About Matt Imbrogno

A native and resident of the Mean Streets of Southwestern Connecticut, Matt is a narcissistic, misanthropic 20something English teacher who lives by a simple creed: Yankees Only.

IIATMS Top Moment #14: Johnny Damon’s Double Steal

Allow me, if you will (though you really have no choice), to discuss basketball for a moment, specifically playing basketball. Given that you’re reading a sports blog, I’m sure you’ve at some point played many sports, including basketball. And if you’ve played basketball, you’ve no doubt taken your fair share of shots that were just god awful. Of course, when you shot them, you didn’t think they were god awful, but they were. What you did recognize, however, as god awful were the shots that your chucker teammates threw up towards the rim that had no chance of going in…until they did every once in a while. This experience struck me a lot during Shabazz Napier’s (glorious) run at UConn. Many, many times I did the “no, no, no, no…YES!” ritual when number 13 put one up from NBA range that seemed destined to clank off the rim, only to find, as they say, nothing but net. Baseball offers a few experiences like this–that fly ball that seems bound for the seats, but settles on the warning track; that meatball on a 3-1 count that the batter inexplicably takes–and the other sports do as well, but none seemingly as frequent as basketball. This is a long way of saying that Top Moment #14, Johnny Damon‘s double steal, reminded me of a basketball moment like nothing else in baseball ever has or probably ever will.

Of course any moment has background and the background for this moment was a two games to one lead for the Yankees over the Phillies in the World Series. And with a moment like this, it’s not surprising that there were some oddities leading up to it–a rain-interrupted beginning to the series; the Phillies using CC Sabathia as batting practice and Cliff Lee doing the opposite to Yankee batters; A.J. Burnett pitching the game of his life in game two; Andy Pettitte driving in Nick Swisher in game three on Halloween night. Another oddity was the way in which I watched this game.

Way back in 2009, the Yankees were pretty cool about Yankee Stadium 3. They routinely opened it early enough that fans could see home team batting practice; they had all sorts of meet-and-greets at the doors; and most importantly–at least for this story–they opened it to the public for game four of the World Series, which they showed on the jumbotron in center field. Knowing that, I took a friend along and we sat behind home plate and watched in the Bronx as the Yankees and Phillies battled in Philly.

The stadium was loud. Perhaps it was because all the fans were concentrated in the lower bowl of the stadium or somehow the acoustics were just right, but the stadium sounded full, it felt full, even if it was no where near that. Fans started chants and cheers and if you closed your eyes and tuned out Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, you might actually think the game was going on right there rather than a few hours away and a some miles down I-95. So it went for eight innings; and into that eighth inning, it looked like the Yankees would win the game. Then Joba Chamberlain decided to give up a home run to Pedro Feliz, and the game was tied up going into the ninth inning.

After two batters in the ninth inning, it looked like the 2009 Fall Classic was on its way to its first extra-innings game. Brad Lidge got pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui to pop up to shortstop and then got Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter to go down swinging. Then, the insanity started.

Lidge delivered a first pitch ball to second-place hitter Johnny Damon, but then Damon fouled off two pitches to put himself into an 0-2 hole. Another foul ball followed, then Damon laid off two more pitches to load the count. Damon then fouled off two more pitches before lining a single into left field, bringing first baseman Mark Teixeira to the plate.

The Phillies moved into a shift and the first pitch to Tex was in the dirt. Damon, taking advantage of the shift and the low pitch, took off for second and made it fairly easily. Not surprisingly, the crowd at Yankee Stadium was electrified. Then, there was a collective “WHAT THE….?” moment. The no, no, no…moment. Damon took off for third base.

Given the shift, no one was covering third–Feliz, the Phillies third baseman, thanks to the shift, was covering second on the steal. Lidge didn’t move to cover third on the throw down to second, so the base was wide open. My reaction to this sequence of events was: “YES..wait…WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING OH MY GOD IT’S GOING TO WORK!” It was the closest thing to a “no, no, no, YES!” moment that I think we can have in baseball.

The rest of the game went fairly simply: Tex was hit by a pitch; Alex Rodriguez ripped a double down the left field line, scoring Damon to give the Yankees the lead. Jorge Posada followed with a single (thrown out at second for the third out) that plated Tex and A-Rod, and the Yankees were up 7-4. Mariano Rivera sealed the game with an eight pitch inning and the Yankees were one win away from their 27th World Series championship.

Aside from the double-steal itself, the thing I remember most was the aftermath of the game. My friend and I walked down Jerome Avenue, back to my car, and the place was a mad house. Cars were honking their horns and flashing their lights; people were flying Yankee flags and towels out of their apartment buildings; pedestrians were high-fiving strangers like it was going out of style. Caught up in the moment, I started a chant/scream/yell that a few people picked up: “Ten down; one to go!” While the Yankees wouldn’t get that one more win until game six, I don’t think anyone on Jerome Avenue that night doubted for a second that win would come.
Continue reading IIATMS Top Moment #14: Johnny Damon’s Double Steal

Discussion: Six-man rotation?

Yesterday, we heard Yankee pitching coach Larry Rothschild suggest that the Yankees may use six starters for a particularly tough stretch–30 games in 31 days–in April and May. Bryan Hoch’s story later in the day included a clarifying quotation from Rothschild:

“It’s a result of some of the stuff that’s gone on over the last few years, not just here, but everywhere,” Rothschild said. “We’re aware of situations here and early in the season, we need to get these guys through these stretches. Being that possibly early in the spring, some of them aren’t going to be able to throw a lot, we’re going to need to build them up too and give them the extra days when we can.”

My gut reaction to a six-man rotation in the past has always been aversion, and probably for good reason. Six-man rotations give a possibly fringy starter starts and they take starts away from the top pitchers in the rotation. However, the 2015 Yankee rotation is making me rethink things.

As it currently stands, we’re looking at this for the rotation:

Masahiro Tanaka
CC Sabathia
Michael Pineda
Nathan Eovaldi
Chris Capuano

That is…not inspiring? If things break right, which is a rather big if, it could be a strong rotation, especially the top three. However, we all know that things usually don’t break right in baseball, especially when all three of those guys have health concerns (an elbow, a knee, and a shoulder, oh my!) and missed significant time in 2014. There’s also the distinct possibility that Capuano doesn’t work out the way we want him to. Those factors are somewhat tipping me in the direction of the six-man rotation, at least at the start of the year.

The six-man rotation may rob Tanaka and Sabathia and Pineda of some starts over the course of the season, but given their gigantic injury potential, it might be wise to give them extra days off. And given Capuano’s Chris Capuanoness, it might be worth it to give the sixth starter–Adam Warren? Bryan Mitchell? Esmil Rogers?–an audition period to take over for when the six-man rotation is no longer necessary. Granted, those names aren’t the most confidence-inducing, either, which is another potential issue with the six-man rotation.

We should also take into account the strong Yankee bullpen as a reason why they could survive with a five-man rotation, even through a tough stretch if need be. But the other side of that coin is the bullpen getting worn out. Perhaps a sixth starter could help give them rest ever few days.

This would all be a lot better if the Yankees had one absolute sure thing in the rotation, but such is life. It may take some tinkering to get it to work and a six-man rotation could help do that. It’s by no means a foolproof plan, but it’s a definite possibility.
Continue reading Discussion: Six-man rotation?

Focused Musings: On Pace of Play

I mentioned it in my commissioner piece from last Friday, but I’ll say it again: I feel like I’m the only one with no real qualms about the game of baseball’s pace of play. There is no clock in baseball and that’s something that appeals to me for whatever reason. Perhaps it stems from most other things in my life being dependent upon a clock.

Professionally, I’m a teacher and an SAT/ACT tutor. So, if I’m teaching something exam prep-related, I’m stressing the importance time management to my student: You have this much time to do these many questions, etc. And if I’m teaching in my classroom, I’m stressing the importance of time management to myself: How long to spend on this line of discussion? How long to wait for a response? How many…etc. When it comes to baseball, then, the idea of an activity devoid of a clock and devoid of time, even just for three hours, feels good.

While driving to work on Friday, I heard a radio host respond to a caller by saying the average time of a baseball game has increased by 40 minutes over the last 30 years. Putting on a dramatic radio voice, the host of course sounded dismayed by this long-running development and I’d be inclined to agree with him if I didn’t feel that the fact of longer game times is due mostly to things that have happened within the game of baseball itself. In other words, games aren’t necessarily longer because players and umps and managers are standing around picking daisies out there; rather, games are longer because of strategic changes that have taken place. Of course, not all of increase in game length is due to in-game things; baseball is an even bigger business than it was 30 years ago, and there are likely more commercials between innings now than there were three decades ago. This is something that can’t be changed since it would take money out of pockets, and I don’t think anyone wants that.

Aside from that, though, two natural, in-game things strike me as the reason for the extension of game time. First, there’s the Tony LaRussa-ization of bullpen usage. In the last 30 years, teams have started using more and more relievers as pitch counts and the specialization of relievers became popular. Offensively, batters got smarter; they started taking more pitches to work themselves into better hitting counts, which had led to more offense, more runs, and, naturally, longer games. The key word there is naturally and that applies both to the (formerly) increased offense and the evolution of bullpens and relievers.

There is also the issue of instant replay. This has definitely led to a lengthening of games, but if the “expense” of that is getting more calls right, I’m fine with it. To once again harken back to my piece from Friday, this is an issue that could be fixed with tweaks to the replay system. Let’s eliminate the silly challenge system and have a fifth umpire in-stadium, ready to review and evaluate any close calls that need a further look. This process can be done, quite literally, instantly and would cut down on the absurd process of manager walking out, stalling with conversation, looking back to the dugout, getting the thumbs up/thumbs down from the bench coach…I think we can all agree that this process, despite being a step in the right direction, is flawed and needs some reform.

There is one simple thing that can be done to improve pace of play that don’t require gimmicky things like pitch clocks or strategically limiting things like curbing mound visits by the catcher or unrealistic things like asking pitchers not to leave the mound or batters not to leave the box during at bats. The most effective way to do it would certainly be to enforce a consistent strike zone. That different umpires have different zones strikes me as one of the most ridiculous things we see in baseball today. Neither the pitcher nor the batter should have to adjust his approach because of the guy behind the catcher that day. Let’s call the strike zone from the catcher’s knees to his shoulders and call it a day.

I realize that I may be on a nearly minuscule island with this opinion, but I worry that attempts to quicken the pace of baseball’s play will hamper the quality of the game. Does it really make the game better if we have a pitch clock? Does it really make the game better if we limit mound visits by catchers? This isn’t to say that those things would make the game any worse; I’m just not so sure that they make the game demonstrably better. Continue reading Focused Musings: On Pace of Play

If IIATMS were in charge….

This post is corny. This post has been done before. I don’t care. I find stuff like this fun.

Yesterday, Rob Manfred won election by the owners to become Major League Baseball’s next commissioner, replacing long-time commissioner and former used car salesman Bud Selig. Manfred takes over at a strange time in that baseball is still a huge business, but as Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk has documented many times in the past, many want to declare baseball dead and bemoan its decline in popularity. For a moment, though, let’s put that nuance aside and ask a silly question: What would the people of IIATMS do if they were placed in the commissioner’s role with autonomous power?

William Tasker, Overlord Jason Rosenberg, and I put forth some ideas. Many of them overlap, but some of them don’t and hopefully this’ll lead to some conversation by you fine folks in the comments. Without further ado, here are some of the ideas we laid forth, starting with the Overlord. Disclaimer: Not all of these come with exact prescriptions.

–Eliminate the practice of using the All-Star Game to determine home field advantage in the World Series.
–Use the DH in both leagues
–Adherence and penalties for slow play
–Enforce the natural design of the strike zone
–Develop some solution regarding the draft and international free agency

Next, we have Will’s suggestions:

–Fix the blackout rules
–Fix the Tampa Bay and Oakland stadium situations
–Fix the strike zone
–Make the DH optional in NL parks
–Get rid of the World Series factor at the All-Star Game
–Fix both the draft and the IFA process
–Make or enforce time-between-pitches rules for batter and pitchers
–Limit mound visits by catchers and coaches
–Continue policy of working with the union rather than against it
–Fix the qualifying offer system
–Make no rules concerning the shift
–Fix the home plate/collision rules
–Work harder to find concussion protection for catchers and umpires

There are a lot of the above that I agree with: the WS/ASG conundrum, changes to the talent acquisition systems, clarifying the HP rules, no “knee-jerk” reactions to the shift, and implementing the DH in both leagues. There’s essentially only one thing I disagree with that both Will and Jason put forth, and that’s the pace of play stuff. I may be the only baseball fan around who thinks that way, but I think that’s because I haven’t heard any rule suggestions that I like regarding speed ups. I suppose I could get behind the idea of a pitch clock, but that rule could be easily circumvented by pitchers stepping off the mound repeatedly at the time limit. And given the nature of baseball, a game in which there is no clock to run out, no ball to sit on, does either team really benefit from a slow pitcher? The mound visit thing I appreciate, but at the same time, the pitchers and catchers who confer are generally getting paid a boatload of money and have an equal amount of pressure on them to perform; if they want to take a few seconds to match up on how they’re going to approach the next batter, I’m fine with that. Umpires are already generally good at breaking those meetings up in a timely fashion anyway.

As for things I would do that Jason and Will haven’t covered, there are two things. One, with a hat tip to Michael Eder, is to allow the trading of draft picks; the other, however, is much more major. I would revamp the playoff system in a few different ways.

First, I would eliminate divisions, since it’s ridiculous that the AL West teams get to play the Astros 19 times a year, just like it was ridiculous when the Yankees and Red Sox of the recent past got to fatten up against the Devil Rays. Of course, the corollary to eliminating divisions is to balance out the schedule so that everyone plays everyone as equally as possible. And finally, I’d go back to the “old” number of eight playoff teams, with the top four in each league making it to the playoffs.

Of course, Moshe Mandel had the best idea of any of the ones put forth:

I have just one suggestion: #YankeesOnly

Yup. Continue reading If IIATMS were in charge….

Crossing the Queensboro Bridge: On the Idea of Masahiro Tanaka

“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all…”
Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.”

Here we see narrator Nick Carraway and title character Jay Gatsby crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. In the pages prior, Gatsby “cleared up” some misconceptions and rumors about himself and Nick comes away with an idea of Gatsby. The idea, not the man, is the possibility Nick speaks of.

Now that we’ve crossed the bridge of his acquisition, it’s clear that anything is possible when it comes to Masahiro Tanaka.

The idea of Tanaka is invariably familiar to us as Yankee fans. He is the big-ticket “free agent” that has been long coveted by the Bronx faithful. Like countless others before him, we’ve wanted him. Badly. For the last year, his name had hung over the baseball season, spoken in a “low, thrilling voice” that had us counting down the days until he was posted and had us axiously passing time, waiting for hi to sign. In that time, the idea of Tanaka went from want to need. Of course, this isn’t unique to Tanaka. Both Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury–and even Kelly Johnson–were needed to fill certain holes. Like the post-2008 Hot Stove season, circumstances conspired for the Yankees to get what they wanted and what they needed. And of all the wants and needs, Tanaka stands as the biggest question. The idea of Tanaka is the biggest one…the boldest one…the most shapeless one…the one with the most promise for success and failure.

And until he pitches in real games for the Yankees, Tanaka remains an idea. He can be anything we want him to be. We can contour him into an expectation, a predicted and even practiced reality that can’t be proven wrong until after the fact. He can be the mold-breaking, transcendent, all-powerful ace. He can be the next great bust from Japan. Either one of these results could occur “without any particular wonder.”

In this metaphor, Masahiro Tanaka is not the man Jay Gatsby, but the idea thereof. We are the partygoers who assign various characteristics and histories to Gatsby. We can speculate; we can gossip; we can predict; we can accept his “hospitality” when he dominates on the mound. But in a way, we are also Gatsby, grabbing for the green light that will almost undoubtedly fall short of our wild expectations through no fault of its own. We must let go of our idea of Masahiro Tanaka and accept the pitcher; we must accept that our count of enchanted objects has decreased by one. Continue reading Crossing the Queensboro Bridge: On the Idea of Masahiro Tanaka

Yanks agree to sign Matt Thornton

https://twitter.com/JackCurryYES/status/412997516062654464 Instant analysis to come. Lefty reliever Matt Thornton will join the Yankees, pending a physical, to fill the LOOGY vacancy left by Boone Logan and his departure to the Rockies on a three year, $16.5M pact. Thornton debuted with the Mariners in 2004 (19 G, 32.2 IP) and became a regular in 2005 (55 G, 57.0 IP); he’s pitched between 55-74 games (43.1-67.1 IP) in each year between ’05 and 2013 while spending time in with the Mariners, the White Sox, and the Red Sox. All told, Thornton has appeared in 606 games, tossing 568.1 innings with a 3.53 Continue reading Yanks agree to sign Matt Thornton

Going All In

To describe Wednesday’s walk-off loss to the White Sox, I’ll borrow from Luke Skywalker’s description of his home planet of Tatooine: “If there’s a bright center of the universe, you’re on the planet farthest from it.” Andy McCullough called the loss the nadir of the season, and it’s hard to disagree. That loss featured just about every confounding component of the Yankees’ season: early runs with no tacking on; stranded runners galore; a wasted quality start. Pick any of the following “D” adjectives to describe the Yankees’ situation and you’d be right: dismal; dire; desperate; distressed; daunting. Going into their Continue reading Going All In

Robertson as closer will be just fine

Image Credit During last night’s game, Michael Kay said something that bothered me. Granted, this isn’t something unique and it definitely happened multiple times last night. Can you believe that in 2013, we’ve still got an announcer talking about Adam Dunn through the lens of batting average? Ugh, that bothers the hell out of me. Anyway, I digress. Getting back to the point of this article, Kay said something about David Robertson that he’s said many times before, that he worries about D-Rob as the post-Mariano Rivera closer. At its face, that’s a fair point. Going from Mo, the greatest Continue reading Robertson as closer will be just fine

CC anything but sharp, Yanks fall 7-2 in San Diego

That game did not seem fun at all. I intently watched the first inning, but started to doze off in the second. The last thing I remember hearing before I was out til morning was CC Sabathia contributing more than he has on the mound lately when he drove in Eduardo Nunez with an RBI groundout. From that point on, what was already a rocky start became a disaster for Sabathia. Though Sabathia’s third inning was scoreless, that was thanks to Brett Gardner connecting with Chris Stewart to nail Chase Headley at the plate for the third out. In the Continue reading CC anything but sharp, Yanks fall 7-2 in San Diego