The Short Leash (Still Trying To Keep It Rational)

I’m becoming sensitive to the odd language we use in the baseball post-season. The latest expression that puzzles me is the so-called “short leash”.

In the post-season, certain pitchers are put on a “short leash”. The idea is that the manager should not hesitate to pull a pitcher from the game if that pitcher is on a “short leash”. Who’s been on a short leash? A.J. Burnett, for one. In game 4 of this ALCS, Burnett was supposedly on a short leash, or according to the Washington Post, on an “incredibly short leash”.

Who else has been on a short leash this post-season? Rays’ pitcher James Shields against Cliff Lee in game 2 of their ALDS. Twins pitcher Brian Duensing against Phil Hughes in game 3 of our ALDS. Phils pitcher Joe Blanton in game 4 of the NLCS. Rangers pitcher Tommy Hunter pitching against A.J. Burnett in game 4 of the ALCS (that rare game when both teams’ pitchers were on short leashes). Oh, and this can’t make us feel good: Phil Hughes is reportedly on a short leash against the Rangers tonight in game 6.

Fact is: anytime you pitch some guy that you don’t entirely trust in the post-season, that pitcher is put on a “short leash”.

What happens when a pitcher is on a “short leash”? Ahhh. That’s hard to say.

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Changing The Narrative

See? What did I tell you? One Yankee win, and we’re all feeling better. Yes, our backs are still to the wall. But now there’s hope.

One Yankee win, and the narrative changes. Tear up the old story lines about how the Yankees had failed and did not stand a chance.

Here’s the new narrative, based on the few sources available this early to me:

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(Rationally) Rallying The Troops

Oh boy. We know things have gotten grim when it falls to me to boost morale around here. I’m not exactly a “glass half full” kind of guy. I’m the kind of guy that finds a half-full glass and empties the contents down the sink.

But this league championship series is not over. The “fat lady” has not sung. The Yanks can still win this thing.

Remember what I wrote yesterday, when the Yanks were down two games to one? I wrote that the Yanks were playing this course at par. Even Brien and I agreed on that! The Yanks were logically expected to be down two games to one at that point, and both Brien and I figured that the Yanks still had a good chance to win this series.

A day has passed. Sticking with the golf metaphor, the Yanks are now playing this course at one over par. JUST one over par! That’s not a disaster. Nicklaus has started tougher courses than this at one over par, and he came back.

OK. Let’s dump the golf metaphor. The Yankees need to win 3 games in a row. Can this be done? Of course. The Rangers just did it. The Yanks just did it against the Twins. The Yanks did it 12 times during this regular season by my rough count (or 16 times this season, if I count winning 6 in a row as two streaks of 3 in a row). You can’t give up now! To give up now would be …

… irrational.

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It’s Not About Girardi (A Respectful Rebuttal)

Back before the playoffs started, I wrote my Rational Guide to help us negotiate the post-season with intelligence, and to allow us to maintain our sanity. It got pretty good reviews around here. Rob Neyer re-tweeted it, which I took as a vote of confidence. No one objected to any of the specifics set forth in the Guide.

The Guide contained this sage advice about the importance of managing to playoffs success:

The manager doesn’t matter much. Here’s a prediction for this year’s post-season: the media will seize upon one or two decisions made by a team’s manager, and analyze these decisions to death. After all, these people are paid good money to analyze baseball games, and a manager’s decision provides more fertile ground for analysis than, say, a slugger’s decision not to swing at a called third strike. My advice is not to take this kind of analysis too seriously. The analysis is almost always outcome-based: the manager decided to pull the starting pitcher for a relief pitcher, the relief pitcher walked the next batter, so the manager’s decision must have been wrong. But who is to say what would have happened if the manager had decided to leave the pitcher in the ballgame? Sure, it’s possible for a manager to make a mistake, but chances are high that your team’s post-season fate will be determined by what takes place on the field, and not on what goes on in the dugout.

So, what happened? My prediction came true. (For which I deserve as much credit as predicting that New Year’s Day will fall on January 1.)

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Par (Keeping It Rational)

A few days ago, after the Yankees had won their fourth playoff game in a row, I thought about writing a post called “Warning Signs”. I didn’t think that the Yankees were playing all that well. I didn’t see how the Yankees could continue to keep winning games after falling behind. I didn’t see how the Yanks were going to the World Series without better pitching from CC.

But … it seemed like everyone here was having such a good time. Besides, I was off at some far-flung convention center, which is something I have to do in mid-October to pay the bills I get from my internet service provider. I let the opportunity pass.

Now the Yankees have dropped two games in a row, and everyone seems kind of agitated. I wrote a Rational Guide in an effort to head off this sort of thing, but alas and alack, my fellow Yankees fans are not known to be rational in the face of a two-game losing streak.

So, everyone, take some advice from the IIATMS writer from Southern California. Stress is not good for you. Relax. Take a deep cleansing breath. Inhale for the count of 5: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Pause at the top of the breath, then exhale slowly for the count of 10: 1, 2, 3, … 9, 10. Do that a few more times. It’s really good for you.

Ready to get rational?

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The Tarnished “Shining Example” (A Rebuttal on the Future of the Rays)

The Tampa Bay Rays dropped a 5-1 decision last night to the Texas Rangers, ending the Rays’ 2010 baseball season — and beginning a post-season full of speculation on what might happen to the team in 2011.

I first engaged in this speculation here, over a month ago.

You see, I’ve been looking at the Rays as part of our ongoing analysis of baseball’s system of revenue sharing. I’ve been arguing here (and here) that revenue sharing works mostly to pad the profits of teams like the Marlins and the Pirates who cannot (or would rather not) use their revenue sharing money to improve their product on the field.

Others have pointed to the Rays as a “shining example” of how revenue sharing DOES work when it’s used in the right way. I’ve argued instead that the Rays illustrate the failure of revenue sharing, since revenue sharing does not provide the means for a small-market team like the Rays to sustain their success. I’ve argued that the Rays have probably been losing money for the past two years, and that the team would ultimately have to cut payroll to make ends meet.

Since I first wrote about this subject, the Rays’ management announced that the team’s 2011 payroll would be cut by about $22 million from its level in 2010. Now, the Rays have fallen out of the playoffs early, meaning that they won’t earn as much post-season revenue as they did in 2008.

Does all this mean that the Rays are beginning a decline into mediocrity? I think so, and I’ve already posted an initial argument why I think so. Evidently, some writers in the Tampa Bay area agree with me (see here, and here). But Mark, who writes The Ray Area blog on our Sweet Spot network, disagrees. And now, so does my buddy Brien here on this site.

Who’s right? Me? Brien and Mark? I think you know how I’d answer that question!

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Will The Rays Lose Money This Post-Season? (Yet More on Revenue Sharing)

If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you’ve noticed that we’ve written a lot on the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have become a topic of discussion here as a result of our focus on the financial statements leaked last month by These financial statements made it obvious that some baseball teams (notably the Pirates and the Marlins) are profiting from the revenue sharing they receive annually, instead of using all of this money as required to improve their on the field performance.

Other commentators have argued that while the Pirates and Marlins may be abusing baseball’s revenue sharing system, other teams have used revenue sharing in the right way. The number one example of a team doing the right thing with revenue sharing is, according to some writers (including Maury Brown at Biz of Baseball) the Tampa Bay Rays.

We’ve written here that the Rays are facing tough economic times, with expenses rising faster than local revenues. But there was one thing the Rays had going for them (or so I thought): the Rays were about to receive an economic boost from the money they’d receive in the baseball playoffs.

I may have spoken too soon. In fact, if the Rays don’t find a way to win game 3 (ongoing as I type), they may end up losing money as a result of their making the playoffs.

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The Strike Not Called

We take you back to a key moment in yesterday’s Yankees victory over the Twins in game 2 of the ALDS. It was the top of the seventh inning, with the score tied 2-2. Jorge Posada was on first, no one was out and Lance Berkman was at the plate. Carl Pavano’s first pitch to Berkman was a ball, low and outside. Pitch two was a called strike, and Berkman fouled off the third pitch. Pitch 4 was a beauty, a fast ball on the inside part of the plate. Berkman did not swing … and the pitch was called a ball.

Was pitch 4 called correctly? The AP game summary said that “it appeared Pavano sneaked strike three past [Berkman].” Zach Sanders at FanGraphs called it a “blown call” and said this was the turning point of the game. ESPN’s Andrew Marchand blogged it this way:

“8:01: Pavano’s 1-2 FB to Berkman is right down the middle — and called a ball by HP ump Hunter Wendlestedt.”

Zach Sanders is right: it was critical to the outcome of game 2 that Berkman’s at bat continued to a fifth pitch. Berkman slammed pitch 5 to deep center for a double, driving in Posada for what proved to be the game’s winning run. Gardner and Jeter followed with singles to score Berkman. After Jeter’s single, Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire went to the mound to pull Pavano, and Gardenhire used this occasion to rip into Wendlestedt over his ball call on pitch 4 to Berkman. (Evidently, Gardenhire and Wendlestedt have a history.) Wendlestedt then threw Gardenhire out of the game.

Did Gardenhire have good cause to complain about Wendlestedt’s call? Of course he did. Pitch 4 to Berkman was a strike.

But if Wendlestedt had called all balls and strikes correctly on Berkman’s at bat, then his call on pitch 4 would have been strike 2, not strike 3. You see, Wendlestedt also missed the call on pitch 2. He called it a strike. It should have been called a ball.

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Larry’s Rational Guide To The Post-Season

Whew! We finally made it, past the Final Four, the Kentucky Derby, the Indy 500, the NBA Finals, more golf stuff that I did not pay any attention to, some soccer tourney somewhere in Africa … we’re here. The MLB playoffs.

We somehow survived the emotional grind of the 162-game season. The Yanks did what they were supposed to do. They made the playoffs. This is what a good baseball organization can do most of the time, when it has money and a good farm system and scouts signing 16-year-old Latin American free agents.

Now welcome to the playoffs, where all bets are off. We’ve discussed this before here: the playoffs are a crap shoot. Last year the Yanks were the best team of the 8 to make the playoffs, and we estimated that their true odds of their winning it all in 2009 were about 3-1 against. This year, the Yanks are maybe just a little better than some of their competition, so the odds against them are more like 5-1. This is what comes of inviting 8 teams to the post-season, rather than the 2 teams that made it back in my childhood. A team, even a good team, needs a lot of luck to win three short series in a row.

So … relax. We’ll get a bunch of good baseball to watch over the next month, and some deserving team will wind up winning the World Series, even if the World Series winner is arguably not the “best team in baseball”. Whoever wins will be a good team, and a lucky team (it’s not easy to overcome odds of 5-1 or longer).

To help you relax and enjoy the baseball, here are Larry’s five guidelines for the post-season:

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