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Archive for July, 2011

Whenever a team is forced to play a doubleheader, the manager will usually express a universal lament about how difficult it is to win both games. No manager has been more vocal about this perceived dynamic than Joe Girardi, but is it really true?

Since the Yankees joined the American League as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901, the team has played 1,746 doubleheaders, although a vast majority took place before the modern expansion era. Nonetheless, of that total, the Yankees wound up splitting (including games ending in a tie) or being swept in 1,150 (66%), which seems to lend credence to the age-old concern. Or does it?

Yankees Performance in Doubleheaders, 1901 to 2011

Source: Baseball-reference.com

On the surface, earning a sweep in only one of every three doubleheaders seems like a disadvantage, but how often do the Yankees win two games in a row anyway? One way to answer that question is to compare the Yankees’ franchise record in doubleheaders to the winning percentage compiled in single games. (more…)

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Hideki Irabu, the first Japanese born player to wear pinstripes, was found dead in his Los Angeles’ home on Thursday, the victim of an apparent suicide.

At his introductory press conference, Irabu tries on the pinstripes he always wanted wear.

When Irabu first came to the United States, he was billed as the Japanese Roger Clemens, but his career yielded more punch lines than punch outs. That’s why it’s easy to forget he was once one of the most coveted international free agents in recent memory.

In the winter of 1997, the San Diego Padres were granted the right to exclusively negotiate with Irabu, who, as a member of the Chiba Lotte Marines, was considered by many to be the best pitcher in Japan. However, Irabu had other plans. He only wanted to play for the Yankees. After much wrangling between the Marines, Padres and Yankees, Irabu was finally able to strong arm his way to New York. At the time, it seemed like a match made in heaven. One of the best international pitchers was bringing his star to Broadway. What could possibly go wrong?

During the All Star break, the Yankees decided that it was time to summon Irabu to the Bronx. Over 51,000 fans packed the Stadium to see his debut on July 10, 1997, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. With the exception of Opening Day and the inaugural interleague series against the Mets, it was the largest crowd of the season, and despite being just a regular season game, the level of anticipation rivaled October.

This was more than I ever dreamed about or imagined for this night. The support of the team is something I can’t compare. I wouldn’t sell what I was able to feel today for anything.”– Hideki Irabu, quoted in the New York Daily News, July 11, 1997

Over 6 2/3 innings, Irabu struck out nine Tigers, each one sending the Stadium crowd into an increasing state of delirium. After the game, which was an anti-climatic 10-3 victory, the excitement was still palpable. Although the Yankees had failed to get the real Roger Clemens during the offseason, it appeared as if they had found the next best thing. Then reality set in. Over his next seven starts, which were interrupted by a stint in the minors, Irabu posted an ERA of 8.72. Soon thereafter, he was demoted to the bullpen and then left off the playoff roster. As quickly as he burst on the scene, Irabu’s star had been extinguished.

Over 50,000 fans packed the Stadium for Irabu's debut on July 10, 1997.

Well, that’s not really true. Following his dismal debut, it would have been easy for Irabu to crawl into a shell, but instead, the right hander rebounded with a strong season in 1998. What’s more, for a stretch during that historic season, Irabu was actually the best pitcher on the team.  In fact, in May, the same month in which David Wells threw a perfect game, Irabu was named the best pitcher in the American League. Although his second half was marred by poor performance, Irabu was still an important part of one of the best teams in baseball history.

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Now that the summer trading frenzy has gotten underway, Yankees’ fans will start beating the drum for a blockbuster of their own. The only problem is there aren’t many obvious candidates available on the market. Otherwise, history tells us that Brian Cashman would probably have pulled the trigger already.

The names most commonly tied to the Yankees in trade rumors are the Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda and the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez. According to Buster Olney, the Yankees currently prefer the much older Kuroda because of his greater consistency. On the surface, that statement seems absurd when you consider the career bWAR of the Dodgers’ right hander is just barely higher than the number compiled by Jimenez in 2010 alone. Sure, Kuroda has been more consistent, but Jimenez has been better.

Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Hiroki Kuroda, 2008 to 2011

  Ubaldo Jimenez    Hiroki Kuroda
Year fWAR bWAR AvgWAR   fWAR bWAR AvgWAR
2008 4.3 3.1 3.7   3.6 2.2 2.9
2009 5.7 5.1 5.4   2.2 0.2 1.2
2010 6.3 7.2 6.8   4.2 2.5 3.4
2011 2.5 1.9 2.2   1.7 2.5 2.1
Total 18.8 17.3 18.1   11.7 7.4 9.6

Note: AvgWAR = bWAR + fWAR/2
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

In sports, consistency is often viewed both pejoratively and euphemistically. To some, the term is used to cover up for a lack of elite production (akin to the “professional hitter” moniker), while others employ it in a demeaning manner (kind of like saying a woman has a nice personality). However, consistency has very direct meaning, and players who exhibit it have real value…provided the level of that consistent production is accurately tied to their cost.

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

Some of Brian Cashman's best decisions have involved trades he didn't make.

The trade deadline has resulted in some of the most lopsided deals in history, but that doesn’t mean evey swap made under the gun has to have a winner and loser.  Each year, there are just as many deadline deals that are prudent as ones that are impetuous, but what about the trades that don’t get made? Sometimes, by not pulling an itchy trigger, a general manager can make his team a deadline winner even without making a single transaction.

During his Yankee tenure, Brian Cashman has not been very active during the trade deadline. In fact, when he has made a major in-season deal, it has often come earlier in the year when the pressure of the deadline was off in the distance. What Cashman has been very good at, however, is avoiding impetuous deals that would have a negative impact on the future more than help in the present.

In his first year as GM, Cashman inherited a strong team and built it into a powerhouse with additions like Chuck Knoblauch and Orlando Hernandez. However, despite compiling a record setting winning percentage over the first four months, the Yankees were still front and center amid several rumors at the deadline. In particular, it was reported that the team was close to securing Randy Johnson for a package including Hideki Irabu and a combination of prospects like Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Lowell, Ricky Ledee and Homer Bush.

Although it’s hard to imagine that Johnson would have had a negative impact on the Yankees, an improvement would have been impossible.  Granted, if the deal had been made, the Yankees may not have had to face Johnson in the 2001 World Series, but it’s also possible they wouldn’t have gotten there without the likes of Roger Clemens and David Justice, two players later acquired using players rumored to be in the mix for Johnson.

In 1999, the Yankees reportedly considered trading Andy Pettitte for Roberto Hernandez.

In 1999, Andy Pettitte was having one of his most difficult seasons in the big leagues. During the first half, the normally reliable lefty compiled a 5-7 record with a 5.59 ERA, leading to speculation that the Yankees might trade him before the deadline. One of the more prominent reports involved the Yankees trading Pettitte to the Phillies for two prospects who would then be flipped to Tampa for Roberto Hernandez. Had that trade been made, there not only wouldn’t have been a core four, but it’s also possible the Yankees wouldn’t have had four championships to celebrate. Because of Cashman’s ability to resist the pressure from above to trade Pettitte, the Yankees were able to enjoy 85 more wins, including nine in the post season, from the homegrown left hander.

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When Derek Jeter returned from the disabled list on July 4, there was some concern about whether his re-installation atop the lineup would short circuit a Yankees offense that had scored 5.7 per game in his absence. In addition, there was speculation about whether Joe Girardi might drop the Hall of Fame shortstop down in the lineup once his milestone 3,000th hit was attained. Almost immediately, however, the Yankees’ manager put an end to the whispers by steadfastly stating that Jeter would remain at the top of the batting order for the remainder of the season. Since then, Girardi has been more than rewarded for his vote of confidence.

Although the Yankees have experienced a one run per game decline in offense since Jeter’s return, the shortstop hasn’t been to blame. In fact, since July 4, Jeter has been the team’s best offensive player. Over the last 18 games, Jeter’s line of .324/.385/.521 has more resembled some of his best seasons than the year-plus decline that has led many to question his future. Expanding the sample to include the entire month of July, Jeter’s wOBA of .402 ranks third on the team behind Eduardo Nunez (.406) and Brett Gardner (.403). Jeter also leads the team with a WPA of 0.76 during the month, a figure equal to the combined total of the next two leaders (Nunez and Gardner). Ironically, in the absence of Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees who have stepped up the most are the ones most fans probably least expected.

Derek Jeter’s RHP/LHP Splits, 2002-2011 (click to enlarge)

Source: fangraphs.com

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

As July draws to a close, gradual separation in the American League East has begun to emerge. After beginning the month three games behind the Yankees, the Red Sox have turned the tables on their rival by going 16-3 and taking a three game lead of their own. At the other end of the spectrum, the Rays have stumbled to an 8-11 record, which has pushed them 10 games behind in the loss column. Meanwhile, the Yankees have taken the middle road, compiling an 11-9 record that has helped solidify its hold on a playoff slot by two games, despite ceding six games in the standings to the Red Sox.

A.L. East Division Race, Game-by-Game Progression (click to enlarge)

Note: Negative numbers represent games behind; positive numbers represent games ahead.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

With the trade deadline nearing, all three teams have been involved in rumors regarding impact players. For the Yankees and Red Sox, the whispers have hinted at key acquisitions, like Carlos Beltran and Ubaldo Jimenez, however, for the Rays, most of the “unnamed sources” present the team as a seller. James Shields, B.J. Upton, and Kyle Farnsworth have all been rumored to be available, which, on the surface, seems like a premature white flag. Then again, judging by the strength of the Rays’ farm system, as exemplified by the very early impact of Desmond Jennings and Alex Cobb, Tampa might actually improve its post season chances by shedding veteran players.

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On July 5, the Seattle Mariners beat the Oakland Athletics 4-2. They haven’t won since.

With Sunday’s 12-8 loss to the Red Sox, the Mariners established a franchise high 15-game losing streak, topping the old mark that was set in September 1992. In order to set the major league record for consecutive losses, however, Seattle would have to continue losing for more than another week. In 1961, the Philadelphia Phillies lost 23 straight games, which matched a similar stretch by the Pirates in 1890, so the Mariners still have a lot of work to do. A more realistic goal might be the Baltimore Orioles’ American League record of 21 consecutive defeats, which was established at the beginning of the 1988 season.

Longest Losing Streaks, Since 1876

Team Strk Start Strk End Games
Phillies 7/29/1961 8/20/1961 23
Orioles 4/4/1988 4/28/1988 21
Expos 5/13/1969 6/7/1969 20
Athletics 8/7/1943 8/24/1943 20
Athletics 7/21/1916 8/8/1916 20
Pirates 8/12/1890 9/2/1890 20
Red Sox 5/1/1906 5/24/1906 20
Royals 7/28/2005 8/19/2005 19
Tigers 7/29/1975 8/15/1975 19
Braves 5/17/1906 6/8/1906 19
Reds 9/5/1914 9/23/1914 19

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Mariners make their first and only trip to the Bronx for a three-game series starting on Monday, so the Yankees will be in a position to either extend Seattle’s misery or suffer the embarassment  of helping them get of the schneid. If the latter occurs,  it would be the second time the Yankees’ franchise has had a lengthy losing streak snapped at their expense. On September 8, 1926, the Boston Red Sox picked up a 5-2 victory at the Stadium, ending their 17-game losing streak. That year, the Yankees still wound up winning the pennant, so if the 2011 team endures a similar fate, they can at least take solace in that fact.

In honor of the Mariners’ ignominious “achievement”, the longest losing streaks by each franchise are presented in the graphic below.

Longest Franchise Losing Streaks, Since 1876 (click to enlarge)

Note: White Sox lost 15 consecutive games from end of 1967 to start of 1968; Angels lost 13 consecutive games from end of 1988 to start of 1989; the Cubs lost 16 consecutive games from end of 1996 to start of 1997.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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

With the trade deadline looming, the next 10 days could determine which teams will enter the stretch drive in the best position. For some clubs, however, the biggest impact could come from their upcoming schedule, not a potential acquisition.

After a disappointing 4-4 road trip following the All Star Break, the Yankees return to the Bronx looking to gain some ground on the division leading Red Sox. Luckily, the upcoming 10-game home stand, which includes three of the league’s worst teams, seems ideally suited for that purpose. Not only have the Yankees compiled a 10-2 record against the Athletics, Mariners, and Orioles, but those three teams have a combined winning percentage of .350 (49-91) on the road. Sometimes Yankees’ fans can be accused of being greedy, but in this case, expecting at least eight wins doesn’t seem that outlandish.

If the Yankees’ offense was firing on all cylinders, it wouldn’t be a stretch to envision them steamrolling through the next 10 games. However, the Yankees wOBA of .306 over the past 14 days ranks even lower than the rates posted by the Athletics and Orioles. The arrival of these weaker opponents could be viewed as being just what the doctor ordered, but if the Yankees can’t score enough to take advantage of the schedule, the lull could wind up being a lost opportunity.

Unfortunately, the next 10 games might not be about making hay because the Red Sox also have a very easy schedule over the same span. Although not as favorable as the Yankees’ upcoming slate, the Red Sox’ next three series are against teams that have a combined road (Mariners and Royals)/home (White Sox) winning percentage of .390 (53-83). With Boston’s offense performing at peak levels, it’s hard to imagine them losing too many games over the next 10 days, so the Yankees can’t afford any slipups.

A.L. East Contenders’ Schedule Breakdown (click to enlarge)

Note: Composite winning percentage based on the current home/road record multiplied by the number of related games remaining.
Source: MLB.com

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With the trade deadline drawing near and the Mets headed on a road trip that will last until August, Carlos Beltran’s fly out in the ninth inning of this afternoon’s game could turn out to be his last home at bat with the team. Realizing this possibility, what was left of the Citi Field crowd gave Beltran a nice round of applause, but one wonders if Mets fans truly appreciate how good the outfielder has been during his seven years in Flushing?

Although hampered at times by injury, Beltran has enjoyed a mostly productive tenure with the Mets. Based on WAR, he already ranks among the top position players in franchise history, despite having nearly 1,000 fewer plate appearances than many of the other leaders. With playing time factored into the equation, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that Carlos Beltran is the best Mets’ position player of all time.

Top-10 Mets’ Position Players, Ranked by Average WAR*

Player PA bWAR fWAR AvgWAR
Darryl Strawberry 4549 37.7 36.6 37.2
David Wright 4507 31.9 37.8 34.9
Carlos Beltran 3612 32 31.3 31.7
Jose Reyes 4644 27.5 32.4 30.0
Edgardo Alfonzo 4449 29.1 30.7 29.9
Mike Piazza 3941 24.6 30.2 27.4
Keith Hernandez 3684 26.5 27 26.8
Howard Johnson 4591 24.7 24 24.4
Cleon Jones 4683 17.6 23 20.3
John Stearns 3080 18.5 20.1 19.3

*AvgWAR = (bWAR + fWAR)/2
Source: baseball-reference.com (bWAR) and fangraphs.com (fWAR)

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

The Yankees offense currently ranks second among American League teams in just about every meaningful category, including wOBA, OPS+ and runs per game. However, the lineup has seemed to lack consistency as well as a definitive positive trend. As a result, the aggregate numbers look good, but to the naked eye, something seems to be missing.

Most recently, that “something” has been Alex Rodriguez. In the eight games played during his absence, the Yankees has posted a line of .244/.307/.333 along with a wOBA of .294 and per game output of four runs. Thankfully, the pitching staff, namely C.C. Sabathia, has been good enough to give the team a 5-3 record in that span, but if the bats don’t pick up, the Yankees may not be able to keep up with the division leading Red Sox.

Top-10 Offenses Compared to League (R/G Basis), 1901-2010 (click to enlarge)

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Red Sox have been able to pull ahead in the American League East because of the prolific production by their lineup. Granted, the Red Sox have taken considerable advantage of FenwayPark (wOBA of .376 versus .333 on the road), but nonetheless, the bats have been booming in Beantown.  In terms of runs/game versus the league average, the 2011 Red Sox not only rank second in franchise history to the 1950 squad, but also compare favorably to some of the best offenses of all time. Currently, Boston has outscored the league average by 27%, a rate that, if maintained, would rank eleventh among all teams since 1901.

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