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Archive for April 1st, 2011

The Captain’s Blog has uncovered secret video of an ESPN staff meeting that helps shed some light on the curious unanimity of the network’s baseball predictions.

When ESPN’s 2011 season forecasts were first revealed on its website, many in the industry were surprised to see that all 45 “experts” picked the Red Sox to win the American League East. Since that time, several allegations of wrong doing have emerged. According to one unidentified source, although ESPN employees were permitted to pick against the Red Sox in the World Series, choosing another AL East leader was strictly prohibited. Despite the New England-based network’s widely perceived Boston bias, most media watchdogs dismissed these early claims of coercion. However, the following video, which was given to The Captain’s Blog by a confidential informant, tells a different story.

As evident in the video, at least two ESPN employees wanted to select the Yankees as AL East champion, but their refusal to toe the company line resulted in severe repercussions. The Captain’s Blog has not received confirmation about other similar methods of coercion, but at least one unidentified source confirmed that the hard line stance taken by higher ups had a chilling effect on the predictions of others.

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

By going 0-5 with three double plays, Albert Pujols turned in one of the most forgettable Opening Days in major league history, which means it will likely be remembered for a long time.

Worst Opening Day Performances, 1957-2011

Player Date Tm PA H GDP WPA RE24
Paul Konerko 4/3/2000 CHW 4 0 2 -0.110 -3.23
Albert Pujols* 3/31/2011 STL 5 0 3 -0.430 -3.09
Josh Bard 3/31/2003 CLE 6 0 0 -0.414 -3.07
Vernon Wells 4/1/2002 TOR 6 0 0 -0.252 -3.04
Tony Horton 4/12/1966 BOS 6 0 2 -0.494 -2.98
Mike Bordick 4/2/1997 BAL 5 0 0 -0.194 -2.95
Trot Nixon 4/5/1999 BOS 4 0 1 -0.267 -2.91
Victor Martinez 4/5/2004 CLE 6 0 1 -0.274 -2.90
Glenallen Hill 4/3/2001 ANA 4 0 2 -0.546 -2.86
Mike Devereaux 4/26/1995 CHW 4 0 1 -0.147 -2.83
J.J. Hardy 4/7/2009 MIL 5 0 2 -0.229 -2.82

RE24 is defined as the number of runs that batter contributed during a game based on the base/out situations during his plate appearances.
Source: baseball-reference.com and (*)fangraphs.com

Tuffy Rhodes salutes the crowd after hitting his third home run on Opening Day in 1994. Rhodes would hit 10 more homeruns over the rest of his career.

Despite being only one game of 162, events that take place on Opening Day seem to have a much longer shelf life, especially when the player’s ability contrasts sharply with his performance. For example, 493 players have hit three homeruns in a game, including some of the game’s best all-time players. However, if you ask most baseball fans to rattle off a few names from the list, Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes is likely to mentioned, even before the likes of Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig and Mike Schmidt (who all hit four). Rhodes wasn’t the only improbable player to go deep three times in a game (Otto Velez, Tony Solaita, and Jeff Treadway all did it), nor was he the only man to accomplish the feat on Opening Day (George Bell and Dmitri Young also hit a game one trifecta*). However, Rhodes was the only forgettable player to record this memorable accomplishment in his team’s first game, a combination that has given him a slice of immortality.

*Interestingly, Bell, Rhodes and Young all accomplished the feat on the same date, April 4, in 1988, 1994, and 2005, respectively.

Unfortunately for Pujols, his 2011 opener falls on the other side of history. The Cardinals’ slugger isn’t the first person to hit into three double plays. In fact, almost 100 have. However, Pujols is the first to do it on Opening Day. If he was a lesser player, this poor timing would eventually be forgotten, but because of his historic stature, yesterday’s futility will likely remain a trivial footnote on his great career. If his sense of humor is as good as Joe Torre‘s, who credited Felix Milan with helping him ground into four double plays (a major league record), Pujols could point out that his “achievement” wouldn’t have been possible without Colby Rasmus, who was forced at second each time.

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Opening Day proceeded as if working off a blueprint. The Yankees’ lineup flexed its muscles with a pair of homeruns, both early and late, and then the bullpen slammed the door with three perfect innings of relief. Ballgame over. Yankees win.

Although there are very few questions about the Yankees’ offense, it was still encouraging to see Mark Teixeira get off to a good start and Curtis Granderson pick up where he left off last season, and against a left handed pitcher no less. Alex Rodriguez also carried his hot spring into the opener, giving further credibility to the high expectations once again being placed upon him. If all of the pieces fall into place on offense, the Yankees could be poised for a historic season at the plate.

Were Brett Gardner's two sacrifices on Opening Day a sign of things to come?

One member of the lineup who raised some eyebrows, however, was Brett Gardner, who was credited with two sacrifice bunts. The initial reaction from the Yankee fan intelligentsia was dismay, especially coming on the heels of a spring training in which the Yankees actively worked with Gardner on honing his bunting skills. It remains to be seen whether Gardner’s two bunts represent a new strategy in his game, or just a coincidence of circumstance. After all, his first attempt was a drag bunt, not a sacrifice. What’s more, targeting a weak fielding first baseman like Miguel Cabrera on wet grass in a game that could be cut short by rain is a strategy that has merit. Although the second bunt appeared to be more of a sacrifice, it was also later in the game against a lefty with the Yankees already holding a lead. It’s easy to see why some would come away from Opening Day with some concern about Gardner bunting too much, but there’s no reason to jump to conclusions just yet. The sacrifice has never been a dominant part of Girardi’s strategy (the Yankees 95 sacrifices since 2008 is the fifth lowest total in all of baseball), so there’s no reason to believe it will now.

Yankees’ Sacrifice Bunt Leaders, 2008-2010

Player SH G PA
Brett Gardner 14 300 994
Francisco Cervelli 12 138 423
Derek Jeter 12 460 2123
Jose Molina 9 152 452
Melky Cabrera 8 283 993
Nick Swisher 6 300 1242
Ramiro Pena 5 154 288
Curtis Granderson 4 136 528
Johnny Damon 4 286 1249

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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