Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The New World Series Symbol is a Broom

Does anyone doubt that momentum is big in sports? Well, there was further proof this postseason. The Series was a sweep for the sixth time in the past fifteen years. It was a contest of loose and confident characters against a tense team of Tigers.

Giant manager Bruce Bochy had surprising success in San Diego before moving up the left coast to San Francisco. Now he has a second championship in three seasons - with a group that features no Willie Mays or Juan Marichal or Barry Bonds. Those big names did not won championships. 

Bochy's role in the victory cannot be overstated. He got the most out of what he had and enjoyed himself doing it. As a school manager, that is as a principal, I always felt that if the boss isn't having fun nobody is, and that was clearly the case in the Giants' dugout. "I've been told I have a dry sense of humor," said Bochy. "You know, I have fun ... We have fun in there. I want these guys to be loose and relaxed." It worked. While the big salary Tigers were squeezing the sawdust out of their bats - as had the Yankees in the ALCS - the Giants' no names came through. 

In spite of a 70% turnover in personnel since their 2010 win, the Giants had just the right pieces - and Bochy let 'em play. "I keep coming back to how unselfish these guys are. It's amazing what a club can do when they play as a team and have no agendas."

Perhaps the sacrifice bunt by Gregor Blanco, the one that refused to go foul, was emblematic of what went wrong for Detroit and right for San Fran. Blanco, whose salary is $480,000, had bounced around from team to team without success. He played much of 2011 with an injured hand while toiling for the Syracuse Chiefs. But when Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens was managing the Bravos de Margaritas in Venezuela last winter he saw Blanco and noted that he was hitting more line drives than he had before. He thought he'd be a good fit for AT&T Park's big outfield and the Giants signed him.  

In spite of Pablo Sandoval hitting those three home runs would the Giants still have won Game One without Blanco's two diving catches? Then the sac bunt in Game Two. Then a triple over Austin Jackson to drive in the first run in a 2-0 Game Three win. And then the running catch against the wall in the 9th. 

The Giants overcame a 2-0 deficit against the Reds and a 3-1 deficit against St. Louis. Much earlier they had overcome the loss of Melky Cabrera to the MLB penal system. 

After a great regular season Buster Posey kept right on going in the postseason with nine RBIs. His grand slam in Game Five against the Reds was the difference. He homered in the sixth inning on Sunday night. 

After striking out three times in Game One Hunter Pence delivered a single and a sacrifice fly late in Game Two, all the Giants would need. After starring in the NLCS Marco Scutaro knocked in the winning run in Game Four. 

Pablo Sandoval earned the Most Valuable Panda award after hitting .500 thanks mainly to three homers in one game (the fourth time in history), a double and six runs batted in. His 13 total bases in Game One tied the record set just last year by Albert Pujols.

Backed by great defence, the San Francisco pitching staff was top-notch. They had held the Cardinals to just one run in the last three games of the NLCS. 2008 and 2009 Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum struggled as a starter this year but unselfishly accepted a move to the bullpen and helped save Game Three for the Giants. Madison Bumgarner had struggled mightily in the playoffs but, after Dave Righetti worked on his mechanics, he shone in Game 2. 

Ryan Voglesong may have been the biggest story for the Giants. Released by the Giants, Pirates, Phillies, and Angels before being bought back by the Giants (he even struggled in Japan for three years) the 35-year old was 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in the postseason. You could argue that Sandoval's homers off Justin Verlander and Blanco's catches late in Game One were turning points in the Series but what about Voglesong fanning Quinten Berry and inducing an infield pop up from Miguel Cabrera in the 5th inning of Game 2?

Unfortunately for Fox Sports, who pay handsomely for the rights to the Series, it appears that the only fans watching the Giants and Tigers were their parents and neighbors. The Series set a record for fewest viewers and Saturday night's Game Three was the least watched game in Series history.

It is a disturbing trend for baseball that three of the least watched Series have occurred in the last five years. The 2008 Phillies vs. Rays and the 2010 Giants vs. Rangers had shared the bottom rung until last week. A lot of people were happy not to see the huge salaried Yankees or Dodgers in the Series but at least some of those people might have watched the games. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

So what do we think now?

Boy, the World Series has been one-sided to this point. The Giants have thrown the Tigers down and have their foot on the team’s neck and could well deliver the coups de gras before day’s end. My crystal ball certainly needs re-calibration because it didn’t see this coming!

Last night’s game, at least, was pretty exciting…for awhile. However, once Lincecum came in, I got the feeling it was all over and switched the game off. It’s not that the Tigers have been bad; it’s that the Giants have been better. Want an example of the baseball truism “good pitching beats good hitting”? Look no further than these games.

It would be nice for Detroit to step up and win today’s tilt, but I think the conclusion to this year’s WS is pretty much a foregone conclusion.

The Yanks with the '62 series' 7th game.
So, I would like to talk about an old Series, the classic one from 1962 to be exact, Yanks against baseball’s current darlings, the Giants. In prowling around MLB’s website Friday, I found an excerpt from the 2012 edition of SCOREBOOK, and a good bit of baseball writing it is as it describes a very uncharacteristic response from the Yanks’ Clete Boyer. Read it HERE.

I especially like the close of the excerpt. I can imagine the torture Lockman must have been going through, but what a fantastic image the late night phone call makes.

Sadly, I don’t think we’ll have any such moments to remember the 2012 World Series by.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Road Ahead

What a great series the Tigers –88/74– pulled off against the Yanks. The pitching and hitting the Tigers got was exactly what was needed to shut done the AL home run leaders in the ALCS. Delmon Young deserves the MVP honors with his clutch performances. Of course others contributed especially with the starting rotation: Verlander, Sherzer, Gonzales and Fester. Even though not clutch, Miguel Cabrerra and Jhonny Peralta certainly lit up the last game. The Tigers have all the pieces coming together at the same time. For a team that, at midseason, was under .500 this resurgence was somewhat unexpected.

As Rick and Will have mentioned, the Yanks did themselves no favors the entire series. They played the most flat baseball seen until this seventh game of the NLCS. The Yanks, with no run production, leaves you wondering if the Tiger pitching is so un-hittable or that if the Yanks had finally run the tank dry. Is A-Rod really going to be there in 2013? Who will take him? Will he retire gracefully? Oh, sorry, it’s A-Rod and everything is about him and his ego. He’ll make the Yankees pay it all one way or another.

The Cardinals –88/74– as just mentioned, fell flat too. The Cinderella Cardinals have truly lost the slipper. The pitching weakened and the bats were nowhere to be seen. The Giants are hot, really hot right now.

The Cards had no answer for them.

With the Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder for the Tigers and Panda Sandoval and Marcos Scutaro for the Giants, I think the Tigers can do better at the plate. In the Championship Series round of play-offs, the team Tigers had a BA of .291 and the team totals for the Giants were .261. For pitching, I like the WHIP better for looking ahead to see how things may come out in future games. The Tigers staff had a WHIP of .872 and Giants 1.066.
For starters, Justin Verlander had a WHIP of an unbelievable .360  and Ryan Vogelsong .786. This is all very close but the odds go to the Tigers for pitching.

As a Tigers fan –when not a Jays fan– I am worried about hitting and the strategy involving NL rules and the pitcher. This also brings up the bull pens. The Giants know how to use the NL rules. They have starting pitching that can hit a little when needed, just as Matt Cain did – .400 for the NLCS. The Tigers, not so much. The starting four have career BA’s of only .065, ugly. The Giants, while not good, is twice as good as that of the Tigers BA at .136.

The bullpen for both teams has not been bad at all. The Giants have a WHIP if 1.196 for the NLCS and the Tigers .828 for the ALCS. Okay, that’s if you eliminate Jose Valverde, who had a WHIP of 6.000. Jim Leyland will be hard pressed to slot him into a save situation with Phil Coke .529 and Drew Smyly at .429, both able to shoulder late inning responsibilities.

This World Series will be a series of pitching duels and I think the Tigers will just eek this one out. It will go the distance and be a great series. I hope it will be a classic!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Post Mortems

It was deja vu all over again for St. Louis Cardinal fans last night. In 1968 the Cards blew a 3-game lead. They did it again in 1985, and again in 1996, and, painfully, again this year, with 9-0 being a particularly rough way to exit. It's happened eleven times in all and St. Louis accounts for four of those. Ouch. It was an interesting series but one in which the lead changed hands only once in seven games, when Matt Carpenter hit a two-run home run in the third inning of Game 3.

Bravo to 36-year old Colorado Castoff and "Blockbuster" Marco Scutaro, His record-tying fourteen hit performance reminded me of another second baseman, namely Bobby Richardon in the 1964 Series. It was a fitting ending – after Matt Holliday's admitted late slide had injured Scutaro's left hip – when Scutaro caught Holliday's pop up in the pouring rain to close things out last night.

As for the other Championship Series ... you think the St. Louis fans are licking their wounds today. Yankee fans are looking for replacement parts after the Yankees were mauled by the Tigers. Their spectacular hitting (.157) was the worst by a team which played at least seven post season games. Just nineteen times in the 268 postseason series has a team scored fewer than the Yanks' anemic 1.5 runs per game. It's ironic that a lot of people worried about the Yankees pitching and it turned out to be just fine (a combined 2.76 ERA).

Starring for New York were Nick Swisher (.167), Russell Martin (,161), Alex Rodriguez (.120), Curtis Anderson (.100), and Robinson Cano (.075). "Break up the Yankees"? Ya, maybe, but not for the same reason people argued for it in the 1950s. This time it's to rebuild. But would anyone seriously contemplate getting rid of Granderson or Cano or Martin just because they slumped badly and made the Tiger pitchers look like Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Smokey Joe Wood. 

For Yankee fans, though the first three games featured close scores, painful memories of 1963 and 2001 came to mind. In 2001 Curt Schilling and Randy Johnston man-handled the Yankees. The Yanks got three hits against them in each of the first two games and then stormed back to win three straight only to fall 15-2 in Game six and watch as Mariano Rivero gave up two runs in the ninth in an excruciating 3-2 loss in Game Seven. After 9/11 it wasn't supposed to end that way for New York. 

In 1922 Babe Ruth went 2-17 (his .118 Series average was his worst by nearly 200 points) and the Yankees lost four straight (one game was a  tie) to the Giants. For the only time Ruth did not hit a home run in a World Series.

I was only eight years old when the Pirates beat New York in 1961 in spite of the Bombers shelling Pittsburgh pitching in their three victories. Amazingly, the scores in those games were 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0! Game Seven was tied 9-9 when Ralph Terry gave up Mazeroski's home run in the ninth. But then the Yanks won in '61 and ''62 so life was good again.


Then along came Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to make the Bronx Bombers look like little leaguers in '63. The Yankees were outscored 12-4. They never had the lead. That's the only time that ever happened – until, oh ya – this year against the Tigers, who, by the way, are the only team to beat the Yankees in three straight postseason series.  The team hit just .171 against LA. Mickey Mantle was 2-15, Joe Pepitone went 2-13, and Clete Boyer was the biggest bum at 1-13. 

Then there was 1976. For Yankee fans, though the team finished just two games out in '74, it had been a long postseason drought. How would they do against the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati? Not too well. Leadoff hitter Mickey Rivers, expected to be the sparkplug, fired on no cylinders, going 3-18. Next up was Roy White, who went 2-15. Willie Randolph went 1-14.  Cincinnati pitching was not their strong suit, but their four starters (they used Gullett only in Game One) were plenty good enough.


Of course the most painful series of all was 2004 when the Yankees were up 3-0 against the Red Sox. We shall not speak of that disaster other than to point out that, in the four losses, Gary Sheffield was 0-5, 0-4, 1-4, and 0-4 and Alex Rodriguez went 1-5, 0-4, 1-4, and 0-4. Sound familiar?

I haven't heard. Are teams lining up to trade for A-Rod yet?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What a difference a week makes

I kept a very close eye on this year’s American League Championship Series, hoping for some more good baseball. I got that, but only from one of the teams.

As the dust cleared yesterday, I looked back with a more critical eye at the Yankee’s series with Baltimore. I still feel that they were clearly the better team, but you could see the fingerprints of the coming nearly complete offensive collapse they suffered against the Tigers. I feel their experience in the post season is what got them past the Orioles, nothing more.

Losing Jeter certainly had a deflating effect on the team, and they looked pretty listless after that first, very exciting game. I also wonder why he seemed to just abandon the team and go home. He’s their captain, for pity’s sake! Anyone know if there’s a league rule that says he can’t be in the dugout? If not the dugout, then he should have been right behind it in the first row of seats.

Now, of course, we see all the finger pointing from fans and pundits alike. This is a team that lead baseball’s toughest division for most of the season, had the most home runs, at the top of the league in runs scored, etc., etc. What happened to them is pretty well the whole team went into a slump at the most inopportune time. How else would you explain Cano seeming to forget everything he knows about swinging the bat? This guy is a good ballplayer. I could go up and down the bench and pretty well say the same thing.

So what does New York need for next season to be successful? Obviously, another great starting pitcher. I don’t think they should be counting on Pettitte for too much. Great pitcher, sure, but his shelf life is about used up. Once the pitching staff is all healthy again, it should be pretty formidable and won’t require too much past another starter.

They probably would do well to look for another basher for their outfield. Swisher obviously will be on the move to another team. Other than him, they have some good people out there. Getting Suzuki (anyone else feel sorry for him?) was an inspired move and Granderson should find his swing by the time spring training opens next year. Ibanez is not an answer and Gardner should also come around.

Behind the plate, I just don’t think Martin has what it takes. He’s a reasonable receiver with some pop in his bat, but he just can’t seem to hit for average. A better knowledge of the strike zone and cutting down on his swing would certainly help. He doesn’t have to hit a home run every at bat. Maybe Suzuki should coach him a bit. I think they could find someone better than Stewart to back him up, and I don’t think they’d have to pay too much.

As I said, Cano will find his swing again, count on it. Jeter might be better to have at DH now that he’s had problems with his ankle. Over the past few seasons, he’s lost a couple of steps, and the only reason his age hasn’t shown a lot is that he positions himself so well. At DH, though, he’d be awesome. They might be better to look for someone a step above Nunez. Keep him as a backup, but the Yanks might be able to go after a marquee-type free-agent.

Which brings us to third base.

Earlier in the year, we had a discussion here about those huge multi-year contracts that teams tend to hand out to the very best players. The Angels and Tigers did it last off-season signing Pujols and Fielder, and they’re eventually going to be feeling the very same pain the Yankees are experiencing with Alex Rodriguez. I heard it said several times during the ALCS that A-Rod is an “old thirty-seven”. He had trouble with the fastball all season. He’s fragile and, well, he just ain’t worth the money. It would be one thing if he was losing it in the field but could still hit. The other way around definitely does not work.

I have no idea how the Yanks get out of this conundrum. I doubt very much that they could move him, unless part of the offer is to pick up at least half his salary, probably more. He certainly doesn’t sound like someone who’s willing to see the handwriting on the wall and retire gracefully. From what I heard, especially post game last night, he sounds like a man who wants to come back to the Yankees next season. With his no-trade clause, he will probably be there.

Or the Yankees, for the good of the team, could do something really jaw-dropping and release him.

Think it might happen?

Monday, October 15, 2012

In Baseball Everything Evens Out

Let's start with an amazing statistic. In Game 3 of the Yankees' ALDS series with Baltimore Raul Ibanez became the first player to hit two home runs from the ninth inning on in a postseason game. That's not the amazing statistic. The blasts ended the Orioles' streak of 16 consecutive extra inning wins. That's not the amazing statistic either. Even more remarkable was that this year the Baltimore Orioles were the first team to go an entire season without suffering a loss on a walk off play since 1900! Wow!

But in the ALCS something new is happening. The Yankees, who have ended benefiting from memorable and unbelievably bad calls by umpires, are now getting the short end of the stick.

Against Baltimore in 1996 Derek Jeter hit a long flyball that should have been caught at the right field fence by Tony Tarasco. As we all know, a young fan named Jeffrey Maier reached out and caught it instead. In 1999 Chuck Knoblauch did not tag Jose Offerman. Umpire Tim Tschida, however, ruled that he had, and on deck hitter Nomar Garciaparra did not get a chance to hit.  Three years ago, Minnesota's Joe Mauer hit a ball down the left field line that Melky Cabrera failed to catch. It landed several inches inside the foul line and bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. Except that umpire Phil Cuzzi, who had a very good view of the play, called it a foul ball. 

Now the tables have turned. The bad calls are going against the Yanks and - no surprise here - Joe Giradi is now in favour of video replays after controversial calls. In Game 1 of the ALCS, Tiger starter Doug Fisher was clearly struggling. He had narrowly extricated himself from a bases loaded jam in the first,.

In the second inning, again with the bases loaded, Robinson Cano hit a tough grounder to short. Jhonny Peralta fielded it and threw to first. His throw reached Prince Fielder just after Cano's foot touched the bag. It was a surprising missed call because umpires look for the runner's foot and listen for the smack of the ball hitting the first baseman's glove. (You can't look at two things at the same time.) If they hear the smack before they see the foot hit the bag, the batter-runner is out. But Rob Drake called Cano out and Fister settled down. The Tigers went on to win. The Yankees, Raul Ibanez aside, don't need the umps wiping out any of the rare hits they get. 

Of course lightning struck again on Sunday night when Nick Swisher made a great throw to Cano, who clearly tagged Omar Infante out. But umpire Jeff Nelson, who was in good position to make the call, blew it. The Bombers (do they need a new name this October?) ended up down by three instead of the less than awesome Tiger bullpen needing to protect a one run lead. So now, with calls going against the Yankees, will the league change its mind about video replays?

I will admit that, as a former umpire, I would prefer to have the umps' decisions stand. But, what if a call is clearly wrong? It happens. An ump, even a great one, does simply blow it once in a while. Instead of the officials running off the field or looking at monitors under a blanket to review calls how about this? Simply have a league official in the press box call down to the crew chief after seeing a replay that showed a call to have been obviously incorrect. The call can be reversed, no argument, no ejections, the game proceeds as it should have. Enough said.

What up with Robinson Cano setting a record with 26 consecutive hitless at bats in a series? Shut the front door! A-Rod sure, or Granderson maybe, but Cano? Such a sweet swing. Such talent. Say it ain't so. Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long, who got a lot off creds for making an even better hitter out of Granderson after he came to New York, is having to answer lots of questions now. Can you imagine what hot water he'd be in right now if the boss (Steinbrenner) were still alive? Yikes!

I was a good hitter when I played baseball. (People call it hardball in Canada. Of course a lot of Canadian also say back catcher, as if there's a  front catcher.) I was not a great hitter. Though I once taught at a Blue Jays instructional camp (for teenagers, not minor leaguers) I don't claim to be an expert on hitting.

But what is with so many struggling Yankees letting nice first pitches go by and getting behind on the count? The Yankees like to work the count, put pressure on the pitcher, force up his pitch count, and get lots of walks. But it ain't working. Opposing pitchers know A-Rod and other Yankees will let the first pitch go by and they're grooving them right down the middle. Granderson, however, is swinging at first pitches.  They are all inside and low- and he is missing them badly.

Suddenly, several of the  Yankee hitters - definitely Cano- simply cannot judge whether pitches are fastballs, changes or sliders. When they guess, they seem always to be wrong. They look awful. It's as if every pitcher they face is Sandy Koufax. It's painful for a Yankee fan to watch.

I am absolutely amazed that Detroit is using Justin Verlander against New York in Game Three. Why not save him for the World Series? They sure don't need an ace to get out the 2012 postseason Yankees. Heck, Yankee fans would just as soon the Tigers started Kate Upton, Verlander's girlfriend. Whether Verlander has reached first base with her you can be guaranteed the Yankees wouldn't. At least she'd be fun to watch.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

“The Moment”

Nate McLouth homers in the 5th inning of Game 4.
Since late last week, we have been treated to what seems like continuous baseball. Some days you could move from game to game to game to game, watching playoff baseball for nearly 12 hours. For diehard fans, it’s been an embarrassment of riches with some absolutely fantastic games. Last night’s tilt between the Yankees and the Orioles that ended well past midnight is probably the prime example. This series has seen stellar pitching from both nines, but last night was special. How else would you describe a 1-1 score going into the 13th when the Baltimore side finally prevailed.

As I was listening to the game on the radio, I was contemplating if it was possible to see some point in the game where a play that happened or a play that wasn’t made would serve as an obvious predictor of the ultimate outcome of the game.

I’m not talking about a grand slam such as occurred in the final game of the Giants/Reds series. The outcome from those can be pretty easy to identify, even if this one did occur in the fifth. It was pretty obvious that unless the Giants bullpen imploded, they almost couldn’t lose with a six-run lead.

So as the fourth game of the division series between the two eastern division teams progressed last night, I began looking for a clear sign as to which side might prevail. The pitchers, Saunders for the Birds and Hughes for the Bombers, both seemed to be on their games, putting zeroes on the board with efficient regularity.

Then came the fifth – once again.

In the top of the inning, Nate McLouth, the discarded Pirate, came up aces with a home run to take huge bite out of the Big Apple. (This was, after all, the New Yorker’s game to lose rather than the Baltimore’s game to win.) With the strength of both teams’ bullpens, I thought to myself his bomb could possibly be it. There might be other runs, but McLouth had given all the momentum to his team. You could almost hear the Yankee bench tighten up.

McLouth’s brilliant 5th inning catch.
The bottom of the fifth was without a doubt “the moment” in the game, the point where I would have happily plopped down some bills on the Orioles. Russell Martin walked on six pitches. Granderson did what he’d been doing all series (inexplicably): striking out. Then Jason Nix came to bat.

[Sidebar: Guess who hit the BP ball before his first game as a Yankee on May 3rd, the one that Mariano Rivera was going back to snag when he tore up his knee and was knocked out for the season, and possibly ended his career?]

On Saunders’ second pitch, Nix hit a long fly ball to deep left. Racing back, McLouth, a gold glove winner in ’08, made a brilliant catch against the scoreboard (making it look far easier than it actually was. Martin had already rounded second, believing he would score when the Nix drive dropped in for a hit, and he was easily doubled off first when McLouth threw to Hardy at shortstop who relayed to Reynolds at first. Inning over. Momentum was solidly ensconced in the visitor’s dugout.

Even though New York scored in the bottom of the sixth, it was clear to me that Baltimore had seized “the moment”, and the baseball gods would eventually send them to the clubhouse smiling, and ready to try for the brass ring in the final game of the series.
_________________

Friday evening: Even though Baltimore just lost the fifth game to CC Sabathia (the other eight guys on the field were just there to throw the ball back to him), that fourth game will be one I remember for a long time. Purely and simply, it was great baseball.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Two Great Stories

Yesterday was one of those days. A great day for a baseball fan. Two of my favorite teams – the Reds and Tigers – squared off but lost. They are still in it. There were some sloppy plays and some great moments in the four divisional games. Out of all the events of yesterday, I think two stand out above the rest. Prince Fielder's HR, of 419 feet, was hopefully expected at some point. Tim Lincecum with a near perfect game from the bullpen, for the win, out of the bullpen. The two that rung it up for me were Chris Carpenter and Raul Ibanez.

Wow, what a day for them.

Chris Carpenter has been a work horse all his career and Larry can quote al the stats. His Cy Young year of 2005 and his great play-off appearances. He has only lost two games for a 10 and 2 recorded a 2.88 ERA overall. Pretty incredible.

Well, Carpenter’s season was not a happy one. He went out early and had thoracic outlet surgery. He had a rib removed as well as some tendons and muscle in his neck. Jeremy Bonderman, while with the Tigers, had the same surgery in 2009.  Bonderman was able to come back the next year and play 30 starts. However, he retired in 2010. Noah Lowry also had the same surgery and could not come back.

Along comes Carpenter, who was really not expected back this year, and he returns for only two games in September, were he was roughed up and took the losses for a 3.71 ERA. He wanted to come back and be in the playoffs. Yesterday was the day.

His start was not his usual self, but as he got into the feel of the game he managed 5.2 innings of shutout ball. Jayson Stark summed up the 37-year-old this way, “On Wednesday afternoon in Nationals Park, a man will take the mound who has no business being there.” The veteran rose to the challenge. Further, at the bat he went two for three for .666. Pretty impressive for a man who should not have even been on the field. Tenacity and smart pitching make Chris Carpenter exceptional.

Raul Ibanez has retired. Oh, sorry, not. He has just become the “hit” of NYC and Mister Yankee. He’ll never have to buy dinner the that city again. For a seventeen year veteran who has been shopped around a bit, this is amazing. At 40 years old he has just revived what has been a very good career with the Yanks.

Ibanez started in 1996, in basically the same class as his now Yankee teammates. His solid career looked like it was ending after last year in a Phillies uniform. His BA went down to .245 with an overall OPS+ of 91, way below his usual average of 112. It seemed that his time had come, that he would be calling it a day. The Yanks picked up him as a utility piece and not much was expected. He signed for 1.1 million, a far cry from the 2011 salary of 12.1 mil. A nice comfortable way to ease into retirement with a contender.

Yesterday started just like another for Ibanez, on the bench. He was called up by Joe Girardi in the ninth from the cages to pitch-hit for A-Rod – $29 mill. With one out in the ninth, Yanks behind one run, Ibanez leap on a Jim Johnson pitch and put it deep for a 403 foot homer. It saved the game. Extra innings were in the offing. So his next time at bat, the score hasn’t changed. It’s the bottom of the 12th inning and he yards an other 390 feet. Ibanez had only two previous HR in all his previous 38 postseason games

After the game, Derek Jeter made a comeback comment to a the usual stupid question from a reporter, “What did Girardi think would happen when he pinch hit A-Rod?” Jeter replied, “Joe thought Raul would hit a home run.”

Who knows about next year, but yesterday’s memory will live on in Yankee lore. Damn them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Time for a Shakeup

Apparently, I am not alone. Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews of ESPN agree with me. I'm guessing many Yankee fans do too. Alex Rodriguez does not belong in the middle of the Yankee batting order, especially in the playoffs. Mind you, A-Rod does lead the team in a significant category this post-season.

While Curtis Granderson has left a disappointing six teammates stranded on the base paths, A-Rod has stranded seven – hard to top that in just two games. 

I remember watching an NBC broadcast in the ’80s and a broadcast colleague told Tony Kubek that he belonged in the all-time Yankee starting lineup. Well, at that time, pre-Derek Jeter, the comment made sense. The other top-notch Yankee shortstop to that point had been Phil Rizzuto. The Scooter is in Hall of Fame because he was the sparkplug of so many great Yankee teams of the ’40s and ’50s, but he was not that great a player. His lifetime average was just .273 (he hit .300 twice) and he had mediocre range at short. So maybe Kubek was the best before Jeter. But I digress. The reason I tell this story is because of Kubek's response to the compliment. He said, "Sure, somebody would have to make the outs (at the plate – not in the field) or the games would never end." Good line.

That is what I would now say about Alex Rodriguez batting in the heart of the Yankee order. With Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki hitting so well in the 1 and 2 slots and Cano in the 4 slot, somebody has to make the outs and bravo to A-Rod for handling that job so very effectively. 

The problem for me is that pre-2011 Rodriguez deserves to bat third or fourth. But not the new A-Rod. In fact, although he hit 30 home runs in each of 2009 and 2010 (still well short of his average before that of course), he really hasn't been all that wonderful since 2007. 

His WAR (Wins Against Replacement) numbers are as follows. 2004 - 7.3, 2005 - 9.1, 2006 - 4.2, 2007 - 9.2, 2008 - 6.5, 2009 - 3.9. 2010 - 3.7, and 2012 - 2.0.  His OPS used to be around 1.000. The last two seasons it's been .823 and .783. I'm not sure he should be in the middle of any team's batting order now, but certainly not the Yankees, who are so strong they actually had Suzuki batting ninth for a while.

Would the team prefer having Eric Chavez, who's terrific defensively and no slouch at the plate, in the lineup?  I suspect so, but maybe it's just me. But if Joe Girardi thinks A-Rod's big assets are his ability to strike fear  in opposing pitchers and the way he protects the hitters around him…well he just doesn't have those assets anymore. Though he hit the ball pretty hard his first two times last night his strikeout in the ninth, albeit against Johnson (who was his old self again) arguably cost the Yankkes the game and wasted a very good effort by Andy Pettitte.


George Steinbrenner called high priced Dave Winfield "Mr. May", a reference to the superior playoff clutch hitting of Reggie Jackson, "Mr. October." Winfield hit .283 lifetime with 465 home runs but just .182 and .239 in his two playoff years, with just two homers and six doubles in 101 at bats. 

Rodriguez has had a couple of very good playoffs. He hit .320 with three jacks in 2004 and .365 with six home runs and 18 RBIs in 2009. But that's it. 

Here are his other years.

                         AB         HR       RBI          Avg.         OBP           Sl.Avg          OPS
    2005              15            0          0           .133           .435             .200            .635
    2006              14            0          0           .071           .133             .071            .205
    2007              15            1          1           .267           .353             .467            .820
    2010              32            0          3           .219           .316             .281            .597
    2011              18            0          3           .111           .261             .111            .372

Maybe it doesn't matter whether Rodriguez is popular with his teammates or not, and I know it's tougher to put up good numbers in the playoffs because in every game you're facing one of the best pitchers in the league, but come on. It's hard to inspire or intimidate anybody with one home run, seven RBIs, and an .074 average in 94 at bats in five playoff years.

The two guys best suited to bat before or after Robinson Cano are Mark Teixeira, who is hitting .500 in the playoffs, and Curtis Granderson, who – as noted above – is struggling (1 for 7). But it would be hard for anybody to do much worse than A-Rod. While I'm tinkering with the lineup…it's also time to reverse Jeter and Suzuki, who is much more of a threat to steal and motors around the bases a lot faster than Jeter.



My lineup would be: 

1 – Suzuki, 2 – Jeter, 3 – Cano, 4 – Granderson, 5 – Teixeira, 6 – Swisher, 7 – Chavez, 8 – Martin, 9 – (DH) Ibanez or Nunez

If I were a pitcher I would not like to face that lineup.


Post-Script: I'm no great fan of the Atlanta Braves, but they got robbed in the Sudden Death playoff game by umpire Sam Holbrook, who obviously does not understand the Infield Fly rule. There are two parts to it. First is the ability of an infielder to (easily) catch the ball whether it's in the infield or the outfield. Well the shortstop (Pete Kozma) could have caught the fly (though he didn't) but it was pretty deep. The depth can't be the only criterion though. What if you had a speedy infielder (there are lots) who raced to the warning track and easily caught a ball, is that an infield fly? Babe Ruth used to routinely hit towering pop ups that landed in a glove on the warning track or in the deep outfield after what seemed like an hour. The catcher (defined as an infielder in the rule) would have had plenty of time to get under them. Were they infield flies?

But the other, very important part of the Infield Fly rule is the reason for the rule in the first place. It is designed to prevent players near a base from purposely dropping a ball and then doubling up base runners who expected the ball to be caught. But how the heck was Kozma going to tag anybody out from the middle of the outfield! The other umps and Joe Torre defended the call but that doesn't mean it wasn't costly and stupid.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rumors

The season from hell has finally come to an end. The Jays are 73 - 89 and have at least beat Boston out of last place. As if that means anything. So it is time to speculate on the future. I am thinking that some interesting changes will happen this off-season which will start now.

I am thinking that the John Farrell rumor of his going to the Red Sox will indeed happen and fairly soon. Bobby Valentine has sewered his career, and for the last time I think. The latest twitter-sphere screw-up has left him no one in the front office, on his staff or on the field, with any support. He has made that abundantly clear. Poof, he’s gone.

John Farrell has appeared to be grumpy of late – good observation, Larry. He is more taciturn and curt in his answers on the broadcast. When asked if his contract runs out in 2013 his only answer was, yes. I know he has had a very bad time with filling in players because of injuries but his record is not that hot anyway at 154-170, for an average of    .475. Much like this year, .450. Last year the rumor started when Terry Francona – Farrell’s buddy and former team mate – was fired by the Red Sox. Alex Anthopoulos initiated the lateral transfer clause scenario where Farrell could be promoted and leave the Jays but not take on another manager job with the Red Sox or anywhere else. Since then, every trip to Bean Town has caused the rumors to be more persistent and now there is no denial.

So how will all this happen? Anthopoulos will get something good for Farrell, I hope. I mean something good like Dustin Pedroia, whose name has shown up in the rumor mill of late. I think Pedroia will recover from pinky surgery and be ready to start in the spring.
If the Red Sox want Farrell badly enough – and he seems to be their guy – they must give up something the Jays need. They need a second baseman. Kelly Johnson is not going to have the starting job next year with his BA of .225 and OBP of .313.  Pedroia would be a great fit.  It might be someone else, but I doubt it.

So who will be the next manager of the Jays? I shall start another rumor. We need someone who has done it all and can be an inspiration to the young players and have the respect of the veterans. Someone with real player experience and has proven managerial skills. Francona appears to be going to the Indians. Joey Cora, Fredi Gonzalez and Pat Listach are not a fit for the Jays. Eric Wedger had a losing record with the Indians, .481.

So my rumor starts with Ryan Sandberg, member of the Hall of Fame, elected 2005. A career .285 hitter with 2386 hits and an OPS+ of 114. Mr. Cub. He has been managing for six years and led the Lehigh Iron Pigs of the International League to their first playoff series. In 2011 he was named Minor League Manager of the Year. What better choice could the Jays have in going for “Ryno” who has done it all: All-Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, NL MVP, Home Run Derby winner and retired number. He’s only 52 years old.

By the way, the newly acquired Buffalo Bisons are in the IL too. Sandberg would have first hand knowledge of the players already in Buffalo, and of course, the rest of the league. Anthopoulos will have to move fast to beat the Phillie's who also have their eye on Sandberg, but just as a coach. We have the bigger apple, that of manager.
 



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Can He Do It?

Detroit's Miguel Cabrera is on the verge of doing something very special. He is on the verge of winning baseball's coveted Triple Crown, something that has not been done since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967, when the average MLB salary was $10,000. In fact no player since '67 has even entered the last week of the season leading in all three Crown categories.
Cabrera's 137 RBIs are ten more than Josh Hamilton has. So that's a lock with just two games left. His .329 average is four points ahead of Mike Trout's .325. So that could still go either way. And he has just one more home run than Hamilton and two more than Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion.

Remarkably it's been nearly fifty years since any hitter won in two categories and finished second in the third, though last year Matt Kemp led in home runs and RBIs and was third in batting. Only two other players have hit 40 home runs and led in average and ribbies but lost because another guy had even more homers. In 1938 Jimmy Foxx hit 50 home runs but Hank Greenberg hit 58. And in 2000 Todd Helton hit 42 but Sammy Sosa hit 50.

The batting Triple Crown is rarer than the pitching Triple Crown (wins, strikeouts, and ERA). The batting Crown has been won thirteen times since 1900 and the pitching Triple Crown has been won 32 times. Just two batters have won two Crowns, Rogers Hornsby (1922 and '25) and Ted Williams (1942 and '47)  though you have to wonder if Williams might have won at least one more if he hadn't gone to war twice.  Grover Cleveland (a.k.a. Pete) Alexander won three pitching Crowns, in 1915 and '16 with the Phillies and in 1920 with the Cubs. Walter Johnson won in 1913, 1918, and 1924 and Sandy Koufax won it in '63, 65, and '66.

The only other Detroit player to win a Triple Crown was a guy named Cobb, who did it with just nine home runs and 107 RBIs in 1909, both totals the lowest among Crown winners since 1900. Mind you, nine was quite a few home runs in the days of dead balls and huge parks. Inside the park homers were more common that fence clearing hits in 1909.

Cobb actually eschewed home runs. Perhaps because behemoths like Jimmy Foxx were taking over the game or, perhaps, because if he hit the ball over the fence he wouldn't get to spike anybody on his way around the bases. According to baseball lore, he once told teammates that he could hit home runs if he wanted to and proved it by hitting five in his next three games. Then he returned to his old style of spraying the ball.

The irascible Cobb (that's the nicest adjective ever used to describe him) had such bat control that once, when he was being heckled by opponents during bating practice, he hit thirteen consecutive line drives into their dugout. That shut them up.

As for the lowest Triple Crown batting average, Frank Robinson hit just .316 when he won in '66, that was ten points below Carl Yastrzemski's next worst .326 in '67.

The best and worst E.R.A.'s among winners were Walter Johnson's 1.14 ERA in 1913 and Johan Santana's 2.77 in 2006. Who had the fewest wins? (Editor's Note: Don't you hate it when people say less instead of fewer, they apparently don't know that you say less if it's an amount, like less sugar, but fewer if you can count the things, like fewer home runs.) The fewest wins would be Jake Peary's 19 with the Padres in 2007. Next lowest was Roger Clemens with 20 in '98. 

Tops in one category among Crown winners are Mickey Mantle with 52 home runs in 1956, Lou Gehrig with 165 RBIs in 1934, and Hugh Duffy with a .440 average in 1894. Nap Lajoie is tops in the modern era with a .426 average in 1901. Hornsby (at right) averaged over .400 in his two Crown years, hitting .401 in 1922 and .403 in 1925.

Have there ever been two Triple Crown winners in the same year? For hitting, just once, Jimmy Foxx and Chuck Klien in 1933. For pitching, three times. Clayton Kernshaw and Justin Verlander won Crowns last year. That had not happened since 1924 when Walter Johnson and Dazzy Vance did it.

A lot more impressive though were the performances turned in in 1884 when Guy Hecker won 52 games for the Louisville Colonels in the American Association (okay so he lost 20) and Charles 'Old Hoss' Radbourne won 59 and lost 12, with a 1.38 ERA, and 441 strikeouts for the Providence Grays in the National league.

If he does it, Cabrera will be the first third baseman ever to win the Triple Crown. Yes, Jimmie Foxx, who won it in 1934, did play some third base a couple of years but he was mostly a first baseman. That will mean that every position has a Crown except shortstop - not usually a lot of power there - and catcher - not usually enough speed to win a batting title.

It's a rare thing Miguel, but you can do it.