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Archive for October, 2011

In 2011, the Yankees’ starting rotation posted the fifth lowest ERA (4.03) in the American League. However, most of the season still had the feel of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Despite featuring a mix of inexperienced youngsters and veteran retreads, the Yankees’ staff was able to survive the year intact, but the offseason is almost sure to bring about change.

Is the pursuit of Mark Buehrle in the Yankees' plans?

It’s entirely possible that the 2012 Yankees could have a completely different starting rotation than last season. Although Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia provided an unexpected shot in the arm during 2011, the chances are high that neither will return next year, particularly because they both seemed to run out of gas in September. In his post-ALDS summation, Joe Girardi stated that while Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova would be given a chance to compete for a spot in the 2012 rotation, nothing would be set in stone. Following an impressive rookie season in which he won 16 games, Nova seems like a sure bet to be one of next year’s starting five, but Hughes still has a lot to prove. At this point, getting rid of A.J. Burnett is probably more of a pipe dream than a realistic option, but after two futile seasons, the Yankees could decide to swallow hard and eat most of his remaining contract in order to facilitate a trade. Finally, CC Sabathia wearing something other than pinstripes in 2012 might be inconceivable, but until his opt out situation is settled, that unpleasant thought remains a possibility.

Even if Sabathia returns and Nova holds on to his slot, the Yankees will still need to bolster their rotation, especially because internal options like Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are probably at least a half-season away. Over at The Yankee Analysts, Larry Koestler set about to answer what free agent pitchers the Yankees should pursue and narrowed it down to two choices: Yu Darvish and CJ Wilson. Larry makes an interesting case for both pitchers, but perhaps the decision doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition?     

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Ron Washington’s decision to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera with the bases empty in the bottom of the eighth was the kind of move that could have become infamous in postseason lore, especially after Victor Martinez singled him to third base with only one out. At the time, the move was roundly criticized, including by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver on the Fox broadcast, but because Cabrera was eventually thrown out at the plate, it will likely become nothing more than a footnote.

Ron Washington's decision to walk Miguel Cabrera with no men on in the 8th was a pivotal point in the game (Photo: AP).

Just because Cabrera didn’t score doesn’t mean Washington’s decision was sound. By the same logic, however, Martinez’ subsequent single doesn’t mean it was a foolish choice. Instead, the soundness of the move should be based solely on the context before the decision was made. So, with that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what went into Washington’s unorthodox ploy.

Before his at bat in the eighth inning, Cabrera was batting .385/.529/.846, while Martinez was struggling at .083/.267/.333. Even though both lines were compiled in very small samples, it’s easy to see why the Rangers would want to be cautious with Cabrera, who has gained the reputation as one of the best hitters in the game. When you also consider Victor Martinez’ strained oblique as well as reliever Mike Adams’ success against left handed hitters, the case for walking Cabrera appears even stronger. Finally, when you factor in the lack of speed by both players as well as the presence of Delmon Young, another injured batter, behind Martinez, the idea of not letting Cabrera beat you under any circumstance seems like a wise policy.

When Martinez’ bouncer over first baseman Michael Young’s head sent Cabrera to third base with one out, McCarver and Buck framed the inning along the lines of the Rangers regretting the decision to walk Cabrera. Had the go ahead run scored, however, the real regrettable decision would have been holding Cabrera on because, otherwise, Martinez’ ball would have been a tailor-made double play. Of course, that assumes a pre-determined outcome, which isn’t necessary in this case. As mentioned previously, the case for walking Cabrera was compelling even before considering a subsequent outcome.

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Theo Epstein is off to fight his next curse. According to WEEI, the Red Sox boy wonder has decided that the grass is greener at Wrigley Field than Fenway Park and joined Terry Francona as the latest to flee hostility in Red Sox Nation.

Can the Red Sox survive without their Boy Wonder?

The collapse of the Red Sox’ baseball hierarchy caps off a season in which the team went from being considered the best in franchise history to the worst that money could buy. With revelations about the dysfunctional atmosphere in the Boston clubhouse continuing to emerge, Epstein may be getting out at just the right time. What’s more, several players may soon be following him out the door, creating a challenging offseason for the Red Sox as the team tries to pick up the pieces from its broken season.

Before the season started, it seemed like Brian Cashman would be the general manager announcing his departure in October. At that time, Epstein was busy filling his team’s wish list with high priced free agents and acquisitions, while Cashman was forced to scour the scrapheap to fill the roles abandoned by Andy Pettitte and Cliff Lee. Six months later, however, and with another division title under his belt, Cashman is close to resigning an extension to remain with the Yankees, while Epstein is headed to Chicago. Apparently, spending money isn’t so easy after all?

Although Epstein’s departure makes it appear as if the general manager is washing his hands of the mess left behind in Boston, his transfer to Chicago shouldn’t come with complete absolution, at least not unless he takes John Lackey and Carl Crawford with him. Despite gaining a reputation for being a genius, Epstein’s tenure in Boston has not been without its questionable moves. From the revolving door at shortstop to the failed Daisuke Matsuzaka experiment to ill-conceived midseason acquisitions like Eric Gagne, the Red Sox’ GM has had moments when he didn’t look so smart.

Theo’s Busts: Regrettable Red Sox Free Agents, 2003-2011

Player Offseason Contract Terms
Bobby Jenks 2010 2-years/$12mn
Carl Crawford 2010 7-years/$142mn
Marco Scutaro 2009 2-years/$12.5mn
John Lackey 2009 5-years/$82.5mn
Mike Cameron 2009 2-years/$15.5mn
Daisuke Matsuzaka 2006 6-years/$103.1mn
Edgar Renteria 2004 4-years/$36mn
Matt Clement 2004 3-years/$25.8mn

Source: Cotts contracts

There’s no denying Theo Epstein’s success with the Red Sox, but it also can’t be divorced from the support system provided by the organization. That could be a lesson learned by Epstein in Chicago, once he realizes he no longer has access to the same resources . Similarly, the Red Sox will now be forced to find a new general manager who can not only handle all of the complexities of  Boston, but the varied personalities in the organization itself. Considering the relative stability enjoyed by the Yankees, the Red Sox really can’t afford a rough transition. Although this parting between Epstein and the Red Sox may not immediately elicit sweet sorrow from either side, the potential for future regret remains.

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As Alex Rodriguez’ walked back to the dugout after striking out to end the 2011 ALDS, you could practically see the headlines writing themselves. Not surprisingly, the New York tabloids didn’t disappoint when it came to assigning a disproportionate amount of blame to Rodriguez, but unfortunately, the “you just knew it had to be Arod” sentiment has also proven to be quite popular with Yankees’ fans.

It had to be Arod? Alex Rodriguez walks away dejectedly after making the last out in the 2011 ALDS (Photo: AP).

At this point, it makes little sense to defend Arod’s performance in the clutch. Regardless of evidence to the contrary, those pre-disposed to dislike Rodriquez will dismiss it just because. Similarly, it seems futile to point out that Curtis Granderson’s and Robinson Cano’s outs, which preceded Arod’s, actually had a bigger impact on the Yankees’ chances of winning game five. Even though the first two outs didn’t offer the lasting impression of a sullen, $30 million man walking slowly from the plate as the Tigers charged the field, the fact remains that three Yankees, not one, went down in the final frame.

Based on the comments, conversation, and articles that have followed Rodriguez’ final out, one might get the impression that Arod is the only Yankees’ player to ever make the last out of a postseason series. Apparently, before being saddled with the baggage of a three-time MVP, the Yankees always won in October? In order to dispel that myth, listed below is the last out of every Yankees’ postseason series defeat.

Final Batted Outs in Yankees’ Postseason History (click to enlarge)

Note: Yankees suffered walk-offs in 1960, 1995 and 2001. Babe Ruth was caught stealing to end the 1926 World Series.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The Brewers exult after Morgan's walk-off single (Photo: Getty).

Yesterday’s sudden death doubleheader in the baseball postseason had the feel of March Madness. While the Cardinals were rallying for what turned out to be the game’s only run in Philadelphia, the Brewers were enjoying a walk-off in Milwaukee. As remote controls worked feverishly across the country, baseball was in the midst of a 24-hour period in which three winner-take-all games would literally come down to the final at bat. Only twice before had more than one sudden death elimination game been played in one day (two on 10/15/2001 and three on 10/11/1981), but in none of those games did the tying run come to the plate in the last inning.

Nyjer Morgan’s game winning single in Milwaukee was only the 12th walk-off hit in a sudden death playoff series game (the 1972 NLCS also ended on a “walk-off” wild pitch), and the first since Aaron Boone’s 11th inning home run broke the hearts of Red Sox Nation in the 2003 ALCS. Earlier in the game, Willie Bloomquist’s RBI bunt single marked only the fourth occasion in which a road team staved off sudden death elimination with a run in the ninth inning, but that historical footnote was overshadowed by the Brewers’ eventual victory.

Sudden Death Walk-Offs in the Postseason

Date Series G# Tm Opp Batter Rslt Pitcher Inn
10/7/11 NLDS 5 MIL ARI Nyjer Morgan 1B J.J. Putz b10
10/16/03 ALCS 7 NYY BOS Aaron Boone HR Tim Wakefield b11
11/4/01 WS 7 ARI NYY Luis Gonzalez 1B Mariano Rivera b9
10/14/01 NLDS 5 ARI STL Tony Womack 1B Steve Kline b9
10/26/97 WS 7 FLA CLE Edgar Renteria 1B Charles Nagy b11
10/8/95 ALDS 5 SEA NYY Edgar Martinez 2B Jack McDowell b11
10/14/92 NLCS 7 ATL PIT F. Cabrera 1B Stan Belinda b9
10/27/91 WS 7 MIN ATL Gene Larkin 1B Alejandro Pena b10
10/14/76 ALCS 5 NYY KCR Chris Chambliss HR Mark Littell b9
10/13/60 WS 7 PIT NYY Bill Mazeroski HR Ralph Terry b9
10/10/24 WS 7 WSH NYG Earl McNeely 2B Jack Bentley b12
10/16/12 WS 8 BOS NYG Larry Gardner SF C. Mathewson b10

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Joe Girardi should be fired. Alex Rodriguez choked again. Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher aren’t tough enough to perform in the postseason. The Yankees should just let CC Sabathia opt out. He can’t win in October anymore.

For Yankees' fans, an early playoff exit shouldn't have to mean total despair (Photo: AP).

Undoubtedly, many of the sentiments above will be expressed today by Yankees’ fans who are still angry over their team’s early dismissal from the 2011 postseason. Unfortunately, too many of those who follow the Bronx Bombers are of the opinion that if the season doesn’t end with champagne, it must be a failure. Of course, you really can’t blame them when that “all or nothing all” philosophy has also become an organizational mantra.

It might be blasphemous to say in Yankeeland, but winning the division is just as important as winning the World Series. Although most seem to view the 162 marathon as nothing more than a qualifying heat for an October sprint, common sense seems to dictate that these two formats be viewed separately. In many ways, the relationship between baseball’s regular season and playoffs is akin to European soccer teams playing a league schedule along with an international tournament. Both are important, but failure in one shouldn’t take away from success in the other.

Yankees Historical Per Game Run Differential

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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On Tuesday, the Yankees were simply looking to survive. Tonight, they hope to conquer.

Thanks to the surprising performance of A.J. Burnett in game 4 of the division series, the Yankees escaped from Detroit with their World Series hopes intact and now face a sudden death playoff game for the first time since losing the 2005 ALDS to the Anaheim Angels.

Facing Sudden Death: Yankees’ History in Postseason Series Finales

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankees have played in the most winner-take-all October showdowns, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the team’s playoff history encompasses 368 games to date. However, despite the franchise’s incomparable 48-22 record in all postseason series, the Bronx Bombers are only 11-10 when facing a mutual elimination. Of course, that speaks to how difficult it has been to knock the Yankees out in October. While fewer than one-fourth of their series wins have come gone to the wire, almost half of their loses have gone the distance.

Because the Yankees have played in almost 14% of all sudden death postseason games (21 of 152), many of the sport’s most dramatic October moments have involved the pinstripes (for a companion piece on sudden death games involving all teams, check out my latest post at Bronx Banter). In terms of WPA, five of the top-25 offensive performances in the history of deciding games have been recorded by Yankees. Perhaps the most famous such game is Chris Chambliss’ pennant winning homerun against the Kansas City Royals that sent the Yankees back to the World Series in 1976 for the first time in 12 years. Of course, younger fans of the Bronx Bombers are probably more partial to Aaron Boone’s long ball, which sealed the Red Sox fate in the 2003 ALCS. Either way, both moments not only rank among the most dramatic in Yankees’ history, but all of baseball lore.

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Ever since Friday’s ALDS opener was suspended by rain, the specter of A.J. Burnett has hung over the Yankees like the Sword of Damocles. Now, with their backs to the wall, the team’s worst fears have been realized. Not only is Burnett making a postseason start that seemed improbable just a few weeks ago, but if he doesn’t pitch well, there’s a good chance the Yankees season will be over.

AJ Burnett was smiling before, but not after his 2010 ALCS start.

The Yankees have played 367 postseason games covering 71 series and 50 seasons. To say that the franchise’s October history is extensive would be an understatement. However, in all those games, only two have featured a starting pitcher for the Yankees with a higher regular season ERA (minimum of 100 innings) than the 5.15 rate Burnett will carry to the mound in tonight’s ALDS game 4. The last time the Yankees entrusted such an unlikely candidate with a playoff start was the fourth game of last year’s ALCS. Who was the pitcher? None other than A.J. Burnett.

Although it wasn’t an elimination game, the Yankees entered game 4 of the 2010 ALCS also needing Burnett to draw them even, but it proved to be too much to ask. Burnett, who posted a 5.26 ERA during the season, surrendered five runs over six innings in a 10-3 loss that pushed the Yankees to the brink of elimination. This time around there is no margin for error. If Burnett turns in a similar performance tonight, the sword will fall.

Misery loves company, so joining Burnett in the exclusive club of ineffective starters given a playoff start for the Yankees is Irving Darius Hadley, better known as Bump. A journeyman right hander, Hadley joined the Yankees in 1936, and emerged as the team’s fifth starter. After going 14-4 with an ERA+ of 108, Hadley capped off his season with a 2-1 victory in the third game of the World Series.

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The Yankees and Tigers resume their ALDS showdown with what should have been the series opener, but has now developed into a pivotal third game. Entering the series, it was widely believed that the Tigers would need Justin Verlander to win two games in order to advance, but now that rain has limited him to only one full start, Detroit has been forced to a plan B.

One reason so much emphasis was placed on Verlander’s starts is because the other three pitchers in the Tigers’ rotation had never started a postseason game. Entering the series, the Yankees had been 54-33 in games featuring an opposing starter making his playoff debut, so at least from a historical standpoint, it’s easy to see why the rest of Detroit’s rotation might be a little vulnerable.

After Friday night’s rain limited Verlander’s first start to only one inning, it looked as if the Tigers would need a victory from their ace just to keep the series alive. However, thanks to Max Scherzer’s strong outing in game two, the team is now in position to take a commanding lead.

Top-10 Games vs. Yankees by a Starter Making His Postseason Debut, by Game Score

Player Date Series Gm# Opp Rslt GSc
Jack Sanford 10/5/1962 WS 2 SFG W 2-0 84
Ernie White 10/3/1942 WS 3 STL W 2-0 81
Fausto Carmona 10/5/2007 ALDS 2 CLE W 2-1 80
Jack Scott 10/6/1922 WS 3 NYG W 3-0 80
Don Newcombe 10/5/1949 WS 1 BRO L 0-1 79
Preacher Roe 10/6/1949 WS 2 BRO W 1-0 78
Joey Jay 10/5/1961 WS 2 CIN W 6-2 71
Joe Black 10/1/1952 WS 1 BRO W 4-2 71
Max Scherzer 10/2/2011 ALDS 2 DET W 5-3 69
Curt Simmons 10/10/1964 WS 3 STL L 1-2 69

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The first game of the ALDS between the Yankees and Tigers was supposed to be a battle of aces, but Mother Nature took center stage instead. With only 1 1/2 innings completed, the skies opened up and washed away the much anticipated showdown between CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander, leaving the two Cy Young candidates on the sidelines and their teams scrambling to rebuild the rotation around them.

Friday’s rain storm derailed a potential classic showdown between C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander (Photo: Getty Images).

Following the initial disappointment, most of the focus has been on which team, if any, will benefit from the postponement. Because the suspension all but ensures the Yankees will have to enlist A.J. Burnett in one of the five games, the obvious advantage seems to lie with the Tigers. However, Detroit’s best hope was believed to be Justin Verlander, who will now only pitch in one game if Jim Leyland’s plan to bring him back on Monday holds true. What’s more, because the game was suspended, not canceled, the Tigers are locked into a right-handed lineup against Ivan Nova. As a result, Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge (wOBA of .262 and .203) will be facing a right hander, instead of Brennan Boesch and Wilson Betemit  (wOBA of .352 and .396).

There really isn’t much point to focusing on which team “won the rain out”. As both managers stressed after the game, nothing can be done about the weather. The Yankees, who experienced 23 rain delays during the regular season, learned that the hard way in 2011. So, instead of worrying about who has the advantage, both teams would be better served planning for the rest of the series, provided the weather permits it to be played.

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