"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: May 2012

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Color by Numbers: Loaded Questions

What would the Yankees’ record be if their performance with runners in scoring position was on par with recent seasons? With a few key hits at the right moment, the Yankees could be resting comfortably in first place, but so far this season, the team hasn’t been able to land the big blow with the same amount frequency. And, in no situation has that been more evident…and costly…than when the Yankees have loaded the bases.

Yankees Offensive sOPS+ Rates, 1996-2012

Note: sOPS+ compares a team’s split to the adjusted average for the major leagues. A reading above 100 is considered above average for an offense.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Entering play on Wednesday, the Yankees ranked near the bottom of the major leagues in terms of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging (.151/.222/.302) with the bases full. Based on OPS, not only does that performance rate fail to attain even 50% of the major league average, but it also ranks as the franchise’s third lowest output since 1948. Also, the differential between the team’s overall offensive production and its performance with the bases loaded is currently larger than at any point over the same timeframe.

Clearly, the Yankees have been laggards with the bases loaded, but is this really a bad harbinger? Based on correlation from 1996 to now, the Yankees’ performance with the bases loaded has only been moderately related to overall run production as a percentage of the league average (r=.62).  Meanwhile, the link between relative runs scored and OPS with men in scoring position has been more significant (r=.78). So, if anything, fans who are inclined to worry should focus their concerns on the more broad number.

Yankees’ Bases Loaded vs. Overall OPS, 1948-2012
 

Source: baseball-reference.com

It hasn’t been all bad news for the Yankees with the bases loaded. While the hitters have struggled in such situations, the pitching staff has done a good job wiggling out of trouble when the bags are jammed. In 42 plate appearances with the bases loaded, opposing hitters have produced at rates of .263/.262/.368 (sOPS+ of 76), including 13 strikeouts and only one walk. It might only be a small consolation, but at least Yankees’ pitchers have been able to offset some of the offense’s missed opportunities by imposing the same frustration on the opposition. Unfortunately, since 1996, there has been no correlation between the Yankees’ ability to limit the damage in bases loaded situations and prevent runs overall (r=.04), so there doesn’t seem to be much benefit from that guilty pleasure.

Yankees Pitching sOPS+ Rates, 1996-2012

Note: sOPS+ compares a team’s split to the adjusted average for the major leagues. A reading below 100 is considered above average for a pitching staff.
Source: baseball-reference.com

An optimist probably looks at the Yankees’ ability to hang around first place despite its offensive struggles with runners in scoring position as a positive sign. Meanwhile, the pessimist might consider the offense’s inefficiency to be a systemic problem that will prevent the team from outscoring the deficiencies of the starting rotation. Which side are you on? I take a little from both. The lineup’s track record suggests the Yankees’ offense will soon start making up ground on the past, but it won’t matter if they can’t stay ahead of the current opposition. A few more hits with the bases loaded would definitely be nice, but the real loaded question is whether the pitching staff can ensure that those runs will be meaningful when they finally cross the plate.

You Only Die Twice

 

Here’s a nice chat between Jeff Pearlman and Shawn Green:

JEFF PEARLMAN: So I’ve always wanted to ask a ballplayer this, especially one I covered. When I was on the beat, I loathed the ritualistic nonsense of the clubhouse. What I mean is—I enter the room, I need to talk to Shawn Green. I see you at your locker. I wait to come over, you’re talking to Carlos Delgado, I pause, then I approach, you pick up a magazine, I pause. You know I’m there, I presume, but keep reading. I finally come over, ask a banal ice-breaker. Are you, as a player, as aware of this as I am?

SHAWN GREEN: The truth is, in general athletes don’t like the media. There are always certain guys you like, and there are always certain guys you can’t stand. The other writers all sort of get lumped into the middle. And, obviously, as an athlete the bigger you are in the game, the more attention you get. For me … well, it depended. In Los Angeles a lot of the players didn’t like T.J. Simers, because he could be very critical. I actually liked him, because I felt like I understood what he was doing. He would poke you, hope you’d blow up, then he’d poke you the rest of your life. I just never blew up, and I spoke to him without any incident or problem. What I didn’t like were the reporters who would just show up every once in a while, act like they were your best friend, then crush you in print. I understand reporters have to do their jobs, but that’s what bothered me—when it was unfair.

As for the clubhouse, there are definitely times as a player, it’s an unwritten thing, but you mess with reporters and make them wait a little while. I was much more likely to lean that way if I had a great game than a bad game. When I had a bad game I just wanted to take my medicine and move on.

Million Dollar Movie

 

Dig this entertaining essay by Colson Whitehead in the latest issue of the New Yorker:

Growing up on the Upper East Side in the nineteen-seventies, I was a bit of a shut-in. I would prefer to have been a sickly child. I always love it when I read a biography of some key Modernist or neurasthenic Victorian and it says, “So-and-so was a sickly child, forced to retreat into a world of his imagination.” But the truth is that I just didn’t like leaving the house. Other kids played in Central Park, participated in athletics, basked and what have you in the great outdoors. I preferred to lie on the living-room carpet, watching horror movies. I dwelled in a backward age, full of darkness, before the VCR boom, before streaming and on-demand, before DVRs roamed the cable channels at night, scavenging content. Either a movie was on or it wasn’t. If I was lucky, I’d come home from elementary school to find WABC’s “The 4:30 Movie” in the middle of Monster Week, wherein vengeful amphibians chased Ray Milland like death-come-a-hopping (“Frogs”), or George Hamilton emoted fiercely in what one assumes was the world’s first telekinesis whodunnit (“The Power”). Weekends, “Chiller Theatre,” on WPIX, played horror classics that provided an education on the subjects of sapphic vampires and ill-considered head transplants. I snacked on Oscar Mayer baloney, which I rolled into cigarette-size payloads of processed meat, and although I didn’t know it at the time, started taking notes about artists and monsters. Fate was cruel and withholding, and then suddenly surprised me with a TV announcer’s tantalizing words: “Stay tuned for ‘The Flesh Eaters’ ”; or “Don’t go away! We’ll be right back with ‘Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.’ ” I couldn’t look the title up on the Web, couldn’t know anything beyond what its luridness conjured, and there was the frightening possibility that I might never have the chance to see the movie again. Who knew when this low-budget comet would return to this corner of the galaxy? Its appearance was a cosmic accident, one that might never be repeated. Weeks before, some bored drone at the TV station had decided to dump it into this time slot, and today I happened to be home from school with bronchitis. Did I have time to grab some baloney or a bowl of Lucky Charms before the opening credits ended? Thanks to “Star Wars” ’s Pavlovian ministrations, I got excited whenever I heard the horns that accompanied the Twentieth Century Fox logo.

About the only part of the old “Star Wars” movies that continues to spark emotion for me is the music introducing a Twentieth Century Fox movie. Still gets me amped.

The Pleasure Pain Principle

Laz Diaz offers up some cruel and unusual punishment. Craig Calcaterra gathers the story over at Hardball Talk.

[Image Via: Von Trapper Keeper]

Morning Art

[Picture by Adam Vinson Via Still Life Quick Heart]

Beat of the Day

Sock it to Me?

Escape from L.A.

Sometimes life can get in the way of baseball, and this was one of those nights. The good news, of course, is that I have a DVR, so I never really have to miss anything. I can coach volleyball practice, head directly to my daughter’s middle school band concert, then take the family out to a late dinner, confident that all the while my trusty DVR is dutifully recording the game.

The problem, of course, is that the game is also in my pocket the whole time. My phone buzzed at 7:05 to let me know that game had started, and I was tempted several times throughout the evening to check on the score. I resisted each time. During the lull between beginning band and beginning orchestra? Stand strong. After foolishly glancing at the restaurant television and seeing this on ESPN’s Bottom Line: Nova (NYY): 5 IP, 5 ER…? Stay calm and carry on. When my phone buzzed at 10:05, feeling suspiciously like an incoming text from a gloating Angel fan? Keep the faith.

And so I kept the faith, even as the Angels jumped on Ivan Nova for an early 1-0 lead in typically annoying Anaheim fashion. Mike Trout, heretofore referred to as the Most Exciting Player in Baseball, took a pitch to the shoulder to lead off the first, then galloped to third when a hit-and-run worked out and Alberto Callaspo singled where Derek Jeter had just been standing. Albert Pújols, suddenly fearsome again, walked to load the bases with none out, and disaster loomed. But Nova rebounded to strike out Kendrys Morales, yielded a sacrifice fly to Mark Trumbo, then got Howie Kendrick to fly out. Sure, it was 1-0, but it could’ve been much worse.

The Yankees answered back in the third when Russell Martin walked and later used the 3-2 head start to race to third on Derek Jeter’s single. Curtis Granderson followed that with home run to right, and the Yankees had their first lead since the first inning of the first game of the series. Ervin Santana was the victim of all that, and he responded by hitting Alex Rodríguez a few pitches later. If the Yankees were bothered by that — and I can’t imagine they were — Robinson Canó exacted revenge by powering a home run deep to right and they were up 5-1.

Nova, meanwhile, was looking good. I’m not sure how accurate it was, but according to the radar gun at Angels Stadium, Nova’s fastball was topping out at 97 MPH in the early going, and he cruised through the second and third innings on only eighteen pitches. But then came the fourth. I don’t have the energy to recap it completely, but believe me when I tell you it was just more Halo nonsense. Yet another home run from Mark Trumbo, a two-strike single, a bunt single, and a rocketed double off the bat of the Most Exciting Player in Baseball. In the blink of an eye, the game was tied at five. If you were watching live and felt confident at this point, you’re lying.

But Nova stuck around to cruise through the fifth and sixth and got back in position for a win when the Angels defense finally made a mistake. Raúl Ibáñez smoked a ball to the wall in right center, but Peter “Gorgeous” Bourjos foolishly chased it all the way to the warning track only to watch helplessly as the ball ricocheted over his head and bounded back towards center field, following the exact path Bourjos had just tread. Ibáñez actually looked like he had designs on an inside-the-parker before downshifting and coasting into third for his first triple in more than a year. Nick Swisher jumped on the first pitch he saw and produced a sacrifice fly to give the Yankees the 6-5 lead.

Nova was lifted after getting the first two outs of the seventh inning, then Boone Logan made things interesting by giving up consecutive singles to put runners on first and third with two out. With the game clearly in the balance, Cory Wade entered to face Kendrick and promptly fell behind 3-0. He was having trouble finding the feel of his curveball, but once he found it, the Angles hitters were at his mercy. He bounced back to strike out Kendrick, then K’d two of three in the eighth to hand the game to Rafael Soriano.

I won’t describe the ninth inning, except to mention that Pújols came to the plate as the winning run and I was dead certain that he was about to hit a walk-off. (Remember the suspiciously-timed text message from earlier?) He didn’t. Pretty or not, Soriano got the save. Yankees 6, Angels 5. And by the way, it isn’t just Mariano’s cold-hearted efficiency that I miss, it’s also his business-like reaction to the final out. Whenever Soriano gets a save, pulling his jersey out of his pants as he walks off the mound, I find myself completely distracted from the win and instead wishing he’d keep his clothes on. Classless. Someone should talk to him.

But things are looking up in Yankeeland. The teams heads off to Detroit, where two wins will make for a successful 6-3 road trip. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Oh, and that text message? Turns out it was just a push notification. It was my turn in Scrabble. If I had had the letters, I obviously would’ve played V-I-C-T-O-R-Y.

[Photo Credit: Chris Carlson/AP Photo]

Deja Vu All Over Again?

The Yanks look to escape Orange County with a win.

Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Raul Ibanez LF
Nick Swisher RF
Eric Chavez DH
Russell Martin C

Never mind those brooms, fellas: Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Via: Where is the Cool?]

All Right Already

Chad Jennings breaks down the Yanks’ recent struggles with the bases loaded.

Freaky. It won’t last.

[Painting by Craig Robinson]

Taster’s Cherce

Let’s keep it sweet this week. Head on over to Hungry Ghost Food+Travel for Strawberry Rhubarb Cardamon Shortcake…and Maple Whipped Cream.

Duh-rool.

May 30, 1941: Games 15 & 16

The Yankees travelled to Boston for a Memorial Day doubleheader, one of six twinbills played during DiMaggio’s streak, another notable difference between baseball then and now. A sell-out crowd of 34,500 crammed into Fenway Park as the Yanks and Sox split the pair. In the opener, things looked bleak for the Yankees and DiMaggio as they came to bat in the top of the ninth trailing 3-1. Still without a hit, DiMaggio came up in the final inning with a runner on first. He singled to keep the rally (and the streak) alive, and New York eventually scored three times to take the one-run lead that would give them a 4-3 victory. In the nightcap, Boston hammered the Yankees, beating them 13-0, but DiMaggio was awarded a hit on a fly ball lofted high into the wind and sun that often plagued Fenway’s right field. Boston’s Pete Fox tried valiantly to make the catch, but the ball fell untouched at his feet, and DiMaggio scampered into second base with a double.

Aside from the two hits, DiMaggio’s day was utterly forgettable. Normally one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, DiMaggio earned his nickname, the Yankee Clipper, with the effortless way in which he sailed across the outfield grass in pursuit of flyballs. On this day, however, he was charged with an error in the opening game and three more in the second, making this perhaps his worst day in the field. None of this, however, affected the streak.

I Get High Off Your Love I Don’t Know How to Behave

I was the assistant film editor on a forgettable gangster movie called “Belly.” It featured Nas and DMX and was directed by Hype (aka Harold) Williams. D’Angelo came in to watch a screening once at 1600 Broadway. He and a few pals excused themselves to smoke L’s in the stairway while the projectionist threaded the movie.

D’Angelo was a big deal at the time. Then he fell off. Check out this profile of the gifted singer by Amy Wallace over at GQ:

Shame, guilt, repentance—D’Angelo knows them well. To say that he was raised religious doesn’t begin to capture it. He’s the son and the grandson of Pentecostal preachers. To D’Angelo, good and evil are not abstract concepts but tangible forces he reckons with every day. In his life and in his music, he has always felt the tension between the sacred and the profane, the darkness and the light.

“You know what they say about Lucifer, right, before he was cast out?” D’Angelo asks me now. “Every angel has their specialty, and his was praise. They say that he could play every instrument with one finger and that the music was just awesome. And he was exceptionally beautiful, Lucifer—as an angel, he was.”

But after he descended into hell, Lucifer was fearsome, he tells me. “There’s forces that are going on that I don’t think a lot of motherfuckers that make music today are aware of,” he says. “It’s deep. I’ve felt it. I’ve felt other forces pulling at me.” He stubs out his cigarette and leans toward me, taking my hand. “This is a very powerful medium that we are involved in,” he says gravely. “I learned at an early age that what we were doing in the choir was just as important as the preacher. It was a ministry in itself. We could stir the pot, you know? The stage is our pulpit, and you can use all of that energy and that music and the lights and the colors and the sound. But you know, you’ve got to be careful.”

[Photo Credit: Gregory Harris/GQ]

Morning Art

Paintings by Charles Williams.

Beat of the Day

True School.


 

 

New York Minute

Still humid and hazy out there. Perfect day to be near the water and catch a breeze.

[Photo Credit: The Bowery Boys]

L.A. Confidential

I’ll tell you a secret. I hate the Angels. I hate them about a hundred times more than the Red Sox, a thousand more times than the Rays. I hate the way Mike Scioscia cocks his head and squints his eyes in confusion whenever a call goes against him. I hate the scrappiness, I hate the hustle, I hate the font of the numbers on the backs of their jerseys.

After a disappointing loss on Monday night, the Yankees returned to the scene of the crime on Tuesday and looked to bounce back into the win column. The problem, though, was that the Angels were sending Dan Haren to the mound. Haren has been unhittable recently, most notably in his last start against Seattle when he authored a 3-0 shutout that featured 14 strikeouts and zero walks, only the third time in the past dozen years that pitcher done that (a shutout with 14 Ks and zero walks). Opposing Haren would be the ageless wonder, Andy Pettitte.

I touched on this yesterday, but it cannot be understated. The Angels, as nauseating as they are, are an exciting team to watch, and it all starts with their youngest player, Mike Trout. On Monday night he flexed his muscles by bashing his fifth home run of the season, but on Tuesday he showed some of his other skills, namely speed and defense. With two outs and no one on in the bottom of the second inning, Nick Swisher launched a rocket to left center, but that’s Trout territory. He ran down the drive, leaping and snaring it just as it may or may not have left the park.

And how often does it happen? A guy makes a great player in the field, and two innings later he comes to the plate with a runner on second. Trout rifled a ball past third and down the line. The speedy Peter Bourjos coasted in easily on what seemed like a certain double from Trout. But Trout is probably in Brett Gardner’s class as a runner, and slid into third with a triple — on a ball hit into the left field corner. The whole world is crushing on Bryce Harper right now, and justifiably so, but check the numbers. Trout is outplaying the kid with the faux hawk.

The Angels push the envelope at all turns, so Trout went on contact and ran into an out at home on a grounder to Eric Chávez, but Albert Pújols erased that mistake seconds later when he smashed a no-doubter into the Yankee bullpen far beyond the left field fence for a 3-0 Angels lead. Pettitte would later call it “just a stupid pitch by me.” It seems the reports of Sir Albert’s demise were, indeed, highly exaggerated.

The Yankee hitters continued to struggle, and again they continued to fail with the bases loaded. In the half inning before the Angels scored those three runs, the Yanks had had a golden opportunity when they loaded the bases with two outs and Robinson Canó at the plate. A base hit there would’ve given Pettitte a cushion, pushed Haren a bit, and opened a lead, but instead Canó watched strike three dart across the outside corner. Fifteen minutes later it was the Angels who were giving the cushion, doing the pushing, and opening the lead.

Raúl Ibáñez doubled with one out in the fourth, and Nick Swisher quickly cashed him in with a hard single to right, bringing the Yankees to within two runs and breathing a little hope into the situation.

Following Swisher’s base hit, the next fifteen Yankees and Angels to come to the plate were all retired without the ball ever leaving the infield. Pettitte and Haren combined to gather nine groundouts, four strikeouts, a popup and a line out. The sixteenth hitter, however, was the Angels Mark Trumbo. Trumbo broke the string in the bottom of the sixth with a mammoth 433-foot blast into the rocks in center field, widening the Anaheim* lead to 4-1.

The Yankees put two runners on in the seventh, then two more in the eighth, but couldn’t make anything out of either opportunity. Then, more to taunt the Yankees than anything else, the Angels manufactured another run in the bottom of the eighth: single, ground out, single. It was all so easy, and in a game that had been close all night long, the Yankees were suddenly a grand slam behind.

The Yankees mounted a rally in the ninth as they often do, starting with a walks to Russell Martin and Derek Jeter. Granderson flicked a line drive to left, and it looked like a sure base hit, but again, left field is Trout territory, so it turned into an out. Angel reliever Ernesto Frieri plunked Alex Rodríguez, and suddenly the bases were loaded and Canó was walking to the plate as the potential tying run.

But if you’ve been paying attention lately, you know that the Yankees don’t get hits with the bases loaded. Canó struck out swinging. As the Angels announcer is fond of saying at the end of each victory, “Light that baby up.” Angels 5, Yankees 1. Lord help me.

*I know they’re not the Anaheim Angels, but they’re not the Los Angeles Angels, either. They don’t play in Los Angeles. They don’t play anywhere near Los Angeles.

[Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images]

Let’s Try This Again

 

C’mon Andy…

Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Alex Rodriguez DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Raul Ibanez LF
Nick Swisher RF
Eric Chavez 3B
Russell Martin C

Never mind the late night nightmares in Cali:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Photo Via It's a Long a Season]

May 29, 1941: Game 14

A darkened sky threatening rain all afternoon and a stifling ninety-seven degree heat combined to keep attendance at a mere 1,500 in Washington as the Senators and Yankees tied 2-2 in a rain-shortened five-inning game. DiMaggio had been battling illness for a few days, but he was lucky enough to single and score in the fourth inning, extending his streak to fourteen games. Rookie Johnny Sturm, however, waited until the top of the sixth to record his basehit, only to see it washed away when the rains came before the Senators could hit in the home half of the inning. By rule, the score reverted to the last completed inning, and everything that happened in the Yankee half of the sixth was wiped out, including Sturm’s streak. Crosetti also singled in the fourth to keep his streak going at eleven. Though still unaware of DiMaggio’s streak, the New York Times reported one interesting note from the game. DiMaggio struck out for only the third time all season. He had struck out twice in the same game on April 25th, then waited 113 at bats before doing so again on this afternoon.

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