Postseason Bullpen MadnessDoes the heavily-hyped Brian Bruney fit in the Yankees' October plans?
(1) He was hurt, and, (2) He hadn't been very good to that point.
Bruney has a good arm, but a lot of pitchers do. Many of those pitchers get released before you ever hear about them. They go home instead of being signed by the Yankees because it's not enough to throw hard. You have to actually be able to do something with your stuff, like being able to aim it over the plate. Through 2005, Bruney had pitched 245 innings, and except for 2002, when he walked 21 in 60.2 innings, he had a very difficult time not throwing ball four. In all he walked 4.99 batters per nine innings, a high rate.
Still, given that he was striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings, he might have been able to get away with his lack of control. Unfortunately, when he got to the majors his control vanished completely. In 77.1 innings with Arizona he walked 62 batters. That's not the kind of pitcher you can bring in with a lead. The Diamondbacks tried anyway and Bruney saved 11 games in 12 attempts. That says more about the saves rule than it does about Bruney.
Bruney reworked his mechanics after getting hurt and the Yankees tinkered still more after signing him, perhaps leading to his improved control he's got the walks down to five per nine so far. It's not great, but Jeff Nelson wasn't much better and he was an important part of the Yankees bullpen for years.
Aside from walks, Bruney wasn't as bad as his 7.43 ERA last year suggested. He didn't allow many home runs (he's given up nine now in 85.2 innings) and some combination of bad defense and bad luck led to batters hitting .385 on balls in play. As we discussed yesterday, not everything that happens on balls in play is the responsibility of the pitcher. At some point a fielder has to step in front of the ball. The Diamondbacks were quite poor at that last year (as they are this year, even with the addition of Pac-Man Orlando Hudson).
All of this Bruney talk leads quite naturally to the question of if he will even make the postseason roster, and if doesn't who should? Indications are that the Yankees will carry 11 pitchers. This seems a bit much if you get in the position of needing to use the 11th guy, chances are you're on your way home for the winter. We can safely assume that Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang, Randy Johnson, and Cory Lidle will take up four spots. Mariano Rivera is another lock assuming he's not any more damaged than has been reported by the Yankees. We can also count on seeing Double Duty Proctor, Ron Villone, Mike Myers, and Spinal Tap Farnsworth. That's nine.
The two remaining spots will go to two of three from a group that includes Bruney, Jaret Wright, and Octavio Dotel with T.J. Beam seeming a long shot. The value of Wright is that he protects the Yankees if someone breaks down mid-series and a spot-start is needed or if an extra-inning game needs multi-inning relief. Beam is a good prospect but clearly seems to have a case of freshman jitters. Dotel doesn't seem to be all the way through his recuperation.
Bruney seems worth taking a chance on, both for his low home run rate and high strikeout rate. In a pinch he could be a sixth-inning Kyle Farnsworth. Wright and Bruney might be the way to go, with the understanding that Wright is the last man in the pen. With luck the Yankees won't need to use either of them.
It's a shame that three of the four pitching match-ups in the current Twins-Tigers series favors the Tigers. Even Sunday's match-up of Johan Santana vs. Jeremy Bonderman isn't a slam dunk (although Bonderman has been savaged by batters like hyenas on a wildebeest carcass over the last month or so). If the Twins had more pitching, they would have been able to close in on the fading Tigers now but maybe that's the whole point.
This tidbit from the frequently fascinating Jimhillmedia.com, a Disney and theme park site, made me laugh out loud:
Mind you, this talking-walkaround-character idea actually dates back to the 1960s. In his wonderful behind-the-scenes-at-the-Mouse-House book, "Justice for Disney," Disney Legend Bill Justice describes how he experimented with strapping a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder to Disneyland cast members. And on this tape recorder would be pre-recorded dialogue for a particular Disney character. Which (once this Disneyland cast member put on the appropriate costume and then turned on the tape recorder) would give the impression that this walkaround character could actually talk.
Unfortunately, the only character costume that was actually big enough to hide the bulk of a 1960s era portable tape recorder was Brer Bear. So the in-park test for this pre-recorded voice track featured this "Song of the South" character saying things like "Howdy!," "Have you seen Brer Rabbit?" as well as singing "Zip a Dee Doo Dah."
Which (admittedly) sounds pretty cool. Unfortunately, due to the weight & the thickness of the Brer Bear costume, this pre-recorded voice track (even when it was played loud enough to almost deafen the Disneyland cast member who was inside the costume) came through as ... Well ... muffled. So, basically what you got was from your up-close-&-personal encounter with this experimental talking-and-singing "Song of the South" character was the impression that Brer Bear mumbled.
You've read about those frivolous lawsuits filed because some kid saw Donald Duck take off his head and was traumatized. I personally might be more disturbed by the giant stuffed bear muttering at me under his breath.
Earlier this summer I took my children to the National Zoo in Washington. I was taking a break on a park bench while my wife took the kids through one of the always-overheated indoor exhibits and a street sweeper came by pushing a trash can and a broom. He was thin, pale, and a bit greasy, with a mop of gray-black hair that had been carelessly cut. In fact the end of his broom and the top of his head were indistinguishable. As he swept up discarded cheese doodles and dropped pieces of popcorn from around the bench, he was quietly talking to himself. I strained to hear what he was saying through the crowd noise. It was, approximately, "!@@#$# people, can't #%$$^$ clean up after themselves, @$#% hate @!#$# people." His attitude seemed both incongruous for someone who worked around kids and utterly what I would have expected from someone who was basically an employee of the federal government.
I expect the mumbling Brer Bear probably sounded a lot like the zoo's white wing. "Get away from me, ya damned kids. Stinking little-"
A long-overdue look at Stepping Up: The Story of Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Player's Rights, with one of my personal heroes, the great Alex Belth.
THURSDAY, September 7, 2006: Posted at 2:34 p.m.
A quick look at the list of pitchers who have thrown no-hitters quickly reveals how little these events depend on the quality of the pitcher. A lot of Hall of Fame pitchers had at least one no-hitter Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Dazzy Vance, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn and Nolan Ryan to name just a few but a lot of them did not. If a pitcher was unfortunate enough to play in the 1930s, when the ball was rabbity, he didn't have much of a chance. Lefty Grove, still on the short list for greatest pitcher of all time, didn't have one. Nor did Lefty Gomez or Red Ruffing, two Yankees greats of the same period. Roger Clemens, an even better choice for greatest pitcher of all time, hasn't thrown one either.
There are many pitchers who have thrown no-hitters who would cause even dedicated baseball fans to scratch their heads today. Cliff Chambers of the Pirates no-hit the Braves on May 6, 1951. He had a career record of 48-53 with a 4.29 ERA. The Pirates traded him later that season. Bob Keegan was a minor league vet who didn't have his rookie season until he was 32. He pitched a no-no for the White Sox against the Senators in 1957. Mike Warren of the A's did it as a rookie in 1983. It was one of just nine wins in his career. Joe Cowley. Kent Mercker. Jose Jiminez.
There's an element of luck at work in a no-hitter that can make a good pitcher great. A few more balls find their way into gloves than would on any other day. The relative rarity of no-hitters, and the fact that a pitcher doesn't have to be great to throw one, is a strong endorsement of the thinking that pitchers can control little more than walks, strikeouts, and home runs.
Where the ball goes once they let it go is in the hands of the batter, or Divine Providence, or some Father Baseball, or whatever. If the pitcher really did have a reliable ability to affect the flight of the ball, low-hit and no-hit games would be frequent on days when pitchers had their best stuff. When a pitcher is pitching well, it affects the other team's ability to chain up hits and walks and thereby score runs. It doesn't necessarily stop them from getting a hit. All they have to do is make contact in just the right way.
It probably helps if on the days the pitcher has his best stuff, as Randy Johnson did last night, he gets to face a lineup like that of the Kansas City Royals. One game I always think of in that regard wasn't a no-hitter, but a four-hit shutout thrown by Phil Niekro on Oct. 6, 1985 for his 300th win. The Blue Jays had already clinched so they rested many of their regulars. Neikro faced a lineup of Damaso Garcia, Rick Leach, Lou Thornton, Cecil Fielder (before he was Big Daddy), Jeff Burroughs (his last regular season at-bats), Kelly Gruber, Ron Shepherd, Jeff Hearron and Manny Lee. Six of them were rookies.
Best wishes from this corner go out to Jon Lester of the Red Sox, who has been diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma. Lester is shocked and I empathize. He's 22 and the last thing he expected was cancer. I was 32 years old and was diagnosed with a cancer that strikes one in a million guys 55 and older and has no known cause I didn't smoke or stay out in the sun or have an inappropriately intimate relationship with a woodchuck, and even if I had it wouldn't have correlated as a cause of my cancer. I imagine the same is true of Lester. Sometimes a gene misfires, a cell goes bad, and suddenly you're in a lot of trouble.
In Tuesday's Under the Knife column at BP, injury guru Will Carroll talked about Lester's cancer from his own perspective, having suffered from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma himself about a decade ago. When I was first diagnosed, Will as one of the first people I told. I'm not sure why I wasn't part of BP at the time and only knew Will casually, but I think I knew that he was a fellow sufferer. I guess I had an instinct that he would be the right person to talk to.
Will told me about his chemotherapy and how he got through it, giving me some tips for how to deal with my own recovery (my therapy was far less debilitating) and finally he told me, doing his best Knute Rockne impersonation, to kick cancer's a**. In Tuesday's column I learned that Kevin Goldstein was the one who had first said that to Will.
Will repeated that same exhortation to Lester, and so will I: kick cancer's a** and pass it on.
I have to thank Will again one of these days, and I guess Kevin Goldstein for inspiring him too. I actually got a little choked up when I read Will's column. Those were frightening days for me, and the friendship shown by Will to a relative stranger helped pull me through.
HERE COMES THE SUN AGAIN, SHINING ON MY HEAD LIKE A MEMORY
Over in today's New York Sun I have a piece about Mariano Rivera and how fortunate the Yankees have been to have had one closer since 1996. Every team in baseball has been through at least two in that time. The Red Sox have had eight different closers and the wonderful Cubs have had nine Mel Rojas, Terry Adams, Rod Beck, Rick Aguilera, Tom Gordon, Antonio Alfonseca, Joe Borowski, LaTroy Hawkins, and Ryan Dempster.
Some of those guys have been out of the game for so long it seems like a century since they've pitched. They really weren't gone, though. They were just Cubs. Check it out if you get a chance.
AND ONE OTHER
My pal Allen Barra has a great piece on Nelson Algren's novel "A Walk on the Wild Side," at Salon today. Having read it, I'm convinced I'm going to have to pick up the book - and that's with me not yet having made it all the way through Algren's "Somebody in Boots," a failing for which Allen will no doubt call me a wimp.
WEDNESDAY, September 6, 2006: Posted at 2:26 p.m.
Last night's shutout loss to the Royals prompts worries about a pronounced weakness against left-handed pitchers. While the Yankees' overall numbers against lefties are strong (and in Derek Jeter's case great), the lineup has a different look when a lefty is on the mound. This is due in large part to the absence of Jason Giambi, who has been platooned in recent weeks.
This is no doubt due more to his shaky legs than his lack of success against southpaws. Though his batting average against lefties is a low .203, he has taken his share of walks and hit nine home runs in 119 at bats, leading to a .353 on-base percentage and .475 slugging percentage.
Without Giambi, the lineup is missing the kind of explosive power that can change games. Against right-handers the Yankees have hit a home run once every 26 at-bats, whereas against lefties they have homered only once every 32. Giambi has homered once every 11 at-bats against righties and once every 13 against lefties. Among Yankees, only Alex Rodriguez has even a fractionally better home run rate against southpaws with one every 12.6 at bats.
Craig Wilson has struggled as a Yankee and Joe Torre seems to have already lost confidence in him. That being the case, the team's best offensive alignment against left-handers is Giambi at first base and Bernie Williams (.328/.397/.546) at designated hitter.
Wilson might recover his stroke in the next couple of weeks, but if not he may yet have a role to play, perhaps pinch-hitting. As a pinch-hitter he's a career .222/.319/.606 hitter. Twelve of his 22 pinch-hits have been home runs something to keep in mind if the Yankees face Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano in the playoffs.
JUST AN OPINION, LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE
I realize "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't have the same all-American pizzazz it used to, but I'm disgusted by columns suggesting that Ryan Howard may be juicing when the only evidence to suggest anything of the sort is that he's hit a bunch of home runs. I am reminded of the incident wherein Daily News columnist Jimmy Powers looked at the rough start by the 1940 Yankees and suggested that maybe Lou Gehrig had infected his former teammates. Gehrig sued, and rightly so. It's one thing to speculate about causes and effects for everything under the sun, but a writer has to be responsible and not just type out every thing that comes to mind. These self-appointed guardians of the game are, of course, engaging in vandalism of it.
Howard is being tried by some writers due to guilt by association. He's a ballplayer and hit home runs, and some ballplayers who hit home runs might have benefited from performance enhancing drugs. Therefore, Howard must be juicing. This is really no different from McCarthyism, and no better. I say to these columnists, as Joseph Welch said to McCarthy, "Let us not assassinate this lad further... You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir?"
TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL
1: THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FIRST
"Steve Irwin Assassins." Not wholesome. C'mon, scribe you have better taste than that! Tom
I loved Steve Irwin in the same way that one loves an eccentric relative. The first time I saw "The Crocodile Hunter" some friends were over to watch a football game and after the contest ended we were flipping channels. Suddenly we came across this weird Australian guy in shorts who seemed to own his own zoo and had absolutely no clue what to do with it. He had to clean the crocodile pen, and while most zoos would tranq the animals and move them to another pen, he explained that it was far more humane and less stressful for them if he just waded in and beat them into submission. In another segment he had to turn down the thermostat for a reptile enclosure, only the thermostat was inside a cage with some very twitchy poisonous snakes.
Somehow we never caught the name of the program, and for weeks after we told friends about the amazing "Stupid Zookeeper Show" we had seen on the Discovery Channel. After awhile we figured out what it was and came to appreciate Irwin's enthusiasm for his job, though part of the novelty was always watching him run into walls and do precisely the wrong thing when it came to encountering animals. Ironically, it seems that when he was killed he didn't do anything wrong. He was just tremendously unlucky. My equating Devil Rays with Irwin assassins was my way of saying that I'd miss the guy. Sorry that didn't come across. My heartfelt condolences to his family.
2: SECOND MOST IMPORTANT THING SECOND
Steve, you wrote:
Since I wrote "Make mine Melky" a couple of weeks ago, Nick Markakis continued his hot hitting, putting more daylight between he and Mr. Cabrera.
Since I wrote "Make mine Melky" a couple of weeks ago, Nick Markakis continued his hot hitting, putting more daylight between him and Mr. Cabrera.
Thanks for the Yankee and baseball analysis. Michael
And thank you for the correction. By the way... Your fly is open.
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