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Monthly Archives: February 2004

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Yankee Preview Sunday: Roundtable Discussion

The Flip Side

Part One, Side B

BB: Jason Giambi hasn’t been embraced by New Yorkers in spite of two impressive offensive campaigns in pinstripes. Has the criticism been unfair? How much pressure do you think Giambi is facing going into the 2004 season? Does he get a pass now that Rodriguez and Sheffield are here to help? Short of the Yanks winning a championship, what will it take for him to be accepted by Yankee fans?

Larry Mahnken: Of course the criticism of Giambi is unfair. The man was one of the top ten hitters in baseball last season despite being injured all year, and is the best hitter the Yankees have had since Mickey Mantle. He hit two home runs off of Pedro in Game Seven, for goodness sake! Giambi will have a lot of outside pressures applied to him, but I don’t think he’ll let it get to him. How he plays in 2004 depends a lot more on his knee than his response to pressure. I don’t think having A-Rod and Sheffield here help take pressure off. With the added offensive punch, Giambi will be looked up to put up even bigger numbers, because he’ll be “protected”.

Tim Marchman: Giambi symbolizes the moment when the Yankees went completely overboard, and so heíll never get any love from New York. I never think criticism of a player (as opposed to his play, a big distinction) is fair so long as he gives his best effort, which Giambi seems to have done. Pressure or no, heís ageing and frequently injured, and I see no reason to think heíll be more than a hitter with a .900 OPS. Without defense or speed thatís not an MVP candidate, which is what he was sold as. The expectation that he would continue to have seasons like he did his last two years in Oakland was unrealistic, but he doesnít need to perform like that to be an asset to the team.

Buster Olney: I think Giambi will be helped out greatly by the addition of A-Rod and Sheffield, because it will take some heat off him. But in the end, he’ll be targeted again, because of his defense (which is terrible) and his growing problems on offense, which are exacerbated by the fact that he’s not a very good athlete and he has physical problems. I don’t think he’ll ever be really loved by Yankees fans, because now, if they win another title, Alex will get much of the credit.

Joe Sheehan: I’m not sure exactly what Giambi would have to have done for the criticism to *not* be unfair. The guy has been one of the top players in the league in every year as a Yankee. I think, to a certain extent, the pressure’s off him, as pressure tends to shift to new guys. (Caveat: I don’t think Giambi has been on steroids, but if that turns out the be the case, all bets are off.) So yes, Rodriguez, Sheffield, Brown, Vazquez…all these guys deflect the pressure.
By the way, isn’t this an old conversation? Wasn’t Giambi accepted when he hit the grand slam against the Twins in the rain? Maybe he should have been accepted when he hit two home runs off Pedro Martinez to keep the Yankees in a game they were well on their way to losing. I don’t know. Maybe he has to build the Jets a new stadium by hand, craft and present the city’s bid for the 2012 Olympics, and use his wealth to subsidize free rides on the C, D and 4 lines for the next 15 years.

Joel Sherman: I think Giambi is the poster child – in many ways – for the fight between strict adherence to statistical analysis and factoring in non-quantative issues. There is no doubt that Giambi still has great value as an offensive player due to his patient/power combo. But he has been a lesser player with the Yankees than he was in his final three seasons with Oakland. The dramatic increase in strikeouts should worry the Yankees. So should the knee problem. This is an injury that has been likened to the one that forced Mark McGwire’s retirement and the Yankees do have five years left on this contract. His ties to McGwire, his bulked-up body, his insistence on having a personal trainer accompany him at all times and his summoning to testify for the Balco grand jury also puts him in a dubious light when it comes to illegal performance enhancers. Is that fair? Perhaps not, but we would just all have our heads in the sand to not notice this accumulation of information and the potential distractions and detractions to Giambi’s game.

Giambi also was brought here with the idea he had leadership skills. That is just not the case. He is often an island or simply missing in action. That does not mean he is hurting the team, simply that he has shunned an opening to step forward and do more. In all these regards, I think no Yankee benefits more from having Alex Rodriguez on the team than Giambi. It is a distraction away from the Balco story, at least until more stuff hits the fan. It lessens Giambi’s need to hurry into the batting order if his knee is not ready and no longer is his unwillingness to step forward as leader/spokesman as great a factor.

Glenn Stout: If he was really hurting, then of course the criticism isnít fairif he was jaking it, the criticism was deserved. Weíll never know. Of course the wild-card with him is the whole steroid issue. A-Rod and Sheffield should help him, but no one is going to be happy if he hits .250 again. Iíd rather see him hit over .300 with 25 HRs and 40-50 doubles and strike out less. Last year it looked as if he got totally homer happy, but then again, no one else but Posada was hitting home runs.

BB: Who will have the better season: Pettitte or Vasquez? Clemens or Brown.

Larry Mahnken: If you’re trying to ask who’ll have the better ERA, I think it’s very tight, and it’s tough to pick one over the other. However, the question behind the question is whether the Yankees would have been better
off with Pettitte and Clemens or Vazquez and Brown. If you put it into that context, I think there’s no question that Vazquez and Brown will outperform their
predecessors. The Yankees’ defense will hurt them, and the Astros’ defense will help Clemens and Pettitte, so the numbers might not reflect that.

Tim Marchman: Vasquez will easily have a better season than Pettitte. I think Brown will be better per inning than Clemens, but pitch a lot fewer innings.

Buster Olney: Vazquez will thrive, more than Pettitte. Clemens will stay healthier than Brown and win a few more games.

Alan Schwarz: I think they’re all pretty darned even, Pettitte and Clemens moving to Minute Maid of course poses questions. Brown, if healthy, a huge if, will be the best of the bunch.

Joe Sheehan: Vazquez over Pettitte is an easy call. Deciding which old pitcher will stay healthier isn’t. I’ll say Clemens, but without much conviction.

Joel Sherman: This is a real good question, and probably one that will more determine if the Yanks do great things this year than anything involving A-Rod. Whether Vasquez and Brown outdo the men they are replacing is not as significant as them simply having very good years. I, for one, believe the switch from NL to AL is a dramatic one. There are just less outs in the lineup and I think it takes a toll on starters mentally and physically. I keep hearing Vasquez is a tough-minded guy. Well, we are going to find out. We know Brown is tough-minded, the question is whether he is tough body. If you absolutely forced me to guess – and it is a totally a guess – I would say Pettitte will outdo Vasquez and Brown will outdo Clemens.

Glenn Stout: I think “better season” needs defined. Ballpark and league differences could result in Pettitte/Clemens having better raw numbers, but in general I think Vasquez/Brown will do better for the Yankees in 2005 than a combo of Pettitte and Clemens would. I donít think the Astros will be all that good, reallytheir younger players and vets arenít really dove-tailing.

BB: Will Mike Mussina win 20 games? If not, will he at least win 15 games again? How close is Mussina to being a Hall of Famer?

Larry Mahnken: In a just world, Mike Mussina would win 20 games. He’s one of the top 15 pitchers in baseball, and he’s supported by one of the best offenses. Hopefully, Kenny Lofton will take over for Bernie in center, which should lower Mussina’s ERA. I think there’s a 50/50 chance he’ll win 20, and a 99% chance he’ll win 15, barring injury. As for the Hall, I think Mussina is 51 victories, or three seasons away from becoming a lock for Cooperstown. 250 victories isn’t impressive on it’s own, but with only 110 losses so far, Mussina is one of the most consistent winners of the past 10 years. He won’t get shafted like Blyelven, because he’s not going to lose 250 games, too.

Tim Marchman: I think heíll win from 15 to 20 games like he does every year. To my mind, heís already a Hall of Famer of the Jim Bunning class if he retires tomorrow; itís not his fault that heís been overshadowed by some of the greatest pitchers to ever live, or that heís pitched in a DH league in an extreme hitterís era. To my mind the question is whether he can get up into the Jim Palmer class of the Hall.

Buster Olney: Two more great seasons, where he starts to approach 240 wins, and I think Mussina will get into serious Hall of Fame range. He’ll win 20 this year.

Joe Sheehan: Yes, because he’s probably due for a lucky year in which he gets run support. I’m picking him for AL Cy Young (not news, I pick him about every other year) and could see him go nuts, 25-3 or something. By merit, that year would probably push Mussina into the Hall. In reality, the standards for starting pitchers have become a little weird, so it’s not clear what they need to do to be Hall of Famers going forward. Mussina is going to look a lot like Tom Glavine, with a bit more value but less shiny things on the resume. Not good.

Joel Sherman: I think Mike Mussina rolls out of bed with 15 wins. He should have been a 20-game winner a few times in his career. As far as stuff goes, there are few pitchers that combine his arsenal and intellect. When he fails, I believe, he is just thinking too darn much. The Hall of Fame question is an intriguing one because, of course, many voters are going to look for 20-win seasons. But he does have eight top six finishes in Cy Young voting. I think he is going to need many more people who do statistical analysis to come into the electorate who honor how much better than league average he has been throughout his career. Without that, I think he falls into the Bert Blyleven netherworld.

Glenn Stout: If heís ever going to win twenty, this should be the year. He sort of needs that to move out of the longevity HoF group of pitcher, but then I think the HoF is rather meaningless anyway. Tom Yawkey is in the Hall of Fame, for crying out loud.

BB: Do you see Jose Contreras as the x-factor in the Yankees starting rotation?

Larry Mahnken: Contreras isn’t just the pivot of the rotation, he’s one of the crucial factors in the AL East race. If Contreras is the ace the Yankees hope he is, then they’ll be dancing with the Red Sox for the division title right down to the wire. If he’s inconsistent and rarely dominant, then the Yankees have to hope that Brown and Lieber stay healthy and pitch their best. If he’s hurt or mediocre at best, then they’ll be eating Boston’s dust and fighting it out with Oakland and Anaheim for the last playoff spot.

Tim Marchman: I see Randy Johnson as the x-factor in the rotation. Contreras can, I think, be reasonably expected to pitch from 150-200 innings of league average ball. He might well do better than that, but thatís all the club needs him to do.

Buster Olney: I think Lieber is the X-factor, whereas Contreras will be like Hideki Irabu in ’98 and ’99: He’ll dominate mediocre and bad teams and get frazzled against good teams.

Joel Sherman: I think just about everyone in the Yankee rotation is an X-factor, accept perhaps their near sure thing in Mussina. But, yes, Contreras is vital. I am still wondering if he is not a set-up man. I wonder if he has the endurance to make 30 starts. He has very good stuff. But we will have to see that he can apply that over a full season.

Glenn Stout: I still think, in the long run, heíll prove to be a more important player for NY than Matsui.

BB: How do you think Bernie Williams will adapt to being a designated hitter? Will Kenny Lofton’s presence distract him or inspire him? How close is Williams to being a Hall of Famer? What does he need to do to qualify?

Larry Mahnken: Bernie has undoubtedly been underappreciated by the Yankees in his career, but I think he’s somewhat used to it now. Proud as he is, I don’t think he is upset at how the move from center was handled, and Torre’s decision to let him fight to keep his job will probably help smooth the transistion for him. I think Bernie Williams needs to get at least 500 more hits and 60 HRs while staying over .300 for his career to get serious consideration for Cooperstown. Four rings, and maybe more before he’s done certainly help his case, but I think he’s borderline at best.

Tim Marchman: Whether he adapts well to being a DH has to do, I think, with whether his injury problems are solved by moving him out of the field. Heís quite capable of having a 7-year run where heís a hitter of near-Edgar Martinez quality. No idea how upset he is about being moved, but heís been a great hitter for a long time and Iíd expect him to hit as well as heís physically able; his seasonal numbers were, until last year, incredibly consistent for someone with such a reputation for being a flake. His numbers are in the grey area for the Hall, and the 6 pennants and 4 rings are a significant argument for his inclusion. I think heíll eventually get in, probably as a Veteranís Committee selection.

Buster Olney: Bernie needs some more volume to go into Hall of Fame consideration, and whatever Lofton’s role, Bernie will figure it out and be at peace with it. A more serious question is how his shoulders will hold up — and whether they will hold up. He’s got a lot of mileage.

Joe Sheehan: I don’t think Lofton’s presence will matter at all. This is largely speculation, but Williams strikes me as a very self-aware man. I can’t imagine he doesn’t understand that he’s better off not playing center field at this point in his career, and his body’s age. If Williams isn’t a Hall of Famer, I propose that the pile of bricks out by Glimmerglass Lake with the plaques be converted into low-cost housing. Or maybe a Wal-Mart.

Joel Sherman: I think Bernie will end up playing the majority of his games in center field. Joe Torre is going to need his clubhouse lieutenants more than ever this year and he is not going to disrespect Bernie if Bernie shows Torre in spring that his knee is fine. Kenny Lofton is going to end up on the bench a lot if Travis Lee plays first base. I see Lofton getting traded in July as part of a deal for a player of some money that the Yankees need.

BB: Theo Epstein and Billy Beane are the two most celebrated general managers in the game right now. Is there any doubt that Brian Cashman belongs in their company?

Larry Mahnken: Yes, there certainly is doubt. Cashman is a very good general manager, but the Yankees have made some questionable moves under his watch. You can blame all of those moves on Steinbrenner, but one has to ask why Cashman didn’t find alternate, superior solutions to the problems that led George to make those moves before it ever came to that. I don’t think the Yankees should fire Cashman on his own merit, but if Billy Beane was willing to work in The Bronx, I’d dump Cashman in a second. He’s good, but he’s not THAT good.in the elevator.

Tim Marchman: Epstein and Beane have no world championships between them, and I think they would say that means the question is whether they belong in his company. As for Cashman, the obvious problems appraising him are that the Yankees are run by committee, and that he can go out and get Alex Rodriguez if his third baseman tears up his knee. Weíll have to see Cashman in full charge of a team other than the Yankees to fairly judge his ability. For what itís worth I find John Schuerholz to be by far the most impressive GM in baseball, the only clear Hall of Famer currently running a team.

Buster Olney: Cashman has four rings. Theo has done a great job, and so has Billy, and between them, their teams have won one postseason series, let alone a World Series. The question should be whether those guys belong in the same breath as Cashman.

Alan Schwarz: “Celebrated” basically means media hype. The jobs each of them have are vastly different, and I don’t think it’s truly reasonable to compare them. And Epstein has only been on the job for a little over a year.

Joe Sheehan: Sure. Why the hell would you let the guys with no rings–and one with a year on the job–hang with the guy trying to catch one for the thumb? In all seriousness, it’s hard to know how much of the Yankees’ success is due to Cashman’s work. He inherited the core developed by Bill Livesey and Stick Michael, and a chunk of the additions along the way are hard to credit to one person, given the Kremlin-like state of the Yankee front office. (“Mark Newman was sitting on Steinbrenner’s right. This must mean frost in Leningrad, and an attempt on the life of Koyastkov!”) Cashman knows what he’s doing, but it’ll take his next job until we know just how strong a GM he is. My guess is he’s top-tier, in the discussion with Beane, Epstein, et al.

Joel Sherman: There will always be doubt about Brian until he goes to a team that does not spend as freely as the Yankees and proves that on a more reasonable budget that he could assemble a consistent winner. But among his peers, Brian has a great admiration society.

Glenn Stout: Well, I think both Beane and Epstein, in particular, are celebrated more because they are celebrated rather than for anything else. Cashman has been good for this team, for entirely different reasons that the supposed “genius” of Beane and Epstein. You manage according to your team and resources and you general manage according to your team and resources. Cashman has been most valuable for his ability to negotiate the mine fields of that position under Steinbrenner.

But I think the A-Rod deal was savvy in that they were able to move in Bostonís wake and put together a deal that didnít expand the boundaries that had already been staked out, thus giving Selig no reason to block it under the “best interests” clausewhich I think he would have done had he not allowed Boston so much latitude earlier. Cashman has also always sensed that you have to play to the back page in NY, and deals like the one for Clemens and A-Rod recognize that.

BB: The Yankees have a gruff edge this season with the additions of Kevin Brown, Sheffield and Kenny Lofton. Some observers look at this team as a far cry from the Paul O’Neil Yankees. Will the new attitude help or hurt the team?

Larry Mahnken: A lot of guys have come into New York in past years with a bad reputation, and turned out to be fine teammates. Joe Torre is excellent at keeping the clubhouse professional, and making sure everyone’s focused on their goal. I don’t think the new personalities will have any effect on the Yankees’ performance on the field.

Buster Olney: Even if you assume that these guys are benign, rather than cancerous, it won’t be the same; those guys of the dynasty all had shared history, they played for each other. The Yankees of 2004 are a lot of islands loosely connected by the color of their uniform.

Joe Sheehan: Um…what? You know the difference between Paul O’Neill and Kevin Brown? Paul O’Neill played for the Yankees. Same actions, same attitude, but Yankees fans liked their guy. Seriously. Calling Kevin Brown a “far cry” from Paul O’Neill is ridiculous.

Joel Sherman: I think too often this becomes about the media not getting along with a player, which at times could impact a team if other players feel they are having to talk too much in their teammate’s behalf. But I think Kevin Brown is a different animal. His teammates have not liked him at his various stops. That could cause problems. Kenny Lofton long had that reputation, as well. But in the past two years with the Giants and Cubs, he actually has been hailed as a good teammate on teams that made the playoffs.

Glenn Stout: That will be totally determined by their W/L record. Attitude only matters when you lose.

BB: From a writer’s viewpoint, is this the most interesting Yankee team since the Bronx Zoo days of the late seventies?

Larry Mahnken: I thought the early-90′s Yankees were much more interesting, because they were an underdog team coming out of the cellar, and collecting, for the most part, underappreciated players. This certainly is an interesting team, with some new personalities, but New York has tended to suck the personality out of players in recent years. I thought Jason Giambi would be a lot of fun as a Yankee, but he’s been all business. What a letdown.

Tim Marchman: Controversial excellence interests me much less than quiet excellence.

Buster Olney: No, I much prefer a functional team to a dysfunctional team. Then you can write more about baseball than catfights.

Joel Sherman: I think A-Rod and the heat of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry make this the most fascinating team I have ever been around.

Glenn Stout: I donít think sotodayís writers donít have nearly the same access as then, and the contemporary player is much, much more guarded. Thereís nothing really inherently interesting about a group of rich guys with no perspective, whether they are ballplayers or CEOís.

BB: What are you looking forward to about the 2004 Yankees? And what are you dreading about them?

Larry Mahnken: I’m looking forward to seeing Gary Sheffield rip doubles into the outfield gaps. I’m looking forward to seeing Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown on their best days. I’m looking forward to seeing if Hideki Matsui
can HIT THE DAMN BALL IN THE AIR!!! I’m dreading injuries, or seeing Bernie Williams in center field again. But most of all, I’m dreading seeing the Red Sox win it all–or, at least, the aftermath of that.

Tim Marchman: I look forward to seeing Alex Rodriguez play every day; Iíve always gone out of my way to watch him, but this is the first time Iíll be able to see him play every day, and that should be a treat. I dread that instead of putting a team in Brooklyn to counter the Yankeesí revenue advantage, MLB will seek to thwart them by foolishly instigating a longer strike than the one we saw in 1994 by insisting (again) on a salary cap the players will never, ever agree to.

Buster Olney: They are a fascinating collection of Rotisserie Gods, playing under extraordinary expectations — win the World Series or be deemed losers — and it’ll be fascinating to see how they react. I dread being around the team in important series, because the media pack will extend into Manhattan.

Alan Schwarz: What I dread is their heading into the season as favorites again. Before the Rodriguez trade, it was reasonable to see the Red Sox as favorites for a change. Now we’re back to the same old, boring storylines.

Joe Sheehan: They could score an obscene number of runs, especially if they get lucky at second base. I love the idea of watching Rodriguez play for the Yankees. I think this is the year Mike Mussina gets his close-up, too. Dreading? The Carnival of Denial. Any four-game losing streak, because of the potential for an ownership meltdown. Whiny fans in places like Kansas City staging impotent “protests” over payroll figures, as David Glass gets ever richer by whittling away at an entire class of Americans.

Joel Sherman: I am looking forward to the 19 games against the Red Sox. I can’t think of anything I am dreading.

Glenn Stout: Iím looking forward to the nineteen games with Boston. Iím dreading all the stupid crap that will be written before and after those games, or said by broadcasters, particularly references to the specious and tired “curse.”

BB: Do you think the Yankees will get into a bench-clearing brawl during the regular season?

Larry Mahnken: Without a doubt. Another team might be involved, too, but that’s less likely.

Tim Marchman: Iíll be very disappointed if they donít.

Buster Olney: Yes; with the Red Sox. And Pedro will be involved. It’s all but inevitable. (It’s a lock that either Posada or Sheffield will be the Yankee charging the mound…)

Joe Sheehan: Yes.

Joel Sherman: The Yanks and Red Sox play 19 times. Enough said.

Glenn Stout: You mean with each other? 3-1 vs the Red Sox, 5-1 vs. Tampa, 10-1 vs anyone else or each other.

Tune in on Monday when a second group of writers tackle the same set of questions.

Yankee Preview Sunday: Roundtable Discussion

Seven Up: All Together Now

Part One, Side One

When I was growing up I remember feeling that it was very important to be right about things. Opinions mostly. In family discussions and conversations, being right seemed to equate being heard, feeling recognized. As an adult, I donít feel the burning need to be right anymore. Iím much more interested in learning something I don’t know. That is why I get so much out of what other people have to say. I find listening and paying attention to be one of the most stimulating aspects of following baseball

Yankee Preview Saturday: Mariano Rivera

“C” is For Closers: Enter Sandman

By Chris DeRosa

After the 1999 World Series, Yankee closer and series MVP Mariano Rivera said that he would give it four more years and then return to his native Panama to be an evangelical minister of a church he was building there. Going into 2004, Iíd say that on the balance, New York fans should be happy that great pitchers donít always follow through on their retirement plans.

The Yankees too should be happy, and about as optimistic as possible about a 34 year-old relief ace who has paid visits to the disabled list in each of the last two seasons. Shoulder and groin injuries limited Rivera to only 46 innings in 2002 and cost him last April. After struggling a bit in May, things seemed to click for him and he tore through June and July throwing about as well as ever. August, however, was one of the worst extended stretches of Riveraís career:

Aug 1st: Blew 2-1 lead in the 8th (broke Tejadaís bat but Soriano couldnít field the ball).

Aug 3rd: Came into Pettitteís 1-0 shutout with man on in 9th, let up single and double to lose game.

Aug 6th: Rangers hand him second consecutive loss.

Aug 7th: Rangers roughed him up again in a shaky save

Aug 15th: Gave up homer to Jack Cust (the Orioles have been toughest on Mo historically).

Aug 16th: Luis Matos homered to tie game in 9th (the game the Yanks won because Cust fell down twice)

Aug 20th: NY lead 8-2 in the 9th when KC greeted him with four straight hits. Yanks squirmed out of it 8-7.

There were a couple of good ones in there too, but the Yankee bullpen was in agony. The team had gone into Boston in late July and opened the series with a win to take a 3.5 game lead in the AL East. From there, they went 9-9, with seven of the losses charged to the bullpen. Armando Benitez, Al Osuna, Sterling Hitchcock, Jesse Orosco and Chris Hammond surrounded Riveraís bad stretch with memorable meltdowns of their own. Six poor performances in eleven August outings ouch. Was he losing it?

He wasnít. A light workload for the rest of August helped him bounce back and have a good September. In the end, it was a fine season. He worked 70.2 innings and allowed only 61 hits and 3 homers. He set career-best marks in walks allowed (10) and ERA (1.66). Considering the number of games Rivera missed on the DL (in 1998, 2002, and 2003), Joe Torre worked him at a harder pace than he had in any season since he became the closer in 1997:

Year   Games "Available"   Batters Faced   BF/GA
1996     162         425      2.62
1997     162         301      1.86
1998     149         246      1.65
1999     162         268      1.65
2000     162         311      1.92
2001     162         310      1.91
2002     105         187      1.78
2003     137         277      2.02

His fine totals notwithstanding, Rivera did react entirely well to this quickening of pace. Here are the records of the 12 relief aces with at least 30 saves last year when pitching on no daysí rest:

Unrested Closer       ERA   IP    H    Run   ER   HR   BB   K
John Smoltz         0.41   22.0   11    2    1    0    3   23
Troy Percival        0.75   12.0    2    1    1    1   4  12
Keith Foulke         1.11   24.3   15    3    3    2   9  20
Billy Wagner         1.35   26.7   17    4    4    1  11   31
Eric Gagne          1.82   29.7   17    6    6    0    6   54
Eddie Guardado       3.18   17.0   15    6    6    1   3   17
Uegeth Urbina        3.46   26.0   21   10   10    2   13   31
Tim Worrell         3.46   26.0   24   10   10    3    5   20
Mariano Rivera       3.48   20.7   29    9    8    2    1  19
Jorge Julio         3.52   15.3   13    6    6    1    3  17
Joe Borowski        4.86   16.7   13    9    9    2   4  18
Rocky Biddle         4.91   25.7   30   15   14    3    9   19

Among the elite closers, John Smoltz, Keith Foulke, Billy Wagner, and Eric Gagne were all called upon without rest as often as Rivera, but were their normally deadly selves. Mariano was a lot more vulnerable when he had to work in consecutive games, allowed 29 hits in 20.7 innings. His 1.66 ERA is also a little deceptive. Just looking at how many RBIs a closer gave up can be a quick and dirty corrective counterweight to his ERA when you want to know what kind of year the guy had in the pinches:

30-Save Closers           BF   RBI   RBI/BF
Eric Gagne              306   10    .033
Billy Wagner            335   17    .051
John Smoltz             244   16    .066
Keith Foulke            338   25    .074
Joe Borowski            280   25    .089
Eddie Guaradado          260   24    .092
Troy Percival            206   20    .097
Mariano Rivera          277   30    .108
Uegeth Urbina           316   36    .114
Jorge Julio           273   36    .132
Rocky Biddle           330   44    .133
Tim Worrell            335   45    .134

Mo was as hard on lefties as ever, but right-handed hitters got better swings than usual (.283/.336/.398). None of which is to say Rivera didnít have a very good year and isnít a good bat to have another one in 2004. Certainly his October performance gave no cause for alarm. Rivera threw 16.7 innings and allowed only one run, which dropped his lifetime postseason ERA to 0.75.

Against Minnesota, Rivera notched a pair of no-hit, no-walk two-inning saves. In the Game 3 frenzy in Fenway, he set down six straight Boston batters to protect the Yankeesí 4-3 lead. After the game, Roger Clemens marveled at his apparent serenity, “You take your worst

Cooperstown Confidential

Spring Training Edition

By Bruce Markusen February 26, 2004

Whatís On Second?

Now that “The Trade” has become official and all interested parties have had a chance to chime in on the merits of Alfonso Soriano vs. Alex Rodriguez (and it is amazing how a few Sabermetricians are now saying that onetime whipping post Soriano isnít really that far from the godlike A-Rod on the value scale), itís time for the Yankees to begin their spring training search for a new All-Star second baseman. Or at least one who can pick up a ground ball. Right now, the list of candidates features four participants, but that could change based on a trade or a waiver wire pickup during the spring. Letís start with the pivotmen currently training with the Yankees down in Tampa.

In House Candidates:

Erick Almonte: Heís probably the longest of long shots to win the second base derby, given his non-roster status and lack of experience at the position. Almonte has struggled at shortstop, so he might be better suited for the other side of the diamond in the long run. Iíd expect that heíll start the season as the Opening Day second baseman for the Columbus Clippers.

Homer Bush: Also a non-roster invite, Bush is working against long odds, especially since he didnít play in the major leagues in 2003. Offensively, Bush will never compile even a decent on-base percentage since he likes to swing early in the count. On the plus side, Joe Torre remembers the impact that Bush had as a reserve in 1998, when he became a late-inning intimidator with his game-changing speed on the bases. Bush has lost a step or two since then and is no longer a feared basestealer, but heís still an above-average defender at second base with plus range and the capability of turning the double play. The 31-year-old Bush could emerge as a sleeper in the second-base sweepstakes, particularly if general manager Brian Cashman fails to swing a deal for help outside of the organization.

Miguel Cairo: Of the four in-house candidates, Cairo is probably the weakest hitter; he wonít hit for a high average, doesnít draw a lot of walks, and has no power. Yet, heíll probably catch Torreís attention with his fielding around the bag, where heís more comfortable than either Bush or Enrique Wilson. Once a favorite of Tony LaRussa in St. Louis, Cairo has good range and soft hands, and turns the double play well. Unlike Bush, Cairo has a fallback option of making the team as a backup player; he possesses enough versatility to play third base, shortstop, or the outfield, whereas Bush can only play second or third.

Enrique Wilson: Despite several unproductive seasons as a Bronx utilityman, Wilson has managed to gain favor with both Torre and Cashman. They like his professionalism and upbeat attitude, which helps them overlook his severe lack of offensive output in pinstripes. Wilson really hasnít hit since his days in Cleveland, and heís not as capable a defender as either Bush or Cairo. Yet, Wilson is almost certain to make the team and has already been installed as the pre-season second-base favorite by Torre.

While the list of in-house contenders is relatively short

Yankee Preview Friday: Jorge Posada

Bonafide Bomber

By Jay Jaffe

The area directly behind home plate in Yankee Stadium has played host to a pretty fair collection of ballplayers. Two Hall of Famers, Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, have donned the tools of intelligence for the Yankees, and four men — Dickey, Berra, Elston Howard and Thurman Munson — have won a total of five MVP awards (three by Berra), five Gold Gloves (three by Munson) and made an astounding 42 All-Star teams. Not coincidentally, the uniform numbers of those four men have all been retired by the Yankees. Into the large cleats of these bronzed Bombers steps Jorge Posada, a man with four All-Star appearances already under his belt, not to mention a healthy third-place showing in the 2003 MVP vote. With relatively little fanfare, Posada has shown himself not only a solid, worthy heir to the men who’ve manned that hallowed spot of dirt, but also one of the league’s most valuable players and arguably the best catcher in baseball.

Along with Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera, Posada remains one of the shrinking core of homegrown Yankees who ushered in their recent dynasty, “Joe Torre’s guys.” He’s the junior member of that quartet, playing only nine major-league games prior to 1997 while the other three figured prominently in the team’s 1996 championship, their first under Torre. But he’s become part of the old guard, a leader in the clubhouse as well as on the field, his fiery demeanor channeled to better use than simply goading Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez onto the same page. Following the Yanks’ early ouster from the 2002 playoffs, Posada emerged as a vocal critic of his teammates’ uninspired play, echoing Derek Jeter’s it-don’t-mean-a-thing-if-we-don’t-get-that-ring sentiments, and in Jeter’s absence last year, he assumed even more of a leadership role. The hothead in him still emerges from time to time; recall his heated exchange with Pedro Martinez as all hell broke loose in last year’s ALCS Game Three.

The Yankees drafted the Puerto Rican Posada in the 24th round in 1990 out of Calhoun (Alabama) Community College, but it was as a second baseman, not as a catcher. Looking at his physique today, those thunder-thighs supporting that skinny upper body, it’s difficult to imagine him fielding grounders or pivoting on the double play, which may be why after his first season in the minors the Yanks converted him to a backstop. Given that he led his league in either passed balls or errors in 1993 and 1994, some would argue that he wasn’t stopping much of anything. But Posada’s hitting skills, particularly his abilities to control the strike zone and to hit for power from both sides of the plate, were apparent as far back as 1992, when he hit .277 AVG/.389 OBP/.472 SLG for Greenville (A). He spent three years in AAA Columbus, struggling in 1994 (.240/.308/.406) but winning International League All-Star honors in both 1995 (.255/.355/.435) and 1996 (.271/.405/.460) and earning brief cups of coffee in the Bronx in the latter years. He even made the postseason roster in 1995, scoring a run as a pinch-runner in the Division series against Seattle.

In part due to his defensive struggles and to Torre’s taste for defense-first catchers, the Yankees brought Posada along slowly once he stuck on the roster for good in 1997. Jorge appeared in only 60 games that season while Girardi remained the regular, but the roles were reversed during 1998, and he’s held the job ever since. Since Girardi’s departure following the 1999 season, Posada has become even more of a mainstay in the Yankee lineup, catching 130 or more games in each of the past four years, hitting .278/.389/.497 and averaging 25 HR and 95 in that span. Most teams would do well to have such a solid contributor at any position, let alone catcher. For the Yanks, such production from their homegrown up-the-middle players has been as much a given in the Torre era as a formidable rotation.

Prior to last season, Posada’s best year with the bat came in 2000, when he hit .287/.417/.527 with 28 homers and 107 walks. His raw averages and totals in 2003 were slightly off that mark, .281/.405/.518 with 30 homers and 93 walks, but relative to the league, he was a better hitter; his adjusted OPS of 146 (seventh in the league) blew away his 2000 mark of 134. Notably, he cut down his strikeouts considerably last year, whiffing only 110 times after averaging 142 in the previous three seasons. Oh, and he also tied Yogi for the Yankee record for home runs by a catcher in a single season while topping 100 RBI for the first time. Not too shabby.

One factor which may have played a part in Posada’s great season was the improved health of his son, Jorge Posada IV. The youngest Posada, now four, suffers from craniosynostosis, which causes the bones of the skull to fuse before the brain has stopped growing. He’s endured three major surgeries to correct the problem, including a ten-hour ordeal a year ago this week. The sight of young Jorge squirting onto the field during the player introductions of each of the last two All-Star Games has added a heartwarming touch to the games, and it’s not too hard to envision how his improved health has been a boon to his father.

Was Jorge the Yankees’ MVP last season? In a year which saw Derek Jeter miss six weeks with a dislocated shoulder, Bernie Williams undergo knee surgery, Jason Giambi struggle with eye and knee problems, and Nick Johnson break his hand, Posada’s got a pretty solid case. He may not have the speed and flash of Alfonso Soriano, but his plate discipline makes him a much more valuable hitter. Looking at two valuation metrics which consider both offense and defense, Baseball Prospectus’ Wins Above Replacement and Bill James’ Win Shares (as calculated at BaseballGraphs.com, Posada tied for the team lead with Soriano in one and edged Giambi in the other:

     WARP3  WS  WSAA
Posada  9.2 27.75 13.0
Soriano  9.2 27.38  8.6
Mussina  8.7 18.62  7.3
Giambi  8.5 27.68 12.6
Clemens  8.0 15.47  4.5
Rivera  7.2 17.49  9.7
Wells   6.5 14.46  3.4
Pettitte 5.7 14.62  1.6
Matsui  4.8 18.89  1.2
Johnson  4.8 14.49  5.6
Williams 4.5 13.13 -0.1
Jeter   4.2 17.81  4.4 

The third column is Win Shares Above Average, an attempt to reconcile one of the major flaws with James’ Win Shares, namely the lack of an opportunity baseline (the methodology for WSAA is here). While I’m more partial to systems which measure from a replacement level than from average, the WSAA adjustment is striking. Not only does Posada shoot to the top of the Yanks, he’s got the fourth-highest total in the A.L. All of this confirms Posada’s legitimacy as an MVP candidate last season (he finished third; I made the case here that he should win the award).

Is Posada the best catcher in the game? Win Shares and WARP3 support that conclusion emphatically. Here are the Top 10 catchers over the last three seasons (Win Shares 2002 data from Baseball Truth; WSAA isn’t available yet for years prior to 2003):

      WARP3  WS
Posada   23.0  73
Rodriguez  21.7  52
Lo Duca   19.6  66
Lopez    16.2  53
Pierzynski 15.0  54
Piazza   15.0  51
Hernandez  14.2  44
Kendall   14.1  42
Varitek   13.4  47
Santiago  10.6  38

The key here is durability. Aside from L.A.’s Paul Lo Duca and Minnesota’s A.J. Pierzynski, all of the would-be heavyweight contenders for the Best Catcher title besides Posada have missed a significant chunk of time or ruined a season due to serious injury. Pudge’s back, Piazza’s groin, Kendall’s ankle, Lopez’s knee, and Varitek’s elbow have given way, while Posada’s ability to remain healthy, despite nagging injuries and arthroscopic shoulder surgery after the 2001 season, has made him the most valuable catcher in baseball as much as his bat has.

As for his glove, that’s not his strongest suit. Posada has thrown out only about 30 percent of opposing base stealers over the course of his career, which is solid but unexceptional. Last season he ranked 19th out of 29 qualifying catchers at throwing runners out. He also led the major leagues in passed balls, despite the relatively well-publicized return (as these things go) of catching instructor Gary Tuck after a few years’ absence. Looking at the advanced metrics, Posada places almost exactly average on the Prospectus fielding scale, fourth in total fielding Win Shares (7.53) for an AL catcher, and sixth the league in terms of Win Shares per 1000 innings (6.47, leaders based on 500 innings played minimum). It’s worth noting that Pudge, long with the reputation for being the best defensive catcher, has fallen off considerably; his WS/1000 is pretty anemic (3.75), and he’s only 9 Fielding Runs Above Average over the past two seasons according to BP.

For all of his defensive woes, Posada is certainly an asset, and it helps that the Yankee staff speaks highly of his game-calling instincts and his ability to frame pitches (though his tendency to argue balls and strikes with the umpires while hitting doesn’t win him many favors). It helps even more, of course, that the Yanks have had an excellent rotation to begin with. But with three new starters joining the staff in Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, and Jon Leiber, Posada will face some real challenges this year. The sparks might fly between him and the ornery Brown, and he’ll have to keep Contreras focused and working on pace. He’ll probably mesh quite well with fellow Puerto Rican Vazquez, which should ease his transition to the Bronx, but how he’ll fare in working with new relievers Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill is pure conjecture.

Baserunning is another shortcoming in Posada’s game; despite his less than stocky build, he’s a slow runner if not exceptionally so for a catcher. Fortunately, he knows this, attempting only 24 steals (9 successfully) in his entire big-league career and hitting only five triples. Since he hits the ball in the air a fair amount, he manages to avoid grounding into double plays, yet another small edge to his game.

Posada signed a five-year, $51 million contract in February of 2002, and while it’s small potatoes compared to what Jeter, Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, or Mike Mussina make, that contract does carry with it some risk. Catchers age more rapidly than other ballplayers, and few of them are productive into their late 30s. Posada is 32, and will be pulling down $9 million, $12 million, and $13.5 million (including bonuses) for the rest of the contract, not exactly chump change. The Yankees hold a $12 million team option for 2007 with a $4 million buyout, while Posada can void his contract after this season. Given the slowing growth of player contracts and Posada’s attachment to winning, that has about as much chance of happening as the beatification of George Steinbrenner.

The fact that Posada converted to catching at a relatively late age means he’s got considerably less mileage on his body than most 32-year-old catchers, and his history of durability bodes well. But based on his age and body type, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA prediction system sees a bit of decline immediately ahead for Posada; its weighted mean forecast calls for a .261/.368/.460 line with 20 homers. Posada should surpass those numbers if he remains healthy, but lady luck will have her say; one nagging hand injury can hamper a catcher’s hitting for the entire season, and one freak injury can alter the expectations for the rest of his career. Just ask Jason Kendall.

Assuming he stays relatively healthy, does Posada have a chance at becoming the all-time greatest Yankee catcher? Almost certainly, no. His late start means he won’t rack up the career totals of the exceptionally durable Berra and Dickey, both of whom were established stars by their mid-20s and remained productive into their late 30s.

Earlier this winter, using Baseball Prospectus’ Wins Above Replacement metrics, I took a look at the hitters on the 2004 Hall of Fame ballot and compared them with the enshrinees at each position. My method was to balance career length (using total Wins Above Replacement, WARP3) and peak (best five consecutive season WARP3 total, abbreviated W5C) by averaging the two figures together to get what I called the Weighted WARP score (WPWT). The results were published in articles on BP this past January, but since no catchers were on the ballot, that section was omitted. Applying my methodology to the aforementioned Yankee catchers (denoted by Y in the chart below), the Hall of Fame catchers (H), Posada’s top contemporaries (C), and some interesting historical also-rans (N) gives an interesting snapshot of where he fits in and where he might end up.

         WARP3 W5C  WPWT
H Gary Carter   119.8 49.9 84.9
H Johnny Bench  118.0 50.4 84.2
H Yogi Berra   109.9 45.1 77.5
H Carlton Fisk  111.6 39.8 75.7
C Ivan Rodriguez  98.3 47.0 72.7
H Bill Dickey   101.0 42.4 71.7
N Joe Torre    99.7 40.5 70.1
H Gabby Hartnett  95.8 36.7 66.3
N Ted Simmons   94.3 38.2 66.3
C Mike Piazza   84.2 45.5 64.9
H Mickey Cochrane 83.9 45.2 64.6
N Lance Parrish  87.1 33.3 60.2
H Buck Ewing    79.7 33.9 56.8
N Bill Freehan   75.0 35.5 55.3
N Gene Tenace   71.4 38.5 55.0
Y Thurman Munson  68.9 38.1 53.5
N Darrell Porter  75.5 31.6 53.6
H Roy Campanella  64.8 42.0 53.4
N Jim Sundberg   68.2 33.6 50.9
H Ernie Lombardi  71.6 29.3 50.5
N Wally Schang   68.3 25.7 47.0
H Rick Ferrell   64.9 28.9 46.9
Y Elston Howard  58.6 34.3 46.5
N Bob Boone    67.8 22.8 45.3
H Ray Schalk    57.8 25.7 41.8
C Jason Kendall  48.7 34.0 41.3
H Roger Bresnahan 53.7 26.6 40.2
Y Jorge Posada   43.4 36.3 39.9

The lower ranks of Hall of Fame catchers represent the nadir of the Veterans Committee’s selections; the Committee elected Ferrell when the thought they were voting for his brother, pitcher Wes Ferrell, while Bresnahan got the nod in part because he pioneered the use of shin guards. More worthy catchers such as Torre (who switched positions), Simmons, Parrish, Freehan, Tenace and Porter had careers superior to that lower echelon. Posada is just beginning to dent this chart, but it’s important to note that since he’s only been a regular for four years, his peak score is low; the 2004 season will essentially count double, and another season on the order of the one he just had, say a 9.0 WARP, will move him past Ferrell and Howard, among others. Three solid seasons, not exactly a given, would push him past Munson and into the third slot among Yankee catchers, but he’d need about seven good seasons to pass Dickey. He won’t make that, but three more good seasons and a typical, gradual decline phase would put him between Ewing and Cochrane, which is Flavor Country where the Hall of Fame is concerned. Even there he won’t be a lock, especially because Rodriguez has a pretty good shot at winding up #1 on this chart — three solid seasons will do it — and Piazza will continue to climb, albeit less rapidly. Given that it took six ballots for Carter to reach Cooperstown, it’s a safe bet that Posada will have to wait for his ship to come in even if it’s due, because his contemporaries will overshadow him. The bottom line is that there’s far more uncertainty about him getting to that point than there is about him attaining his just reward once he does.

The 2004 season should be another exciting but tense one for Yankee fans, as their star-studded lineup tries to meet the unbelievably lofty expectations that have been set. Posada might just be at the intersection of two of the most interesting questions about the team, namely, “How will this revamped rotation fare?” and, “With all these stars and superstars, who are the true leaders of this team?” Expect Posada to continue asserting his authority even in the presence of A-Rod, backing Jeter in whatever subtle power struggle may emerge between the two men on the left side of the infield, and continuing to be one of Torre’s guys in gauging the mood of the team. Posada is definitely part of the Yankees’ old guard now, comfortably filling the big shoes of those who came before him.

Jay Jaffe is the sole owner and proprietor of The Futility Infielder, one of the longest-running and best baseball websites on the Internet.

Man Down

This Just In

Awww, man. The AP is reporting that Bernie Williams will have surgery today to have his appendix removed. This sudden turn of events means that Kenny Lofton will likely start the season as the Yankees’ starting center fielder. Shoot, I feel for Bernie. I was hoping that he would be able to get a full season in this year. Maybe he’ll only miss a few weeks of the regular season. Still, he’ll be behind everyone. Williams played well early last year, but has traditionally been a slow starter. This won’t help any. Drag.

Shedding

While the Yankees officially parted ways with Aaron Boone this afternoon, Joe Torre could be leaning towards a contract extension. Tom Verducci has a piece on the Yankee manager over at SI.com. One of the things they discuss is the Yankee line-up. Like Joel Sherman also suggests in a sabermetric-friendly article in The Post, Bernie Williams could be a fine leadoff man.

Speaking of leadoff hitters, have you seen Johnny Damon, Boston’s answer to Captain Caveman? (Damon also looks a bit like the little kid with the deadly boomerang in “The Road Warrior.”) Most modern athletes are accused of being dull and guarded, but Damon is a flake with some real chutzpah. The anti-Yankee is sure to keep things lively in Boston this year (as if they needed any help in that department).

Finally, Jay Jaffe, and my label-mate Jon Weisman have posts up today about Michael Lewis’ Sports Illustrated article. Both are well-worth checking out.

Lickshot: Michael Lewis Bites Back

Michael Lewis has a sharp, at times caustic, article in Sports Illustrated this week responding to the critics of his best-selling book, “Moneyball.” (The article isn’t available on the net, but it’s worth picking up the latest issue on the newsstand.) Lewis details his experience writing the book, and clarifies his relationship with the Oakland front office. He also examines how organized baseball is run more like a Club than a business, and how many mainstream newspapermen are card-carrying members of that Club. Lewis was bemused by the criticism directed at Billy Beane:

It was, in a perverse way, an author’s dream: The people most upset about my book were the ones unable to divine that I had written it.”

Here is Lewis’ reaction to Tracy Ringolsby’s brusque dismissal of the book. For Ringolsby:

The problem wasn’t just that Beane’s ego was out of control. It was that the author of Moneyball “has a limited knowledge of baseball and a total infatuation with Billy Beane.”

A limited knowledge of baseball–it sounds damning enough, but what does it mean? It doesn’t mean that there’s some distinct body of insider knowledge that he has mastered, or if it does, Ringolsby produces no evidence of it. It cannot mean the knowledge that might only come from playing the game, for he himself never got beyond Babe Ruth baseball. And it most certainly does not mean that he has some special understanding of what these people in Oakland are up to, because he has shown scant interest in interviewing them. Think of it! A guy who makes his living writing about baseball, working himself into a fine lather about Billy Beane’s radical experiment in Oakland and never, according to Beane himself, asking for an explanation. A limited knowledge of baseball: What it means, so far as I can tell, is that Ringolsby is just another guy who’s assigned himself the job of barring people from the game who, in his view, have no business inside. He’s not a writer. He’s a bouncer.

Lewis concludes:

But he has his own moment, this fellow. When he sits down to write his column he knows in his heart that he speaks for a lot of people who work just off the field of play. He may belong only to the women’s auxiliary of the Club, but his views of the game reflect those of the actual members. A lot of people who make the decisions about building baseball teams think the way he does. That’s why it’s possible for a team with no money to win so many games.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Yankee Preview Thursday: Alex Rodriguez

Top Billin

By Cliff Corcoran

When my gracious host, Alex Belth, first asked me to contribute a guest column to his spring training preview, he assigned me a profile of then Yankee second baseman Alfonso Soriano. I cranked out about 3,000 words and was in the home stretch when, on the day after Valentineís Day, Soriano was shipped to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Alex Rodriguez. Despite having spent the preceding week vigorously gathering evidence with which to defend the then 26-year-old Soriano against his critics, I was no less delighted at the news of the trade. The Yankees had just picked up the best all-around player in the majors and a man who is challenging for the title of the best shortstop in the history of the game. Well, that was my initial reaction.

As the trade sank in, official word came down that Rodriguez would be moving to third base, and I began to picture Miguel Cairo as the Yankees starting second baseman, I began to think about A-Rodís place in history a bit more deeply, as well as his ranking among the best active players in the game. The three primary questions I had were:

1) How exactly does Rodriguez measure up against the greatest shortstops in history, and how would this status change should his move to third be permanent?

2) If his move to third base is permanent, how would A-Rod measure up against the gameís greatest third basemen, should he continue to produce at his established levels with the typical decline of a player of his skill level?

3) Where exactly does Alex Rodriguez rank among the top hitters in the game today, and when speed and defense are taken into account, how much further would he move up the list of the games greatest players?

So letís try to answer these questions.

First letís take a look at how Rodriguez measures up against the gameís greatest shortstops. Itís widely acknowledged that if A-Rod has any competition for the title of the greatest shortstop ever, that competition comes in the form of one John Peter “Honus” Wagner. As Wagner played the entirety of his career in the dead-ball era (he retired in 1917 at age 43) the comparison between the two men is almost impossible to make based on counting stats alone. Even traditional rate stats fail us, as a large part of Rodriguezís value is derived from his slugging, which by definition is difficult to compare to that of a player from the dead-ball era. As a result weíre forced to turn to some slightly more advanced metrics. Namely OPS+ (adjusted on-base percentage plus slugging, which adjusts for park factors and is expressed in comparison to a league average of 100) from Baseball-Reference.com, and four stats from Lee Sininsí Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia: RCAA (runs created against average, the difference between the runs created totals for the given player and a league average player based on outs), RCAP (runs created against position, same deal but measured only against players at the same defensive position), OWP (offensive winning percentage, the projected winning percentage of a team composed of a league average defense and pitching staff and an offense comprised of clones of the given player) and RC/G (runs created per game, simply the number of runs scored per game by an offense consisting solely of clones of the given player

Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here

Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra are at Red Sox camp and are in the papers today. Martinez is sporting an (unintentionally) amusing hair style which looks like it requires a steady diet of activator–Cookie Head Jenkins, eat your heart out. Prince Pedro was his usual, uncompromising self, while Garciaparra admits that the Alex Rodriguez trade talk over the winter was troubling.

Meanwhile, at Yankee camp, a jolly George Steinbrenner respects the Red Sox team, but can’t seem to get Theo Epstein’s name right:

“I think they’ve got a great lineup,” he said. “I think Esposito has done a great job for them, like Cashman has done a great job for us. I think they have more stability in their pitching staff. I think we have a few question marks.”

The tweaking continues. As does Alex Rodriguez’s apprenticeship at third base. Fortunately, Rodriguez has good teachers in Graig Nettles, Luis Sojo and Willie Randolph.

Wrapping up, the Yankees have finally signed Travis Lee, and in light of Jon Lieber’s aching groin, may be looking for an extra starting pitcher. In addition, Joe Torre and Mariano Rivera ponder their future in pinstripes.

Yankee Preview Wednesday: Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter

The Odd Couple

By Richard Lederer and Alex Belth

With Andy Pettitte leaving New York to pitch for the Houston Astros, only four Yankees remain from the 1996 Championship team: Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, all products of the Yankee farm system. Although it may seem as if the Yankees are a candidate for the TV show “Extreme Makeover”, no other team can claim a quartet of players who have been together longer.

Rivera has been an ace closer and one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all-time. Posada is among the premier catchers in the game and arguably the Yankees’ best since Yogi Berra. Williams and Jeter have been the two most valuable everyday players during the Joe Torre Era, yet they are rarely paired like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig or Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson, let alone Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Perhaps the reason why Williams and Jeter have not been linked to the same degree as Bagwell and Biggio is because they have not developed a catchy nickname like the Killer B’s. Regardless, they will be associated together even less now that Alex Rodriguez has joined the team. It’s going to be all about DJ and Alex; Bernie Williams will be by himself in the corner strumming his guitar. Over time, the connection between Jeter and Williams is likely to lose even more relevance.

But Williams and Jeter—along with Rivera—symbolize the current Yankee run. Williams is a product of the transition period during the early nineties and the championship years of the late nineties. Jeter is symbolic of the Yankee Dynasty under Joe Torre. Both players have been serious-minded professionals in the quiet Yankee tradition of Gehrig, Roy White, Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly as opposed to flashy stars like Hal Chase, Ruth, and Jackson. And yet they are entirely different players. Williams looks like a wandering gazelle in the outfield—grounded, but perhaps lost in a daydream—while Jeter is the stalking cheetah or a preening peacock in the infield. In that sense, Williams is the typical outfield personality and Jeter is the ultimate infielder.

Jeter is a major star, a sex symbol. Williams looks like a bookworm and is a family man. Jeter is Spiderman and Bernie is Peter Parker. Jeter is the cool extrovert and Williams is the thoughtful introvert. Jeter does little things that get noticed while Williams is easy to overlook. Recall the infamous Jeffrey Maier game against the Orioles in the 1996 ALCS which made the rookie Jeter a household name. It was Williams’ home run in extra innings that actually won the game for the Yanks, but who remembers that? Many of us just remember that’s the night that some lucky kid made another lucky kid a star.

Since his rookie year in 1996, Jeter has been a relentless and driven competitor. For Yankee fans, his enthusiasm has been contagious. Jeter smirks. He smiles. He engages the fans while he’s on the on-deck circle. No matter how tense the situation, he looks like he is having a good time out there. Watching Jeter, you feel invited along to enjoy in his fun. (If you hate the Yankees, it makes it easier to despise Jeter.) Jeter is a natural. It’s as if he were built to be a ballplayer–mentally, physically and emotionally. Jeter personifies Tom Boswell’s description of “a gamer.”

Baseball has a name for the player who, in the eyes of his peers, is well attuned to the demands of his discipline; he is called “a gamer.” The gamer does not drool, or pant, before the cry of “Play ball.” Quite the opposite. He is the player, like George Brett or Pete Rose, who is neither too intense, nor too lax, neither lulled into carelessness in a dull August doubleheader nor wired too tight in an October playoff game. The gamer may scream and curse when his mates show the first hints of laziness, but he makes jokes and laughs naturally in the seventh game of the Series.

Jeter has an edge, too. He’s just careful to keep it in check, but it’s definitely there. It was evident in Jeter’s unforgiving treatment of Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby last season, as it will likely crop up again in relation to Alex Rodriguez and who should play shortstop. But it is this edge, Jeter’s icy arrogance that has gotten him this far. And it serves him well on the field. Leo Durocher once asked:

If a man is sliding into second base and the ball goes into center field, what’s the matter with falling on him accidentally so that he can’t get up and go to third? If you get away with it, fine. If you don’t, what have you lost? I don’t call that cheating; I call that heads-up baseball. Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it.

Jeter has not only been a “heads-up” player from the get go, but he has also been a realiable one, participating in 148 or more games every year except 2003 (when he suffered a dislocated left shoulder on Opening Day). Only Garrett Anderson, Chipper Jones, and Rafael Palmeiro have had more seasons of 148 or more games since Jeter’s rookie year in 1996.

Although Jeter’s defense leaves a lot to be desired (placing at or near the bottom of his peers in almost every advanced metric), he has been one of the three best offensive shortstops in baseball over the course of his career. Since 1996, Jeter ranks first among shortstops in on-base percentage (.390), third in slugging (.462), and third in OPS (.853). Derek is fifth on the all-time Yankees list (500 games or more) with a .317 batting average, behind only Ruth (.349), Gehrig (.340), Earle Combs (.325), and Joe DiMaggio (.325).

The Yankee shortstop had a career year in 1999, leading the league in hits (219) and times on base (322), placing second in runs scored (134), and fourth in total bases (346). In the area of rate stats, Jeter finished second in batting average (.349), third in on-base percentage (.438), fifth in OPS (.989), and second in OPS+ (161). He was clearly the team’s best player, playing an important defensive position and ranking at or near the top in every offensive category. Jeter, in fact, became the first shortstop in club history to hit 20 home runs in a season in 1999.

Jeter’s reputation may have peaked the following year, becoming the first player in Yankee history to be named Most Valuable Player of the All-Star game and capping off another magnificent season by capturing MVP honors in the World Series. Derek led the Bronx Bombers to their fourth World Championship in his first five seasons, batting .409 with two home runs in the five-game subway series with the Mets. That year, Jeter became the third Yankee to compile three consecutive 200-hit seasons, joining Gehrig (1927-1929) and Mattingly (1984-1986). He also reached the 1,000 hit mark at a younger age than any Yankee not named Mickey Mantle.

Jeter is generally thought of as a “clutch” hitter, a player who elevates his game during the postseason when the stakes are highest. Does the perception match the reality?

BA OBP SLG OPS
Regular .317 .389 .462 .851
Postseason .314 .385 .469 .854

In comparison, here are Bernie Williams’ regular vs. postseason rate stats:

BA OBP SLG OPS
Regular .305 .390 .492 .882
Postseason .278 .386 .483 .869

Jeter’s numbers are freakishly close, and while Williams trails Jeter in postseason batting average, he nudges him out in OBP and SLG. What’s truly remarkable about Jeter isn’t that he is such a clutch hitter after all; rather, it’s that he is so consistent. (Rob Neyer made the point that neither Williams nor Jeter are necessarily clutch performers, but that Rivera is most certainly Mr. Clutch.) Derek is a steady ballplayer who plays at a high level during the regular season and the postseason. The simple fact that he performs on Broadway rather than some community playhouse theater is what brings Jeter the notoriety and the favorable critical reviews. He is the biggest star the Yankees have had since Reggie and probably the most beloved since Mantle. But according to baseball historian Glenn Stout, the author of Yankee Cenutry, Jeter is more like DiMaggio:

I think Jeter is the quintessential Yankee for his time, just as DiMaggio was. Like DiMaggio, he was the precise player the Yankees needed for his time, the player who made the Yankees the Yankees—and so was Mantle. Another interesting point with Jeter is that, like DiMaggio, he gives very little of his personality off the field, so that we tend to consider him totally and completely for what he does on the field, which sort of makes it easy to project special qualities onto him. He’s “touched” in a way very few athletes are in a way that transcends any way of measuring it—it’s not that Jeter’s play doesn’t reach statistical thresholds, but that stats just don’t contain him, or the right stat hasn’t been created yet.

Jeter is not an icon at this point, but the DiMaggio analogy is apt. It’s hard to blame sportswriters for being duly impressed. Furthermore, Stout hits on what people love and others hate about Derek Jeter. You can’t judge him entirely with quantitative analysis. His value is more far-reaching than that. The irony is that Bernie Williams is often under-appreciated because he lacks the same qualities that make Jeter famous. But his numbers more than compensate for his demur disposition; perhaps that explains why he’s popular with sabermetricians. In fact, when compared directly with Derek Jeter, here is what Bernie’s career averages (per 162 games) look like:

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS GDP
Williams 626 112 191 36 5 24 104 88 97 14 8 17
Jeter 651 124 207 32 5 17 82 69 117 24 6 14

BA OBP SLG OPS
Williams .305 .390 .492 .882
Jeter .317 .389 .462 .851

And if you compare their average seasons since the start of the Yankees championship years in 1996, Williams looks even better:

AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS GDP
Williams 621 119 197 36 5 27 115 92 92 13 7 18
Jeter 651 124 207 32 5 17 82 69 117 24 6 14

BA OBP SLG OPS
Williams .317 .404 .525 .929
Jeter .317 .389 .462 .851

If this is the case, then why has Williams been overlooked? Is it that he just doesn’t have the personality of a big star? In a recent telephone interview, television analyst Tim McCarver said:

Bernie’s a track star playing baseball. And Bernie will tell you that. [As a hitter] Bernie has very powerful hands, and that allows him to almost read the ball at the last minute, to pick the ball up at the last instant. Very few people can do that. They have to start earlier. But as far as his effect on the team, Bernie is just a wonderful guy, but in no way does he have the leadership characteristics that Jeter does. He’s just not that kind of player.

Williams is somewhat like Roy White, a player who, according to Glenn Stout, “by himself couldn’t really turn the team around, but who got better and whose talent was more appreciated when surrounded by better players. Like Bernie, when White was young there was a lot of bitching about what he wasn’t rather than what he was.” Bill James has another take on why Williams is underrated in

Slim (Fast)

What has Alex Rodriguez done for his teammates thus far? Well, according to Joel Sherman, if he’s made Derek Jeter’s life more difficult, but he has certainly eased the pressure that is on Gary Sheffield and especially, the man of the hour, Jason Giambi:

No other club has two players this large ensnared in the BALCO case, though Giambi’s size is in question. If you think he came up small by asking out of the World Series Game 5 lineup last year, you should see him now.

Giambi claimed he has lost only four pounds, from 232 to 228, but the clubhouse consensus was at least 15. A four-pound loss on Giambi would be near imperceptible, but he looked as if someone stuck a pin in him and let out the air, so noticeably streamlined was he in all areas, including his face.

I’ve spoken with several baseball writers recently, and all of them agree that the BALCO affair is going to get ugly this season. If and when players are named—and I have no idea who those players would be—this will be the biggest scandal in a generation (or as one person put it, it will be the Pete Rose fiasco plus the 1984 drug trials put together). I’ve already got a knot in my stomach just thinking about it. Talk about a way to ruin a season. Oy.

In other Yankee news, Jon Lieber had to cut short a session due to a sore groin.

Yankee Preview Tuesday: Jason Giambi

Walk On: In Defense of Giambi

By Steven Goldman

Take one look at Jason Giambi. Shirtless, if you can achieve it. The fellow’s got so many tats that he looks like a biker version of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s mural as done by Harley-Davidson: that’s a pretty good analogy for Giambi the ballplayer — the sacred and the profane all wrapped up in one big pile o’ muscles, said muscles come by honestly or not.

Considering the man’s achievements, not to mention his bulk, you’d figure he could hold his own without needing defending of any kind by third-party armchair columnist types. This ain’t Jason Giambi: Singin’ with the Dixie Chicks, or Jason Giambi’s Passion (there’s the sacred and the profane again), or even Jason Giambi: Enterprising Young Man of Halliburton. Still, some of the more misguided camp followers seem less than pleased with the Man Who Would Not Be Tino.

Catalog all the things Giambi is not and you make the old Sears doorstop look like an anorexic Reader’s Digest. He is not as swift as Mercury, or even, well, grandma. If baseball was a fair game, he’d be allowed to take the bullpen car from first to third. Not that there are bullpen cars anymore; they were crowded out by all the LOOGYs, for what they’re worth. Buddy Groom or a Volvo: who you gonna trust?

Giambi is not slick with the leather. He strikes out more than your divorced older brother Scott does at the local happy hour gender mix. Last season he didn’t hit lefties any better than John Ashcroft hits righties. In all likelihood, he does not appreciate the avant-jazz stylings of Ornette Coleman and is more of a Candy Dulfer-dude. These things are important to discerning NYC baseball fans, because. well, just because. These are the profane parts of “sacred and,” the flaws in Giambi’s game.

Alarm clock: time to go cold turkey on these lesser matters because they don’t count for much. The difference between a good glove and an average glove (Giambi isn’t Dick Stuart — he’s serviceable) is minute. Speed has been deemphasized in our home run-happy era— no need to run rabbit run when you can trot around the bases because even the bat boy has 25-homer power. Speed isn’t exactly irrelevant, but it’s a whole lot less important to the scoring of runs than the average cat might think.

What is important, when you strip away all the different ways one can model offense on his tablet PC while still wearing pajamas, is getting on base. That’s all there is. When Michael Stipe sang, “You are the everything,” he was referring to getting on base. Huckleberry Finn is the great American novel about getting on base. Picasso’s Guernica is about getting on base (take that, Picasso’s Guernica!).

Every baseball game has its 27-out battle with mortality: score one more than the other guy in those 27 and you win, one less, you lose (and sometimes it rains). Players who do the most to push off the inevitable end are the ones to build your offense around. Jason “The Only” Giambi accomplishes this as well as anyone in baseball today because he has the humility to take a walk. Other ballplayers are too good to let a pitcher throw four wide ones. Not Giambi, who learned his devoirs from Mark McGwire and knows that to each batter he faces a pitcher will make some pitches with murderous efficiency, some with suicidal ineptitude. During his two seasons in the Bronx, Giambi has taken 238 walks; the average American Leaguer has taken 99. His Yanks OBP is .423, .090 above the average AL player. In both 2002 and 2003 he ranked third among AL leaders in on-base percentage. Among active players he ranks sixth (behind Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Todd Helton, Edgar Martinez, and Brian Giles, ahead of Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Jeff Bagwell). In 2003 he led the AL in walks drawn. In 2002 he was second to Thome. Though Giambi lacks what Casey Stengel called

Yankee Preview: Monday

For Starters: Mike Mussina

By Ben Jacobs

In the grand scheme of things, Mike Mussina is a lucky man. He has an ability that an employer is willing to pay millions of dollars for the services of, and he enjoys using that ability in the manner in which his employer asks.

So, it’s hard to feel too bad for Mussina. However, in the baseball world, his luck hasn’t really been good and the public’s perception of him hasn’t really been fair.

Mussina is generally a reserved guy who avoids talking to the media whenever possible, which means the only way he draws attention to himself is with his performance on the field. That performance has consistently been very good throughout his career, but it hasn’t really captured the attention of most fans.

The reason is simple: while he’s always been good and often been great, he’s never been the best. He’s finished in the top six in Cy Young award voting eight times, but he’s never actually won the award. He’s finished in the top 10 in ERA nine times, but he’s never led the league. He’s finished in the top 10 in wins eight times, but he’s never won 20 games.

That last item is probably the most damning. There is a special aura attached to winning 20 games in a season. Once you do so, you’re forever a “former 20-game winner.” Mussina has never done so, but it’s not really his fault. You see, Mussina isn’t just some pitcher who’s never won 20 games in a season. He’s the best pitcher who’s never won 20 games in a season.

In 13 seasons, Mussina has a career record of 199-110 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 2126 strikeouts (7.17 K/9IP), 597 walks (2.01 BB/9IP) and 278 homers allowed (0.94 HR/9IP) in 2668.2 innings. For his career, the average batter facing him has hit .247 with a .288 OBP and a .391 SLG (.679 OPS).

So, Mussina has obviously been a very good pitcher. In fact, his career ERA+ of 129 is tied for 38th among all pitchers who have pitched enough (1,000 innings and 100 decisions) to be listed on the leaderboards at Baseball-Reference.com. That he’s never been able to win 20 games in a season isn’t his fault.

Mussina has won 19 games twice, 18 games three other times and 17 games two more times. In fact, with better timing, he wouldn’t even have needed better luck to join the 20-win club.

In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Mussina went 16-5 in 24 starts. Had the season not ended 50 games early, Mussina could have made 10-12 extra starts and would have had a good chance of getting those four extra wins. In the strike-shortened 1995 season, Mussina went 19-9 in 32 starts. Had the season not started 18 games late, Mussina would have made three or four more starts and likely would have won at least 20 games.

Had the strike never happened, or at least happened at some other time, it’s almost certain that Mussina would have won 20 games in at least one of those two seasons.

Now to answer the question of whether or not he really is the best pitcher who has never won 20 games, as I said he is. The answer to that particular question might not be yes. There is one pitcher who could currently be considered a better pitcher and who never won 20 games.

According to Baseball-Reference, there are nine pitchers with a better career ERA+ than Mussina who have never won 20 games in a season. None of those pitchers, however, were primarily starters. Five of them (Dan Quisenberry, John Franco, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith and Kent Tekulve) never made a single start and two others (Doug Jones and Jesse Orosco) made just four career starts. Of those seven pitchers, only Tekulve (1436.1 innings) pitched more than 1300 innings in his career. One of the other two pitchers was John Hiller, who made 43 career starts but pitched just 1242 innings.

Since none of them came close to pitching as many innings as Mussina has, I’d have a lot of trouble calling any of them a better pitcher than Mussina. That leaves just Hoyt Wilhelm.

Wilhelm made 52 starts in his career and pitched 2254.1 innings. He finished with a 146 career ERA+.

In 21 seasons, he went 143-122 with 227 saves and a 2.52 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 1610 strikeouts (6.43 K/9IP), 778 walks (3.11 BB/9IP) and 150 homers allowed (0.60 HR/9IP). He won 15 games twice (once strictly as a reliever and once when he made 27 starts in 1959) and 11 or 12 games three other times.

He pitched about 400 fewer innings than Mussina has, but his ERA+ is much better and he probably pitched more “crucial” innings than Mussina has.

Quite frankly, however, I don’t care whether or not Hoyt Wilhelm was a better pitcher than Mike Mussina is because, while it would answer the question, it wouldn’t answer the interesting question.

It’s not interesting to learn that Wilhelm never won 20 games in a season because you wouldn’t have expected him to ever win 20 games in a season. So, let’s modify the question so that it’s interesting.

Is Mike Mussina the best pitcher who has primarily been a starter in his career to not win 20 games in a season?

The answer to that question is definitely yes.

Of all the pitchers with a career ERA+ of at least 125 who have made at least 100 starts in their career, only two have never won 20 games in a season. One is Mussina and the other is Max Lanier. Lanier pitched from 1938-1953, mostly with the Cardinals, and went 108-82 with a 3.01 ERA (125 ERA+), 821 strikeouts, 611 walks and 65 home runs allowed in 1619.1 innings.

You’ll notice that I didn’t provide as many statistics for Lanier as for Mussina and Wilhelm. That’s because you don’t need as many statistics to see that Lanier wasn’t nearly as good a pitcher as Mussina has been. Especially if you consider that Lanier’s best seasons (including his career-high 17 wins in 1944) came while many of the best baseball players were serving in World War II.

If you look at all the pitchers who have an ERA+ better than 120, the list of players with at least 100 starts who never won 20 games in a season has four additions — Kevin Appier, Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb and Johnny Rigney. Rigney only played for eight years, making 132 starts and pitching 1186.1 innings, so he can be eliminated from the discussion immediately.

Appier, who won 18 games with the Royals in 1993, just had a horrible season, but he’s had a pretty nice career. He has a 121 career ERA+ and he’s 169-136 with a 3.72 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 1992 strikeouts (6.92 K/9IP), 930 walks (3.23 BB/9IP) and 232 homers allowed (0.81 HR/9IP) in 2591.1 innings.

As you can probably tell, he’s not as good a pitcher as Mussina. He’s pitched fewer innings with a higher ERA, higher WHIP, lower K/9IP and higher BB/9IP. The only thing he’s done better than Mussina is keep batters from hitting home runs.

Key, like Mussina, may have been robbed of a shot at a 20-win season by the last strike. Key had 17 wins for the Yankees when the season was canceled in 1994 and he probably would have gotten 10 or so more starts that season. As it is, his career high in wins was 18 in 1993.

Key went 186-117 with a 3.51 ERA (122 ERA+), 1.23 WHIP, 1538 strikeouts (5.34 K/9IP), 668 walks (2.32 BB/9IP) and 254 homers allowed (0.88 HR/9IP) in 2591.2 innings. Like Appier, Key is clearly not as good as Mussina. He pitched fewer innings and, although his ERA was about the same as Mussina’s is, Key retired before the offenses really started going crazy (hence his worse ERA+). Hey also didn’t strike out nearly as many batters as Mussina and walked more.

Stieb won 18 games twice and 17 games three times. For his career, he was 176-137 with a 3.44 ERA (122 ERA+), 1.25 WHIP, 1669 strikeouts (5.19 K/9IP), 1034 walks (3.21 BB/9IP) and 225 homers allowed (0.70 HR/9IP).

This might be a lot closer if Stieb had retired after the 1991 season, but he pitched 169 bad innings (5.11 ERA in his final three seasons) after that. Had he retired, he still would have pitched more innings (2726.1) than Mussina has so far, his career ERA would be 3.33 and his ERA+ would be at least somewhat closer to Mussina’s.

Instead, Stieb has a better ERA, but worse ERA+ (thanks to the recent offensive increase) and had many fewer strikeouts and many more walks. He did allow home runs much less frequently, but that can probably be partly attributed to the seasons in which he pitched as well.

So, it seems pretty clear that Mussina is, in fact, the best starting pitcher (however you want to define that) who has never won 20 games in a season.

Fortunately for him, he has at least a few more years to try and pass that mantle on to somebody else. In fact, he could very well win 20 games this season.

Mussina is still a very good pitcher from whom you can expect at least 200 innings and an ERA in the low 3.00′s, and he has a very good offense behind him. It’s not like he “doesn’t know how to win” or something either. He has 52 wins since joining the Yankees, with at least 17 wins in each season.

The only pitchers with more wins the last three years than Mussina are Mark Mulder, Jamie Moyer, Barry Zito and Curt Schilling. Mussina obviously doesn’t have any of the18 20-win seasons that have happened in the last three years, but no pitcher besides Mussina has won at least 17 games in each of the last three seasons.

The fact of the matter is that wins are an overrated way to measure a starting pitcher. Fans shouldn’t harp on the fact that Mussina’s never won 20 games and they certainly shouldn’t say that he pitches just well enough to lose in big games. Instead, they should enjoy watching a future Hall-of-Famer, because that’s exactly what Mussina is.

In fact, Mussina is a lot like a former teammate of his who is also underrated, and for the same exact reason. Mussina and Rafael Palmeiro are both future Hall-of-Famers, but neither has ever been the very best at his job. They’ve both merely been among the best at their jobs for a very long time.

When trying to figure out whether or not a player deserves to be in the Hall of Fame or not, two of the things you should look at are his black ink and his gray ink. Black ink measures how many times the player has led his league in various stats while gray ink measures how many times the player has finished in the top 10 in those categories.

Mussina’s black ink count is 11, while 40 is average for a Hall-of-Fame pitcher. However, his gray ink is 210, while 185 is average for a Hall-of-Famer. Similarly, Palmeiro’s black ink count is eight, while 27 is average for a Hall-of-Fame hitter. However, his gray ink is 181, while 144 is average for a Hall-of-Famer.

There are two types of Hall-of-Famers once you get past the very best of the best: those who were exceptional but not for as long as you’d like and those who were at the top of their game for a long time but were never truly exceptional. Mussina and Palmeiro are both the second type, but do not doubt that they will belong in the Hall of Fame when they call it quits.

Actually, it might not be a bad thing for Mussina’s legacy if he never wins 20 games. He could go down in history as the first major-league starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame who never won 20 games in a season. Right now, the only Hall-of-Famers without at least one 20-win season are relievers Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers and Negro Leaguer Hilton Smith.

If I were a Yankees fan, and I’m not, I’d rather have Mussina than a legendary Yankee hurler who was noted as a winner. The difference is that Mussina has consistently been very good, while Allie Reynolds had one very good year (1951) and one amazing year (1952).

In that amazing year, Reynolds went 20-8 with a 2.06 ERA in the regular season and 2-1 with a 1.77 ERA in New York’s World Series victory over Brooklyn. It was a truly great season for Reynolds, and he finished second in the MVP voting.

But would you rather have a pitcher who comes in and knocks your socks off for a year or two or a pitcher who you can count on to help carry your team each and every season? I know which one I’d rather have, and Mussina falls in that category.

If you still don’t agree with me, consider the following. After Mussina’s outstanding 1992 season as a 23-year-old, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wondered whether Mussina’s career would end up more like Mike Boddicker’s or Jim Palmer’s. Eleven years later, we have more information about the answer to that question.

Palmer finished his career with a 268-152 record and a 2.86 ERA in 3,948 innings. That gives him a .638 winning percentage and a 125 ERA+. To refresh your memory, Mussina’s 199-110 record gives him a .644 winning percentage and his 3.52 ERA gives him a 129 ERA+. For the record, Boddicker finished 134-116 with an ERA+ of 107 in 2,123.2 innings. To say that Mussina has passed him by would be an understatement.

Aside from pitching six more seasons and almost 1,300 more innings, Palmer also differed from Mussina in that he was a three-time Cy Young award winner and an eight-time 20-game winner. Palmer’s 313 win shares are also almost 100 more than Mussina’s 215.

Still, if Mussina can finish his career with as many seasons pitched as Palmer (19), he could end up with more wins, more win shares and a better ERA+. I’m not saying Mussina’s as good as Palmer was, but Bill James ranked Palmer as the 17th-best pitcher in history in the New Bill James Historical Abstract.

The fact the two pitchers are at all comparable should tell you something.

Yankee Preview Week

Play Ball

I wanted to do something fun to preview the 2004 Yankee season, but for a long time, I didn’t know how to go about it. Writing a preview-analysis or coming up with a series of predictions are the obvious routes, but I’m not an analyst and no prognosticator. Besides, there are good writers out there who will do a terrific job with that kind of stuff anyhow. Instead, I’ve enlisted a few of my favorite writers to help me profile different Yankee players. Ben Jacobs, Rich Lederer, Bronx Banter correspondent Christopher DeRosa, Cliff Corcoran, Jay Jaffe and Steven Goldman are all pitching in. Each day this week, there will be an original piece here at Bronx Banter. (Lucky me=lucky us.) Then on Sunday, we’ll tie the room together with a Roundtable Discussion, previewing the coming season with a group of experts. I’m sure I’ll find some time to link-up the latest articles from spring training too. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy. Like Robert DeNiro said to Paul Sorvino and Ray Liotta in “Good Fellas,” “It’s gunna be a good summer.”

Frozen Ropes and Deconstruction

Steve Bonner has a wonderful post over at The Midnight Hour about what it is that he really loves about baseball (hint: it’s a line drive). Bonner then hits on a topic that is close to my heart:

There is a disconnect in the way different people (and even sometimes the same people) view, understand or appreciate baseball. Most of the baseball blogs that I read and enjoy, spend great time and care evaluating baseball from a super analytical vantage point. The sabermetricians see through the lie of the casual fan’s vision and memory. Derek Jeter may have made a season saving play by ranging from his position at shortstop, to cut off an errant throw in foul territory up the first base line, but be not deceived gentle reader, Derek Jeter is an atrocious shortstop because he range factor is at the bottom of the list.

I must admit I am fascinated by the new analytics. It gives insight and understanding where before we had to rely on the musings of Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan to tell us how good a player was. But sometimes I wonder what the point of it is. Do I derive less satisfaction from watching Jeter go to the hole and do that jumping throw thing of his? No, it’s still a thing of beauty just like the game itself. So to some extent I don’t want to know what his zone rating is and I don’t want to know that Soriano’s OBP is lousy because I just want enjoy the grin on his face when he makes sweet contact, I want to enjoy the beauty of the game.

Next, Bonner tells a great story about how he taught himself how to play the guitar when he was a teenager, and writes about how he is thankful that music isn’t evaluated in the same fashion that baseball is:

But seriously I’m happy that music isn’t deconstructed with the same dispassionate verve that we apply to baseball.

I feel simpatico with Bonner’s feelings about the humility that comes with learning an instrument—or any of the fine arts for that matter—but I have to disagree with him here. Go ahead and read some Jazz criticism. Unless you are talking about Nat Hentoff, you’ll find it to be significantly more dispassionate and academic than anything you see on Baseball Prospectus. I’m sure some of the more worldly Rock and Roll fans out there would be able to point out some pretty dry Rock criticism as well.

Your Lips Keep Moving, But All I Hear is Blah, Blah, Blah

Or so said a t-shirt worn by Curt Schilling yesterday. Something tells me that this line will come back to haunt Mr. Schilling before all is said and done in 2004.

I’m off early this morning to help my brother move, but I thought I’d leave you with some links to the morning papers before I bolt. Hope everyone has a great weekend. Bronx Banter will be running a week-long Yankee Preview next week; I’ll be back tomorrow with more details…Meanwhile, here’s the skinny:

Jack Curry has an early report on Curt Schilling at Red Sox camp—so does Dan Shaughnessy—and Tyler Kepner checks in on Jon Lieber at Yankee camp. Speaking of pitching, Ken Davidoff profiles Kevin Brown in Newsday, and John Harper covers all of the Yankee starting pitchers in The Daily News. Mariano Rivera has again expressed his desire to remain a Yankee when his contract expires at the end of the 2004 season. And lastly, our man at The Post, Joel Sherman, speculates that the Yankees may have been able to pull-off the Alex Rodriguez deal without trading Alfonso Soriano, while the Yankee captain, Derek Jeter has some candid comments for Michael Morrissey.

Only the Lonely

Me, Myself and I

Baseball is a lonely game. But for Yankee pichter Jose Contreras, the loneliness he has experienced since leaving his family behind in Cuba has been nothing short of devastating. The Yankee starters lined-up for the first time in spring training, and there are several stories on the soporific Cuban in the local papers today. Contreras told Tyler Kepner in The Times:

“When you have a bad day and go home to your wife and, in my case, daughters, that helps you a lot and takes your mind off of it a little bit,” said Contreras, 32, who has been married almost 16 years. “But now, if I have a bad day, I go home and I’m by myself. I really have no choice but to think about it. There’s no one to distract me or take attention off of my work.”

The Yankees are interested in bringing another Cuban pitcher, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez to the Yankees, ostensibly to help ease Contreras’ mind as well as to serve as a spot-starter. But El Duque, who received political support in getting his family to the States, is remaining true to his obstinate form, and turned down the Yankees’ initial offer. Hernandez is being pursued by several teams, including–would you believe?–the Boston Red Sox.

Step Right Up

Gary Sheffield has never been shy about talking to the media. (Expect him to grace the backpages of the New York tabloids on a regular basis this year.) A day after his name was once again linked to the Balco affair, Sheffield told reporters:

“The bottom line is that I did purchase vitamins from that company, being out there and working out with Barry Bonds,” Sheffield said. “Besides that, I don’t know what else can come with that. I’ve been an honorable guy. I’ve been outspoken about testing guys. And anybody that wants me to say I’ll take the challenge of taking a test, I’ll be the first guy up there.”

…”I’ve been guilty by association my whole life,” Sheffield said. “My uncle with his drug problem and I’ve been under investigation for that since I was 17 years old. And now I’ve been listening to the news and they’ve been trying to link Barry Bonds to things and everybody knows that I’ve been outspoken about training with the guy, so, obviously, they’re trying to put two and two together and say, `We got something.’ “

So long as he hits as well as he flaps his gums–which is highly likely–I think Yankee fans will tolerate whatever this future Hall of Famer has to say to the media.

Stop Making Sense

Everbody Loves the Sunshine

Andrew Zimbalist has an article in The New York Sun (subscription required) today about the economics of the Rodriguez trade:

The Yankees’ financial clout had next to nothing to do with landing A-Rod. Over the past month, the Yanks have rid themselves of nearly $10 million in salary obligations to two of the organization’s former third basemen — Aaron Boone and Drew Henson — along with the $5.4 million they would have paid Alfonso Soriano in 2004.
Add it all up, and the team has saved roughly the $15 million they will need to pay A-Rod. There’s also a $1 million deferred payment, but the balance is being handled by Texas owner Tom Hicks, who will pick up $67 million of the remaining $179 million on the last seven years of A-Rod’s contract. The point being that any team could have afforded to trade for A-Rod under such financial circumstances.

Not only that, but Rodriguez is going to make the Yankees a good deal of money to boot:

A-Rod’s appeal for Mr. Steinbrenner is clear. It is impossible to know with any precision, but the above numbers suggest that Rodriguez’s arrival may boost the Yankees’ local revenues somewhere around $20 million, and perhaps more. That’s the good news for Mr. Steinbrenner. The bad news is that under MLB’s new revenue sharing system, he will have to give approximately $8 million of that back to MLB.
Overall, the Yanks probably will pay revenue sharing and payroll luxury taxes to MLB of between $70 and $75 million in 2004. Mr. Henry in Boston will likely make payments in excess of $40 million. No wonder he’d prefer a salary cap to the present system.

Tim Marchman also has his latest column in The Sun today. Marchman praises the Dodgers for hiring Paul DePodesta. And while he’s duly impressed with rational thinkers like DePodesta, Marchman points out that you might not necessarily want to hang out with them:

If I were in a bar and I overheard the fresh-faced, clean-cut De-Podesta talking about “implementing” anything, I’d grimace and edge my way to the other side of the room. It’s fashionable right now to decry the leathery old scout, and I’ve done it myself because I think that for a team to win in the modern game, it needs to value someone like DePodesta at least as much as that scout, and probably a great deal more.
But with whom would you rather have a drink? Who’s more engaged in the world, who’s more vivacious, and, to be honest, who is more interesting? The man who plays by his instincts and his experience and sizes up young athletes like a horsebuyer on the Kazakh plain? Or someone in a suit using words like “leverage”? There doesn’t seem to me to be much doubt. It looks like baseball is getting a good deal more efficient, and a great deal more boring.

In order to get the best of both worlds, the answer seems obvious enough. You’ve got to go down to Florida and have a beer with Earl Weaver.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver