Robinson Cano and Playoff Success (Or Jorge Posada and the Lack Thereof)

Reading through comments here and elsewhere, I’d like to take a look at the idea of being “clutch” and coming through when it counts. Robinson Cano was the only Yankee, besides some walks by Curtis Granderson and hits by Derek Jeter, to really do anything offensively this postseason. Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira (before getting hurt), and Alex Rodriguez didn’t have the greatest playoffs, and the Bronx Cheers of their ineptitude have been heard around New York. But let’s back the train up a little, shall we?

First of all and before we get into this, this isn’t to criticize Cano or call him a bad player. He’s an awesome player that will probably come in the top 3 of the MVP voting and deserves to be there. He’s one of the best players in the game. But is he clutch, or at least more so than any other player? That’s what I’m not sure about. To me, he’s simply an excellent hitter who was really zoned in, and it was incredible to watch. That bomb in Arlington was spectacular, and he pretty much nailed everything else. It reminds me of Carlos Beltran in 2004 (though Beltran was more impressive). So while the adjectives “awesome”, “great”, and “fantastic” are apt descriptions of Cano, I’m not sure “clutch” really fits.

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Lee v. Greinke*

* Just flows, doesn’t it?

So, the Yankees are out of the playoffs (we told you, weighted crapshoot), and their biggest weakness is in the rotation. Luckily, there are two elite options on the market—Cliff Lee and Zach Greinke—and the Yankees have enough resources to make a push for either of them. But which is best? Lee was easily the superior this past season, but he’s 32 and has a lot of mileage on that platinum left arm. Greinke was less spectacular but still very good and only 27, but he’ll cost you dearly in prospects. Every team is different and can afford different things, but what should the Yankees do?

Pro-Lee

Cliff Lee has been outstanding the past three seasons, and this past season was his best, yet. Always a master of command, Lee stepped up his performance this season when he dropped from the mid-1 walk ratio of the two previous seasons to 0.76, and never a big strikeout guy (usually around 7), Lee upped his strikeout ratio to almost 8. Put all of that together, and his 10.28 K/BB ratio is one of the best EVER. His only “fault” (not really a fault but a less-than-desirable) is that he’s not a ground-ball pitcher, and the increase in fly balls means more home runs. Lee, however, has held opponents to about a 6% HR/FB ratio (usually 10.6% for most people) over the past three seasons, and with that dip coinciding with his improved performance, there may be indication that he has an ability to prevent home runs, which would be nice given the difference between his FIP and xFIP (about 0.5-0.7 points the last three seasons—remember that xFIP standardizes HR/FB to 10.6% whereas FIP credits the actual home run rate). His 2.58 FIP was tops among all MLB pitchers this past season, except Josh Johnson, and was in the top 10 each of the last three seasons. Lee is no doubt an elite pitcher.

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Re-Examining Washington’s Curious Bullpen Management

Brien, and many others, made an excellent case that Ron Washington is a moron and should have used Neftali Feliz last night in the eighth inning. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I wonder about how much of that is results bias—stating something was the right/wrong (in this case, wrong) move because it did/did not work out (in this case, did not). Now, most people disagree with Washington’s moves, and a lot of those people are very smart people. This isn’t so much an argument with them as it is an exercise in re-examining our thoughts because we should do so anyway. So let’s look at the situation again.

CJ Wilson is dominating the game into the top of the 8th, but he’s thrown close to 100 pitches. It’s 5-1, but you have to know that the Yankees can score on you in a hurry. Hoping that Wilson can get through one more inning before going to Feliz for the ninth for the orthodox and clear-cut move, Washington lets Wilson pitch to the first two guys who single (Gardner) and double (Jeter) to bring the score to 5-2. Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira are coming up, and because both are switch-hitters, the manager has a tough decision because you can’t get a R-R or L-L match-up that you’d normally like. Praise the Yankees for having the lineup flexibility. So, what should Washington do?

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Commentary: Coming Around on Instant Replay

I’ve always considered myself a progressive guy, but I’ve always been somewhat of a baseball traditionalist. I like the difference between the AL and NL and don’t want the DH in both leagues, and I’ve always advocated for the umpires and against instant replay. Ever since Alex Rodriguez hit that fateful home run that sparked the controversy, I argued against the use of instant replay. The idea was that people were just momentarily pissed because big-name player for big-name team got screwed, and people only wanted instant replay to make sure their team didn’t get screwed and not necessarily “to get the call right” (ever notice in football how fans yell at their team to snap the ball quickly to prevent a replay?). It also didn’t seem like a big deal to me. I’m competitive, but once the game is done, I’m able to let it go and move on with my life. We’ve dealt with awful umpires before, and we made it through just fine. Why mess with it? Well, I’m done with that.

It’s been a slow process. Jason argued with me from the beginning, and I slowly moved toward his way of thinking. Bill at The Platoon Advantage continued Jason’s quest, and every point he made was a valid one, as all Jason’s had been before. Honestly, I couldn’t make much of an argument. My main argument became that instant replay doesn’t get every call right, and despite all of the camera angles, you always need an extra one (though it might speed up the game rather than the initial fears of slowing it down). I’ll admit this isn’t exactly the best argument, but I had never really seen the point of instituting instant replay. Baseball has worked without it and can continue to. After a while, however, I simply came to the realization that it was going to happen, and I couldn’t really do anything to stop it. I, effectively, became neutral to the idea. Well, I’m done with that, too.

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The Weighted Crapshoot Begins

We’ve talked about the playoffs before. It doesn’t determine what we say it determines, but that’s okay. Playoffs are about pressure, spectacle, and the best playing the best, and I’m okay with that even if I don’t think it actually crowns a “champion”. While some will deem the season a success or failure based on the outcome of the World Series, I don’t subscribe to that theory, but I’ll enjoy the playoffs anyway. Partly, I’m just happy the Braves stumbled in, but in general the playoffs get the adrenaline going, create heroes, scape(?) goats, and end in euphoria for some and misery for most, which is always fun. It’s always fun to see what happens. There are so many possibilities, but only one will occur. So let’s talk playoffs, possibilities, and who should win in the first round (second round and World Series to come before their respective rounds).

Yankees vs. Twins

I thought about putting this at the end and making you work for it, but because this is a Yankees blog and I’m in a good mood, I’ll be nice (also, make sure to read Will’s take on the series, which is more in-depth and will probably make you happier). A rematch of last season’s ALDS, the Yankees aren’t in as good of a position this time around. The rotation is struggling, and the team will need CC to remain great (he should), Pettitte to get healthy and productive (I’m less worried about this than I should be), and Hughes to not be too tired to pitch well (not sure) because they simply cannot count on AJ Burnett. The Twins have the better outlook with Francisco Liriano (better than CC, but you have to worry about the innings), Scott Baker, Brian Duensing and Carl Pavano. The Twins simply have more depth in the rotation and bullpen, and they are 2nd in FIP in the AL while the Yankees are 11th. Offensively, the Yankees scored 70 more runs and were 12 points better in wOBA, and the Twins are without Justin Morneau, who added a lot to the Twins scores while he was there. Jim Thome, due to that injury, has gotten more ABs and has been awesome, but the Yankees hold a distinct advantage on offense. Defensively, both teams are good, but the Twins hold a slight edge according to UZR/150. I don’t want to say it because you’ll hate me, but I like the Twins in five.

Outcome: Twins 3-2 (Note: Didn’t realize Baker wasn’t pitching in the series. Nick Blackburn, not a good option, is in instead. I may have to reconsider.)

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Blame Thrown in Wrong Direction in Tampa

By now, I imagine you’ve heard about the controversy in Tampa. Trying to clinch a spot in the playoffs, David Price tweeted that it was embarrassing that only 12,000 fans showed up to watch, and Evan Longoria reiterated the same feeling later, though Price had apologized by that time. The media exploded, arguing about who should receive the blame—Price or the fans. Was Price being insensitive to the economic plight of the fans? Were the fans demonstrating how impassionate they actually are for their hometown team? And did Price need to apologize for his tweet? Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to cover, so let’s get to it.

Was Price being insensitive to the economic plight of the fans? Partially. It’s not news that the country is not doing so well economically, and Price, a multi-million dollar athlete, is fairly isolated from the middle-class fan. His comment wasn’t exactly PR-worthy, but I don’t know that it was blame-worthy. First of all, he’s a competitive athlete on a great team that is trying to knock off the vaunted Yankees, and while the game was against the Orioles, the moment should have overshadowed the match-up. You can’t really blame him for wanting more fans, as it seemed to make a huge difference (I said “seemed”) in the 2008 playoffs with all the cowbells. He wants that again. Second, the economy is doing better, and while Florida has been hit harder by the recession, no one has ever really shown up in Tampa anyway, though they showed up in September 2008 for Boston and New York (before the recession). This is just frustration, and with the season they’re having and how fans normally react to winning, you would expect different results. It’s not, and he’s frustrated. I don’t blame him.

But can you blame the fans? I’ll say partially again (don’t you hate it when people sit the fence? Just stay with me, but it sucks when both sides have an argument, doesn’t it?). The economy does suck, and it has hit Florida awfully hard. And while the Rays are trying to clinch a spot in the playoffs, it’s not exactly like their place in the playoffs is in jeopardy. Add in the Orioles, and there’s really not a great reason to show up, though Brian Matusz continues to be the best AL rookie no one wants to acknowledge. It’s hard to pay money for something that seems a bit meaningless, especially considering the “real-life” circumstances. Still, you have to wonder about the passion of the city for the team. There’s obviously a fan base there (and let me state that I don’t question the integrity of the fan base. I don’t question your fandom), but you have to wonder how big it is. Does the city care about the team? Teams often say they won the championship for the city, and you kind of get the feeling that the team is just trying to win for themselves and about 15-20,000 other people because everyone else couldn’t care less. But I don’t really blame the city. It’s hard to blame you for not spending money you don’t really have, and I can’t even blame you for not getting attached to a team that’s largely been a travesty since its inception.

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The Human Element

No, today isn’t the day we talk about intangibles. We’ll just have to agree to leave that quagmire for another day. No, today I want to talk about the feeling that sabermetrics is about trying to calculate baseball and remove the “human element”. I often hear people say/write (something to the effect of), “See. [Player X] did fine despite [sabermetric statistic that stated otherwise].The game isn’t played on a computer screen.” Like most of the arguments in the debate over newer statistics, it comes from a misunderstanding of what is actually happening and what the purpose of sabermetrics is. So, let’s talk about it.

Sabermetrics does not exist to eliminate the actual play of baseball. Sabermetrics does not exist so that nerds who have no athletic ability can take away from the players with immense athletic ability. Sabermetrics does not exist to render human beings into numbers. So, if it’s not that, what is it?

The purpose of sabermetrics is to rethink orthodoxy in baseball when there is a logical disconnect between the original statistic/strategy/theory and what actually happens. For example, ERA is supposed to measure pitcher performance, but someone realized that ERA actually incorporates other things such as defense. Batting average is supposed to measure hitter performance, but someone noticed the value of a walk and that all hits are not created equally. Sabermetricians did not simply wake up one day and say, “Today, I think I’ll try to destroy the very fabric of the game I love.” That doesn’t make any sense. Sabermetricians fight so hard because they love baseball, not because they hate it. No, they woke up and say (something to the effect of), “You know, this doesn’t make sense to me. So, let’s figure out why. First, what is the historic significance of the stat, and why was it implemented? Second, does it really measure what it says it does? Third, can we use computers, which the pioneers of the game did not have, to parse out performance and evaluate it more accurately?” The purpose of sabermetrics is to identify these disconnects and then critically and scientifically find out what is actually happening.

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Joba and FIP

Joba Chamberlain gave up another big home run the other night, and the Yankees took a loss to the Texas Rangers. Shortly after, Andrew Marchand wrote, “Chamberlain still doesn’t look as if he is ready for the prime time of the eighth inning … One pitch in and it was a bad idea.” With an ERA of 4.71 and 4 blown saves, I’m sure there are several people who are in ready agreement with Marchand. You probably wouldn’t mind if Joba was sent packing. He’s no longer the heir-apparent to Mariano Rivera. Heck, he’s not even the heir-apparent to Chan Ho Park, right?

Wrong. With a 3.21 FIP, that ERA is bound to come way back next season. Before we continue, let’s go back to that last part of that last sentence—”that ERA is bound to come way back next season.” Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) have come under scrutiny lately because people believe ERA tells you what happened and DIPS tell you what should have happened. It’s a common misunderstanding for those who are not familiar with newer pitching statistics such as FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, but these stats do tell you what happened.

Let me explain.

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Hindsight Bias: Jim Thome

As I was watching Sportscenter the other day, I saw a clip of Jim Thome hitting a monster home run off the top of the American flag in Target Field. It was a massive blast. Then, it occurred to me that I’ve seen an awful lot of this lately from Thome. So, I decided to go take a look at his stats for this season, and what I saw surprised me. What I saw might shock a few of you. What I saw will probably make you a little sick.

Heading into the off-season, Thome’s future was uncertain. The White Sox had sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the previous season, and they didn’t want him back. The feeling around baseball was that if Thome wanted a job that it would be a small, both in playing time and salary, gig. Thome was just getting too old as he headed into his age-40 season. Several teams could have used a starting DH. The Angels chose Hideki Matsui. The Mariners chose Ken Griffey, Jr./Mike Sweeney. Texas chose Vladimir Guerrero. Oakland chose to be awful. The Royals chose Mike Jacobs. The Rays chose to stick with Pat Burrell. And the Yankees chose Nick Johnson. Jim Thome ended up signing up with the Twins for $1.5 million and a back-up job as the DH spot became a combination of whoever didn’t play the OF, Joe Mauer when he wasn’t catching, and Thome.

We all know how this worked out. Matsui was awful until recently, Griffey/Sweeney fell asleep, and the other didn’t work out with the exception of Guerrero’s awesome first half but substandard second half. The Yankees’ selection, Johnson, ended up on the DL (predictably), and they felt compelled to trade for Lance Berkman. The Yankees could have had Thome, but they didn’t. Instead, Thome has gone on to an amazing season.

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