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Observations From Cooperstown: Overestimating the Halos, Guzman, and Larry Jansen

Posted By Bruce Markusen On October 16, 2009 @ 12:10 pm In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen | Comments Disabled

I keep reading these missives from the mainstream media that breathlessly wonder how the Yankees are going to deal with the Angels’ attack-dog offense, their aggressive baserunning, and their deep starting pitching [1]. Well, here’s what I want to know. How are the Angels going to deal with the Yankees, who scored more runs than any major league team in the regular season, have the best starting pitcher of the two teams in the ALCS, and feature a far deeper and more dynamic bullpen? How are the Angels going to deal with a balanced lineup filled with hitters who know how to control the strike zone, most notably Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez? And just how will an undermanned Angels bullpen handle a lineup that features four switch-hitters in Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera, making favorable late-inning matchups a difficult proposition?

Perhaps it’s just the usual glass-half-empty approach from an overly paranoid New York press crew, but all of the expressed concerns about the Angels have me wondering how the Yankees could possibly be favored by the oddsmakers. It seems to me that all of the fawning analysis about the Angels ignores two basic facts: 1) the Yankees, and not the Angels, led the major leagues with 103 wins and 2) the Yankees won three of the final four head-to-head matchups against their longtime nemeses. Maybe it’s just me, but an objective analysis of the teams and their accomplishments has me thinking optimistically about the Yankees’ chances. For what it’s worth, I’ll take the Yankees in six.

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Ordinarily, I’m not an advocate for carrying pinch-running specialists like Freddy Guzman over capable pinch-hitters like Eric Hinske, but in this particular series, with this particular Yankee team, such a roster strategy makes sense.

First, the lack of accomplished pinch-hitters on the Yankee bench is counteracted by the fact that the Yankees rarely need to pinch-hit—for anyone. Of all the players that figure to be used as starters in this series, only Jose Molina is a slam dunk candidate to be replaced by a pinch-hitter. And in games in which Molina starters, the Yankees will have either Jorge Posada or Hideki Matsui available to pinch-hit, thereby reducing the need for someone like Hinske.

Second, the presence of Guzman will give Joe Girardi the flexibility to start Brett “The Jet” Gardner a game or two (perhaps against right-hander Jered Weaver) and still have a dangerous pinch-runner available for the late innings. Guzman also gives the Yankees another strong defensive outfielder, a necessity when playing a fast, hard-charging team like the Angels. If the Yankees are holding a two- or three-run lead in the late innings, they can remove both Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher for defense and substitute a range-rover outfield of Guzman, Gardner, and Cabrera. Considering the Angels’ ability to put the ball in play, a high-speed outfield trio will maximize the Yankees’ ability to flag down everything within reason…

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Finally, a non-Yankee note. Former New York Giants right-hander Larry Jansen, who died in his sleep this week at the age of 89, is best remembered for being the winning pitcher in the famed 1951 tiebreaker decided by Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” That’s an unfairly limited legacy for a man like Jansen, who compiled a substantial list of accomplishments despite lacking an overpowering fastball or curveball. As a minor league pitcher, Jansen once won 30 games in a season, making him the last Triple-A pitcher to achieve the milestone. As a rookie with the Giants in 1947, Jansen won 21 of 26 decisions, finished second to a fellow named Jackie Robinson in the first ever Rookie of the Year balloting, and placed seventh in the National League’s MVP Race. Four years later, Jansen used his pinpoint control to pace the league with 23 victories, emerging as a key factor in the Giants’ second-half comeback and remarkable takeover of the NL pennant from the Dodgers.

A two-time All-Star, Jansen saw his career fall off quickly after the peak of 1951, largely due to back problems that eventually contributed to the onset of arm trouble. Still, at the end of his career, Jansen’s numbers looked impressive: a win-loss ledger of 122 and 89, an ERA of 3.58, 842 strikeouts, and just 410 walks. After his playing days, Jansen found another level of success as a pitching coach. Working with San Francisco Giants pitchers throughout the 1960s, Jansen helped nurture the development of Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, the two staff aces who were instrumental to the team’s postseason berths of 1962 and 1971.

Bruce Markusen, who writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times and serves as a museum teacher at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, can be reached via e-mail at bmarkusen@stny.rr.com.


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[1] how the Yankees are going to deal with the Angels’ attack-dog offense, their aggressive baserunning, and their deep starting pitching: http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/10/alcs_smackdown.php

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