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The ole lefty-righty matchup

Plus Pavano, the Rocket in Trenton and much more
05/25/2007 2:00 PM ET
By Steven Goldman / Special to YESNetwork.com
JASON PINOCCHIO
I write about Pavano and Giambi in today's New York Sun.

STATS VS. SCOUTS VS. HAWKS VS. DOVES
...Which compared the way we think about sports with the way we think about politics provoked the usual kinds of mail, with a majority saying "Right on," a few saying, "Shut up," and a few more saying, "We don't disagree with your point and we don't mind when you talk about politics, but we just don't like that you're a lefty." To the first of these I say "Thank you," to the second I say, "No," and to the third I respectfully disagree with your assessment. There is no left or right, no conservative or liberal. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if you asked a random sampling of 10 Americans to define these terms you'd get 10 different answers. Labels are just another way of ducking your real responsibility, which is (again) critical thinking. If you want this in baseball terms, we can frame it in the old, Moneyball -inspired "statheads vs. scouts" debate, which was a way of taking the complex practice of information gathering and analysis and framing it in completely useless ideological terms.

The only thing that matters, be it in baseball or battleships, horseshoes or hand grenades, is gathering the best information you can and making your best effort at an objective policy analysis -- and being able to defend that analysis in terms of hard facts, science, and precedent. Ideological thinking, like labels, are a way of not reasoning.

And after yesterday's capitulation, I have come to the conclusion that the Democratic party should be gutted and stuffed. Winston Churchill described them perfectly when he wrote of leaders that were, "decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent." Like most of you, I'm a fan of the U.S.A and of our system of government, but not our political parties. Our politicians, both sides of the aisle, should be sent down to Triple-A. Frankly, I'd rather take my chances with Colter Bean.

OMENS?
I went out to retrieve my mail yesterday, and as I carrying the bundle into the house I noticed that the stuff was crawling with dozens of little pink bugs. I think they're called clover mites. I had a normal, manly reaction, which was to scream, "Bleaarghahrgle!" and toss everything away from me. When I did, a number of the mites inexplicably exploded, covering my hand in orange bug goo which resisted hot soap and water for several minutes.

If anyone sent me any checks that should have arrived yesterday, would you mind canceling them and re-sending?

THE ANGELS SERIES AND OTHER DISCONTENTS
I've been using "discontents" in a lot of the headers lately. I think the theme of this season is "discontents." The American League team ERA leaders for May: 1. The A's, 3.68; 2. The Angels, 3.72; 3. The Red Sox, 3.90; 4. The Yankees, 4.03. The Yankees are dead last in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings during this month. Conversely, they lead the league in fewest pitchers per plate appearance (the Angels are a fraction behind them). They're walking few batters, striking out few, and letting the fielders do the work. The league is hitting .295 on balls in play. The Yankees are allowing only a .277 batting average on balls in play. To be honest, I'm not quite sure how to react to that. The Yankees have the second-best double play rate in baseball, once again behind the Angels. On the other hand, the team groundball percentage isn't particularly high, and the strikeout rate is the lowest in baseball. Can this last? I have my doubts.

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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THURSDAY, May 24: Posted at 1:30 p.m. ET

THE PAVANO HEARINGS
As longtime readers know, there is a part of the PB community (though increasingly small) that has a knee-jerk "your chocolate is in my peanut butter" reaction whenever I mix baseball and politics in these pages. I've never paid them much attention because their point is moot -- everything in this vast culture of ours has become increasingly intermingled and so divisions between topics are artificially created and paper-thin. More importantly, the broader motivation of the Pinstriped Bible, going back to the first "In the beginning" was an appeal to reason in understanding baseball. We've made substantial progress in that area (something for which I take no credit), and today's baseball fan is the most well-informed, clear-eyed, rational thinker in sports. As such, it drives me nuts when we can't apply those same powers of informed ratiocination to the wider world, and I feel obligated to point out that there is no reason to accept propaganda from the government that you wouldn't accept from the GM of your favorite ballclub.

Case in point: the ongoing Congressional investigations into the Justice Department's possibly politically motivated purge of U.S. attorneys. Yesterday, former administration ideological compliance cop Monica Goodling testified that she did not compile the list of attorneys to be canned, and she wasn't quite sure who did. This echoed similar positions taken by several other Justice officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, all of whom said that they did not create the list and hadn't been apprised of the rationale that led to the listings. It's not that they are pointing the finger at someone else as they are pointing it at no one -- the list just appeared one day and they acted on it. Meanwhile, the administration exists that several potentially key figured shouldn't have to testify, or should testify under extremely controlled circumstances.

Imagine if the Congress tried to investigate the Carl Pavano debacle and Brian Cashman took the same position as these various Justice officials.

CONGRESSMAN PUBLIUS
Mr. Cashman, thank you for appearing before the committee. We appreciate your making us only go as far as vague threats before agreeing to come down. Let's get right to it: whose idea was it to sign Carl Pavano?

THE GM
I assert my fifth amendment right to refuse to answer on the grounds that I might incriminate myself.

CONGRESSMAN PUBLIUS
We remind you that you have received a limited grant of immunity. I direct you to answer the question. Whose idea was it to sign Pavano?

THE GM
I don't know. I can't really say for sure. I wasn't there. I mean, I was, but I wasn't, and someone said we should, so we did.

CONGRESSMAN PUBLIUS
Who said that you should?

THE GM
I don't know. A voice.

CONGRESSMAN PUBLIUS
A voice told you to sign one of the most fragile pitchers of his generation?

THE GM
Yes. A disembodied voice.

CONGRESSMAN PUBLIUS
I find your testimony completely credible. My time is up. The chair now recognizes Congressman Ketchup.

CONGRESSMAN KETCHUP
Thank you. Mr. Chasman...

THE GM
Cashman.

CONGRESSMAN KETCHUP
Right. Sorry. Did anyone point out that Pavano had had only one good year in his career to that point?

THE GM
They might have. I wasn't at that meeting. I delegated that to my assistant. I delegate most things and make few actual decisions. I do watch all the games, though.

CONGRESSMAN KETCHUP
When George Steinbrenner testified before this committee, he said he regretted that things weren't handled differently. Do you have any regrets?

THE GM
I wish I had delegated more things to my assistant.

CONGRESSMAN KETCHUP
But you just said--

THE GM
And I don't think you can argue with our results.

CONGRESSMAN KETCHUP
But you haven't won the World Series since the year 2000. You haven't been in the World Series since 2003.

THE GM
Yes we have.

CONGRESSMAN KETCHUP
No you haven't.

THE GM
I beg to differ. We've won the last three World Series.

CONGRESSMAN KETCHUP
No you haven't.

THE GM
Yes we have.

CONGRESSMAN PUBLIUS
I think this would be a good time for a recess...

Now, in real life, Brian Cashman has taken more responsibility for the outcome of the seasons under his leadership than any politician has for any poor conduct by the government. He has to, because if he didn't the public would be on every fabrication, every half-truth, in every newspaper, magazine, blog, and sports call-in show. Again, this is in part because the sports fan is very well informed and enthusiastic and has, over the last 25 years or so, been trained in critical thinking starting with Bill James -- even if they haven't read James, Jamesianism has changed the way all sports are reported and understood in a way that can't be avoided. The typical American, in his capacity as member of the democracy, hasn't had that kind of education because in the realm of the real it's more like work -- in baseball it happened by osmosis -- and in some cases, as with FOX News, they're actively receiving disinformation that limits. In baseball terms, it's as if there was a Joe Morgan Network out there.

At the most basic level, a baseball executive has little to hide behind when he fails because the standings are right there in black and white. You can claim that your team had a successful season when it went 54-108, but you're going to look very weak for doing so. In wars or constitutional law the bottom line is harder to discern, but they are there in similarly pragmatic terms if you can just stomach the effort of looking for them.

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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WEDNESDAY, May 23: Posted at 9:20 p.m. ET

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH
TRENTON, N.J. — Robinson Cano bunted for a hit? Off of Curt Schilling? The guy has a bloody sock and they don't bunt on him, but now that they're 50 games out it's okay? Yeesh.

Funny scene here in Trenton. Clemens pitched five decent inings and everyone thought he was done. About a third of the team-record 9,134 crowd left... And then Clemens came out for the sixth.

This proved to be a bad idea as he had nothing left. He had thrown five innings and allowed one run. He left having thrown 5.1 and allowing three.

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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WEDNESDAY, May 23: Posted at 8:06 p.m. ET

THE AAROM CAROM
TRENTON, N.J. — One of the things that takes getting used to when you haven't seen a Minor League game for awhile is just how much slower the players are than their major league counterparts. The differences really are exponential. The guys in the show, even the mediocre ones, still represent the pinaccle of a huge pyramid. Case in point: the triple that Roger Clemens just allowed. Portland second baseman Iggy Suarez bounced a big hippity-hop rabbit down the third base line. Trenton's third baseman, Aarom Baldiris, seemed to be playing in another state. It was the kind of ball you would have expected a third baseman to get. The ball was moving in slow motion, but Baldiris was moving in slower motion, and that fat rabbit went past him down the line and into the corner, where it ran around for awhile before anyone could corral it.

Similarly, Portland starter Clay Buccholz has allowed five hits and two runs, and all of the hits but one, a grounder up the middle, has been a bleeder or a bloop. "Real" fielders would surely have had some of them.

Meanwhile, the last row of the stands backs up to the front row of the auxiliary press area, where I am (read: the hallway). The feller in front of me has a head the size of a small moon. It's pink with a grey fringe and its own advanced civilization.

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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WEDNESDAY, May 23: Posted at 7:36 p.m. ET

COULD BE AN EARLY NIGHT
TRENTON, N.J. — I might have missed my guess earlier when I said we were three hours from a post-game press conference. Clemens needed 27 pitches to get through the first inning and is well on the way to maxing out his pitch count.

Meanwhile, Trenton has the bases loaded with no outs against Clay Buccholz in the bottom of the first on three straight singles... And Shawn Garrett grounds a ball past diving second baseman Iggy Suarez for a two-run single.

At least they have Chase, the bat-retreiving dog here.

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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WEDNESDAY, May 23: Posted at 6:58 p.m. ET

TRENTON, N.J. — I have just been handed a bulletin by the Trenton Thunder staff. For every Roger Clemens strikeout tonight, Dairy Queen will donate $1,000 to charity — $500 to the Roger Clemens Foundation, $500 to the Children's Miracle Network.

I figure Dairy Queen will only have to sell about $4,000 of ice cream to pay that off.

THE WRITER'S LIFE
You know how beat writers make deadlines? Many of them cheat. I've been at games and watched select scribes write the game story for the following day's game while the current game was still ongoing. On my way to grab a soda, I saw a twist on that practice. I passed a writer and noticed that he was working on his story for Clemens' appearance here tonight. He was saying that Clemens won't know what his next step will be until he works out the soreness from today's start against Portland, strongly implying. As I type this, Clemens is still an hour away from taking the mound. In fact, I can see him warming up. Maybe he doesn't have any soreness tonight. Maybe he trips on his way in and doesn't pitch. Maybe it rains. The main thing I object to is that the words seemed to be pitched as if Clemens had said this — and maybe, if that writer asks the right questions tonight, maybe he will. Still, it's 6:45 and as best I can figure it we're roughly three hours from Clemens' postgame press conference.

I hate writing on deadline. I'm not calling out the writers who find ways to get ahead of the clock. That being said, there are shortcuts and there are cheats, you know?

FIRE HAZARD
Clemens is warming up along the right field line. It seems as if the entire sold out crowd has surged down to the foot of the stands to watch the Rocket. They're now making announcements asking for the gawkers to return to their seats.

Next time a Hall of Famer comes through, they'll know to block off that part of the stands. There wasn't this kind of stampede when Carl Pavano was here.

The PA guy is starting to sound a bit desperate, like Mick Jagger at Altamont.

Man, if someone gets hurt, that reference will have been in bad taste. Let's hope nobody gets hurt.

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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WEDNESDAY, May 23: Posted at 1:50 p.m. ET

SPORTS BY OTHER MEANS
I've been watching the Monica Goodling hearings on C-Span. So far, the Red Sox are winning. Still, I'm not too disappointed because this is a sideshow to the big show anyway, that being FISA lawbreaking (that's warrantless eavesdropping to you and me). If Congress has a closer, it's time to bring him into the game.

Note: not Mariano. Too risky.

CATCHING BY OTHER MEANS
The A's designated former Moneyball poster-boy Jeremy Brown for assignment today. As Billy Beane discovered, Brown is no prospect. Still, the 27-year-old is almost certainly capable of more production at the plate than Wil Nieves. He will take a walk and hit a home run every 50 at-bats or so. Coming into the season, Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system saw him as being capable of something like .228/.293/.360. As a point of comparison, John Flaherty hit .226/.261/.387 as a Yankee. Neither is good, but both are Ruthian compared to Nieves' meager abilities. The Yankees should put in a claim.

TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL
1: GREAT EXPECTATIONS
The other night I was watching a show on ESPN and they were interviewing Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle about the Yankees. (Why not interview a beat reporter or columnist from a NY paper?)

Two things were brought up...

1) The California/Anaheim/LosAngeles/NorthAmerican Angels are interested in Jason Giambi. As you have asked many time when queried about getting rid of A-Rod, who would the Yanks get to DH should Giambi be traded away? More at-bats for Minky, Melky and Nieves? That's not a solution, despite disappointment at Giambi not being the player he was in Oakland.

2) Brian Cashman is feeling heat for not getting enough back in the winter deals for Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield. NOT ENOUGH? What does this Richard Justice think the Yanks could have gotten? I feel blessed that the team got better than a bootlegged copy of Major League II for the Big Unit, and got more than an Andy Stankiewicz rookie card and some hubba bubba chewing gum for Shef. Am I wrong? Could the Yanks have gotten better deals for either?
-- Chris

Thanks for writing, Chris. There are a lot of reasons why punting Giambi is probably nothing more than a pipe dream. Let's put aside his no-trade clause or the steroid matter that's hanging over his head and just deal with the money and the baseball issues. The days of the contract are dwindling and it seems unlikely that the Yankees will walk away without having to pick up some of the remaining money, especially if they want real players in return. It seems like doing it or not doing it won't have a big impact on the team's future either way in terms of money saved or prospects acquired.

What it will certainly do is waive a white flag on this season. Despite his recent slump, Giambi can still hit. The American League is hitting .262/.333/.414. Giambi is batting .268/.396/.449. As long as that OBP stays up around .400, Giambi is an asset at the plate and not easily replaced (certainly not by Melky Cabrera). The Yankees have no hitters above Class A, and there are reasons to doubt the few that they do have. There is no one coming from the system this year. There is no one coming from the system next year. It's unlikely that anyone is coming the year after.

Those that criticize Mr. Cashman for the Sheffield and Johnson trades are barking up the wrong tree. Those damaged old times weren't going to bring Tim Lincecum in return. Where Cashman is at fault is in being complicit in the team's miserable record of drafting and developing players. Even then, that was the situation for a quarter of a century before he became the GM. The problem originated in Tampa, not with him.

2: RED BARCHETTA
Um, just need some clarification ... did you actually call the band Rush "shallow"? My head hurts ... you can't be serious...
-- Brian

Not just shallow. Very shallow. They can really play their instruments, though. They're marvelous technicians without a great deal to say (despite Herculean efforts at topicality). That doesn't mean they're not worth listening to.

3: WHAT'S THE USE OF WONDERIN'
It seems to me that regardless of what happens the rest of this season, the Yankees need to be looking at several holes that need to be filled in the immediate future. With that in mind I was pondering the following after listening to Buck Martinez and the rest of the morning group on XM Radio earlier this week -- the Braves seem to have a surplus of young catchers and need an OFer. What about offering a package of Melky Cabrera (and others including maybe, Farnsworth and another young pitcher) for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. My idea is that after obtaining this good, young catcher that next year you transition Posada to 1B. This would strengthen two positions. Trading Cabrera is a gamble worth taking, since he has not shown any power to date, and it should be much easier to obtain a decent replacement OFer for him in free agency than it will be to get a C or 1B. I would love to get Teixeira, but that would seem just wishful thinking at this point and if they did they still would have a future replacement for Posada and would strengthen and give more flexibility to the roster. At this point I hope I am wrong, but I don't see Cabrera ever being and impact player and think that Kevin Thompson can provide the same type of performance.
-- Mike G

Respectfully, I don't see the Braves trading Salty for Melky in a million years. The former is a real prospect. The latter momentarily pumped his value, but now he's returning to what everyone thought he was a year ago, a fourth outfield type. The Braves will need a replacement for Andruw Jones next year, but I don't know if they give away their best hitting prospect to get one that isn't an impact player. They also have had Farnsworth and know what he is and isn't capable of.

I also don't know if Posada's bat will play at first base, or his glove. As well as he's done this year, he is aging and this might be more of a last hurrah than a renaissance. He could still be an asset at catcher for a few years to come because of the walks and home runs, but first seems like a stretch.

OFF TO TRENTON
Not only do I get to see a future Hall of Famer pitch, the Portland team is starting one of the best pitching prospects in baseball in Clay Buchholz. The only drawback is that the press box seats about 12 and there will be at least 20 writers there. If I don't get there early enough to grab a spot, I may have to file my report from a stall in the men's room.

Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com.

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MONDAY, May 21: Posted at 10:20 p.m. ET

INSPRITATONAL JOE TORRE QUOTE OF THE WEEK
From the excellent LoHud blog. A writer queried Joe if, during this difficult season, he had ever asked, "Why me, Lord?" Joe answered, "A lot of times you say 'Why not me?' Why shouldn't things happen to you? It's something you have to deal with and you just move on. Through my career here with the Yankees I can guarantee you I've looked up and said, 'Why me?' when it was on the good side. And I'm certainly not going to go question what's happening now."

Very sensible, Mr. Torre. You'd swear that Joe Torre had read Job, because he's got the moral down pat. Job Torre? You hope this is the case, because if not Torre could be Job-less.

I READ THE NEWS TODAY, OH BOY
Out of the slick's and the cybers and in today's New York Sun on the Red Sox series and parallels to the 1982 Yankees.

One comparison that I didn't get to dwell on because of space limitations (unlike on the boundless Internet, in the newsprint world I am limited to what I think of as the "Hard 800"): The 1982 Yankees figured they could get by without traditional first base production. In 1981, first had been manned primarily by Bob Watson, Dave Revering, and Jim Spencer, and none of them hit -- in a league that batted .256/.321/.373, Yankees first basemen hit .206/.294/.354, so this was clearly something they needed to do something about.

That winter, Yankees ownership developed a St. Louis Cardinals fetish and, as enumerated in the column, started piling on guys who could run. They didn't bother with first base, and the season opened with a Revering/Watson platoon. Watson had been an excellent hitter in his career but he was 36 and didn't have much left in the tank; Revering was one of those late bloomers who had hit the bigs at 25, had a couple of decent years, and then was finished. They didn't hit and were dumped. After briefly trying the punch-hitting speedster Dave Collins, who had signed with the Yankees to start in the outfield only to find himself blocked by six other outfielders, the Yankees acquired John Mayberry from Toronto. Mayberry was a patient left-handed power hitter, very much in the Jason Giambi mold. He had been excellent for the Royals from 1972 to 1975, but he had been in and out since then, in part because of physical problems. Still, he had hit .248/.353/.465 with 47 home runs un 785 at-bats from 1980 to 1981, and as an extreme pull hitter he promised to benefit from playing in Yankee Stadium.

Things didn't go as planned. Mayberry batted just .209/.313/.353 for the Yankees and retired after the season. The Yankees began alternating Mayberry with Collins, Butch Hobson, and rookie Steve Balboni. By August the Yankees were out of the race but they were still trying to solve their first base situation. On August 8 the Yankees dealt Bucky Dent to the Rangers for former Mets golden boy Lee Mazzilli. Maz was a strange case. He had played very well from 1978 to 1980 (.286/.374/.437, playing mostly center field in a tough hitter's park), but he had an off-year in 1981 and the Mets dumped him. When the Yankees got him Mazzilli was only 27, but he was through as a regular and it seems like everyone knew it. He hit .266/.347/.422 for the Yankees in 37 games, which was the best result they had gotten so far, but it wasn't anything special and by the end of the season the Yankees had made a commitment to the future and started playing Balboni again. Balboni didn't hit and the future expired at the end of the season. The next spring, Ken Griffey was the starting first baseman, occasionally giving way to a fellow named Mattingly. ...

One big difference between that situation and the current one, and this extends beyond the first base situation to the entire team, is that the Yankees don't have a Steve Balboni or Don Mattingly in the Minors right now (and keep in mind, saying they don't have a Mattingly is not the same thing as saying they don't have a huge proto-MVP down there -- Mattingly the prospect barely hinted at what was to come). There are no real prospects at any position at Scranton. Andy Phillips and Shelley Duncan are raking right now but they're both older guys with strike zone problems. Eric Duncan, batting .226/.331/.349, is probably hopeless. There are no position players at Trenton (Brett Gardner is on the DL). You have to go down to Tampa to find anyone interesting -- interesting, not necessarily great.

AND A QUICK WORD ON THE YANKEE CLIPPARD
Clippard isn't a prospect on the level of Phil Hughes, but he's a much better pitcher than Matt DeSalvo, Darrell Rasner, and Jeff Karstens. First, he's ambulatory. Second, as you saw last night, Clippard is not overpowering but has the ability to make batters swing and miss, the best indicator of a pitcher's future. In his Minor League career, Clippard struck out 598 batters in 552 2/3 innings. His control is a little better than what he showed last night, and he should walk fewer batters in the future. Giving him a start next weekend against the Angels is a no-brainer.

WE ALL REMEMBER 1978
And, as above, some of us remember 1982 as well. Or 1979, or 1959, or any of those unexpected years when the Yankees were supposed to be good but weren't. Every win seems like the beginning of the road back, but with a strong Red Sox team in front of the Yankees in the East and the Indians and Tigers looking like 100-game winners in the Central, even the Wild Card is doubtful at this stage. In that sense, the Yankees don't need to win this particular series against the Red Sox so much as they just need to win period. With a 7-3 or 8-2 streak we'd at least have reason to entertain the possibility of a comeback. Until then, it's all just wishful thinking, and getting more and more unlikely by the day.

Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible appears weekly on YESNetwork.com. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel is available at Amazon.com and a bookstore near you, as is "Mind Game," about the intellectual conflict between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Steve's Pinstriped Blog is available weekdays on YESNetwork.com, and more Steve can be found at Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com. The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network.
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