Sports Outside the Beltway

Yankees: What I’m reading

- The Yanks are doing more running this year because apparently it builds the hamstring (which was a major problem last year) – who woulda thunk it?

- Was Joe Girardi responsible for the Marlins plague of pitcher injuries?

- AL East preview, with a short piece on Phil Hughes.

- An interview with Hal (the other) Steinbrenner.


Inside scoop on the Santana deal

from Jon Heyman:

If you can really fault the Twins, perhaps it was for failing to pounce on the Yankees’ offer of top young pitcher Phil Hughes, center fielder Melky Cabrera, pitching prospect Jeffrey Marquez and a fourth undetermined prospect when it was briefly on the table for the first couple days of the winter meetings back in early December. Instead, the Twins pressed for the Yankees to also include another top young pitcher, Ian Kennedy, going for the grand slam. If you want to hit the Twins, hit them for that.

The Yankees’ proposal, however fleeting, may have been the best one. Even the AL scout who defended the Twins thought so, saying, “I think the Yankees’ deal would have been better because those two guys (Hughes and Cabrera) already showed what they can do in the big leagues.”

Even if that’s true — and Cabrera is no world-beater yet (even those who don’t love Gomez say he’s “a tick above” Cabrera in terms of value) — it’s still hard to knock Smith for ignoring Hank Steinbrenner’s quick deadline and pressing for more.

Who could have thought Hank the Yank would actually stick to the deadline this time? In Steinbrenner the Junior’s tenure at the top, he has showed he is willing to change his mind (hence the re-signing of A-Rod), to seal certain deals by giving away the store (thus a fourth year for 36-year-old catcher Jorge Posada) and even to over-rule general manager Brian Cashman (both A-Rod and Posada). So it’s understandable why Smith still hoped for more.

But as we know by now, Cashman made a strong stand, building a convincing case regarding Hughes’ toughness and potential. Then Hank’s younger brother Hal, who controls the purse strings, tightened hard before Hank could loosen them again.

When the Twins made a last pass at the Yankees on Tuesday, it was too late. So when Cashman told the Twins yet again that Hughes was off the table, the Twins went for the gusto, requesting that instead Cashman send them both Kennedy and Chien-Ming Wang to go with Cabrera and Marquez. Why not? By then, it was clear that there was only one place left to go, and that was the Mets.

That’s insane to ask the Yankees for that much. I guess it just shows how badly Minnesota wanted Santana out of the AL.


Santana dealt to the Mets

So Carlos Gomez was pulled from Winter ball as part of a trade. Frankly, Minnesota got screwed here. Both the original Boston and Yankee offers were better. Instead, rookie GM Bill Smith overplayed his hand (a phrase that’s quickly become cliched over the past week) and got a disappointing haul for Santana: Gomez, Humber, Mulvey and Guerra (the Mets 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 7th best prospects). In early December, Minny had their choice of Phil Hughes, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury – all better than any of the Mets trade chips. A Yankee offer of Ian Kennedy, Alan Horne, Melky and AJax destroys that Met offer, so perhaps it really was about the money (for the Yanks). I can’t believe the Twinkies caved and accepted an FMart-less offer. The deal still isn’t 100% done, as the Mets have 72 hours to reach an extension with Santana, but that should merely be a formality. It seems Smith was going to either (1) try to fleece an AL team, or (2) get him out of the league for the best offer he could muster.

Thank goodness the Sawx didn’t acquire him, because they would’ve been nearly unbeatable for the next three years with Santana leading the rotation. They probably could have acquired him for only Lester and Ellsbury – yes, two good prospects, but certainly not studs, and Santana would have locked up the division for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, the money seems to have been too much for them too. This is a win for both Boston and the Yanks. A true rarity.

Credit should be given to Brian Cashman for not overreacting to Boston’s (and Hank’s) interest. I’m relieved he didn’t go to Boston and that we didn’t lose Hughes, but also pissed the Mets got him for a considerably inferior offer.

The only real loser is Minnesota. If you want to feel real pity (by reading the disgusted opinions of Twins fans), visit here.


Yankee News – January 29 edition

- Robbie Cano and the Yanks have reached an agreement on a four-year, $30 million deal, avoiding arbitration.

- David Cone will join the YES broadcasting booth.

- Could Santana finally be traded? To the Mets that is. Carlos Gomez was pulled off his Winter League team. Could be nothing or could be something.

- Brian Banister gave a great interview (also at MLBTR). I especially liked his description of the three types of quality ML pitchers.

- The ’27 Yankees were good. So good, in fact, that their team OPS+ was 137 and their team ERA+ was 120! They led the league in both categories.

- Are steroids responsible for the power surge that began in the early ’90s? I still say yes (at least partially).

- If the Giants want to win, they should cheat, just like the Pats.


Yankee News – Jan 24 edition

Great Q & A session with Phil Hughes over at his place. The best part:

Your mechanics/delivery seemed to get a lot closer to where it was before the hamstring injury (first 2 starts) upon the arrival of Dave Eiland back in September of last years, do you credit your late season success to this?

After coming back from my injury last season my mechanics were a little out of whack. This led to a little loss of velocity and command. When Dave arrived in September we were able to work out some things and I think that had a lot to do with the success I had at the end of the season. It was nice to finish off the year on a good note so I have something to work toward to get back to my normal self in 2008.

Good to know that it was in fact Dave Eiland that allowed Hughes to have a great September and October. I’m very looking forward to a full season of his tutelage.

- The Yanks and Robbie Cano are close to signing a four-year extension worth $30 million (with two team option years). It would buy out all his arbitration years and one or two years of free agency (through his age 30 season). Even if Cano never got any better, he would still be worth every penny. His career line is a robust: .314/.346/.489 through the age of only 24. He’s sixth all-time among second baseman through the age of 24, and the best second baseman in the AL over the last three years (and the youngest in the top 10).

Other non-newsworthy stuff:
- The Yanks had the highest payroll (again). $218.3 million; tell me something I don’t know.

- Chuck Knoblauch was subpoenaed by Congress. I really don’t care anymore.

- Tom Brady wore a cast, then he didn’t, then he was a no-show for the media portion of his practice. What’s it all mean? My best guess is that it’s a ploy by Belichick and Co. to unnerve and confuse the Giants. Yeah, that’s it.


Yankees Big Three in 2008

It seems us hardcore Yankee fans (notice it’s not YankeeS fans) are looking forward to 2008 more so than any other season in a long time. In 2007, we saw that our top prospects were not over-hyped as Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy lived up to or exceeded expectations. The only dampers were Hughes’ three-month injury that spoiled an important developmental year and Joba’s loss of control for one inning in the playoffs that essentially ended the series. Assuming none are traded, all will be important pieces of the ball club in 2008 and well beyond. With their potential production for the next decade at stake, Yankee management is taking every precaution to ensure the Trio can and will contribute for as long as possible. While this may hamper the 2008 team due to innings limitations, it is a necessary evil to maintain the viability of the Big Three (could the group have a more boring nickname?) and the team as a whole for years to come.

In what way should the Trio be used, in what way will they be used, and what can we reasonably expect from them?

First we have to look at their innings totals in 2007 between the minors and majors, how much those increased from 2006, and how much we can expect from them this year:

Hughes pitched 72.2 with the Yankees, 5.2 in the playoffs and 37.2 in the minors = 116 total innings pitched. That’s exactly 30 fewer innings than 2006 (due to the pulled hamstring and the ensuing ankle sprain). With the knowledge that he pitched 146 innings in 2006, it’s possible he could be stretched to 170 innings.

Joba pitched 24 with the Yanks, 3.2 in the playoffs and 88.1 in the minors = 116 total. That’s 11 fewer than 2006, when he threw 89.1 at Nebraska and 37.2 in the Hawaiian Winter League. He probably won’t be stretched beyond 150, but some put it up to 170.

Kennedy pitched 19 with the Yanks and 146.1 in the minors = 165.1 total innings. He threw almost exactly 30 more innings than he did in 2006 (101.2 at USC, 2.2 in the minors and 30.1 in Hawaii). He’s ahead of the others, so we can reasonably expect 195 innings this year.

We saw how safe management played it last year with the ‘Joba Rules’, even in the midst of a pennant race. Going by the ‘Rule of 30’ (supported by Rick Peterson, Will Carroll and Tom Verducci) none of the Trio will be allowed to reach 200 innings in 2008. If we assume we’ll get 200 each from Wang and Pettitte, who each topped 200 in ’07 (counting the playoffs), it would still require about 550 innings from the remaining starters. The 2007 Yankees compiled just 921 innings by starters, 27 fewer than the AL average of 948 – a reasonable goal for the upcoming season. This is especially true considering starter-friendly Joe Girardi is now manager and the bullpen is currently weak. 948 innings pitched equates to 182.2 innings over three pitchers (not doable with the Trio) or 137 innings over four (very doable). (I always think of George’s secretary when I hear ‘doable’.)

With this in mind, and assuming that any or all of them will outperform Mike Mussina (of the 5.15 2007 ERA), the Big Three should be used to their maximum innings limits. That means no more than 150 innings for Hughes and Joba, and 200 for Kennedy. (Of course, if they should have low pitch counts, their limits could be extended. Wang went from 150 innings in 2005 to 218 in 2006.)If we say the Trio will average six innings per start, that would allow the former duo to start 25 games each and Kennedy to start 33 games. Great, pretty much a full season from Kennedy and over two-thirds from Hughes and Joba. However, it still leaves about 50 starter innings unaccounted for, hence a number of spot starts will be needed from Mussina or the hot hand of the moment – perhaps someone from Scranton like Alan Horne, Steven White, Kei Igawa or Jeff Marquez. That would require a kind of 5 ½-man rotation, going something along the lines of:

1. Wang
2. Pettitte
3. Kennedy (due to higher innings limit)
4. Hughes (assuming his limit is only 150 innings)
5. Joba (an April rotation that is 100% homegrown!)
6. Mussina

Moose will need to fill in for Hughes and Joba (alternately) roughly twice for every four times through the rotation. However, with off days, it would drop to about eight starts throughout the season. This maximizes our best starters, minimizes our worst (sorry Moose), and keeps the Trio within their individual innings limitations.

The problem with tandem starting (i.e., having Joba pitch four innings followed by Hughes going four too every fifth game) is that neither pitcher builds up significant arm strength. We want these guys to head into 2009 able to pitch at least six innings per start. They won’t start as often in my rotation, but when they do it will be treated pretty much as a normal ‘go as long as you can’ start. If Joe, Cash and Co. ever get concerned with the kids over-extending themselves, that’s what Moose and Scranton are for.

I haven’t yet touched on the argument that Joba should be a reliever because it just doesn’t make sense (unless it’s only done to limit innings), but to summarize (as RAB did excellently on Tuesday): 150 vs. 75 innings (and the difficulty that brings when trying to increase Joba’s innings again in 2009 (of course, that’s not a problem if he becomes a full time reliever)), four average to plus-plus pitches, the ability to maintain velocity late into games, the difficulty of finding/acquiring a ‘True #1 Ace’ (™) starter, and the ever-present fail safe option: if Joba does fail at starting, he can always fall back to relieving – pitchers don’t just fall back to starting. Make no mistake, the long-term plan is to make Joba a starter. That said, using Joba as a reliever through the first month or two wouldn’t be terrible, but converting him back to starting (a transition that could take a month by itself) is much harder than going from starting to relieving – that conversion wouldn’t happen until late in the season, and then what would happen in the playoffs? Would the Yanks try to convert him back to starting on the cusp of the playoffs? Or would they force (maybe) their best starter to stay in the pen?

As far as the playoffs go, there probably won’t be any restrictions (just as the ‘Joba Rules’ were lifted last year in October), so no worries there.

The benefit of the 5.5-man rotation is that these questions don’t have to be answered. Moose is part of the team whether we like it or not, but he can be effective as a long reliever and spot starter (and occasional set-up man if Farnsy, LaTroy, etc. need a rest) so as to not waste a roster spot. It also allows Hughes, Joba and Kennedy (all better than Moose) to start throughout the year, gaining valuable experience that can’t be gleaned from relieving, never having to transition between roles, limiting innings to ensure their health, and allowing the team to have one of the best long relievers/spot starters in baseball. This assumes they remain healthy, which is always a crap shoot, but there’s no guarantee that Wang, Pettitte or even Johan Santana will either.

Example of the 5.5-man rotation (assuming no off days):

Hughes 1
Joba 1


Moose 1


Then back to Week 1.

These proposals are all well and good, but the Yankees seem to be leaning toward giving a spot straight out to Mussina and letting the Trio fight for the two remaining spots. That is unfortunately what I believe will be the case this year (at least going into the season), with the probability of the odd-man out pitching in Scranton (or out of the pen) to limit his innings then coming up to the Bronx around mid-season to spell Mussina. Management and fans need to have patience – I truly believe the pen will be above average by mid-season: Albaladejo will be solid, Farnsworth out of the windup will cause less heart attacks, Ohlendorf brings his nasty stuff, Edwar will improve his command (call me an optimist), and later in the year the possibilities of Alan Horne, Humberto Sanchez and Mark Melancon stepping into important roles. The problem with Joba in the pen is the fear that he’ll be so good that management (read Hank Steinbrenner) and the average fan will only see the short-term success (as a great set-up man) instead of the long-term possibilities (perennial Cy Young candidate).

Before we cast off Moose completely, we should evaluate whether he will have a worse 2008 than any of the Trio (in other words: what should we expect from the Big Three this year)?

Scores of scouting reports have been written on the Trio, most of them glowing, but it’s their track records that will ensure their short and long-term success. Let’s start with Hughes. The ‘popped’ hammy was an absolute killer – Hughes was going through his usual ‘adjustment game’ that he has at every level (the first game in which he dominates), only to have the fairytale night cut short by a serious injury that sidelined him until August, and he didn’t hit his stride again until September. Based on the following evidence, we can expect 10-15 wins and an ERA around 4.00 in 150 innings.

Exhibit A: consensus top pitching prospect in all MLB heading into 2007 as a 20-year old;
Exhibit B: nearly threw a no-hitter in his second ML game;
Exhibit C: dominant minor league stats through 2.5 seasons – better than Clay Buchholz at a younger age with a better size/frame and mechanics;
Exhibit D: an average AL pitcher (4.46 ERA, 100 ERA+) as the youngest pitcher in all baseball (and counting the playoffs, his ERA drops to 4.14);
Exhibit E: the Yanks best starter in September and October (coinciding with Dave Eiland joining the team?);
Exhibit F: for what it’s worth, ZIPS projects him to a 3.70 ERA in 141 innings.

As for Joba, he’s been a starter his entire college and professional career until July of last year. It was great to see him excel in a relief role (the best ERA+ in history among pitchers with at least 24 innings) but how will he fare in the rotation? The Yanks top prospect as ranked by Baseball America, John Sickels, along with every other prospect publication, we can expect a season similar to Hughes’: ERA around 4.00, 150 innings. He’ll get hit more as he loses velocity and batters see him three and four times a game (compared to 1-2 inning relief stints), but his high strikeout rate will limit the damage.

Kennedy is a very interesting case – he doesn’t have the stuff of Hughes or Joba but at this point is a more ‘polished’ (as Dave Eiland put it) pitcher, possessing command of four pitches with the most college and pro experience. Oh, and he was named 2007 ‘Minor League Pitcher of the Year.’ That said, there’s no way he pulls off another 1.89 ERA season, and while he has the ability to have a better 2008 than either Hughes or Joba (because of the higher innings limit and ‘polish’), I see a year along the lines of 4.40 ERA over 190 innings.

As for Moose, he wasn’t as bad as his ERA would indicate. Outside of three horrendous starts in August, his ERA was under 4.50. But he will be 39, so an ERA between 4.50 and 5.00 over 50+ innings sounds about right.

Sorry for the length of this opus. It was intended to top out at 500 words (the LoHud version) but ballooned to 2000 due to the sheer enthusiasm I experienced writing it. Perhaps by the time you’re done reading, pitchers and catchers will have already reported to Tampa…



Baseball Cube



NY Times



Giant Killers (G-Men top Cowboys)

The Giants became the first team since 1990 to knock off the #1 NFC seed in the Divisional round. After losing the first two meetings of the season, the G-Men pulled out a 21-17 victory in Dallas.

- I was sure Corey Webster’s dropped pick was going to be a killer. You can’t giftwrap an interception any more than the one he dropped. Dallas scored a TD a few plays later, so in essense his drop cost the Jints at least seven points. Despite that, Webster played another good game. He allowed a TD to TO, but it was a perfect throw and a perfect catch. He held TO to four catches for 49 yards.

- Aaron Ross made a few great tackles, especially on Marion Barber in his running lanes that prevented long gains. He’s a damn good tackler for a CB.

- Tony Romo is a goddamn escape artist. The Giants sacked him just twice today but it could’ve easily been six or more times.

- is Ahmad Bradshaw not better than Reggie Bush? He had a couple runs today (the cutback run to the left and the sweep that he took to the 1-yard line) that’s been as good or better than anything I’ve seen in Bush’s NFL career to date. Does anyone doubt that Bradshaw should be the starter, not Jacobs? Maybe I’m overlooking the possibility that Jacobs has already softened up the D when Bradshaw gets his big runs, but so often I see a Bradshaw carry and think: ‘He got twice as many yards as BJ would’ve gotten there.’

- Big mistake by Eli taking a sack on 1st and 10 when given great field position. The pressure was coming down on him and unlike the textbook, he stepped backwards. The nine yard loss killed the drive. A little QB advice: ‘Eli, you’re supposed to step forward when you feel pressure, not back!’ And the screen on the next play went to Jacobs instead of Bradshaw – what?

- Crayton’s dropped pass in the third quarter was huge. It would’ve gone for at least 50 yards.

- Has Eli really turned into a great QB, or is this a mere 3-4 game aberration? Still can’t call it either way, seeing as the two playoffs games have been in ideal weather. If he has another great game in Lambeau (at the predicted temperature of about 4 degrees), then we may truly have something.

But most importantly, a win’s a win.

Sunday in Lambeau, 6:30 p.m.


Phil Hughes set for 2008

From the AP -

Highlights include:
Hughes says he’s feels good physically, and wants to throw 4-5 bullpen sessions before he reports to ST in mid-February.

Humberto Sanchez expects to throw off a mound by late February and could return to minor league action in May.

Andrew Brackman has already begun throwing sessions, and will begin long-tossing (from 90 ft) next week.

- Mike Cameron signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee. Wheew… disaster avoided.


Next Matsuzaka to join MLB?

Is the next (and better) Daisuke headed to MLB? According to a report of a report of a report, it could happen after this season. Yu Darvish is just 21 and won the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) Cy Young with a dominating season: 207.2 ip, 1.82 era, 210 k, 49 bb, 123 h, 0.83 whip.

The problem is that he doesn’t become a free agent for another six years, he is the current face of NPB and has said he has no intention of playing in the U.S. However, his team (Nippon Ham Fighters) could be convinced to post him if they knew the posting fee would surpass $100 million, and Darvish might feel differently about MLB if he knew he could earn upwards of $15 million as opposed to $2 million in Japan.

Anyway, it doesn’t make much sense to me when they can do exactly what Daisuke’s old team did: hold on to him until he has one year left to free agency, then post him. They get five more years of his services and would still get a comparable posting fee as he would just be entering his prime. But, if he demands to be posted (to start making the big bucks) they would do it.

(h/t to MLBTradeRumors.)

- Great article on measuring intangibles.


Giants nearly take down giants

I was against playing the starters 60 minutes in tonight’s Giants-Pats matchup and what happens? We lose three starters: Kawika Mitchell, Sam Madison and Shaun O’Hara. That really improves our chances next week in Tampa.

As for the match, oh boy, there’s a lot to say. I’m proud of the Giants – despite a number of injuries, poor calls and stupid playcalling, they came within three points (38-35) of beating the Pats.
two huge borderline penalties went against the Giants: Corey Webster’s ‘illegal contact’ on 3rd and long in the first (in which a sack of Tom Brady was negated), and the pass interference call on Gerris Wilkinson in the end zone. Webster did nothing you don’t see on every play in the NFL; the same with Wilkinson who was penalized only because his head was turned the wrong way. As is with the Pats MO, both drives were kept alive by penalties which eventually ended in touchdowns. I don’t like to make excuses but I have no doubt that if not for those calls, the Giants win the match. The refs also missed a Patriot trying to poke Brandon Jacobs in the eye! – on what is normally a 15-yard ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ penalty (and possible ejection), no call was made.
I was against playing the starters more than one half but Tom Coughlin played them all 60 minutes (although he would’ve been killed if he had played the backups in the second half, especially entering with a lead). Three starters went down and it’s TBA if they’ll be available in the playoffs. Are the Giants not the most injured team every single year?
Eli, Eli, Eli – a killer interception in the fourth when the Giants were still down just three. The Jints can win a Superbowl with Eli, he just won’t carry them there.
Ahmad Bradshaw was sorely missed. His explosiveness could have been the difference – not just by his addition would the team be better, but the subtraction of Reuben Droughns would help too: that guy has no business in the NFL anymore.
The Pats have a tremendous offense but a rather lacking defense. They’re vulnerable in the playoffs and compared to how the Colts have played the last five or so weeks, I wouldn’t want to play them if I was Bill Belichick.
Overall, I was proud of the G-Men and actually feel confident going into the playoffs. It was evident watching tonight’s match that the Giants have the ability to beat any team in football – it’s really just a question of injuries and Eli.


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