The boo-boo tally: Boston vs the Bronx

September 24th, 2008 → 12:58 pm @

Well, folks, it’s official – for the first time since 1994, the Yankees won’t be playing October baseball. Whatever you think about New York, it was an impressive run.

The Sox, meanwhile, will be going to the playoffs for the fifth time in seven years since the Henry-Werner-Lucchino gang took over, a stretch that includes the most exciting baseball playoff series in history and two world championships. (Read all about it in Feeding the Monster, the only all-access to the team’s current management and the ’04-’05 seasons. It’s available at Amazon for only $10.20 – cheap! And, as always, personalized, inscribed copies are still available.)

Plenty will be written about all of the above, of course. What I want to do is take a quick look at accumulated boo boos of the 2008 campaign. Everyone from Hank Steinbrenner to the sad-sack fans I work with have been whining about all the injuries those fragile souls in the Bronx have had to endure, and, to be sure, there’s a long list. But has it been all that much worse than what the Sox have faced?

Let’s go to the numbers.

The Yankees DL list includes, most prominently, Posada, Wang, and Joba, with Posada and Wang missing most of the season. They’ve also had A-Rod, Matsui, Damon, Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy on the 15-day list and Brian Bruney out for 60 days. And, of course, there’s Carl Pavano. (Hughes’ and Kennedy’s problems weren’t due to injuries as much as to ineffectiveness.)

The Sox, meanwhile, have had five of their six pre-season projected starters on the DL: Schilling was lost for the year before the season started, Colon was on the 60-day, Daisuke and Buccholz both did 15-day stints, and Beckett has been out of commission twice. (As far as pitching goes, Timlin also did two turns on the DL, but that might have helped the team more than anything else.) Offensively, Lowell has been sidelined twice, Lugo was lost for the season, and Ortiz and Drew both did their time. (Casey – twice – and Cora also got banged up enough to move off the active roster for stretches.) Oh yeah: they also had Manny mope his way out of town.

Is that worse than the Yankees? You could make a case either way; what’s certain is that the Yankees’ haven’t been snake-bitten to an unprecedented, or even all that unusual, degree. Ortiz has been considerably more hindered than A-Rod, and the Lowell-Drew injuries have been more lingering than anything the rest of New York’s offense had to deal with. Wang and Posada are obviously enormous losses, but the Sox’s rotation has had to deal with more injury-related interruptions than the Yankees. And Tek…well, yeah.

So why were the Sox wearing their champagne goggles last night while Girardi had the distinction of being the first Joe not to lead the Yanks to the playoffs in well over a decade? In a word (or three), home grown talent. But that’s a subject for another day.

Post Categories: 2008 Playoffs & 2008 Season & Hank Steinbrenner & Injuries & Red Sox & Yankees

Shine on me crazy lady luck

August 6th, 2007 → 2:08 pm @

For folks interested in how the Yankees are now just a half-game behind Detroit in the Wild Card, let’s look at what’s been happening over the last several months. Since July 1, New York has gone 23-10, good for a .700 winning percentage. (For the record, that’d be good for a season total of 113 wins, just off the record of 116 set by the (19)06 Cubs and the ’01 Mariners.) Add in June, and the club’s record is 39-21, which works out to a .650 winning percentage. To do this, they’ve averaged about 800 runs per game over the past several weeks.

The Sox, meanwhile, have gone 19-13 since July 1 (.593) which is still good enough to lead every division in baseball. (They’ve gone 32-27 since June 1, for a .542 winning percentage, which would only bring them to the top of the heap in the NL Central.)

So: are the Sox lucky to have a 7 game lead, or are the Yankees lucky to have gone through this torrid hot streak? The former, actually. The Sox’s Pythagorean W-L is 69-42 (they’re actually 68-43), while the Yankees P W-L is 68-42 (they’re actually 61-50). (The Baseball Reference link above explains P W-L, which is “an estimate of a team’s winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed,” a stat developed by Bill James that uses a team’s runs scored and runs allowed.)

That doesn’t mean that entire seven-game lead can be attributed to luck; one thing the Yankees’ record shows is the importance of a bullpen. And Torre’s continued abuse of his pitchers wouldn’t inspire much confidence in me if I were a Yankees fan (which, of course, I am not). Exhibit A: Mariano was called on yesterday to, for the eighth time this year, record more than three outs…this after Torre said in spring training that he wanted to limit the 37-year-old Rivera — who strained a muscle in his right elbow last September — to pitching in the ninth: “I’m not of a mind to use him in the eighth inning.” What’s that saying about best laid plans?

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Bill James & Oblique References to Pink Floyd Songs & Red Sox & Yankees

With 64 games remaining…it’s coming down to the wire

July 23rd, 2007 → 11:33 am @

So: there are 64 games left in the season, the Sox are within a whisker of having the best record in baseball (.602 winning percentage vs the Tigers’ .604), they’re 7.5 games up on the Yankees, they’re fourth in the AL in runs scored, 3rd in OPS, and 2nd in OBP. Their pitching staff has the second best ERA, the second most K’s, and the second best batting average against.

All of that’s good news, and (and yes, this has already become a very tired refrain) if anyone told any of you during spring training this is what the baseball universe would look like with a little more than a week left in July, you’d be ecstatic. If I was a betting man (note: I am a betting man), I’d put good money down on Boston to win the AL East.But since bloggers and sportswriters alike need something with which to occupy their time (and space, whether that be virtual or actual), let’s break down some numbers. Since the beginning of June, the Sox have been a .500 team (on the dot, actually, with a 23-23 record); during that same period, the Yankees have been a .640 team. That’s a good stretch of time; if those numbers were to hold for the remainder of the year, the Yankees, with 93 wins, would win the division by 2 games.

But wait! If you go back and count off 64 games (the number of games actually remaining in the season) and replicated those patterns, you’d end up with the Sox winning the East by…7.5 games, since both teams have put up 36-28 record in that time. And certainly you’d be more likely to expect the Sox to play at something closer to a .600 clip than a .500 clip, right? Because, really, how many good baseball teams play .500 ball for months on end?

How about the ’04 Boston Red Sox? (You had to have seen that coming.) Before running away with the, er, Wild Card in August, the Sox had a three month stretch — May through July — in which they played .500 ball (.506, actually; they were 41-40).

All of this still leaves me without any discernible point. Fear not; I actually have several.

1. It’s patently ridiculous for sportswriters to declare in May (or June, or July) that a race is “over” unless it’s actually, mathematically over. Nevertheless, that’s what lots of people were doing, from the folks over at “Baseball Tonight” to almost every newspaper in the greater New England area. (That tendency is excusable; it takes someone with a true dedication to stupidity to posit the opposite.)

2. The Yankees were never, ever as bad as they looked. They have a scary offense — as shown by the fact that they’re leading the AL in plenty of offensive categories. And their pitching staff is good enough to carry them along: Clemens-Mussina-Pettitte circa 2007 is a far cry from Clemens-Mussina-Pettitte circa 2003, but it’s not awful; throw in Wang and the potentially terrifying Phil Hughes and you’ve got yourself a rotation.

3. Inre #2: It is time once again to praise Joe Torre’s bullpen management. If — and this is an enormous if, obviously — the Bombers do make it to the playoffs, the combo of aging starting pitchers and a bullpen full of dead-arm relievers is going to be a big problem.

All of this, I suspect, will make for a fun couple of months. If I was being forced to guess (note: I do not need to be forced to guess), I say Boston’s division lead will be as low as 4 games and that they’ll ultimately end up winning the East by somewhere between 6 and 8. Oh, and I’d also guess that New York won’t be in the playoffs, A-Rod won’t be in the Bronx come next spring, and Joe Torre will wish he’d retired a year earlier.

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Red Sox & Sports Reporters & Yankees

Putting it all into perspective…

June 14th, 2007 → 10:55 am @

Several readers have written in to ask me why I haven’t used Tuesday’s typically ill-informed Murray Chass column as an excuse to take some more swings at my favorite punching bag. The story, “A Chance of Yankee Thunder at Boston,” posited that the Yankees could overtake the Sox before the All-Star break: “At the rate at which the Yankees are slashing into Boston’s lead in the American League East, they will pass the Red Sox in the standings by July 4.” To give you a bit of perspective of just how stupid a comment like this is, the Yankees were cutting into the Sox’s lead during a stretch in which they were undefeated and the Sox were playing below .500. That’s like saying after a night after a Devil Rays victory that Tampa should be projected to win every single game from there on out.

But logic has never been Murray’s strong point…and, indeed, after dropping another game at Fenway last night, even the natives are getting restless. The Sox are 5-7 in May, while the Yankees are 10-2, and are winners of eight straight. That seemingly impregnable 14.5 games is at 8.5 games; a hearty figure that would be cause for celebration any other season but now seems like reason enough to start gnawing those fingernails. And, indeed, expect to see plenty of stories (and hear plenty of the-end-is-nigh segments on the radio) in the days to come. (An aside: how is it that sportswriters are never forced to explain why they proclaim a team invincible and deeply flawed within a period of several weeks…when nothing has changed except for the vagaries of a long season? But I digress.)

So here’s a short list of reasons not to worry…

* Just as Okajima was not going to finish the season with a .0001 ERA, the Yankees pitchers are not going to keep on performing this consistently well. I remain convinced that Clemens is a #3 AL starter, and nothing in his first start made me think any differently. Pettitte has been pitching above his level, and I’d expect Mussina to resemble the 5-inning mediocrity much more than I’d expect him to keep on looking like an ace, as he did last night.
* There are several trends that are unlikely to be sustained. Posada isn’t going to end the season looking like Ted Williams (just as Alex Cora wasn’t going to hit .400 all year…and Pedroia wasn’t going to end up at .200). Manny isn’t going to end the year having remade himself as a singles hitter. And JDD — who’s been among the MLB power leaders for the last half-decade — isn’t going to look this anemic all year, either. (By the same token, I’m assuming Abreu has actually turned a corner.)

* Even Boston’s pitching staff falters a bit — and they will — the rotation looks to be strong and deep enough to end the year pretty near the top of the heap.

* Even the worst teams go on tears. Three years ago, the Devil Rays won 12 in a row. (Granted, 11 of those were against the AAAA-NL, but still.) The Yankees are better than they looked for the first third of the season; they’re not this good. Their rotation is too old; too many key players are scuffed up (Damon) or about to enter exile (Giambi). The next three-and-a-half months aren’t going to be a cakewalk. But this isn’t going to be 1978 all over again, either.

So gnaw those fingernails. Just don’t reserve a spot on the Tobin. You’re much more likely to need to keep October free…


Want to hear me discuss this, and much, much more? Head down to NYC’s Professor Thoms tonight, where I’ll be reading, talking, signing books, and encouraging copious consumption of alcohol in the hopes that that’ll spur book sales…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Feeding the Monster Readings & Red Sox & Red Sox Fans & Yankees

When it rains, it pours…diarrhea

June 3rd, 2007 → 10:30 pm @

Yup – I’m still trying to recover from my move, but I’m glad yesterday’s game at least showed that I didn’t jinx the Sox with this post. (I know: as I write this it’s 4-0 Yankees in the top of the fifth. But let’s not forget about yesterday.)

A couple of comments, though, are in order. For anyone who didn’t actually see yesterday’s game, it’s hard to communicate how brutally inept the Yankees were in the seventh inning. Every team will have a couple of these innings, and when things are going along more or less as normal, that’s fine. But things are not going along more or less as normal…and it had to hurt for New York to throw away this game. Just for fun, let’s recap the mistakes, step by step. We’ll put the score in bold, followed by how many outs there should have been and how many runs should have scored in itals.

1. Joe Torre continues to ride his relievers harder than…well, this is a family blog, so let’s leave it at that. In any case, he leaves Scott Proctor in the game after Proctor gets three straight outs in the eighth. The chances of Scott Proctor getting through two consecutive innings unscathed is about equal to the chance of A-Rod and Jeter starting a men’s group together.
2. Bobby Abreu, taking a page from A-Rod’s “how to look manly on the field” manual, pulls up short on Ortiz’s imminently catchable ball to deep right. One out.
3. After an IBB to Manny, Proctor walks Youk on four pitches. This came as a surprise to absolutely no one…except, of course, for Joe Torre. Bases loaded, none out.
4. Robinson Cano flubs the throw to second on what should be a tailor made double-play ball from Mike Lowell. Cap’n Intangibles, intent on proving he’s a hero, forces a wild throw to first. Instead of bases loaded and one run in, there are two runs in, runners on second and third. Two runs, one out, no runs, three outs (if Abreu had caught Ortiz’s ball, and depending on what Manny had done); one run, two outs (if Cano had thrown on target), one run, one out (if Jeter had held on to the ball).
5. Tek gets and IBB, followed by another Cap’n I error on a WMP grounder. No runs, four outs or one run, three outs regardless of whether or not Cano had helped turn the DP earlier because of this ball’s DP potential.
6. Coco singles to shallow center on a ball that appeared as if it might be caught. With Jason “Speed Demon” Varitek hanging close to second, Melky Cabrera has a relatively easy force-out at third…except A-Rod seems to have noticed a hot blond over by first base and drifts over behind the mound, leaving no one to field a throw. In any case, Lowell scores, and Torre, who actually looked like he was falling asleep earlier in the afternoon, is revived from his siesta and pulls Proctor from the game. Three runs, one out, no runs, five outs or one run, four outs.
7. After a Julio sac fly, Dustin “I Will Cut You” Pedroia singles in WMP. Five runs, two out, no runs, six outs or one run, five outs
8. David Ortiz, long a black hole in the Sox’s lineup, grounds out to end the inning. Five runs, three out, no runs, seven outs or one run, six outs.

Phew. That’s a rough inning. My point, of course, isn’t to gloat; it’s to illustrate that when you’re in a shitstorm, everything smells crappy. The Sox have a long and not-so-glorious history of creating their own problems. That’s exactly what they haven’t been doing this year…and it’s exactly what the Yankees have been doing. It must feel veritably Sisyphusian over their in the Bronx. And with all that, really, who was surprised that Roger was scratched from his first start of the year?

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Joe Torre & Red Sox & Yankees

No, the Red Sox did not pound me in to an euphoric stupor (And: thoughts on the Yankees)

May 30th, 2007 → 5:09 pm @

There’ve been a couple of things going on:

1. I moved this weekend.
2. The place I moved into came with all of the previous owner’s crap.
3. I can be superstitious. (Look what happened to Wake in his next two starts after I posted this piece.)

That said, not even I am so self-centered to think that the Sox’s 14.5 lead over the Yankees could be affected by little ol’ me. (Think about this: the Sox could lose eight straight games, and the Yankees could win eight straight cames, and the lead would still be 6.5 games. Yes, that is definitely incredible.)

I’m also not sure what to add about this recent run. I fully expect the Sox to return back to earth, but even then I think their place in this world will be pretty lofty. It could be a very fun year.

I am, however, willing to weigh in on the Yankees. The last five games have shown a number of good reasons why the Yankees, while undoubtedly playing below their true talent level at the moment, may be in for a world of pain from here on out. Without further ado:

1. Joe Torre’s stupefyingly stupid bullpen management has finally come crashing down on his shoulders. I’m on record as saying that Torre, along with Schill and Papi, deserves credit for the 2004 ALCS: if Torre hadn’t ridden Tom Gordon into the ground, he might have been able to do something besides throw batting practice when the season was on the line. This year, with everything going to hell, Torre’s been even worse than usual. (Anyone wonder what would happen if you combined Dusty Baker and Torre? Just asking.) He very likely cost the Yankees two games this past weekend alone: when he yanked a cruising Mike Mussina in favor of a tanked Scott Proctor, who proceeded to cough up a double and three consecutive walks…two of which brought in a run; and when when he yanked Tyler Clippard after 76 pitches, a move which simultaneously continued to drive the bullpen into the ground and moved the game quickly out of reach.

2. The team’s reaction to said bullpen management is bubbling up. After Clippard (who looks like he’s, at most, a sophomore in high school) was pulled, even he thought it okay to knock Torre to the press: “I never really had a terrible inning. I never got in a bad rut. I was very, very surprised. You’re a starter and your team is in the game. Yeah, I want the ball.” Mr. Clippard, welcome to the Bronx. And this is just a couple of week’s after Proctor joked that his four-game suspension was the only way he was going to get any rest. “They can wear me out pretty heavy before that,” he said, while waiting for his appeal to go through. Indeed they can. Just look at last weekend for the results.

3. The impending arrival of Roger “Mercenary” Clemens. Several weeks back — when the Yankees looked like they were scuffling as opposed to imploding — Kyle Farnsworth got all uppity about Clemens’ “family” clause. I’m with Farnsworth on this one: when you’re paying a guy more than any player in the history of the game, it’s not too much to ask that he actually, you know, show up. Before the Clemens signing, most everyone on the team gave lip service to the notion that whatever Clemens did wasn’t going to bother them. That might have even been true…if the team had been winning. That’s no longer the case. And if Clemens has a shitty start (or three), you can bet sure as Manny will end the year with somewhere between 30 and 40 HRs that something is going to go down in that clubhouse.

Anyway, there you have it. Now don’t blame me if the Sox don’t win every game for the rest of the season…

Post Categories: 2007 Season & Joe Torre & Red Sox & Yankees

A-Rod is a gutless punk, no. 8261

May 23rd, 2007 → 9:17 am @

In the eighth inning of last night’s Julian Tavarez-led 7-3 win over fast-fading Mike Mussina and the Yankees, New York launched a mini rally against Hideki Okajima. With the bases loaded and one out, Jorge Posada hit a grounder to third. A-Rod, running from first, slid directly into the bag; at the last minute he seemed to realize that, since baseball is a team sport, he was supposed to try to break up an inning-ending double play. So what did he do? In his trademark, peculiarly feminine style of being aggressive, he flailed out his elbow. And hit Dustin Pedroia in the crotch.

I haven’t played baseball since Little League, but even I know the correct way to break up a DP is to slide to the left of the bag in an attempt to take out the second baseman’s (or the SS’s) legs while he’s making a throw; as long as you can reach the bag with your right arm and you’re more or less in the basepath, this is totally kosher. It’s not kosher to flail around like a beached mackerel and elbow someone in the cup.

A-Rod’s chicken-shit play was, weirdly, lauded by Paul O’Neill and John Flaherty, two of the Yankees’ TV commentators; since I’ve avoided watching too many games on YES, I’d forgotten just how bad the two of them are. Michael Kay, to his credit, more or less called out A-Rod…or at least agreed that Dustin had a grievance. In the end, obviously, it didn’t matter. Pedroia was fine, and only casualty was Darkman’s scoreless-inning streak. But it served as yet one more reminder — as if anyone needs one — as to why Slappy McBlue Lips is such an easy guy to hate: He actually deserves it.

EDIT: After I put this up, I came across this article in today’s Daily News in which Pedroia is quoted about the incident: “He went in late and kind of threw an elbow. A little cheap, but no big deal….He’s the one who slid in like that. Some people play like that and some people slide in, good, clean slide. I think he probably got a little carried away. It happens.” Pedroia then made clear that at least he knew the correct way to get down and dirty: “I have to turn two against the Yankees 19 times a year. I know now that when he’s coming in, my arm slot gets dropped to the floor. That’s it. No big deal.” I really do love that little guy…

Post Categories: A-Rod & Dustin Pedroia & Red Sox & Yankees