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Archive for February, 2011

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

One of the cardinal rules about spring training is you have to take the results with a grain of salt, especially the early performances of eager rookies who are either facing veterans slowly ramping up to speed or overmatched secondary talent. With that disclaimer noted, some of the bad vibes from the Yankees’ offseason of discontent dissipated yesterday thanks to impressive early performances from three of the team’s young prospects.

Can Dellin Betances continue to make Joe Girardi take notice (Photo: Daily News)?

The biggest impression from the spring contest against the Phillies was appropriately left by imposing 6’8” right hander Dellin Betances, who struck out the side in his one inning of work. More impressive than the result, however, was the way the Brooklyn-born hurler achieved it. In addition to featuring a mid-90s fastball (that topped out at 97), Betances also wielded a late breaking knuckle curve that had several Phillies’ batters fooled completely. After striking out Wilson Valdez to end the inning, YES cut to a shot of Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild practically leaping to their feet. Could one performance alter the Yankees’ stated intention to have Betances start the season in the minors?

During Betances’ inning of work, there was a very lively discussion in the YES booth. Jack Curry stated that the Yankees were very reticent to bring Betances north, but the door was slowly opening. After yesterday’s performance, you can officially consider it ajar. As Michael Kay noted, however, even if Betances does make the team, he’s likely to face an innings limit of around 120 innings, or about 20 starts. Although that might not seem like a great option, the best solution might be the one suggested by Ken Singleton: give Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia a chance to fail and then use Betances as a mid-season replacement, just like the Yankees did with Chien-Ming Wang in 2005. Of course, in order to do that, the Yankees will need to limit Betances’ innings in the minors. Considering the likelihood that the Yankees will need midseason rotation help, and Betances’ ability to provide it, wasting valuable bullets in the minors would be shortsighted.

One other thing worth noting from the conversation in the YES booth was Curry’s thought that had the team not signed Rafael Soriano, an arm like Betances could have been used as a shut-down reliever in the eighth. If for no other reason, Soriano’s signing should be considered a blessing if it helps prevent the team from turning its top-line arms into short relievers, although one would imagine the lessons learned from the Joba Chamberlain experience would prevent a repeat of the same mistakes. (more…)

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Duke Snider’s Hall of Fame baseball career is ably defined by the statistics he compiled. However, it is his position as an ironic focal point in literature and song that have made his legacy even more enduring.

The book, of course, is Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer”, which is more a story about the individuals on the early-1950s Dodgers than the team itself. In many ways, Kahn’s book, with its focus on the 1952 and 1953 seasons (the years he covered the team for the New York Herald Tribune) and often melancholy tone, permanently stamped those great Brooklyn teams as a hard luck lot whose failures are trumpeted ahead of their successes.

Now my old friend, The Bachelor; Well, he swore he was the Oklahoma Kid; And Cookie played hooky; To go and see the Duke; And me, I always loved Willie Mays; Those were the days!” – Lyrics from Terry Cashman’s “Talkin’ Baseball”

In 1981, songwriter Terry Cashman (known as Dennis Minogue when he was a pitcher in the Tigers’ farm system) wrote a baseball anthem that was called “Talkin’ Baseball”, but became better known by the thematic line that gave resonance to the song: “Willie, Mickey and the Duke”. Although Snider’s inclusion with the two immortals might seem like a nice tribute, the constant comparison was probably more of a curse. As great as Snider was during his career, the shadow cast by the two brighter stars in New York’s centerfield trinity was immense. As a result, Snider, like many of the teams for which he played, was often relegated to being an “also ran” just because he had the misfortune of playing the same position at the same time and in the same city as two of the game’s greatest players. Undoubtedly, that constant unfavorable comparison contributed to Snider having to wait 11 years before finally being inducted in the Hall of Fame.

Even though his career didn’t quite measure up to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, Snider still has a whole host of accomplishments that make him worthy of being mentioned along side those greats. His performance in the 1955 World Series is a shining example. In that series, Snider belted four homeruns, knocked in seven and had an OPS of 1.210, helping the Dodgers finally overcome the Yankees, the perpetual hurdle that prevented the franchise from winning the World Series in five prior attempts. It should also be pointed out that Snider’s 1955 series performance may not have even been his best. In the 1952 World Series, he also had four homers with one more RBI and a higher OPS of 1.215, but the Dodgers lost a tough game seven to the Yankees.

If the good burghers of Brooklyn are pinching themselves with unaccustomed violence this morning, they need do so no longer. It wasn’t a dream folks. Implausible though it may seem, the Dodgers won the world championship for the first time in their history yesterday. Honest, injun. It really did happen.” – Arthur Daley, New York Times, October 5, 1955

As my tribute to the Duke, his postseason numbers are presented alongside Mays and Mantle (including a head-to-head comparison with the latter). At least in this one respect, Snider didn’t take a backseat to his more acclaimed centerfield counterpart.

Willie and Mickey versus the Duke, Relative Postseason Performance

Player G PA R HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
Willie 25 99 12 1 10 0.247 0.323 0.337 0.660
Mickey 65 273 42 18 40 0.257 0.374 0.535 0.908
The Duke 36 149 21 11 26 0.286 0.351 0.594 0.945

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Snider versus Mantle, Head-to-Head

Year Player G PA R HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1952 Mantle 7 32 5 2 3 0.345 0.406 0.655 1.061
1952 Snider 7 31 5 4 8 0.345 0.387 0.828 1.215
                     
1953 Mantle 6 27 3 2 7 0.208 0.296 0.458 0.755
1953 Snider 6 27 3 1 5 0.320 0.370 0.560 0.930
                     
1955 Mantle 3 10 1 1 1 0.200 0.200 0.500 0.700
1955 Snider 7 28 5 4 7 0.320 0.370 0.840 1.210
                     
1956 Mantle 7 30 6 3 4 0.250 0.400 0.667 1.067
1956 Snider 7 30 5 1 4 0.304 0.433 0.478 0.912

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The news for the Mets keeps getting worse. Although most people expected a steady stream of pessimism to emanate from between the white lines, it’s really the organization’s bottom line that has been the greatest cause for concern.

Empty seats at CitiField could spell big trouble for the Wilpons.

By now, everyone should be familiar with Fred Wilpon’s entanglement in Bernie Madoff’s massive financial fraud, but lately even more distressing news has emerged. Earlier in the week, it was revealed that the Mets received a $25 million loan from Major League Baseball. Although such a transaction is not unprecedented, tapping into the central fund usually presages rougher times ahead (and sometimes an eventual sale). In the Mets’ case, we know the Wilpons followed up the November loan with the intention to sell a minority stake in the team. Since that announcement, no news of an impending sale has emerged, so if the Mets can’t take on a new partner soon, liquidity could continue to be an issue.

Compounding the Mets’ financial problems is interest in the team continues to wane. Despite opening brand new CitiField in 2009, attendance has declined thanks to two sub-.500 finishes. Unfortunately for the Mets, debt payments don’t abate when attendance does, and according to early reports, 2011 could see an even greater attendance decline. In an effort to reverse this trend, the Mets have not only enacted significant ticket discounts, but also revamped its ticket operations, including hiring a new head of sales. Of course, the 25-men on the active roster are the ones who really sell tickets, and it doesn’t seem as if reinforcements are on the way.

Financial empires can collapse over night, especially when they are constructed like a house of cards. Moving money from one entity to another works well when cash is plenty, but once liquidity dries up so does the organization’s financial health. The Wilpons are finding this out the hard way. According to several reports, including the lawsuit filed by Madoff trustee Irving H. Piccard, the Wilpons have used their other businesses to support the Mets, a lifeline that is now being cut off by their current financial predicament. Without the ability to fund the team’s operations from its own revenue, the Wilpons and their partners may have no choice but to sell out completely.

Adding insult to injury from a Mets’ point of view is the massive shadow being cast by the cross-town Yankees. Not only has the team enjoyed great fortune on the field (i.e., playoffs every year but 2008 since 1995, not to mention five championships and seven pennants in that span), but it continues to make one off it. Upon his passing, former Yankees’ principal owner George M. Steinbrenner was lauded greatly for the triumphs he helped the Yankees achieve on the diamond, but his best work was done in the boardroom. (more…)

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Larry Granillo’s (Baseball Prospectus and Wezen-Ball) recent forensic investigation into Ferris Buehler’s whereabouts on his now infamous day off made for one of the more creative and entertaining blog posts in quite some time. For those who missed the piece, Granillo attempted (and succeeded) to determine the date of the game that Buehler attended with his fellow truants by analyzing the footage from WGN that was used in the movie.

In addition to being greatly amused by Granillo’s investigation, it got me to thinking about how many other unsolved baseball mysteries remain cloaked in movie clips from years gone by? The list of unidentified baseball references on the silver screen are probably too numerous to count, so let’s start at the beginning by examining one of the first movies to incorporate live baseball action into its script.

The movie in question is called Speedy (which will be featured at this year’s Rhode Island International Film Festival in August). Created by renowned silent-era funny man Harold Lloyd, the comedy tells the tale of hapless Harold “Speedy” Swift, whose addiction to the Yankees constantly interferes with his ability to remain employed. During the course of the movie, this compulsion causes Speedy to lose several jobs, including one as a taxi cab driver, but not before having the chance to chauffeur Babe Ruth in a harrowing ride from Manhattan to Yankee Stadium.

Speedy was Lloyd’s last silent film and resulted in his only Academy Award nomination, but more than anything, it is best remembered today for the spectacular footage filmed in 1927-era New York City. The extensive on-location filming pushed the movie’s price tag toward $1 million, an unheard of figure for the era, but  Lloyd’s expense immediately paid off thanks to the buzz his month-long stay in New York created.

Over the years, the movie’s archival footage has made it even more valuable as a historical reference. As Speedy whirls around the town, we get detailed glimpses of a city brimming with motor cars, horse-drawn carriages, trolleys, and elevated trains. The movie also includes vivid images of Luna Park in Coney Island, Columbus Circle, the Brooklyn Bridge, Penn Station, the Battery, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, and most importantly to baseball fans, Yankee Stadium, which is where the real point of this exercise begins.

The first glimpse of Yankee Stadium occurs early on in the movie (4:32 in the first clip). Unfortunately, the lack of clarity and detail prevents the date of the game from being indentified…at least to this point. In the meantime, we’re treated to several amusing scenes as Speedy endeavors to perform his duties while keeping tabs on the ongoing game via telephone calls to Yankee Stadium and a visit to a public scoreboard outside the local sporting goods store (which we’ll examine later).

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

As Moshe Mandel covered in detail yesterday afternoon, Brett Gardner has made improving his bunting skills a priority during spring training. Hopefully, that means more drag bunts for base hits and not maddening sacrifices when the team can ill afford to give away an out. Unfortunately, if history is the judge, it could be more of the latter.

Over the past two seasons, Gardner ranks second on the team in sacrifice bunts, one behind Francisco Cervelli, who should probably bunt more often considering his less than potent bat. Despite being second, however, Gardner’s 11 sacrifice bunts really aren’t all that many. In fact, considering how often Girardi is criticized for employing the sacrifice, the total number for each player is surprising low (especially Derek Jeter’s five). Perception is hard to overcome, but the truth is the Yankees have ranked toward the bottom of the American League when it comes to sacrifices in all three seasons that Girardi has been manager.

Yankees’ Sacrifice Bunt Leaders, 2009-2010

Player SH G PA
Francisco Cervelli 12 135 418
Brett Gardner 11 258 853
Nick Swisher 6 300 1242
Derek Jeter 5 310 1455
Ramiro Pena 5 154 288
Curtis Granderson 4 136 528
Melky Cabrera 4 154 540
A.J. Burnett 2 66 8
Andy Pettitte 2 53 11
Javier Vazquez 2 31 5
Johnny Damon 2 143 626
Jerry Hairston 2 45 93

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Spring training hasn’t been very kind to the St. Louis Cardinals. First, Albert Pujols decided to table contract extension negotiations until after the season, and now it has been confirmed that Adam Wainwright will have Tommy John surgery and miss the entire season.

Pujols and Wainwright are both vital parts of the Cardinal team. In fact, the Cardinals are more dependent upon their best position player and pitcher than just about any other team. Combined, the Cardinals received 34.5% of their total WAR production from Pujols and Wainwright, the fourth highest percentage in the major leagues. So, the thought of losing one next season and being without the other this year has likely diminished much of the optimism usually associated with spring.

Top WAR Contributions from Teams’ Best Pitcher and Position Player, 2010

Source: fangraphs.com

As illustrated by the graphs above and below (click to enlarge), which display each team’s 2010 WAR leaders relative to its position players’ or pitchers’ total, much of the Cardinals’ production emanated from Pujols and Wainwright. Among position players, Pujols contributed 32.4% of the team’s WAR (considering the Cardinals’ $100 million payroll, maybe $30 million for Pujols makes sense after all?), which ranked sixth in the National League and eighth in the Majors. Meanwhile, Wainwright contributed 37.4% of the team’s pitching WAR, a level higher than every N.L team but the Brewers.

2010 WAR Leaders Relative to Team (Position Players)

Source: fangraphs.com

2010 WAR Leaders Relative to Team (Pitchers)

Source: fangraphs.com

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

On Tuesday in Fort Myers, Justin Morneau took a round of batting practice and then joined his teammates for a few minutes of long toss. Similar scenes play out repeatedly in Florida and Arizona, but yesterday’s news about Moreneau was worthy of a banner headline.

Morneau has not played since this collision on July 7, 2010 resulted in a severe concussion (Photo: Reuters).

If you’re confused, just think about how Morneau must feel. On July 7 of last year, the Twins slugging first baseman was on his way to another MVP year (.345/.437/.618). In the eighth inning of that night’s game, however, his season came crashing to a halt…literally. After leading off the inning with a line drive single to center, Morneau succeeded in breaking up a double play, but in the process slammed his head into short stop John McDonald’s knee. After the collision, Morneau slowly walked off the field under his own power. Yesterday was the first time he returned to it.

At the time of the injury, Morneau was considered “day-to-day” with a mild concussion and, according to manager Ron Gardenhire, was available for pinch hitting duties the very next day. Obviously, that initial diagnosis was incorrect because the former MVP still isn’t 100% and there are no guarantees that he will be ready by Opening Day. In an effort to avoid any set backs, the Twins plan to gradually ease Morneau back into his routine. Meanwhile, the first baseman will be sporting sun glasses at the plate and in the field in an effort to limit the debilitating impact of the sun. Both are very sensible precautions, but the fact that they are still required over eight months since the concussion is a little scary.

Morneau is not the only recent player to severely suffer from a concussion. In addition to all of the other ills faced by the Mets over the past few years, the team has had three players impacted by a serious head injury. In a spring training game against the Dodgers in 2008, right fielder Ryan Church suffered his first concussion of the season when he collided with second baseman Marlon Anderson. Then, on May 20, the outfielder incurred another head injury from a knee to the head while breaking up a double play: the exact same kind of play as Morneau.

David Wright sustained his concussion after being hit in the head by a Matt Cain fastball.

The side effects of Church’s head injuries dogged the outfielder all season, but it still took some time until the team finally caught on to the extent of his troubles. As a result, the organization (from the GM to the medical staff on down to the coaches) was soundly criticized, particularly for having Church take a cross country flight soon after the second injury. Undoubtedly, the Church case taught the Mets some valuable lessons about how to handle head injuries. Unfortunately, those lessons were immediately put into practice when David Wright missed 15 games in August 2009 after being beaned in the head, and Jason Bay missed the last 63 games of 2010 after banging his head against the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium.

Although in a much less publicized way, the Yankees have also had to deal with player concussions. The Record’s Bob Klapish wrote an outstanding article about Jorge Posada’s recent experience with head injuries. In particular, Klapish recounts a game on September 7, 2010 in which Posada was hit squarely on the mask by a foul tip. Although the veteran catcher had absorbed similar blows in the past, this one had a much more serious impact. (more…)

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It must be something in the Chicago water?

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is best known for speaking out of turn, but this time around it’s General Manager Ken Williams who will likely spend the next few days extricating his foot from his big mouth. According to a report on ESPNChicago, Williams called the idea of paying Albert Pujols $30 million “asinine” and went so far as to advocate a season crippling lockout to enforce a salary cap on the MLBPA. Asinine is right, but only if applied to Williams’ warped perspective.

Despite the labor strife that currently grips the NFL and NBA, Williams’ pining for a salary cap is amusing. However, his insinuation isn’t very funny at all. If other owners and general managers share his corrosive beliefs, then maybe Michael Weiner would be wise to treat the upcoming CBA expiration with much more suspicion? At the very least, Weiner should demand an apology from Williams as well as immediate action from Bud Selig. Not only do comments like Williams’ have the potential to poison the current labor peace that exists in the game, but they also demonstrate a shocking ignorance of its economics.

Baseball is currently in the midst of unparalleled popularity and financial growth, not to mention an unprecedented period of cooperation between the owners and players. The last thing the sport needs is someone like Williams recklessly spouting off, especially when the comments belie such ignorance. Going forward, the White Sox would be wise to keep the microphones away from their general manager before he does any more damage. Just to play it safe, the organization might better off if they let Ozzie do all the talking from now on.

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