Other goats, other roomsThursday's loss to Chicago can't be pinned solely on A-Rod
A bad game is a bad game: I'm not defending A-Rod today.
That's not to say I won't continue to rail against those who are incapable of placing what he does do, good and bad, in context.
Of course, when the offense scores only four runs and leaves four score and 20 baserunners on the bags, the loss is the work of more than one man. It's ironic that in a series in which the team hit .282/.354/.538 they lost two of three games. Watching the games, you could see how having the wrong batting order on the wrong day can hurt a team. That's not to say anything was wrong with Joe Torre's batting order. It just happened that the way it was set up, players who weren't hitting were doomed to repeatedly appear in potentially game-changing situations. Jorge Posada was a perfect 0-for-14 in the series, though he did contribute on defense. Jason Giambi went 1-for-9, though the one was an important home run. Craig Wilson went 3-for-13 (with a double and a home run) and managed to strike out six times, a lot even for him.
Meanwhile, Melky Cabrera's two home runs drove in only three runs, and Robbie Canó's 7-for-14 resulted in only one RBI and one run scored. They just weren't in the right place at the right time or maybe they wouldn't have done what they did had there been more runners on. It's impossible to say.
Ironically, A-Rod had one of the best series of anyone, hitting .455/.571/.727. He was on base eight times but scored only once, on his own home run. As much as he contributed (or failed to contribute) two plays on defense that lost games, it's equally clear that his teammates could have done more to pick him up.
LIKE I SAID YESTERDAY
The Red Sox might not have the pitching to keep up with the Yankees. Last night's loss was a complex interaction involving Curt Schilling being in the game, Terry Francona being the manager, and a realistic fear of what the Sox bullpen might do. This precise combination of chemicals led Francona to pitch Schilling's arm off in Philadelphia. The pair combined to lose a lot of games that they could have won because Schilling wouldn't come out of games and Francona wouldn't take him out.
The loss to Kansas City wasn't just damaging because the Sox were swept by one of the worst teams in the game. It wasn't just damaging because the Sox blew a lead. It was most damaging because they lost with their best pitcher on the mound. The Red Sox will need to win Schilling's starts, because their other pitchers don't give them the same chance of winning.
Melky Cabrera didn't have a great series for batting average, but he did pop two home runs. He has four in 96 at-bats since the All-Star break and is hitting .292/.346/.490 during that span. American League left fielders are batting .278/.346/.453 as a group, so Cabrera is rounding into a player who can make the Yankees competitive at the position. That's if this short stretch of plate appearances is to be taken as evidence of Cabrera's positive development rather than a random hot streak. We'll know more as we watch him play out the rest of the schedule. It doesn't appear that Hideki Matsui will be pressing him any time soon.
It's going to be fascinating to see at what point the Yankees consider Cabrera to be a solid part of their plans for next year when they already have a full outfield complement of Matsui, Bobby Abreu, and Johnny Damon. Craig Wilson can go free agent at the end of the season. The Yankees could let him travel on, signing a pure defensive replacement type for first base or retaining Andy Phillips. That would leave Jason Giambi as the primary first baseman. Alternatively they could ask Matsui if he feels like trying on a first baseman's glove? That's not much more outlandish than asking the same thing of Gary Sheffield. Matsui's bat won't play as well at first as it does in left field, but it won't be bad per se.
My pal and former Baseball Prospectus colleague Derek Zumsteg has a piece up at ESPN's Page 2 today on the Cubs and their policy of shunting tickets to a ticket broker that they own. I do believe that if this sort of scheme was tried by the Mets or Yankees there would be a million man march on their respective stadiums.
In case you missed Wednesday's live chat, wherein we talked about baseball, Yankees baseball, and lots of other things, you can find the transcript here. I've spent two days trying to figure out how Martin Van Buren got into the discussion and how he got the effects of the spoils system backwards. Bending over backwards to be fair, I've gone through about a half-dozen books though I can't find my copy of Arthur Schlesinger's classic "The Age of Jackson." That's been frustrating.
Did I mention we talked about baseball?
THURSDAY, August 10, 2006: Posted at 5:39 p.m.
AND IN OTHER NEWS...
Having dropped three games behind the Yankees in the American League East standings, the Red Sox announced today that if they fail to win either the division or the wild card, they will take a page from Connecticut's Joe Lieberman and go to the playoffs anyway. "We're tired of this partisan bickering that insists that one team is superior to another, that says that fans have to prefer one team to another," said Boston general manager Theo Epstein. Red Sox fans are Red Sox fans and so are Yankees fans, even if they express another preference." Added team ace Curt Schilling, "We know that fans are tired of the bickering. A Derek Jeter fan is just a David Ortiz fan who's been misled."
The Yankees offered no comment, but sources say Brian Cashman was heard to mutter, "Oh, get over yourself."
AND SPEAKING OF THE RED SOX
In today's New York Sun I took a look at the remaining games for both the Yankees and the Red Sox. Without spoiling the column, the schedules are close, with the Yankees having three series that have a higher degree of difficulty than the norm and the Red Sox having four. That's aside from the nine games the two teams have with each other. Of course, such calculations are out the window if the Red Sox can't maintain their current pace. When I wrote the article last night, I concluded by saying that Sox pitching is so thin that those nine games may prove to be of less significance than we now think. That was a few hours before the mighty Kansas City Royals undressed Jon Papelbon in the ninth inning of last night's game. As the old World War II song goes, the Red Sox are doing it on a wing and a prayer (it is a WWII song, not the theme to "The Greatest American Hero") and that's not going to be enough against the retooled Yankees.
It's not over, of course. The Yankees will have to hope that there are no more major injuries (Johnny Damon's groin is day-to-day, though Damon himself may play) and that the pitchers don't falter. Since the All-Star break, the staff as a whole has a 4.34 ERA. It doesn't sound impressive, but it's better than league average and good enough for fifth in the league (the M's, Angels, and Twins are all under 4.00; the A's have been fractionally better than the Yankees). The Yankees have scored nearly six runs a game over the same span. If current rates hold, we would expect the Yankees to finish with about 98 wins. Perhaps with Robinson Canó back, the offense will pick up another fraction of a run it should and the Yankees can add another win to their total.
AND SPEAKING OF PITCHERS
It's probably time to stop having expectations of Randy Johnson and just take what comes. It's a rare thing for a 43-year-old to be pitching in the major leagues at all (Johnson turns 43 on September 10), let alone one who has the characteristics of classic Johnson tall as a skyscraper, throws hard, devastating slider, a little grouchy, a little pouty so every start sets a new precedent. At the same time, Johnson seems to be confirming what seemed to be the case earlier this year, as well as last year: he still has it in his body to be great, but not all the time. The conditions have to be right for him to find the old stuff. Now, if I knew precisely what those conditions were I would apply for Ron Guidry's job and you could see if those Yankees pinstripes really do have a slimming effect on those of us with a zeppelin-like superstructure.
Earlier this week I talked about leaving Johnson out of the first three postseason rotation slots. Starts like Wednesday's make that a much tougher decision. You'd like to bet on the upside, but you stand a good chance of getting the geriatric Johnson instead of the younger-than-his-years Johnson. I don't envy Joe Torre.
WEDNESDAY, August 9, 2006: Posted at 1:16 p.m.
LIFE'S A FUNNY PROPOSITION
My initial reaction to last night's game was that Alex Rodríguez should have caught Jermaine Dye's pop foul and I was all set to write something about giving A-Rod partial credit for the loss. Reflecting, I considered that Rodríguez had been the one to keep the Yankees in the game with his go-ahead two-run homer; that he hadn't blown the save, Rivera had; that he hadn't put the winning run on base, Scott Proctor had; and he didn't throw the pitch that led to the game-winning hit, Proctor did. Things are often more complex than we want them to be.
It was a very compelling game, though the outcome was of course less than satisfying from a Yankee fan's point of view. Initially it seemed that it would be a seesaw battle that might end at 14-13. Chien-Ming Wang had nothing. Someone needs to discuss Wang's home/road record with him. For the season, Mr. Wang is 9-1 with a 2.86 ERA at home, but 4-3 with a 5.16 ERA on the road. Given his method of pitching it's not that he's being victimized by unfavorable ballparks. It's clearly an emotional issue that needs addressing.
The bats quieted, though, in part because Jorge Posada pitched a scoreless inning all by himself, throwing out three baserunners by about a yard each. This made up for the fact that he had a miserable night at the plate, stranding every runner the Yankees have put on in their entire history, including Earle Combs, Mike Pagliarulo, and Luis Polonia. Had the White Sox simply stood on the bag each time they attempted to steal, they probably would have won the game earlier and by a greater margin. So much for small ball.
The game was knotted at 4-4 for three long innings, made longer by my constantly hitting "reload" on my browser and waiting for overburdened sites reporting the results of the Connecticut primary to respond. With the two tight contests playing out, there was a World Series atmosphere, at least at my house. I had to eject two drunken spectators for using foul language. I just hope my kids forgive me.
Speaking of drunken spectators, check out the Bengals new, "Report Anti-Social Capers Live!" (RASCaL) hotline, in which fans are encouraged to use their cell phones to turn in disruptive alcoholics to security. Big Brother Bengal will then train his all-seeing eye on the offender's seat and send the Marines if warranted. Not only is this a very efficient way of making the stands more livable, but if coupled with revocation of season tickets it's going to cut down on rascality in a hurry.
TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL
1: THE BARREL HOLDS BUT SIX BULLETS
Steve, why didn't Joe Torre bring Rivera back for the 10th inning last night, and then bring Proctor out for the 11th? Wouldn't that have in all likelihood bought the Yankees another inning, and thus another chance at winning? Proctor's excellent 10th inning would have been an excellent 11th inning instead. The Yankees still may have lost, but maybe we could have had three more outs to at least try. Girish
The simple answer is probably that the Yankees don't have their next day off until August 28. By then the Yankees will have played 21 games in 20 days. No doubt Torre doesn't want to overload Rivera right at the outset. Can't say that I blame him.
2: BUT WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES IN OCTOBER?
You're right about Johnson. The only thing in common between him now and the pitcher he used to be is that they're both six-ten and named Randy. Now, most days, he's got average velocity on a fastball that he doesn't control well, that has no movement, and that he grooves. His slider doesn't break half the time, he leaves it out over the plate a lot, and several times a game he hangs it. A lot of his outings, he pitches so bad I don't even want to look. You don't know what you're going to get from him decent or horrible. Pitching him against a good-hitting team is like playing Russian Roulette. Appreciate your calling it like you see it without pulling punches. Russell
Should the Yankees make the postseason, it's going to be fascinating to see how they set up their rotation. As bad as Johnson has been at times, because he has also been good, and because Mr. Torre will err on the side of experience, I expect he'll make the top three. After Mike Mussina and Wang (assuming it's not a road game), the alternatives are not compelling, those being Jaret Wright and Cory Lidle. The only reassuring thing is that no one has three top starters this year.
3: THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Al Hrabosky? Steve! You've got to go easy on these kids with your esoteric references, you're going to scare the bejeezus out of them. You might as well have asked him who his favorite Holy Roman Emperor is. Gotta be Charlemagne, by the way. Ian
Cox seemed amused when I brought up Hrabosky, so no worries. If he comes up slamming his mitt, you know who to thank. More seriously, I think it's good for young players to have a little bit of history. It's good for everyone. You're not the first person to go through whatever it is you're going through.
I'm not an expert on the Holy Roman Empire or the Carolingian period, but I don't know if Charlemagne counts. He was crowned, somewhat unwillingly, by Pope Leo III, but Charlie thought of himself primarily as King of the Franks since out in Constantinople they were pretty sure that they were running a holy Roman empire. The idea that what he was ruling over was the Holy Roman Empire came hundreds of years later. Technicalities, technicalities. Ask me something about George Washington. I'm on solid ground there.
4: ST. GEORGE AND THE DRAGON
I always enjoy your columns but please don't give the A-Rod haters a voice. I'm sure you're really tired of it and I am too. -Dave
I'd rather try to expose 'em than ignore 'em, but I agree that after a certain point you just have to let it go. No matter how often I've said that comparing Rodríguez to David Ortíz is more or less pointless, people still write in with those comparisons. I keep asking someone to give me a list of players the Yankees can replace Rodríguez with but no one has sent such a list. I got a note yesterday well, I'll quote it:
Let's offer A-Rod to the Mets for Wright and Heilman. How about to the White Sox for Crede and Garland? How about to the Tigers for Verlander and Granderson.? How about to the Twins for Liriano and Morneau or Mauer? How about the Nationals for Soriano and Nick Johnson? Oh, and the Yankees pay a portion of A-Rod's ransom. Which of those teams might jump at the opportunity to land the MVP, HOF, greatest player ever, youngest to...? Tony
Of course they wouldn't, but because those deals don't make any sense, not because Rodríguez isn't desirable. Another fellow said:
This is the crux of the anti-Arod argument for most sane Yankee fans, or at least those of us who aren't going crazy about the anti-clutch side of this. To put it in 2006 perspective, in terms of EQA. The Yankees traded for the man with the best or second-best EQA in all of baseball. What they have is the 36th best. If that is not grounds for fan disappointment, nothing is. Lou
No argument there, but last year his EqA was .349 and he led the league in value over replacement. Some people have a short memory. In any case, a slump, and a slump so pronounced that he still has an EqA of .293, is not a reason to vilify the man or try to rush him out of town so the Yankees can play Nick Green every day.
So you're right, Dave. We'll give A-Rod a rest for the time being. You can battle with ignorance, but ignorance is a stubborn thing. We'll revisit this when the Yankees install a system similar to that of the Bengals and you can report A-Rod haters to Stadium security. "Disloyal fan in the loge boxes! Take him away!"
OFF TO CHAT
At baseballprospectus.com, 1 p.m. today. Hope to see you there.
MONDAY, August 7, 2006: Posted at 2:59 p.m.
YANKEE FANS MAKE WARDROBE CHANGE
Down in Trenton on Friday night, I was girl-watching and wait, my wife might read this I was dispassionately looking over the crowd. In attendance was the usual multitude of Derek Jeter No. 2 t-shirts. Also, there were several Don Mattingly No. 23s, a smattering of Alex Rodríguez No. 13s, and, for the first time, Bobby Abreu No. 53s. I counted about a half-dozen. I had to laugh at how fast the fans had embraced Abreu. Abreu was Philadelphia's A-Rod, a player who was unpopular despite strong results. Now Abreu gets a clean slate while A-Rod remains a pariah. There's something ironic about that.
If you read my report from Trenton, you saw that Thunder manager Billy Masse spoke very highly of Robinson Canó, saying, "For all the bad things you hear about baseball, the steroids and the black marks on the game, Robby Canó is what's good in baseball. He loves to have fun, he's always got a big smile on his face. He's all what's good in baseball. I always like to see him because he's always got a big smile on his face."
At the same time, Masse seemed to suggest that Cano's concentration level can vary. "Sometimes if you watch him, like today during batting practice, hit and take ground balls, it's almost as if he doesn't care. Then all of a sudden he hits six home runs in a row, and it's like, 'If he did care, where would he hit them, over the river instead of in it?' It's the way he goes about it. He has that carefree type of attitude, but it's good carefree, it's not bad. It's not like 'I don't care.' It's just relaxed, having fun... I know when he first went up to the big leagues it was always that thing, that he's too relaxed. He has to work harder. He does work hard. He just works hard at his own pace, which isn't bad. He's a special kid."
When Masse said, "When he first went up to the big leagues it was always that thing," he added, "I know Joe " and he stopped himself. So there's a hint that Mr. Torre was not, at least initially, a Canó fan. After five weeks of Miguel Cairo he's probably been converted, if he hadn't been already.
I asked Masse to elaborate, noting that last year Canó made a number of careless errors and seemed tentative in the field, whereas this year he seems more focused and has been an asset on defense. Does a player with Canó's approach need to make an adjustment when he comes up to the big leagues? Masse agreed that he did.
"Definitely. I used to hear this all the time. Like when he was at Low-A ball in Greensboro: 'He's never going to play in the big leagues because he doesn't work hard enough.' But there's a difference between being an ass and not working hard and being a good kid and kind of having a carefree attitude. That's where Robbie fell. I used to tell guys, 'You know, he's just bored. That's his problem.'
"He needs to understand that he needs to work harder to make routine plays all the time. Because you're right: most of his errors last year, or in years past, would come on routine balls. He would make the great play because that was challenging to him, but he would lose some concentration on the average stuff. You can watch him in BP I'd swear I could throw him 30 balls and he could hit 25 out if he wanted to, rather than work the whole field like he should, hit some balls to left field, hit some balls to left-center, hit some balls to right-center. Honestly I think he's so good, he's so gifted, that sometimes he gets in that habit that he'll get up there and just hit 25 balls out to right field instead of working on his game. I think this year he's learned that he has to work on his game. You can see the results he's an All-Star.
"He needs to bear down when it comes to stuff like that, no question. But it's not in a malicious way. There are some guys that just don't work hard in a malicious way. 'F-you, I ain't taking any ground balls. I don't need 'em.' He's not like that. Sometimes you've just got to remind him, 'Hey, Robbie, let's go, 20 ground balls, let's go.' 'Okay, okay...' He does a couple half-assed. You say, 'Let's go! I'm not going to sit here all day and and he does it. He's a good kid, and he's always like that. And now it's just he's off the charts as far as ability goes."
As for Canó himself, I will long remember his response to my question about the four-pitch walk he received in his first plate appearance. Canó not only didn't swing at the first pitch, he took the next three as well, something that, as I pointed out, was unusual. Canó laughed. "I never get pitches like that in the major leagues," he lamented. I wanted to ask, "How do you know?" but I didn't think the good humor in which it was meant would have come across.
In tomorrow's Pinstriped Bible I'll have an interview with set-up man of the future J.B. Cox. The Yankees' second-round pick in 2005, the 22-year-old Cox has posted a 1.90 ERA in 71 innings for Trenton this year. Perhaps a bit gun-shy after some aggressive promotions backfired early in the year, the Yankees haven't yet moved Cox up to Columbus (something Cox seemed eager for). If they do, you could see Cox in New York as soon as this September. Failing that, he'll be a midseason call-up next year.
It is now possible to imagine a Yankees postseason rotation without Randy Johnson? There's a long time to go before anything is set in stone, but as things stand now, a manager would have to think twice before listing Johnson in his first three starters for any series. You would have to balance experience against recent performance. Admittedly, Jaret Wright and Cory Lidle don't give you a lot to choose from for replacements, but neither has been demonstrably worse than Johnson has in his last two starts, games in which Johnson has failed to strike out a batter. The Big Unit has snapped back before, posting good (if not "quality") starts in eight of 12 starts since May. Can he do it a second time? Stay tuned.