"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: March 2009

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Yankees 6, Reds 3

The Yankees are down to just 26 players in camp and are using non-prospects as late-game subs. They’re also cruising through their spring schedule, having won seven in a row and 16 of their last 18, including today’s 6-3 win over the Reds. They are very much ready to come north.

Lineup:

L – Brett Gardner (CF)
S – Nick Swisher (LF)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
R – Xavier Nady (DH)
S – Melky Cabrera (RF)
R – Cody Ransom (3B)
R – Angel Berroa (SS)
S – Ramiro Peña (2B)

Subs: Chris Malec (1B), Mitch Hilligoss (3B), Kevin Cash (C), Dan Brewer (RF), Taylor Grote (CF), Eric Fryer (LF), Francisco Cervelli (DH)

Pitchers: Joba Chamberlain, Brian Bruney, Edwar Ramirez, Phil Coke, Dan Giese

Opponent: The Reds’ starters

Big Hits:

Doubles by Melky Cabrera (1-for-2), Mark Teixeira (1-for-2), and Angel Berroa (2-for-4). Brett Gardner went 3-for-4 from the leadoff spot.

Who Pitched Well:

Phil Coke and Dan Giese each struck out two in a perfect inning. Brian Bruney retired the only two men he faced, striking out one of them. Joba Chamberlain allwed two runs on five hits (four of them singles) and three walks in 5 1/3 innings, but also struck out six and two of those three walks, and one of those runs came as he was running out of gas in the sixth. He’ll pitch in a minor league intrasquad game in Tampa on Sunday before joining the rest of the team in Baltimore on Monday.

Roster News:

With Xavier Nady and Brett Gardner officially declared the staring right and center fielders, the Yankees have finalized their Opening Day bullpen by reassigning Brett Tomko and optioning Alfredo Aceves and Dan Giese to Triple-A. That leaves Jonathan Albaladejo as the last man in the Opening Day pen which will look like this:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Brian Bruney
L – Damaso Marte
R – Jose Veras
L – Phil Coke
R – Edwar Ramirez
R – Jonathan Albaladejo

I still want David Robertson in there, but he’ll likely be the first man up if any of the above struggles (though only Coke, Ramirez, and Albaladejo have options left).

The Yankees also reassigned Kevin Cash, guaranteeing that they won’t cary an extra catcher.

With Alex Rodriguez headed for the 15-day disabled list, the last spot on the roster is down to Angel Berroa and Ramiro Peña, and the Yankees will have to open a spot on the 40-man roster to make room for the winner, with Giese and Juan Miranda the top candidates to be dropped from the 40-man to make room. It seems likely that both players will travel north with the team for this weekend’s two-game preseason series against the Cubs, and the loser will then head over to Scranton to be the starting shortstop.

Meanwhile, the Scranton rotation will be Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Alfredo Aceves, Kei Igawa, and Jason Johnson. Tomko will pitch out of the pen, but to his displeasure, though he doesn’t have an out in his contract until June 1. More importantly, why on earth are the Yankees wasting Triple-A starts on Johnson when George Kontos has nothing left to prove in Double-A?

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Card Corner: Toby Harrah

harrah2

Prior to Bucky Dent’s 1978 home run against the Red Sox, I have to confess I wasn’t the man’s biggest fan. Although Dent was reliable defensively, he had ordinary range and rarely made spectacular plays. He also seemed to regress as a hitter each year, to the point that former WPIX sportscaster Jerry Girard came up with one of the best lines I’ve ever heard delivered on the nightly news. As Girard narrated Yankee highlights one night, he blurted: “There’s Bucky Dent, with another line drive to the catcher.” My father and I chuckled over that crack for days.

For most of the latter half of the 1970s, I wanted the Yankees to replace Bucky Dent with one man: Toby Harrah. I think George Steinbrenner shared that same dream, because every summer we Yankee fans in Westchester heard rumors that the Yankees were working on a deal for Harrah, the starting shortstop for the Rangers. One summer day, while we were eating lunch at Badger Camp—yes, I spent summers at a place called Badger Camp, and I’m embarrassed to admit it—we exchanged some conversation on a particularly hot Harrah rumor. I can’t remember the exact names, but I think the deal would have sent Dent and one of the lesser starting pitchers (Dick Tidrow?) to Texas for Harrah. Heck, it sounded good to me, since the pitcher wasn’t named Guidry, Figueroa, or Hunter.

I didn’t much care that some people regarded Toby Harrah as a subpar defensive shortstop. I preferred to obsess about another fact: the man could hit. He reached the 20-home run mark three times with the Rangers, usually hit .260 or better, annually achieved double figures in stole bases, and drew a ton of walks (though I didn’t know that much about on-base percentage at the time). Even though the Rangers moved Harrah from shortstop to third base in 1977, largely because of knocks against his range and reliability, I figured he could make the switch back. As long as Harrah could play shortstop reasonably well—you know, better than Bobby Murcer once did—I was going to be satisfied. So I kept dreaming that Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ GM at the time (Gabe Paul, followed by Al Rosen) would do whatever they could to get that deal done.

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Sheff of the Past

Tigers Mariners Baseball

Gary Sheffield was released by the Tigers today.  He is one home run shy of 500.  Sheffield has had a great career.  I think he’s a Hall of Famer, but he’s also burned more than a few bridges in his time. 

Think anyone will pick him up?

Can You Keep a Secret?

shhh

A few days ago a friend asked me what I had learned on my recent trip to Belgium and I told him that I discovered just how good my family is at keeping secrets.  But does this make my family special?  Doesn’t every family have more than its share of secrets?

And really, some of the things that I found out for the first time–stories of alcoholism, violence–both physical and emotional, infidelity–are these kinds of secrets necessarily bad?  After all, there are reasons to keep secrets and sometimes it is to protect people from being hurt.

Still, I keep thinking about this word: secrets, and how it struck me as the major theme of my trip.  I now realize that just by using that term, I was holding on to a fantasy about my family, in particular, my parents’ marriage.  I wanted to believe that there was a Garden of Eden period for them, a time, no matter how brief, when my parents were happy and truly in love. 

I don’t believe that time ever really existed.  But clearly, it was important for me, on a subconscious level, to hold on to that myth.  (I’ve spoken to my brother and sister some during the past few months and my impression is that they see my parents far more clearly than I do.)   The more I delve into my family history, the more sadness I find.  But I am not afraid to look at it now.  And the most important word–or theme–for me has nothing at all to do with secrets. 

Instead, it is about something more complicated and difficult:  compassion.

News of the Day – 3/31/09

Today’s news is powered by a great speech by the Captain …

  • Brett Gardner talked to Tyler Kepner about an a batting adjustment that seems to have made a big difference for him:

. . . he (Gardner) explained that his improvement at the plate began last September when Kevin Long suggested he eliminate his stride. Gardner won’t become another Molitor, to be sure, but the approach has worked.

“It did two things: I’m out front less, and I’m able to stay back and see the ball deeper,” Gardner said. “I feel like my head’s moving a lot less, and I’m able to see the ball batter. That helps you judge the strike zone and helps your timing. I feel like I’ve been squaring more balls up since last September than I ever had before. It’s something promising for me.”

  • Could 23-year-old SS Ramiro Pena make the Opening Day roster?:

. . . Then, with Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano playing in the World Baseball Classic and Alex Rodriguez out after hip surgery, Peña found himself with an elevated role in spring training as a big-time infield replacement. And he played way above expectations while filling in.

In fact, he played so well that he is neck and neck with Angel Berroa for the utility infielder’s job — not in Triple-A but on the Yankees.

When Peña first realized he was being considered for a spot on the major-league club last week, his wide eyes gave away his surprise. He had thought he was in major-league camp mainly to fill in for the missing trio. That may have been the original idea, but the Yankees saw how much he had progressed.

“To me, his at-bats have really gotten better and better as the spring has gone on,” manager Joe Girardi said.

[My take: Do I hear “late inning Jeter defensive replacement” in the distance?  Girardi could pass it off as just giving the aging Jeter an inning or two more rest during the season, though if Girardi does it in 1-run games, it might raise more eyebrows.]

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Yankees 3, Blue Jays 1

Andy Pettitte was fantastic in his last full spring start as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 3-1. He’ll pitch the second-half of Saturday’s game against the Cubs at the new stadium, and will then start the fourth game of the season against the Royals in Kansas City.

Lineup:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Cody Ransom (3B)
R – Jose Molina (C)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)

Subs: Eric Duncan (1B), Justin Snyder (2B), Ramiro Peña (SS), Angel Berroa (3B), Kyle Anson (C), Jack Rye (RF), Melky Cabrera (LF-CF), James Cooper (LF)

Pitchers: Andy Pettitte, Damaso Marte, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez

Opponent: The Jays’ starters

Big Hits:

Moonlighting minor leaguer Justin Snyder tripled in his only at-bat. Mark Teixeira (2-for-3, BB), Derek Jeter (1-for-2, BB, SB), and Angel Berroa (1-for-1) doubled.

Cody Ransom went 0-for-2 with a walk, but was both caught stealing and picked off first base (I assume he reached on a fielder’s choice at some point). He made up for that with a great play in the second when Scott Rolen tried to go from first to third on a single to center. Brett Gardner’s throw was strong, but way high. Ransom lept in the air and, in the process of making a half spin, caught the ball and reached across his body to apply a blind tag right at the bag that nabbed Rolen. Good stuff.

Who Pitched Well:

Andy Pettitte allowed just one run on five hits (four of them singles) and no walks in 6 2/3 innings while striking out seven. Edwar Ramirez pitched a perfect ninth inning. Jose Veras pitched around a double for a scoreless eighth.

Who Didn’t:

Damaso Marte faced two batters. One of them (Adam Lind) doubled, the other flew out.

Battles:

Ramiro Peña went 0-for-2 with a strikeout, leaving two men on base. Angel Berroa delivered an RBI double in his only at-bat.

Preseason At Bats

Over at the New York Times‘ Bats blog today, Justin Sablich has a round-table Q&A with myself, Steve Lombardi, and Benjamin Kabak concerning the Yankees’ outlook for the coming season. A quick sample:

Q: Cliff, there is little doubt that Teixeira will help this team in the short term and probably for many years to come. But how concerned are you about Teixeira, on an aging team, clogging up a position for eight years that is often considered a prime spot to move aging players?

Corcoran: A team concerned about how it can keep declining players in the lineup isn’t going to win. I’m thus not concerned in the slightest about having one of the best first basemen in baseball “clogging up” a position on the far left of the defensive spectrum just because the team might have declining players looking for a place to play. Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon are free agents after this season and shouldn’t be re-signed. Neither Derek Jeter nor Jorge Posada should remain past 2011. Though Jeter likely will, he won’t hit enough to carry first base by then (he barely does now), and it will be Jeter’s contract, not Teixeira’s that was the mistake.

The real issue is Alex Rodriguez, who is signed through 2017, a year longer than Teixeira. Unlike Jeter, Rodriguez could carry a corner outfield spot, but also unlike Jeter, he’s awful at tracking fly balls. That would make first base the preferred destination for Rodriguez’s big bat should age and injury further erode his play at third base. Once again, the problem isn’t that Teixeira is signed through age 36, it’s that Rodriguez is signed through age 42.

Check it out.

Yankee Panky: The Writes of Spring

The last week of March signals the beginning of the regular season like light at the end of a tunnel. In Florida, beat writers and their backups, many of whom have been stationed there since the beginning of February, are gathering the final roster notes and putting the finishing touches on their season preview specials for next Sunday’s paper, while the columnists, most of whom are based in New York, continue to track the off-field news and craft profiles of the key players involved in those scenarios.

It’s an exciting and stressful time for all the moving parts of a baseball operation, from the team itself to the media outlets covering the team, but if you work in sports and if baseball is the sport in which you’ve chosen to specialize, it’s the best stress you can have outside of being involved in the postseason.

STORY OF THE WEEK
Much has been made of Joe Girardi’s decision to flip Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order. Much was written about this topic in the winter and spring leading up to the 2006 season, Damon’s first in pinstripes. At the Baseball Writers Association of America dinner in December of 2005, I remember asking SI’s Tom Verducci, who is a proponent of Sabermetric analysis, what he thought about putting Jeter in the leadoff spot. He agreed that the combination of Jeter’s ability to get on base more consistently (he was coming off a year with a .389 OBP to Damon’s .366), and Gary Sheffield batting third—which would have kept the righty-lefty-righty element in play that Joe Torre favored—made Jeter the better choice for the leadoff spot. But that spring, when the writers asked Torre about his plan, the Yankee manager was undeterred about keeping Damon as the leadoff hitter. Torre, in his way, usually deflected the discussion by saying, “You only have to worry about the leadoff batter for the first inning. Then the rest of the lineup takes care of itself.” It was as if the decision was predetermined from the moment Damon signed with the Yankees.

What we know as baseball fans is that the numbers rarely lie. Jeter’s lowest seasonal on-base percentage pre-Damon was .352 in 2004. Head to head, Damon, whose career has spanned the same exact time frame of Jeter’s, had a higher OBP than Jeter only once prior to his arrival in New York (in 2004: Damon .380 to Jeter’s .352.). The trend has held true since 2006, as Jeter has bested Damon in OBP twice: .417 to .359 in ’06, and .388 to .351 in ’07.

Adding further credibility to Jeter as a leadoff batter is the number of times that Jeter has grounded into double plays versus Damon. Over the course of their respective careers, Damon has grounded into 120 fewer double plays than Jeter (75 to 95), an average of nine fewer GIDPs per season.

Cliff Corcoran, through Pete Abe, did a great job of breaking down the numbers earlier this week.

Here’s a thought, though: If Girardi is adamant about Jeter in the leadoff spot now, did he think about this at all in 2006 when he was Torre’s consiglieri on the bench? If so, and if he had Torre’s ear, why didn’t he suggest it? By the numbers, and the fact that Damon is entering his Age 35 season and Jeter will turn 35 on June 26, this decision appears to be three years late.

OTHER THINGS WE LEARNED

Until next week . . .

News of the Day – 3/30/08

Today’s news is powered by part of a foreign language documentary on the history of baseball in Italy, with this piece featuring a visit by Joe DiMaggio:

  • PeteAbe reports that Brett Gardner has won the starting CF job.  Here’s a quote from the skipper on the matter:

“What happens April 6 doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what’s going to be June 1. As players, you have to perform. But right now we think Gardy has a little bit of an edge,” Girardi said. “It’s not going to be day by day. Gardy is our center fielder.”

[My take: Will Gardner get the green light often, especially with Mr. "24 GIDP" Jeter batting after him?  The last time a Yankee stole 40+ bases in a year was Alfonso Soriano in 2002.  Will Gardner be allowed to take aim at that from the 9 hole?  That's our poll question today.]

A member of the Yankees’ Opening Day roster in 2008, the 26-year-old right-hander has compiled a strong spring to state his case. Albaladejo has limited opponents to one run on eight hits in 9 2/3 innings (0.93 ERA), walking one and striking out eight.

Coming off a stress fracture in his right elbow, Albaladejo has had scouts buzzing again and says he is feeling as strong as he has since his early 20s.

“I’ve been throwing the ball well,” Albaladejo said. “The important part for me is I’m getting outs. I feel like I’m going good.”

The Yankees intended to take a long reliever with them last year, Girardi’s first at the helm, and heavily considered both Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner.

But Karstens was eliminated with a groin injury on the club’s final day in Tampa and Rasner instead started the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A similar situation could emerge this year, as the Yankees weigh carrying Albaladejo and left-hander Phil Coke as a pair of multiple-inning hurlers.

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Yankees 9, Pirates 8

Yankees 9, Pirates 8, blah blah blah.

Brett Gardner won the center-field job!

Sez the skipper: “It’s not going to be day by day. Gardy is our center fielder.”

Lineup:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Nick Swisher (1B)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Xavier Nady (RF)
S – Ramiro Peña (3B)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)

Subs: Justin Snyder (2B), Carmen Angelini (SS), Angel Berroa (3B), Jose Molina (C), Melky Mesa (RF), Melky Cabrera (LF-RF-CF), Seth Fortenberry (LF), Eric Fryer (DH)

Pitchers: A.J. Burnett, Damaso Marte, Mariano Rivera, Phil Coke, Jose Veras

Big Hits:

Robinson Cano (1-for-4) hit his third homer of the spring. Xavier Nady (2-for-3, BB), Nick Swisher (1-for-3, 2 BB), and Johnny Damon (1-for-3)  all doubled.

Who Pitched Well:

Mariano Rivera pitched around a single for a scoreless sixth by striking out the side. Phil Coke struck out four and allowed only a single in two scoreless innings .

Who Didn’t:

A.J. Burnett got lit up by the Pirates starters, allowing seven runs (six earned) in his 4 1/3 innings on three walks and ten hits, including home runs by Eric Hinske, Ryan Doumit, and Adam LaRoche. He struck out just one. After the game he said his mechanics were out of whack, but his arm felt fine. Damaso Marte finished the fourth for Burnett by allowing a run on two hits, one of them an Andy LaRoche double.

Battles:

With Xavier Nady and Brett Gardner having been named the starters in right and center, respectively, the only suspense remaining concerns the reserve infielder and last man in the bullpen. Jonathan Albaladejo now seems like the favorite to complete the bullpen of Rivera, Brian Bruney, Marte, Veras, Edwar Ramirez, and Coke. In today’s game, Ramiro Peña started at third and later moved to shortstop, then second base. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and made a great bare-hand play on a bunt at third base. His one hit was a bunt single. Angel Berroa pinch ran for Johnny Damon, then replaced Peña at third base and went 0-for-1.

Who Dat?:

Lightening round on the five players the Yankees brought over from minor league camp for this game:

Eric Fryer is the catcher/outfielder obtained from the Brewers for Chase Wright. He was a tenth-round pick ouf of Ohio State in 2007 and hit .335/.407/.506 with 15 steals in 18 attempts in the Sally League last year.

Seth Fortenberry is a center fielder taken in the 11th round in 2006. He hit .263/.372/.434 for High-A Tampa last year.

Melquisedec “Melky” Mesa is a 22-year-old Dominican outfielder who has yet to play in a full-season league and has a career .221/.272/.395 line after three minor league seasons.

Carmen Angelini was a highly-touted tenth-round pick out of high school in 2007. The 19-year-old shorstop hit .236/.302/.295 in the Sally League last year.

Justin Snyder was a 21st-round pick out of the University of San Diego in 2007. Primarily a second baseman, he has played all four infield positions and center field in his two minor league seasons and hit .288/.371/.407 in the Sally League last year.

Also, the Padres returned Rule 5 pick Ivan Nova. Here’s what I said about him when the Friars took him:

A 21year-old Dominican righty starter [now 22], he spent [last] season at High-A Tampa where he posted a 4.36 ERA with unimpressive peripherals. Baseball America says he, “has flashed three plus pitches at times but lacks consistency and deception.” I can’t see how he could stick even on the Padres 25-man roster.

Gearing Up

stan

There are a bunch of good Yankee-related articles in the Times today, starting with Richard Sandomir’s profile of Randy Levine, the Yankees’ own bad cop:

Levine’s headstrong style has been visible in telling the Boston Red Sox to tend to their own business; encouraging questions that put Joe Torre, then the Yankees’ manager, on the spot after games on the team’s YES Network; and in talks to secure the stadium deal and to create Legends Hospitality Management, a food-concession company with the Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s tough love with Randy,” said Gerry Cardinale, a friend and managing director at Goldman Sachs, the investment bank that is a partner in YES and Legends. “He is brutally honest, has a very high demand for performance and little tolerance for not getting his way. He respects me because I won’t back down.”

During labor negotiations with correction officers in the mid-’90s, the union’s president, Norman I. Seabrook, said recently, Levine’s closed-door demeanor was close to a blood sport that neither man took too seriously.

“He’ll smile, shake your hand and cut your heart out if you’re not prepared,” Seabrook said. “Don’t mistake that smile for anything but a knife.”

Next, is a story about a promising documentary project, followed by a compelling piece about the fate of Stan’s sports bar.

Finally, an essay by William Zinsser:

My Mets are moving into a park named for a bank that I’m helping the government to bail out. The Yankees’ new stadium comes wrapped in a vocabulary that has no connection to baseball: luxury boxes, bond issues, cost overruns. My fellow taxpayers and I are also footing that bill, though the announced prices will dissuade many of us from going there to enjoy the fruits of our charity.

I assume that the new stadiums will feature the newest advances in audio-visual assault. I stopped going to Mets games at Shea Stadium when my friend Dick Smolens and I could no longer hear each other talk between innings — such was the din of amplified music and blather from the giant screen in center field. But baseball is also a game of silences. After every half-inning, it invites its parishioners to meditate on what they have just seen and to recall other players they once saw performing similar feats. Memory is the glue that holds the game together.

Excellent job by the Times.

Yankees 6, Braves 4

Opening Day is a week from tomorrow, and the Yankees are heading up to the new stadium for a workout on Thursday. With just four Grapefruit League games remaining, the Yanks look ready for the season. They won again yesterday, beating the Braves 6-4, then trimmed the number of players in camp down to 31.

Lineup:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Xavier Nady (RF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)
R – Cody Ransom (3B)
R – Kevin Cash (C)
R – Brett Tomko (P)

Subs: Shelley Duncan (1B), Angel Berroa (2B), Ramiro Peña (SS), Justin Leone (3B), Chris Stewart (C), Todd Linden (RF), Brett Gardner (LF-CF), John Rodriguez (LF)

Pitchers: Brett Tomko, Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese, Edwar Ramirez

Ouchies: Derek Jeter bruised his left pinky in a collision with Greg Norton at first base. He’s playing today.

Big Hits:

Homers by Mark Teixeira (2-for-2, BB) and Robinson Cano (1-for-3). Xavier Nady and Melky Cabrera were both 3-for-4.

Who Pitched Well:

Brett Tomko tossed three scoreless innings, allowing three hits and a walk. Alfredo Aceves only allowed two singles and a walk in three innings, but did allowe a run. Both struck out one. Edwar Ramirez retired the last two men of the game to earn the save.

Who Didn’t:

Dan Giese gave up three runs on three hits and two walks in a mere 2 1/3 innings, though he did strike out three and only one of the runs was earned.

Battles:

Take another look at those pitchers. This was something of a final battle for the long-relief job. Brett Tomko (1.17 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 6.0 K/BB) has been by far the most effective of the three candidates, but he’s not on the 40-man roster, which could be enough of a barrier for the Yankees to look elsewhere. Dan Giese has posted great strikeout and walk rates (9.77 K/9, 2.30 BB/9), but has also allowed a team-worst five home runs along with a 1.66 WHIP and a 6.89 ERA. That would seem to leave Alfredo Aceves, but Aceves has allowed four home runs of his own and has an awful 7:6 K/BB ratio to go with his uninspiring 4.60 ERA. That could push the Yankees back to Tomko or back to their senses, as Pete Abe reports:

Joe Girardi threw a change-up after the game, saying it was “possible” they could start the season without a long reliever. That means Jon Albaladejo could make the squad instead of Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese or Brett Tomko.

That is what happened last season and don’t bet against it this time around.

Pete is (likely correctly) assuming that Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, and Phil Coke already have the team made.

In other news, don’t look now, but Melky Cabrera, coming off a 3-for-4 day, is hitting .346/.434/.500 to Brett Gardner‘s .367/.436/.673. Also, Ramiro Peña is hitting .320/.370/.400 to Angel Berroa‘s .365/.377/.596.

Cuts:

The Yankees have cut the fat on their remaining non-roster invitees, reassigning Shelley Duncan, John Rodriguez, Todd Linden, Doug Bernier, Justin Leone, Chris Stewart, and P.J. Pilittere. Don’t count on seeing any of those guys again this year.

The Yanks also optioned David Robertson to Triple-A. I was disappoined by that move given howe well Robertson pitched this spring (1.35 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 13.5 K/9, 0 HR). Still, Robertson was out-pitched by Jonathan Albaladejo (0.93 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 8.0 K/BB), and has outstanding control, which stands in stark contrast to Robertson (4.05 BB/9 this spring). If Albaladejo does indeed make the bullpen over Tomko, I won’t mind that Robertson got farmed out. Farming both out, however, would be inexcusable.

The only non-roster invitees still in camp are Tomko, Berroa, Peña, and third-string catcher Kevin Cash. The players on the 40-man roster remaining in camp who are still on the bubble are Aceves, Giese, and Albaladejo. Two of those seven will make the Opening Day roster. I’m hoping for Albaladejo and Peña.

More:

When the Twins claimed 26-year-old Double-A righty starter Jason Jones in the Rule 5 draft, I said he was unlikely to stick on the pitching-rich Twins. He didn’t, but the Twins wanted to keep him anyway, so they turned the claim into a trade, sending the Yankees a younger righty arm in San Diego State product Charles Nolte. The 23-year-old Nolte is a relief pitcher with an extreme groundball rate (4.82 GO/FO last year) who posted a 2.05 ERA in low-A last year. He’s a bit wild (4.4 BB/9), but has solid strikeout rates and has allowed just one home run in 94 2/3 innings as a pro.

Pretty Ugly

Ba Ba Booey

labute

I groaned when Pat Jordan told me the Times assigned him to do a piece on the playwright, screenwriter, director, Neil LaBute.  Pat’s writing has an almost feral quality and when matched with a plump, if deserving target like LaBute, well, you know it is not going to be pretty.  I’ve seen a couple of LaBute’s movies and can’t think of one good thing to say about them.  I found them empty and vicious and completely phony.  The thought of what a hard old sharp shooter like Jordan would do with a misanthropic mo mo like LaBute was not exactly appetizing.

The story is in this week’s New York Times Magazine.  I think Pat went easy on him all considering though I don’t imagine that LaBute will see it that way.

marsupilami

J’Arrive

At the Sunday market in Waterloo:

dsc03484

 

dsc03494 

Groggy but still standing–okay, sitting–I am happy to back in the States, home with my wife and our two kittens.  I returned from a week-long visit to Belgium yesterday and with flight delays and traffic jams, it was a long day of travel.  But I had a truly wonderful trip re-connecting with my mother’s family, French-speaking Belgians, who live just outside of Brussels.  I ate frites and yes, a waffle, cheeses and chocolates, salamis and hams and wonderful bread (if only I drank beer; dag, that place is like heaven for beer drinkers). 

I learned a ton about the family history, both in Belgium and in the Congo.  I also learned to better appreciate what I have inherited from them as far as personality, taste and even talent is concerned.  My grandmother had a gift for drawing.  My aunt is a photographer and painter.  My uncle is a graphic designer.  My interested in paiting, in movies, in cooking, that all comes from them. 

My grandfather in the Congo:

0019-bukavu-papa-au-bord-riviere

Here I am in an African shop in Brussels:

p1030582

I also recalled the summer vacations I spent there as a kid and noticed how much about the world has changed since.  I used to pine for my grandfather to take me to get the Herald Trib so that I could read three-day old box scores; I eagerly awaited letters from my family back home, which took more than a week to arrive.   Now, everything has changed thanks to technology.  I checked in on e-mail and the blog while I was gone, and saw my wife every day via skype, which is really a fantastic thing–and free, to boot. 

Here’s a shot of my mother and my aunt, Anne–kids in the Congo.

0033-patty-anne-chez-claude-lob

Still, while there is plenty of Americanization there, some cultural differences exist of course. For instance, nobody has ever heard of Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez (if they were ever to hear about Rodriguez it would be as a footnote, as Madonna’s lover).  It is a place where baseball does not matter at all, and I found that to be refreshing.  It reminded me that while I love the game, really what draws me to it more than anything else, are the stories, the characters, the language, and the way it brings people together.

Yankees 4, Reds 1

Each team only managed just four hits in this game, but the Yankees also drew to walks, stole two bases, and won 4-1.

Lineup:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Xavier Nady (RF)
R – Cody Ransom (3B)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)

Joe Girardi has said he’ll name his starting center fielder this weekend so that he can play his regular season lineup over the final week of spring training. Looks to me like he’s already doing that.

Subs: Shelley Duncan (1B), Doug Bernier (2B), Angel Berroa (SS), Ramiro Peña (3B), Jose Molina (C), Todd Linden (RF), Melky Cabrera (CF), Nick Swisher (LF), Justin Leone (DH)

Pitchers: CC Sabathia, Damaso Marte, Mariano Rivera

Opponent: The Reds’ C-team.

Big Hits:

The Yankees actually only had four hits in the whole game: Doubles by Derek Jeter (1-for-4) and Xavier Nady (1-for-3), and a pair of singles by Mark Teixeira went 2-for-3. Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner both walked in three trips.

Who Pitched Well:

CC Sabathia allowed just one run on four singles and no walks while striking out seven in 7 2/3 innings. Damaso Marte then came in to get one man to end the eighth, and Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth, striking out one, and using just five pitches. Oh man, I’m looking forward to more of that this season.

Battles:

Brett Gardner walked and stole a base in three trips. Melky Cabrera didn’t come to bat.

Observations From Cooperstown: Boone, Cabrera, and Blanchard

I don’t recall Aaron Boone’s Yankee days as warmly as I should. Perhaps it’s because Boone’s home run in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, as exhilarating a moment as any this decade, did not ultimately lead to a world championship. Or maybe it’s because Boone’s Yankee career ended so quickly, undone by a pickup basketball game and a wrecked knee that eventually led to the acquisition of Alex Rodriguez.

Six years after Boone’s brief pinstriped tenure, I find myself thinking of him more fondly. Shortly after hearing that Boone would need open heart surgery to repair an aortic valve—a procedure that took place earlier this week—I also began to think about a pretty good pitcher named John Hiller.

The Tigers’ relief ace for much of the 1970s, Hiller is the only other major leaguer that I can recall who endured severe heart problems during his playing days. In January of 1971, the 27-year-old Hiller suffered a major heart attack at his off-season home. The effects of the attack sidelined him for all of the 1971 season and most of 1972. His career given up as a lost cause by most casual observers, Hiller proceeded to stage one of the most remarkable comebacks in baseball history. In 1973, the talented and determined left-hander set a then-major league record with 38 saves and finished fourth in the American League’s MVP balloting. Hiller never quite reached such a dominant level again, but remained an effective closer for most of the decade. He did not retire until 1980, some nine years after he was struck by the heart attack that had seemingly ended his career on the spot.

Unlike Hiller, Boone’s aortic problem did not fit the description of an “emergency” condition, but it did have to be treated through an open-heart procedure, which always carries serious concerns. Because of that, Boone’s 2009 season is over before it begins. Doctors believe that he can eventually return to the playing field, but Boone does not have the benefit of age on his side, as Hiller did. Hiller was in his late twenties when struck by the heart attack; Boone just turned 36, and has already become a journeyman who has to grapple for his job on a year-to-year basis. According to the earliest timetable, Boone would be able to resume playing in 2010, by which time he will be 37 and hoping that a one-year layoff hasn’t completely eroded his skills.

Does that mean Boone’s career is over? Well, I wouldn’t give up on him just yet, considering that he has always kept himself in good shape and has a reputation as a rock-solid worker. And if he can find some inspiration from John Hiller—who has already done what many thought was impossible—perhaps his chances of a comeback will get that much better . . .

***

I’m not holding my breath for the Yankees to make any trades before Opening Day—spring training deals have become a lost art—but at least one player’s name has been swirling through the trade winds. Melky Cabrera has drawn interest from the White Sox, a scenario that speaks volumes about Chicago’s center field quagmire. Brian Anderson, Jerry Owens, and Dewayne Wise all have questionable resumes and have failed to advance their causes through slapdash spring performances. The White Sox like Cabrera’s defense and throwing skills, but I have to wonder how much they would offer for a player who was an offensive nonentity for most of 2008. If the ChiSox were willing to fork over a young catcher or a third baseman—anything but another pitching prospect!—the Yankees might have to take the bait. The power and bat speed displayed by Austin Jackson this spring, along with Brett Gardner’s rejuvenated swing, have the Yankees thinking better about their center field depth, thereby making Cabrera more expendable. By trading Cabrera, who is out of options, the Yankees could also open up a roster spot for another infielder or a third catcher . . .

***

The passing of former Yankee Johnny Blanchard brings to mind some personal memories from the early 1980s. As the Yankees struggled to find a permanent catching solution after Thurman Munson’s death, I once thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone like Johnny Blanchard right about now? Though often a third-string catcher on those multi-layered Yankee teams that featured Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, Blanchard would have been a perfect fit as Rick Cerone’s platoon mate in the early eighties. The Yankees eventually found a Blanchard-type player in Ron Hassey, but “Babe” had his limitations with the glove and enjoyed an even shorter peak to his career than Blanchard.

As Cliff Corcoran pointed earlier this week, the Yankees could sure use someone like Blanchard today as a hedge against Jorge Posada’s shoulder and Jose Molina’s bat. Unfortunately, catching depth throughout the game is about as weak as I’ve ever seen it. It’s not just the Yankees who struggle to find backups; the problem persists throughout both leagues. A Johnny Blanchard in today’s game (at least based on his three-year peak from 1961 to 1963) would carry a lavish value—and would probably start for a number of teams, including those in Anaheim, Detroit, Kansas City, Oakland, Seattle, Toronto, Florida, Milwaukee, San Diego, and Washington.


Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLB.com.

News of the Day – 3/27/09

  • Newsday reports that legendary Yankee announcer Bob Sheppard will most likely not be at the new stadium’s home opener:

“His doctor said he doesn’t have the stamina yet to go back at this time, but he’s hoping sometime during the season he’ll be able to,” (his wife Mary) said from their Baldwin home. . . .

Sheppard, who is in his late 90s and has been the Yankees’ public address announcer since 1951, missed the entire 2008 season recovering from a bronchial infection.

He hoped to return for the All-Star Game and later for the last game at the old stadium but had to settle for taping the announcement of the lineup for the final game and having it played on the scoreboard.

“He’s been through a lot,” she said. “But there is no one particular problem. His weight is fine. And his voice is still excellent.”

[My take: A major bummer! Can’t the Yanks rig up a live satellite feed from Sheppard’s house, project the video on the scoreboard, and let him do the “Welcome to Yankee Stadium” and lineups?]

Manager Joe Girardi said he would try this out for a few days and keep it into the regular season if it works. Girardi thinks Damon, a left-handed batter who pulls the ball, is suited to batting second because he can hit behind runners. Though Jeter owns the higher career on-base percentage (.387 to .354), Damon’s was better last year (.375 to .363).

[My take: Well, Jeter often hits behind runners given how much he goes to the opposite field.  But if it lowers the 24 GIDP the Captain bounced into last season, that’s a plus.  Also, will Jeter be attempting more steals as a result?]

  • MLB.com offers some more info on the lineup swap:

It happened largely by accident, in fact. Damon had been batting second to get Jorge Posada more at-bats as he resumes catching duties, but now that Jeter has returned from the World Baseball Classic, Damon will stay there.

“We kind of liked what we saw in that situation,” Girardi said. “We’re going to play with it more here over the next week.”

Damon said Girardi showed the new lineup on Thursday morning. While Damon has said numerous times how proud he is of being a leadoff hitter and a table-setter, he said he had no problem batting second.

(more…)

Yankees 10, Phillies 2

For the second game in a row, the Yankees broke a close game open with a late surge, this time in the form of five eighth-inning runs keyed by Nick Swisher’s first home run of the spring. Final score: 10-2 Yanks.

Lineup:

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Cody Ransom (3B)
R – Jose Molina (C)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

Subs: Justin Leone (1B), Doug Bernier (2B), Angel Berroa (SS), Ramiro Peña (3B), Kevin Cash (C), Todd Linden (RF), Brett Gardner (CF), John Rodriguez (LF), Shelley Duncan (DH)

Pitchers: Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Edwar Ramirez, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras, Jonathan Albaladejo

Big Hits:

Homers by Hideki Matsui (1-for-4), Cody Ransom (1-for-3), and Nick Swisher (1-for-3, BB). Doubles by Derek Jeter (2-for-4), Robinson Cano (1-for-2), Todd Linden, and Kevin Cash (both 1-for-1). Melky Cabrera went 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

Who Pitched Well:

Phil Coke struck out the only two men he faced. Edwar Ramirez struck out two in a perfect sixth inning. Jonathan Albaladejo pitched a perfect ninth. Brian Bruney worked around a double for a scoreless seventh. Jose Veras pitched around a pair of singles for a scoreless eighth.

Joba Chamberlain walked three in his 4 1/3 innings and gave up two runs on a pair of solo homers. But he only gave up one other hit, struck out three, and the homers were by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Battles:

Melky Cabrera had a nice day, going 2-for-4 with three RBIs while Brett Gardner went 0-for-1 as a sub. Nick Swisher put something in the bank with his first spring homer and yet another walk. Ramiro Peña went 1-for-2 while Angel Berroa went 0-for-1. Phil Coke, Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, and Jonathan Albaladejo combined for this line: 3 2/3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K.

More:

Joe Girardi shocked the world by naming CC Sabathia the starter for both Opening Day of the season and Opening Day of the new Yankee Stadium, but the real news is that Girardi is leaning toward swapping Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter in the batting order. Some folks have derided Peter Abraham’s analysis, but Pete is all over this one:

Let’s look at this dispassionately.

Derek Jeter’s career’s OBP: .385

Johnny Damon’s career OBP: .354

Derek Jeter GIDP the last two years: 45

Johnny Damon GIDP in last two years: 9

So Jeter should get on base more often and have fewer opportunities to ground into a double play. This would seem to make sense.

[snip]

Beyond the numbers, this move reflects what we all know to be true: Jeter has become more of a singles hitter. He had 39 extra-base hits last season. His previous seasons:

2007: 55
2006: 56
2005: 49
2004: 68

[snip]

It also seems that this decision is related to another. Brett Gardner is almost certainly the center fielder and will hit ninth. Hitting Jeter first separates two left-handed hitters in Gardner and Damon. Girardi considers matchups critical to his lineup decisions and tries his best to make decisions tougher on the opposing manager.

So now the lineup is:

Jeter R
Damon L
Teixeira S
Matsui L
Posada S
Cano L
Nady R
Ransom R
Gardner L

And when Alex Rodriguez returns, the back-to-back righties at the bottom will go away.

I took an in-depth look at the Jeter/Damon batting order issue back in March 2006, concluding that it was really a non-issue as the difference between batting first and second was a mere 18 at-bats over a full season:

By the most basic logic, a line-up that puts Jeter ahead of Damon is a better line-up because of Jeter’s reliably superior on-base percentage. However, based on a projection using Jeter’s career OBP of .386 (his 2005 mark was .389) and Damon’s road OBP from 2005 of .342, the difference between the two line-ups is a grand total of less than 0.8 outs over the course of 162 games. That’s zero-point-eight, or a fraction of one out. Bear that in mind the next time you find yourself getting worked up over the top two spots in Torre’s batting order.

Still, as Pete points out, the move makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. Jeter will get on base, avoid double plays, and protect Gardner from lefty-on-lefty matchups. Damon will hit for more power and drive Jeter and Gardner in, which also benefits Damon in his walk year.

We may have the WBC and Jorge Posada’s shoulder to thank for this as it was with Jeter away from the team and Posada leading off to maximize his at-bats in games he was catching that Girardi noticed Damon’s viability as a number two hitter. Jeter’s always been praised for his ability to hit behind the runner because his natural stroke is to right-field, which for him is the opposite field. Well, Johnny Damon is a similarly skilled lefty pull hitter with better wheels. Works for me.

For what it’s worth, Jeter has put up almost identical batting averages and on-base percentages in the first two spots in the order over the course of his career, but he’s slugged 12 points higher from the leadoff spot. Then again, Damon’s down about 20 points across the board in the two-hole. Not that any of that means anything.

On The Banks Of The Old Raritan

alma mater

Steven Goldman and I will return to our alma mater to promote Baseball Prospectus 2009 at the Rutgers University Bookstore tonight at 6pm. Jay Jaffe will join us for the hour-long Q&A, and Allan Barra will also be there to talk about his new Yogi Berra biography.

The Raritan, incidentally, is among the 20 most polluted rivers in the nation. It’s unswimmable and unfishable and at times can be as much as 50 percent sewage. It is also the water source for many of the homes and buildings in central New Jersey. I remember that, in the dorms, the water in the showers would smell “different” after a heavy rain. I also have a theory that the water from the Raritan (which does go through purification plants) is responsible for some of the stomach problems I developed in college. At one point during my juinior year, I ate almost exclusively cerial and packaged foods as everything else was cooked in or otherwise contained the local water and would upset my stomach.

So, come see Steve, Jay, Allan, and me tonight and ask us everything you need to know for your upcoming fantasy draft or about baseball in general past, present, and future. Just don’t drink the water.

In an unrelated note, I have a piece up on SI.com about the impact of the WBC upon the health and performance of its participants. Given that the Yankees didn’t let any of their starting pitchers participate, they don’t have anything to worry about.

News of the Day – 3/26/09

Today’s news is powered by a “Pitching 101″ video by former Yankee (and current Blue Jay pitching coach) Brad Arnsberg . . .

. . . the Yankees have been telling other teams they would be open to moving Cabrera and suggested that he would be a perfect fit for the White Sox, who currently have Jerry Owens, Brian Anderson and DeWayne Wise competing for the center-field job.

The move would open up more at-bats for newly acquired switch-hitter Nick Swisher, who has lost the competition to be the starting right fielder to Xavier Nady. The club had been trying to move either Swisher or Nady, but teams would be more willing to part with young talent to acquire Cabrera, according to FOXSports.com.

[My take: If they do move him, I sure hope they bring back a good catching or SS prospect.]

  • ESPN’s Howard Bryant wonders if Mark Teixeira can emulate another high-priced Yankee free agent acquisition from a different era:

Still, it is Jackson who remains the most relevant. In a universe where the Yankees seem to trot out another contender to his throne every December by signing a free agent who thinks he can conquer the big town as Jackson once did, Reggie is still The One, the standard of the big-money outsider who became part of the New York family simply by delivering on the promise.

Fittingly, while Jackson stands in the hallway cooling down, a white towel around his neck, Mark Teixeira strolls past.

Teixeira is the latest to try to climb the baseball equivalent of Mount Everest: playing in New York as the top-dollar free agent and coming through on the other side. Until the past couple of weeks, he had been able to blend in, a $180 million complementary player. But as collateral damage of Alex Rodriguez’s injury, he blends no more. With Rodriguez — and the bizarre, unrelenting dramas that seem to always accompany him — gone at least until near the All-Star break, Teixeira is the power bat in the Yankees’ lineup. He is the one who will have to create the murmurs in the stands at the new Stadium when it is his turn with two on and one out. He is now the one everyone in New York is waiting for.

[My take: I for one didn’t think A-Rod would be gone till “near the All-Star break.”  And, didn’t Mike Mussina produce as expected during his years here?  Moose might not have “conquered the big town” (nor was he expected to, as someone who suited up only once every five days), but he just went about his business, pitched well for the vast majority of the time, kept his nose clean, and would be considered a good investment in hindsight.]

Alex Rodriguez says he has “given up” hoping to be widely liked, accepting that many people he does not know well simply do not care for him personally.

“I’ve given up on that; it’s just the way it is,” the Yankees third basemen told YES’ Michael Kay in an interview recorded earlier this month that debuted last night on the network’s preseason special.

“I mean, look, I feel like right now that not too many people like me, so I’ve given up on that.

“As long as my teammates like me, and they respect me, and my two daughters love their Daddy, I’m going to go out and do the very best I can. Look, I really screwed up, and for that I’m sorry.”

[My take: If only he wouldn’t be so concerned with everyone liking him . . . people might actually like him!  And, I wouldn’t be so sure of his teammates’ respecting him.]

(more…)

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