"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Lights Out

For a month and a half the Yankees sat atop the American League East, and even though their lead never looked insurmountable, I admit that I’m a bit surprised that they suddenly find themselves in second place after Tuesday night’s loss to the free-swinging Toronto Blue Jays.

It all started well enough.  Dustin Moseley (much more on him later) set down the Jays in the top of the first on six pitches, bringing the home side to bat.  Derek Jeter led off with a walk, Nick Swisher was retired on a blistering line drive to short, and Mark “How Ya Like Me Now” Teixeira launched a large home run into the back bleacher section in left field.  Sure, Agent 599 struck out and Robinson Canó grounded out to end the inning, but it really felt like a good night.  Really.

What happened next was that Toronto starter Ricky Romero turned out the lights.  He set down the side in order in the second, third, and fourth innings, then had his string snapped by a Marcus Thames infield single to lead off the fifth.  Hope!  But Romero responded to this blip by blitzing through the next fifteen Yankee batters to wrap up a dominant complete game victory.  To sum up, here’s how the Yankee hitters did against Romero:

Jeter walk.  Out.  Teixeira home run.  Eleven outs.  Thames single.  Fifteen outs.  Drive home safely.

So Ricky Romero was clearly the story of the game, but I’ll leave that for someone else to write.  What you won’t find in the box score is that Dustin Moseley pitched a great game.  Seriously.  The Blue Jay hitters were aggressive all evening, swinging early and often at Moseley’s assortment of fastballs, cutters, and curves, and if a few things had gone differently, well, Moseley still would’ve lost, but it might’ve been closer.

The Jays scored two runs in the second inning on a double and a single, but Moseley still seemed to be in control as he cruised through the third, using just thirty pitches to record nine outs.  The game turned in the top of the fourth.  A lead-off single by Vernon Wells was almost immediately erased by a 5-4-3 double play, complete with an unconventional underhanded flip from third to second as Agent 599 relived his days as a shortstop.  But before he could relax (or perhaps because he relaxed), Moseley plunked Aaron Hill and gave up a double to John Buck — and then an interesting thing happened.  Newcomer Austin Kearns did a decent job of tracking down Buck’s double in the left field corner and got the ball in to Jeter quickly enough that Hill should’ve been out easily at the plate.  I’ve never seen another shortstop better at handling relay throws, and two plays are etched in my memory as evidence: Jeter jumping towards the third base line to snag an errant throw from David Justice, then somehow contorting his body into position to throw out Timo Pérez at the plate to end the sixth inning in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series; leaping high to grab a sailing throw from Bernie Williams, then beginning his throwing motion before hitting the ground and firing a strike to third base to nail Danny Bautista trying to stretch a double into a triple in the sixth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

This play on Tuesday night was a walk in the park compared to those two plays, and Jeter almost seemed surprised that Hill was trying to score.  He double pumped, then pulled his throw about six feet wide of the plate.  What should’ve been the third out of the inning turned into the second Toronto run, and the game was tied at two — but not for long.  Travis Snider reached across the plate to lunge at the first pitch he saw and still managed to pull a lazy fly ball towards right center.  It drifted lazily into the visitors’ bullpen as Moseley stood on the mound with arms outstretched and palms turned upwards in the universal symbol of disbelief.

To his credit, Moseley recovered nicely over the next few innings and became the first Yankee starter to record an out in the eighth inning of a game since July 8th.  His team was down 5-2 as he walked off the mound, but neither that fact nor Moseley’s stat line in the morning paper tell the true story.  He deserved better.  After Moseley left the scene the Jays tacked on three more runs courtesy of one home run each off of Kerry Wood and Sergio Mitre.  Final score: Blue Jays 8, Yankees 2.  (And by the way, what if I had told you back in April that José Bautista would have more than twice as many home runs as our Agent 599 on August 4th?)

So if the Yankees are to avoid a sweep, Phil Hughes will have to find a way to keep the ball in the park on Wednesday afternoon. Sweet Baby Jesus.

Categories:  Game Recap  Hank Waddles

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1 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2010 7:10 am

0) great write up, except i disagree slightly with the concluding lines. To avoid a sweep the Yankees need to get more than a couple of hits. They might consider not following their recent gameplan of scoring two quick runs then sleepwalking through the rest of the game.

Hughes keeping the ball in the park would should help, too.

2 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2010 8:31 am

Hey, I missed a couple of discussions of resting players.
It seems to be common wisdom that it's a bad idea to rest several players on the same day. I'm very skeptical about this wisdom. I think the difference (in total wins, say) between bunching different players' rest days together and spreading them out is very small, insignificant -- and there might even be a small advantage to resting them together.

But I'm prepared to be convinced otherwise.

3 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2010 9:10 am

[2] We've discussed this before. Context has to be taken into account, no? I get the basic argument: it makes little or no difference whether, say, Cervelli and Kearns replace Posada and Gardner in the same game or in separate games because over the long term it will cost the team the same number of runs. But surely bunching days off is worse in the short term---e.g., the team is significantly weaker on the one day when all the starters rest than the following six days when every starter plays every inning. Therefore, doesn't it make sense to pick and choose when to rest starters, especially if the plan is to rest several on the same day. That is, play your "A" lineup against tough division rivals, but rest more players against weaker opponents?

Isn't this sort of what Stengel supposedly did with some of his pitchers---tinkering with his rotation so that guys like Whitey Ford would face tougher teams, while his lesser starters faced the Cleveland Indians and Washington Senators?

4 Chyll Will   ~  Aug 4, 2010 9:41 am

I had a long list of issues to discuss concerning not only the team''s play of late, but the decisionmaking on the field and in the front office. But I realize it would all be nothing more than speculation, since we don't really know what's going on behind closed doors. And why should we; it's not going to make the team any better if we knew that Alex was hurt and Jeter was hurt or just aging rapidly, or if AJ was actually eating the pies he slaps in other player's faces (eww, but it would explain a lot) and such. It would make the fans feel better to know, but we don't make the decisions, as bizarre as they seem at times.

With that, I come to the conclusion that the biggest problem with the Yanks this year is indecision. They want to promote some of the kids, but because of arbitration issues, roster moves and production issues they won't. They want to rest their older vets, but because of lack of production from the rest of the roster, they won't. They want to make a deal to bring in better arms or bigger bats, but because of the asking price and the idea that they could be losing out in the long run, they won't. '

The Yanks are certainly in a unique situation, largely of their own making. They're the richest kid on the block, but nobody likes them. He wants to play with everyone else, but nobody trusts him to play fair, so they make special rules for him that handicap him from the start, not caring whether the rules themselves are fair or not. But because the kid has been a bully in the past, he has to deal with it. And because he has a chance to be a bully in the near future, no one will let him get involved in the game fully. If it were a basketball game, no one would pass to him. If it were a football game, they'd make him go long and pass to someone else. But since it's a baseball game, he's a LOOGY in the pen or the DH on an AL team in an NL park.

For what it's worth, I think this team has only a couple of issues to overcome; a return to good form of at least two starters (CC and Andy) and a return to good form of Alex. Either one could minimize the use of the bullpen. But the damage has been done (Park, Joba, Vasquez, Alex again, Granderson and Jeter); August will determine once and for all whether this team has the goods or not to defend the championship, and to me the ship has taken on all the water it can handle; anything else happens and they're goners.

5 The Mick536   ~  Aug 4, 2010 9:44 am

[3] One might say that the OL Professor tinkered too much, especially when he removed players in the early parts of the game. He also let one player of note play when he may not have been his full self. But, otherwise, I think you be recognizing the historical connection quite accurately and incisively.

Please also remember that Casey may have misused Whitey in the fateful 1960 series.

No excuses for not putting the ball in play or throwing it accurately. Two hits. They be playing like the cubbies.

6 RagingTartabull   ~  Aug 4, 2010 9:49 am

[3, 5] I think holding off on Whitey in '60 was when Casey's cuteness finally caught up with him. Remember that was the move cited by ownership as proof that he had "gotten old" or whatever when they fired him, Casey making the comment that he'd "never make the mistake of being 70 again."

Thats when I say people should be careful what they wish for when they say how wonderful it would be to have a guy like Maddon managing the Yankees. Maddon is the perfect fit for a team like the Rays, huge talent in the rotation with talented but flawed players sprinkled throughout the field. His moves serve to squeeze every ounce of good baseball out of a flawed lineup.

You really can't make those kinds of moves when you have a lineup with guys like Teixeira, Jeter, A-Rod, Cano (and their respective contracts). These things can end up doing more harm than good.

7 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2010 9:52 am

I think it's correct to play your best team against division rivals, but for a reason that I think you must disagree with!
My reason is that the games against division rivals are more important. But I seem to recall your disagreeing with this.

If the games are merely harder, and not more important, then I don't think it's better to play your best team.

8 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2010 9:54 am

Sorry, [7] was directed at [3].

9 The Hawk   ~  Aug 4, 2010 9:56 am

If you think of a line up as a chain, where there is a certain dependency from one batter to the next, then resting two at a time as opposed to one makes less sense. It can depend on who, but essentially having two weak links will affect the rest of the line-up more than just one ...

10 Chyll Will   ~  Aug 4, 2010 10:01 am

[3] That makes sense, but the Yanks have lost ground against weak teams of late. It might prove fatal down the stretch if they keep losing to weak teams with their best players on the bench. But that's because Joe couldn't balance the playing time well enough from the start; perhaps because the bullpen and some of his starters (Vasquez and AJ, front and center) didn't give him the option to do so. How many of those close games the team has played have been lost because of either a blown lead or just not enough offense to cover for ineffective pitching? That is coming around now to take a bite.

11 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2010 10:21 am

[7] In general, I do not think that any given game is more important than another---a win is a win and a loss is a loss, and at the end of the year the team with the most wins in the division goes to the playoffs.

Given this, however, all division games *could* be seen as more important than non-division games, simply because the a victory over a division rival is simultaneously a win for the team AND a loss (that is, not a win) for the division rival. Since to win the division a team must win more games than the other teams in the division, beating division rivals might be seen as going farther toward that goal. (THe wild card screws this up some, but let's leave that aside.)

I suppose further that once the season is well-established, and it is clearly determined which teams are a more serious threat to win the division, a game against THEM is even more important. That is, even if the Yankees lose to Toronto tonight, there is still a chance that TB loses as well. But if the teams were playing head-to-head, a loss to TB would also guarantee that TB would have "gained" one additional victory over the yankees.

But yeah, in general you are correct, I do not really think that a win against one team is any more important than a win against another team.

12 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2010 10:23 am

[9] Good point.
This is the 'very small' difference I had in mind. I think it's probably insignificant because it is ignored in absolutely all advanced statistics like WARP. It could be that all of those statistics are significantly inaccurate in the same way and for the same reason, but I feel pretty safe in assuming that the hordes of geeks who have thought about them would have noticed.

13 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2010 10:25 am

[11] Okay, that's all I meant -- a W against Tampa Bay is more important than a W against Oakland only because the W for us is also an L for them, and an L for the Rays is a very good thing for us while an L for Oakland is utterly unimportant.

14 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2010 10:32 am

[7] But, following up on [11], I am surprised that you do not think that the difficulty of a given game should play into when to rest starters, especially since you seem to subscribe to the assumption that a team should use its best relief pitcher in the highest leverage situation. Isn't the quality of the opponent akin to leverage?

Baseball-reference has started to list a Simple Rating System (SRS) with the league standings. SRS calculates how may runs per game better or worse than average a team is. The Yankees are currently +1.2, the Rays +1.4. The Orioles are -1.4. Let's assume that these figures are more or less accurate and more or less predictive.

RLYW recently ran an article positing that using the team's new additions to create an optimal lineup (Posada at C, Berkman at DH, etc) improved the team something like .5 runs per game over the typical lineup they ran out before the trade deadline (Cervelli at C, Posada at DH, etc.). Again, let's just accept these figures as more or less accurate.

It seems to me that resting multiple starts on the same day might have a similar impact, something like .5 runs per game.

So (you see where I am going with this) doesn't it make sense to rest multiple starters against the very worst teams when possible? In our example, that would mean that against the Orioles, the Yankees would go from being 2.6 runs per game better to something like 2.1 runs per game better. I suspect that over the course of the season series with the Orioles this would have less impact (i.e., it would "hurt" the Yankees less) than resting multiple starters against the better teams (for example, changing the Rays from .2 run favorites to .7 run favorites).

I imagine it has something to do with bell curves and standard deviations, but I'm not that much of a math guy, so I'll turn it over to you.

15 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2010 10:45 am

It might be a little better to have your best team out there against an opponent who is very close to equally good as you. I'm not very sure about this. If run distributions are normal (as in a bell-shaped curve), then it is indeed better to increase your expected runs by .5 against a team very close to your level than against a team that's much better or much worse. But it's a pretty small advantage, and I'm not at all sure that runs are distributed normally.

Hm, I thought I could explain this geometrically but it came out very convoluted, so I won't bother.

16 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2010 10:49 am

[15] No problems...I get what you are saying.

17 The Hawk   ~  Aug 4, 2010 10:56 am

I think just adding and subtracting a player's worth in runs per game is overly simplistic. The difference between one player or another batting after a certain player may at times be statistically small, but baseball is a funny game. Defensively, for instance, we know - flawed defensive stats or no -Berkman is a downgrade from Teixeira,

But what we don't know, can't quantitively know now at least, is how the other players are affected, particularly in the infield. I think it's a sure bet that they are affected though. And that is likely true of a line-up. Does A Rod batting behind Tex affect the pitches Tex sees? Of course. Does it affect Tex himself and how he approaches the at bat? I'd imagine so.

18 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2010 11:03 am

[17] I think the "protected by a good batter" effect is way overrated, but on the other stuff I agree.

19 The Hawk   ~  Aug 4, 2010 11:17 am

[18] Yeah it may or may not be overrated, it's just an illustration of interconnectedness. Which may also be overrated but certainly exists in some form.

20 williamnyy23   ~  Aug 4, 2010 11:35 am

[17] [18] Whether overrated or not, the idea of "protection", or really placement in the lineup, is worthy of consideration. Take Nick Swisher, for example. If it is true that he sees more fastballs in the two-hole, then Girardi's decision to drop him in the lineup in favor of Berkman has an impact that needs to be included in any equation (Swisher is 19.4 runs above average against fastballs).

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