


Posada done for the year

He’ll have shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and will need about six months to rehab. He should be ready for Spring Training in 2009.

- Damaso Marte is pretty good. In fact, he’s the second best left-handed reliever in baseball history!

- Tonight’s game was bad. What else can you say? Moose just wasn’t fooling anybody. This was a game where Moose needed to scare someone. The hacks the O’s were taking, even with two strikes, were indicative of the fact they knew they weren’t in any danger. It also didn’t help that not one close call (or so it seemed) went Mussina’s way.


Yanks trade for Marte and Nady, then beat Boston

The full deal is Jose Tabata, Ross Ohlendorf, George Kontos and Phil Coke. Damaso Marte is an excellent lefty specialist, while Nady is a decent rightfielder. At first glance, I’m not happy.

Nady is having an extraordinarily good season, well out of line with his career averages. His 2008 looks like this: .330/.383/.535 (142 OPS+). Certainly a great season, but Pittsburgh is trading high; his career line is a slightly above average: .281/.337/.456 (108 OPS+). Range Factor shows him to be an above-average rightfielder. He’s 29, so is at the peak of his career; it will probably all be downhill after this season. Nady is fairly versatile, having played 3b, 1b, and all three outfield positions in his career. However, with Abreu entrenched in RF, where does Nady play? Left-field, where he hasn’t played since 2007 (when he played just 10 games there)?

Marte is an excellent lefty reliever, owning a career 141 ERA+, with 484 strikeouts in 454.1 innings. He absolutely owns lefties: .578 career OPS against them. What about 2008? Not quite as dominant: a .669 OPS against left-handed batters. Is that an aberration? It might be, because in 2007 he destroyed lefties – they had a .352 OPS against him. Ironically, Marte was with the Yanks for half a season before being traded for Enrique Wilson in 2001.

According to Cot’s, Marte has a team option for $6 million next year, which will likely be exercised. Nady (as far as I can tell) is arbitration eligible.

Frankly, I don’t understand the move because the bullpen is the strongest area of the team right now. Marte might be great, but he also might block guys like Cox, Melancon and Horne who deserve chances once they show they’re ready (which should be soon). Both players are at or past their prime, and Nady is having a career year. The Yanks are buying high on Nady and selling low on Tabata and Ohlendorf (who are both having poor years).

Nady won’t play his natural position of right-field because of Abreu, so where is he going to play? He hasn’t played LF in over a year, so will he be expected to jump right into Yankee Stadium’s spacious leftfield? Now that I think about it, he might be the 1b replacement for Richie Sexson, and occasional leftfielder.

- That was the Yanks best start of the year… after Wang’s complete game shutout in Fenway of course. Just an incredible game by Joba. THAT’S why he became a starter: 7 ip, 3 h, 0 r, 1 bb, 9 k.

- Back from the dead, Carl Pavano is making a minor league start on Tuesday for the GCL Yankees. Monday will see Phil Hughes also make his first rehab start.

Sources: (again)
Baseball Reference
Cot’s Contracts


Yankee Stadium ain’t all great memories

Remember when you used to love going to Yankee games? For me, although I certainly did, it’s hard to even recall why.

Let me explain…no, there is too much. Let me sum up. My father’s company (that he co-manages) was able to acquire box-seat season tickets when the Yanks were at their lowest: 1989 (”It’s a whole new ballgame” was the motto that year; I still have a bumper sticker with it.) I went to at least 10 games each year through the 90’s — saw the Jeff Maier home run in ‘96, Tino’s Game 1 grand slam in ‘98, Clemens spraying the fans with champagne in ‘99, and the following year throwing a bat at Mike Piazza. Each year though, my access to tickets waned as demand among my father’s clients increased. My father and his business partner sold all the playoff tickets in 2001 for several reasons: they were bordering on unaffordable, the offers/requests from buyers/clients were too strong to turn down, and they (and I admittedly) thought they’d be in the World Series about every year.

So I guess you could say we were part of the problem — the reason the attending fan base started to change to more corporate/casual-fan types (the ‘glitterati’ — you know, people who glitter). We definitely deserve some of the blame, but other reasons for that change include the success of the Yanks, the ensuing demand for tickets, and the freedom that gave the Yankees to raise prices astronomically.

There used to be knowledgeable, passionate fans in attendance, but a side effect of the team’s success is that those fans were forced out by demand. In fact, my wife and I prefer sitting in the $18 upper deck seats where the fans actually care about the game.

Does anyone, anyone, still do the YMCA? I pity the grounds crew that must endure that contrived garbage (aimed purely at casual fans) on a nightly basis. Then there’s the relentless audio bombardment that doesn’t let up until “New York, New York” has played several times. And what ever happened to organic chants, cheers and general fan enthusiasm? On countless occasions have I witnessed organic chants snuffed out by the PA system blaring some canned chant or music that we’ve heard a thousand times.

There’s just a lack of understanding of what the fans want, like the refusal to show video replays (of close plays) on the jumbo-tron. I know they don’t want to show up the umpires, but they do it all the time in the NFL, why not in MLB? I had no idea Jeff Maier had even reached over the wall until I got home that night to see the replay. That brings me to my next point: while all the cons of attending a game have increased over the years, the pros of watching from home have also increased. The advent of HD, surround sound, the YES Network and DVR have combined to make the home-viewing experience better than being there. And where would you rather sit, on a plastic folding chair or your living room couch?

Then there’s the food situation. I can order in a large pizza for the price of about three disgusting slices at the Stadium. $9 for shit beer? No thanks. I’ll take my favorite, Dogfish Head, which runs $9 for a six-pack. At my only game this year, the trio in front of me ordered food and drinks through the waiter service. It took almost two hours to get something akin to two beers, a soda, chicken fingers, a hot dog, and a sandwich (for $71 plus tip). It’s basically fast-food quality, only slow. I learned my lesson long ago and now bring soda, water, sandwiches, peanuts and seeds to every game. It saves money and time (outside of tasting better). The vendors don’t even come down to the box-seats; to get food you have to order through a waiter (and wait the requisite hour plus) or leave your seat to catch up to a vendor or wait in line at the food court.

Transportation has become more difficult. Instead of spending an hour (each way) and $20+ getting to and from the Stadium, I can spend that time walking my dog, cooking dinner, watching the post-game show, watching another ballgame, etc. Parking is absolutely FUBAR around the Stadium, and I have a knack for being the first car locked out of the parking lot (it’s happened twice) – I mean I was literally the very first car that cops started putting traffic cones in front of to block out of the garage. You might suggest taking the subway, which I did many times when I lived in Manhattan and Queens, but it’s hardly better than driving, only more cost efficient. The worst subway ride of my life followed a Yankee game: a hefty, teenage boy stood near me holding the ceiling rail on a hot summer day (you know what that means), and the stench emanating from him was unbelievable. It was hold your breath horrible, and there was no where to go as the train was completely packed.

On top of that, my wife and I have a talent for attending rained out/rain delayed games, which now kills us because we live in Philly (have since last May). I was upset to find out the new Stadium will not have a retractable roof. I know it would cost about $400 million, but they’re spending over a billion dollars already, and the Stadium’s supposed to last more than 50 years, why not make the investment that would ensure a complete and on-time game every single day? Yet another reason we have and will be attending fewer games.

My father’s tickets, $250 a seat this year, will jump to the $500-$2500 range next year, and they’re not even being guaranteed the same seats in the new Stadium. He’s going to try to “move back” to affordable territory: back section of the field level or front section of the upper deck (we hope).

With all that being said, I’m certainly going to a game at the new Stadium, but more for the novelty, not to watch my beloved Yankees.

This might come off as whiny, but don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy attending games in person, just not as much as I used to and the preceding was a summary of my problems as a cathartic exercise. I know this is a season to celebrate the Stadium, but I for one will miss nothing but the history. As far as I’m concerned, the original Yankee Stadium was destroyed in 1974.


Yankees sign Sexson

To address their .732 OPS against southpaws, the Yanks signed former Mariner slugger (and I use that word loosely) Richie Sexson to a league minimum contract. At this point, he can’t be worse than Wilson Betemit and will only play against lefties, so it’s a low risk move. And he does hit lefties well: 1.045 OPS this year (albeit in 71 plate appearances) – his career totals aren’t quite so hot: just an .879 OPS vs. southpaws. This presents a frightening scenario, what if Sexson regresses to his career norm? Then the situation is no better off and probably even worse than a righty Wilson Betemit. If that happens, Sexson can always be released, but the damage done will be irreversible.

- The 15 inning All-Star Game received great TV ratings, which will only further empower FOX and MLB that the 8 p.m. start time is perfectly suited. What kid watching on a Tuesday night stays up to 2 a.m.? I understand that 15 innings is an aberration, but even the normal All-Star game lasts until near midnight because of the frequent pitching changes and longer commercial breaks. Not a good formula for future fandom (how’s that for alliteration?).


The King of Pick-offs

Some off-day reading for y’all -

Inspired by a conversation with my father-in-law about Andy Pettitte, I decided to try to discover who has the best pick-off move in history (via stats). Bear in mind though, pick-offs have only been recorded since 1956, so we don’t know about some of the great pitchers before that time (e.g. Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, etc.).

Going by total career pick-offs, Andy Pettitte ranks second to Steve Carlton. No surprise that southpaws top the list. Both Pettitte and Carlton are quality lefties, and both had/have pretty lengthy careers. The main reason Carlton bests Pettitte is longevity: he threw roughly twice as many innings, and hence has about twice as many pick-offs. That’s not really fair to Pettitte, who has a better pick-off-per-inning rate than Carlton.

Pettitte picked off a runner every 31 innings. Carlton every 36 innings. The ‘King of Pick-offs’, though, might just be Darold Knowles, who nailed a base runner every 24 innings. He isn’t higher on the list because he threw just 1092 innings, primarily as a reliever for nine different teams during the 60′s and 70′s.

That’s the not the conclusion though, because Carlton and Knowles pitched in more pitcher-friendly eras (meaning they generally had less base runners, hence less pick off opportunities). The real stat we need to find is pick-offs-per-base runner. We find this by adding hits and walks, subtracting home runs, and dividing by pick-offs. I’m not going to account for hit-batters and double plays as they roughly cancel each other out.

Carlton picked off one of every 42 base runners.

Pettitte: one of every 39 base runners.

Knowles: one of every 32 base runners.

Again, Knowles is the best, but we’re not quite done.

Who was the best at keeping runners from stealing – who put the most fear into base runners?

We can find this by calculating total base runners, then dividing by attempted steals.

Carlton: one of every 11 base runners attempted to steal.

Pettitte: one of every 15 base runners attempted to steal.

Knowles: one of every 28 base runners attempted to steal.

So now we can make the educated assumption that Darold Knowles is one of, if not the best pick off artist of the last 50 years.


Yankees: Giambi wins it, Wang struggles and Mo is good

Thursday afternoon’s win was the best of the season (in terms of emotions). It looked totally lost at 7-2, only for the Yanks to crawl back to within one, then have Farnsworth re-blow the game, only to be followed by Arod, Matsui and Giambi coming up huge. In fact, Giambi increased the Yanks chances of winning 89.5% (almost unheard of).

And speaking of hitting, how about Wilson Betemit? His second HR in two days, this one coming from the right side. He gets killed a lot around the Yankee blogosphere, but it’s rather unfair to him. He’s a backup, and hence doesn’t get consistent playing time. If he did, I’m sure he would put about a .250/.350/.480 line. One of the positives about Giambi missing some time is that it might give Betemit more playing time, allowing him to get into a groove. Right now, you have to keep playing him – it comes down to four of Betemit, Giambi (if healthy), Damon, Matsui and Melky. Currently, Melky’s got to sit; the other hitters are just too hot to put on the bench. Damon is an inferior centerfielder, but the way he’s hitting he’ll easily make up for it.

- Now, on to Chien-Ming Wang: what’s wrong with him? Is there anything wrong with him? 82.2 innings is not even half a season so we shouldn’t jump to any definitive conclusions, but I’ll try to head in that direction. His ERA is the highest it’s ever been: 4.57. Through his first nine games, Wang was having a stellar year: 59 ip, 2.90 ERA, 38 K, 19 BB, 1 HR, .584 OPS against.

But he’s (frankly) sucked in his last four starts: 23.2 ip, 8.75 ERA, 11 K, 14 BB, 3 HR, .794 OPS against. The stat that most jumps out to me is the walk rate. It went from 2.89 BB/9 through his first nine starts to 5.3 BB/9. That’s almost double. It definitely jives with what my eyes tell me: Wang has been consistently missing his spots in his last several games.

To back me up, his BAA, BABIP and FIP are in line with his career averages. What I have to wonder is whether he’s trying strikeout more hitters – and if that’s causing him to avoid contact, hence throwing more pitches out of the zone. Along with a rising K/9 rate, his walk rate has also increased each of the last three years (along with his pitches/PA). And perhaps most disturbingly, his groundball rate has also decreased each of the last three years. My theory is thus: his critics who assailed him for not striking out enough hitters has caused him and his pitching coaches to try to improve his K rates, hence he’s throwing more pitches out of the zone (to induce swinging strikes) – this causes him to fall behind in counts more often which leads to more hits and walks. My hope is that it’s just a slump (it is just four games after all), but my fear is that the league has caught up to him or he’s hiding an injury.

- If you hadn’t noticed, Mariano Rivera is having a good year. How good is it?! It’s so good that among relievers with at least 25 ip (going all the way to 1901):
a. he has the best ERA+ (1185)
b. 4th best K/BB rate (13/1)
c. best WHIP (.500)
d. best OPS+ against (negative 24 = ludicrous!)
e. 2nd best hit rate (3.81/9 ip)

- The MLB amateur draft can be found here. The Yanks selected high-school pitcher Gerrit Cole with the 28th pick of the first round. I don’t know much about Cole, but here are several sources who do.
Baseball America
Perfect Game
River Ave. Blues
Keith Law (via Pinstripe Alley)


Random Yankee (and other things) thoughts

- Hank seems to be losing his temper. He wants Joba to start now while criticizing Mike Mussina. Honestly, he’s not far off base. Don’t worry, Hank, Joba will be a starter in time but there’s something called ‘inning caps’ for his protection. On Moose, I find myself agreeing with Hank, he should learn something from Jamie Moyer. Look at today’s game for proof. Steve Trachsel is basically a poor-man’s Mike Mussina, yet had a very effective start against a great offense. And he did it by doing the opposite of how Moose has been going about pitching this season: he used his fastball sparingly. Mussina still thinks his 85-88 mph fastball is an out-pitch, as evidenced by his five consecutive fastball at-bat against Manny (who homered). Watching Trachsel work his magic, using a lot of changeups and curves, it’s evident Moose needs to follow suit to be an effective pitcher: he has to become a junkballer, and he still has good enough offspeed stuff and command to do it.

- Any ‘Lost‘ fans out there? I just finished season 3, and [spoiler alert] couldn’t believe how idiotic Charlie was. Ok, before we even get to that, how the fuck did Mikhail pull off his stunt? He had a spear in his chest but managed to put on goggles, swim outside the underwater station right to the window where Charlie was and detonate it. Anyway, the grenade went off and Charlie drowned. But Jesus, did he not see the gaping hole that he could have easily swam out of to safety?

- Watched highlights from the Rangers-Devils game 5 and something jumped out at me. The Devils score and are celebrating in front of the glass boards; that’s all good and normal but right behind them a Ranger fan is furious and gives them the double middle-finger. It’s clear as day on TV and funny as hell.

- Andy the Stopper.


Yankee thoughts – March 27 edition

- I know it’s a year from now, but the 2009 bullpen has a chance to be dominant (and cheap). Humberto Sanchez, Mark Melancon, Chris Garcia and JB Cox are all returning from serious injuries this year. All have outside chances of a Joba-like rise this year, but more likely they’ll have a realistic shot a making the Bigs in 2009. With Farnsworth and Hawkins coming off the books next year, the pen competition will be wide open; the only lock is Mo Rivera. Joba will hopefully be starting full time next year, leaving six open spots. It’s quite possible we could see a 100% non-free agent bullpen, featuring the likes of Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, JB Cox, Mark Melancon, Dan McCutchen, Chris Garcia, Humberto Sanchez and Kevin Whelan, as well as current bullpen candidates such as Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Patterson, Edwar Ramirez and Brian Bruney. Unfortunately, there’s not a single lefty in the group (Billy Traber is not a long term option).

- Three questions

1. Were the Yankee hitters even trying today?

2. How can Patterson and Ohlendorf not make this team?

3. Why does Girardi insist on a long-man?

I’m giving one of the three undecided bullpen spots to Traber. And we know Girardi wants a long-man – now with Karstens tweaked groin, it’s down to Rasner vs. Igawa. The last spot is down to three candidates: Bruney, Patterson and Ohlendorf.

Ohlendorf was a starter throughout college and the minors: he started 74 minor league games and 28 at Princeton. It’s only since mid-way through last season that he was converted into a reliever (because of the glut of solid Yankee minor league starting pitching and a bullpen need at the major league level). He can be both a long-man and one-inning reliever.

So with the two open spots, who makes the most sense out of Igawa, Rasner, Bruney, Patterson and Ohlendorf? It’s pretty clear: the last two, who’ve done nothing this spring but throw strikes and get outs, which is a lot more than the others can say.

-What about Brett Gardner?

His biggest criticism is his lack of power – his career minor league slugging percentage is a measly .374, lower than his on-base percentage (.381). He’s hit six homers in over 1100 at-bats.

But his best attribute is his plus-plus speed, and proponents point to this as a reason he can be a ML regular, perhaps the Yanks everyday centerfielder. But again, his lack of power might hold him back.

How can we take speed into account when calculating a hitter’s value? Perhaps adding in one total base for every steal, and subtracting one for every caught stealing. This increases Gardner’s (and other weak speedster’s) slugging percentage into very respectable territory.

Instead of a .374 SLG, Gardner’s slugging percentage would look like such:

161 xbh (4 x HR + 3 x 3b + 2 x 2b) + 256 1b = 417 TB
116 SB – 22 CS = 94 SB
511 TB/1115 AB = .458 SLG

That’s roughly the same as Derek Jeter last year, who, using the same SLG equation, had a .463 SLG. It’s also the same as Adam Laroche, and better than Kevin Youkilis, Nick Swisher and Travis Hafner (in 2007). (Bear in mind, of course, that I’m using Gardner minor league numbers.)

Admittedly, a steal of 2nd is not as valuable as a double, because a double (like all extra-base hits) has a chance to score a baserunner. But speed doesn’t show up in a player’s ability to tag up, it causes throwing errors, and beats out GIDPs. So perhaps they are somewhat akin, and there is something to be said for adding steals into SLG.


New York Yankee News – March 14 edition

If the games meant something, would a comedian play in them?

A swath of Yankees fans kept saying they couldn’t wait to see the new, aggressive Yankees under Joe Girardi. I don’t think they had Billy Crystal in mind.

Signing a comedian for a one-day-only gig does not fit into the W.W.B.D. (What Would Billy Do) wing of Yankees fandom, who felt Joe Torre was much too passive in his final years as the manager. (I thought Torre was mature.) Having Crystal gamboling in a spring training game, as a 60th birthday gift, as he did Thursday, does not jibe with the new leaner-meaner image of the Yankees.

Once a good high school player and still in excellent shape, Crystal carried himself with dignity while striking out swinging on a 3-2 pitch to lead off for the Yankees.


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