About William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

Some Sunday news, links and notes

On this last Sunday with no baseball to watch, here are a few notes and some news about the Yankees: Mark Feinsand has video of Michael Pineda throwing batting practice. Feinsand also provides us a handy-dandy Spring Training television schedule you can print and put on your fridge. Vidal Nuno will start the first Spring Training game against FSU on Tuesday. Nuno is one of many candidates for the fifth spot in the Yankees’ rotation. Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston is being touted as the starter for the Seminoles. Pinstripe Alley has the scoop on a 17-year-old Colombian right-handed pitcher Continue reading Some Sunday news, links and notes

Faces of the Yankees

Several of my colleagues here have shared thoughts on Derek Jeter‘s retirement announcement. Coming on the heels of Mariano Rivera‘s and Andy Pettitte‘s last year and Jorge Posada‘s the year before, the Core Four will be no more. I guess I have sadness at the end of these players’ careers, but not overly so. They all fulfilled great careers, two of which will end with the Hall of Fame beckoning. What I am more sad about is the Yankees of 2015. I have struggled to put my thoughts to words for a couple of weeks. So I guess I will Continue reading Faces of the Yankees

The case for youth at second base

Back on February 6, Brad imagined a world where Brian Roberts suddenly stayed healthy and regained some of his old form and beat all current projections. The very entertaining and well written article surmised that such a scenario could net the New York Yankees a 2.3 WAR season from Roberts. Toward the end of the piece, the author talked himself out of such a thing happening. If such a season for Roberts is as long shot as it is, why not invite both Jose Pirela and Dean Anna to Spring Training and let them fight for the position?

Brian Cashman himself hinted at such a thing happening and stated that second base is open to a “cast of characters.” Let’s make a case for the younger guys. According to MLB Depth Charts, Pirela has a Spring Training invite but Anna does not. Anna should be there in camp to see what he can do.

As Brad pointed out in his piece, most projection systems (if not all) give Roberts no shot at being anything more than a 0.2 to 0.9 WAR player. Roberts was once a very good second baseman and he was a dynamic offensive player too. But that was years ago. It has been five years since he was that guy. He is 36 years old.

Then you have two younger players: Jose Pirela and Dean Anna. Both are not all that young and have spent years in the minor leagues. Both deserve a shot at least. But what do the projection systems say about them if they had the chance?

ZiPS does not rate Pirela along with the rest of the Yankees’ forecast. But Oliver projections gave him a projected WAR (if he played every day) of 2.0. Pirela might have more upside on Anna with the bat, but is probably not as good a fielder as Anna.

ZiPS projects Anna as a 1.7 WAR player if he received 513 plate appearances. Oliver gives him 2.0 if Anna were to get 600 plate appearances.

Both systems knock back the two untested players in offensive categories from their minor league numbers, which makes sense. But both are highly conservative in those offensive categories. For example, Anna has always had a walk percentage in double digits in the minors, but Oliver says he would walk only 8.3% of the time in the Majors.

The upside to both of these players seems higher than the pie-in-the-sky hopes for Roberts to somehow rekindle a long dormant career.

If given the choice, I would choose Anna because of the plate discipline and better glove. But the Yankees rarely if ever choose an untested player over a veteran no matter how high the odds are that the veteran will find some prior magic. So settle in for Brian Roberts getting the job out of Spring Training. If he fails to be productive, it will be interesting to see how long the Yankees stick with him. Continue reading The case for youth at second base

Ralph Kiner and the 1955 pennant race

Most New York baseball fans think of Ralph Kiner in association with his 53 amazing years of broadcasting for the New York Mets. But eight years before he first sat behind the microphone for the Mets, he almost had an impact on another New York team. Ralph Kiner was a member of the 1955 Cleveland Indians that fought down to the wire with the Yankees in that year’s pennant race.

1955 was Kiner’s tenth and last season in Major League Baseball and it was his first legitimate opportunity to play with a team that could go all the way. Just the season before, the Indians had won 111 of its 154 games to win the pennant by eight games over a Yankees team that won 103 games. The Indians were swept in the 1954 World Series by the New York Giants in one of the biggest upsets of the century.

Despite Kiner’s prodigious career to that point, the Indians picked him up as the player to be named later in a deal that sent Toothpick Sam Jones to the Cubs from Cleveland the previous September. It seemed like a great deal for the Indians as the team’s outfield had two stars in Larry Doby and Al Smith but Kiner would replace Dave Philley, who was a much weaker hitter as the third outfielder in 1954.

At the time of the deal, no one could have known it would be Ralph Kiner’s last season since he was only 32 years old and still productive. And when the Indians had a two game lead over the Yankees with only nine games to play in September, it appeared that Kiner might finally reach the post season.

Such a situation was a long time coming for Ralph Kiner. He was a superstar who won the home run title the first seven years of his career. In his seven+ seasons with the Pirates from 1946 to June 3 of 1953, he hit 301 homers and had driven in 801 runs. He even compiled 795 walks during those years and made six All-Star teams. But those Pirate teams were awful.

As a member of the Pirates, Kiner’s team went 457-673 for a .404 winning percentage. 1952 was the absolute zenith of the team’s woes when it finished the season with 112 losses and a .275 winning percentage. It was that season that led to the famous line by General Manager, Branch Rickey to a bargaining Kiner, “We finished last with you, we can finish last without you.”

Rickey stayed true to his word and included Kiner in a multi-player deal to the Cubs on June 3, 1953. The Cubs were not much better than the Pirates and their record while Kiner was on the team (part of 1953 and 1954) was 117-151.

So you can see that 1955 was finally going to be Kiner’s chance to play with a pennant winning team. And Kiner was performing just as the Indians had hoped during the first half. He played in 72 of the first 77 games and compiled an .830 OPS–good for a 128 OPS+ at the time. In at least two of those games, Kiner played the entire contests of 15-inning and 17-inning outings.

It must have been toward the end of May when his back started acting up because he started to miss a game here or two there. But he was producing and his OPS reached its peak for the season on June 14. The Indians were three games back of the Yankees on that date and would fall as far back as eight games by July 2.

The Indians roared back into the race and were tied with the Yankees by July 30 and it was a tight race the rest of the way. This run back into the race coincided with when Kiner really started to struggle with his back. Between July 9 and August 6, Kiner missed thirteen games and was only able to pinch hit in eleven of the fifteen games where he did appear.

On August 6, after missing eight straight games, Kiner pinch hit and knocked in a run. He started the next day and then missed a day. Then on August 10, he had his biggest moment of the season.

The Indians started that day a half a game behind the Yankees and it looked like they were going to stay that way as they were down to the Tigers, 4-2 heading into the seventh inning. The Indians put a rally together in the seventh and had a man on second and third with one out and Kiner pinch hit for Gene Woodling and struck out. The Tigers would not score and headed into the ninth inning still down by those two runs.

Al Aber had relieved Jim Bunning in that seventh inning mentioned above and it was he that struck out Kiner and had gotten out of the jam. He pitched a flawless eighth, but Aber never recorded an out in the ninth.

Hoot Evers pinch hit to lead off the bottom of the ninth and singled to left. Hank Foiles pinch hit and singled to center to make it first and second with no outs. Al Smith attempted to sacrifice to get the runners over, but he beat out the bunt for another single to load the bases. Al Aber did not strike out Ralph Kiner this time. Kiner hit the ball over the fence for a grand slam and a walk-off win that put the Indians a half a game up on the Yankees.

On September 4, 1955, the Indians again started the day a half a game behind the Yankees. Playing the White Sox at home, the team was down, 3-0, heading into the bottom of the fourth. With the bases loaded and two runs already in, Kiner again pinch hit for Woodling. This time there were two outs. He worked a walk to tie the game. Later in the sixth inning, he hit a two-out double to drive in the go-ahead two runs. Again, his heroics left the team a half a game in front of the standings.

On September 10, Kiner started and went two for five with a homer,  two runs scored and an RBI in a game the Indians won by three runs. They were a game and a half ahead in the standings at that point. The homer was Kiner’s 18th of the season and the final homer of his career. He hit it off Ellis Kinder of the Red Sox.

Sadly, Ralph Kiner was pretty much finished at that point. He only had one more hit the rest of the way and was unable to play in eight of the last eleven games. Without Kiner, the Indians won both games of a double-header on September 13 against the Washington Senators to go up by two games.

After those two wins, the Indians lost four games in a row and six of their last nine games. Meanwhile, the Yankees won ten of their last twelve games and blew by the Indians to not only erase the two game deficit but won the American League by three games.

The way the 1955 Yankees finished that season, perhaps it would not have made a difference if Ralph Kiner had been healthy down the stretch. But the Indians only scored ten runs in those six losses and perhaps a healthy Kiner could have made a difference. We will never know.

The Yankees went on to lose a heart-breaking World Series to the Dodgers and the Indians went home. Cleveland released Ralph Kiner on October 10, 1955 and Kiner’s short but brilliant career was over never reaching the Promised Land.

Perhaps the 1969 and 1986 Mets made up for Kiner’s lack of championships as a player.

Ralph Kiner lived a full and wonderful life in his 91 years. He was a navy pilot during World War II, was one of the best players in baseball from 1946 to 1953 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He then was the voice of the Mets for an incredible 53 years. He left a legacy and will be missed. But we should not mourn his loss for his sake. His was a pretty incredible life..

  Continue reading Ralph Kiner and the 1955 pennant race

Scrapbooking and scorecards

Long before there was the Internet or ESPN or even cable television, there were three ways for me to keep up with the sport of baseball and my team, the New York Yankees. There were broadcasts of games on WPIX: Channel 11 (or on radio), newspapers like the New York Daily News and the Bergen Record and The Sporting News (TSN). The Sporting News of my youth was an over-sized magazine printed on newspaper paper. Its arrival on Friday or Saturday was always one of the highlights of the week.

At that time, TSN really covered sports in depth and baseball in particular. Each team was given at least a full page or possibly two from journalists who covered those teams. The writing was fantastic and probably sowed some of the seeds of my own desire to write.

After I devoured that thing from cover to cover over a four or five hour period, my fingertips would be black from the ink. It was only then after reading about every team and then looking at the league statistics at the end of the baseball section that I could begin my scrapbooking.

I used the term, “Scrapbooking,” because that is what the world calls it now. We had no such word then nor the nice materials they have now to fuel the scrapbooking craze (which I think has kind of gone by now, eh?). We had these big scrapbooks that had a semi-cloth cover and gray or yellowish construction-like paper inside.

Each team was given four pages in my scrapbooks. I would cut pictures of players out of TSN and paste them with Elmer’s Glue as tightly as I could in those scrapbooks. Through those pages you could find Harmon Killebrew, Don Mincher, Mike Shannon and a host of others. Continue reading Scrapbooking and scorecards

Girardi versus Torre in bullpen use

There is a common narrative when it comes to looking back on the two great Yankee managers over the last eighteen years. The narrative goes something like this: Joe Torre burned out his bullpens and Joe Girardi‘s use of his bullpen is one of his strengths as a manager. I have heard variations of those memes over the years and wondered if there was a way to measure the bullpen usage to see how true these narratives were. Once I put together all the numbers, the conclusion I came up with is that Torre really did not earn his reputation until the last five years of his tenure.

First, let’s look at the most basic of numbers, things like ERA, WHIP and bullpen losses. Each provides some insight to the conclusion.

Joe Girardi’s bullpens have beaten the average American League bullpen in ERA every season he has been the manager. His accumulative average bullpen is then higher than the league over that time period. Joe Torre’s bullpens beat the league average for his first eight seasons in pinstripes. In 1997, the bullpen ERA was almost a full run below the league average.

But in Torre’s last five seasons, four of those five bullpens actually finished above the league average in ERA and the one season his came below (2006) was only by three lonely points. Here are their accumulated averages:

Manager – ERA – Lg ERA – Diff

  • Torre – 4.00, 4.33, -.33
  • Girardi – 3.56, 3.88, -.32

As you can see, the two numbers are nearly identical. Torre would have been much higher if the last five years were not so tough. It should be noted that Girardi’s last three years were not as effective as this first three. The lower Girardi average ERA is in a much more pitching environment than the offensive days Torre managed, so don’t make a big deal of that difference.

The same thing shows up in the accumulated WHIP averages. Torre’s bullpen WHIP was much lower than league average for his first eight years and then was actually higher in two of his last five years. Girardi has again struggled a bit the last three years with his bullpen WHIP but the numbers come out nearly identical:

Manager – WHIP – Lg WHIP – Diff

  • Torre – 1.359, 1.424, -0.065
  • Girardi – 1.271, 1.337, -0.066

I’d call that a wash. So far, we have seen little difference between the overall results of the two managers and their bullpens. It should be noted that we are judging all relievers equal here and not taking into account the kind of talent each manager had. But it is a manager’s job to make the most of their bullpens and these numbers show that both have done about the same in these categories.

Now let’s look at two other basic categories, the number of losses the bullpens sustained per year under each manager and the percentage that inherited runners by relievers scored:

Manager – Losses per season – Inherited runners scoring

Torre – 17.67, 33%

Girardi – 17.5,  27.7%

While the losses per season are similar, the inherited runners scoring favors Girardi. I did not do league averages for these stats though and the higher scoring environment in Torre’s years may play a factor.

What about how the bullpens were used? I then looked at things like days pitched without rest, number of outs per outing and times that more than three outs were asked of the reliever:

Manager – Days without rest – ave number of outs – more than three outs

  • Torre – 93.33, 3.52, 135
  • Girardi – 89.83, 3.20, 115

Some notes on the numbers above: Torre’s early years saw similar days without rest numbers as Girardi. The difference really came about in the last four of Torre’s seasons. Three of those four seasons showed the number of days pitched without rest jump to over a hundred and the fourth was at 92. 2004 was really bad as it happened 131 times! In Girardi’s six years, he had one season (2012) where that figure jumped to 117, the second highest of the eighteen year period. But all other years including 2013 were in the eighties and seventies.

Torre left his pitchers in longer. The number of outs per outing and the times when more than three outs were required showed a slightly different philosophy. All three of these numbers in this last sequence seem to favor the idea that Torre expected more out of his bullpen and Girardi is more conscious of rest and length of outing. But again, Torre seemed to demand more with less rest the further in the rear view mirror the 2000 championship season was toward the end of his tenure.

The one constant for both managers was Mariano Rivera, except for 2012, when Rivera missed most of the season for Girardi. Joe Torre should be given credit for his emphasis on trying to make each game a six or seven inning game where the bullpen shut it down from the seventh inning on. Girardi has tried to continue that tradition. That emphasis really worked for Torre in his first four seasons with Rivera, John Wetteland, Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza all factors in those first four years.

But after Nelson and Stanton broke down, Torre simply did not have the same success in his later years and struggled to find a combination to put in front of Rivera. Girardi used the tandem of Rivera and David Robertson to great effect as long as they were healthy and often had a decent option for the seventh inning. Injury problems led Girardi to improvise and 2012 was a real scramble act in particular.

The conclusion would seem to be after looking at everything that Joe Torre earned his bullpen wrecking reputation in the last four years of his tenure. Up until that point, his usage of the bullpen was similar to Girardi’s and the overall numbers seem to show that Torre was not as bad on his bullpen as we thought.

The bottom line is that both garnered similar results in bullpens that regularly beat league averages in ERA and WHIP. Perhaps Torre should be given a little more credit than he gets with his bullpen usage and perhaps Girardi should get a little less. Continue reading Girardi versus Torre in bullpen use

Nova better beat his projections

I was thinking about starting a series called, “Things that have to go well.” The idea was to talk about certain Yankees players and how they have to stay healthy and play well if the Yankees are to compete in 2014. But you can probably see the obvious problem with such an idea. EVERYTHING has to go well. The same can be said for most teams. Last season everything went about as badly as it could. I will at least stick with the player who was going to lead off the series: Ivan Nova. Good golly, Ivan Nova needs to Continue reading Nova better beat his projections

Minor move that might be major

The Yankees signed Robert Coello to a minor league contract. Coello might be one of those nice surprises the Yankees have come up with in the bullpen the last couple of years like Kelley and brief brilliance by Eppley, Repada and Wade in 2011 and 2012. What made me sit up and take notice was this terrific post on Coello by Eno Sarris of Fangraphs.com. Click the link and drool over that forkball. Remember the name. Coello might be one of the nice pickups of the off-season. In only sixteen appearances for the Angels last year, Coello struck out 23 batters in Continue reading Minor move that might be major

Jerry Coleman’s 1957 World Series

This post initially appeared on ESPN on January 6, 2014.

Jerry Coleman, who passed away on Sunday, became one of the most popular people in San Diego while broadcasting Padres games from 1972 to 2010, a career that earned him a place in the broadcasting wing of the Hall of Fame. But when a well-known Yankee player passes away, headlines often read something like, “Yankee Great Jerry Coleman Dies.”

The truth was that Jerry Coleman was not a great. He was pretty good and he had his moments and was very good at getting on base, but the Yankees often had someone they preferred better. There were Phil Rizzuto and Gil McDougald and later Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson. And it did not help that Coleman basically lost five years flying combat missions in both World War II and the Korean War. The JAWS system of ranking players ranks Jerry Coleman as the 231st best second baseman in baseball history. Coleman was released by the Yankees after the 1957 season…after he was the team’s best player in the 1957 World Series.

You never hear much about Jerry Coleman’s series in 1957 except for a blip on his Wikipedia page. The reason is that the Yankees lost that series in seven games to a Milwaukee Braves team led by greats like Hank Aaron, Lew Burdette, Warren Spahn and Eddie Matthews. Many refer to that 1957 World Series as a classic. Most series that go seven games are pretty terrific

Jerry Coleman was limited in his playing time that season. He only came to the plate 180 times that season and he played second, short and third.

The Yankees were short an outfielder that season. Elston Howard is listed as the team’s left fielder on that season’s Baseball-reference.com page. During the series, Howard split time out there with a 21 year old Tony Kubek as well as playing first base. As little as Coleman played that season, he played more toward the end of the season though his hitting suffered and he struggled the last two months of his last regular season.

And so, Jerry Coleman was in the lineup every day in that 1957 World Series. He batted eighth most of the time. Casey Stengel pinch hit for him once (Joe Collins struck out) and pinch ran for him another time. The pinch runner was some guy named Mickey Mantle. But otherwise, Coleman played the entire series.

Coleman came to the plate 25 times that series and got on base eleven of those times including eight hits, two doubles and three walks. He drove in two and scored twice and played flawlessly in the field. He led the team that series in average, on-base percentage (of the regulars) and OPS. If the Yankees would have won that series (and given Coleman his fifth ring), his series would be remembered as one of the great ones.

The first game of that series was typical of Coleman’s contributions. The game pitted two great left-handed pitchers as Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn were the starters. The game went scoreless through the first four and a half innings. Coleman had hit an opposite field double with one out in the third but was stranded at second. In the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees broke through for a run and Coleman was in the middle of it.

He led off the bottom of the fifth with a single to left. He worked his way to third on two successive ground outs but Hank Bauer‘s double to score the first run. The Yankees scored their second and third runs in the bottom of the sixth and again Coleman was involved.

After Mantle flied out to start the inning, Spahn gave up a single to Howard and then walked Yogi Berra. Andy Carey then hit a single to center that scored Howard from second. Berra went to third on the play. The hit by Carey finished Spahn and the Braves brought in Ernie Johnson to face Coleman. Stengel put the squeeze play on and Coleman executed it perfectly to score Berra.

Ford went on to pitch a complete game and won, 3-1. Coleman had been a part of two of the runs and recorded three putouts and had four assists in the game.

The Yankees could not solve Lew Burdette in the second game and as it turned out, could not in the entire series. But Coleman went one for two with a walk in the game before he was pinch hit for by Joe Collins, a questionable decision by Stengel the way Coleman was hitting.

The series shifted to Milwaukee for Game 3 and the Yankees had a blow out win. Coleman went 0-4 in the game but he did have a walk and scored a run. Tony Kubek hit two homers and Mantle hit one but the real story was the eleven walks given up by Braves’ pitching.

The Braves won a heart-breaker in the fourth game as the Yankees took the lead in the top of the tenth but Bob Grim gave up a three-run homer to Matthews to lose the game and tie the series back up again. Coleman went one for four and handled seven chances at second without a hitch.

The Braves won Game 5, 1-0 as Lew Burdette again shut down the Yankees and beat Whitey Ford, one of the best post-season pitchers in history. Coleman went one for three and had one of the few hits that game for the Yankees. He was pinch run for by Mantle, who was promptly caught stealing. The Yankees attempted five stolen bases in the series and were thrown out four times. Del Crandall was the Braves’ catcher.

Bob Turley saved the series for the Yankees as they came back home to Yankee Stadium and Turley pitched a complete game victory, 3-2. Yogi Berra was the hitting star that game, but Coleman went one for two with a walk and handled seven more chances at second. The series was headed for a seventh game.

But the Yankees never had a chance in the seventh game. Don Larson and Bobby Shantz gave up four runs in the third inning due in some part to some sloppy fielding (Kubek, McDougald and Berra all made errors in the game) and that was all Burdette needed as he won his third game of the series, this one a seven-hit, complete game shutout and the Yankees lost the series.

Jerry Coleman may or may not have known that the seventh game would be his last ever as a baseball player. He was the only Yankee with double-figures in hits as he went two for four with seven more flawless chances at second. The Yankees released him two months later on December 9 and Coleman hung it up as a player.

Coleman’s love affair with baseball never ended as he worked for a year as a scout for the Yankees and then did some broadcasting for CBS before joining the Yankee broadcast team in 1963 for seven years. He then performed that same job for the Angels for a couple of years before moving permanently to the Padres radio team in 1972 and that relationship lasted until 2010 and was only interrupted in 1980 when he managed the Padres for a season!

Jerry Coleman had a rich and fruitful life. His marine career, his baseball career, his broadcasting career all paint a full picture of a full life. Despite his Berra-like penchant for having things come jumbled out of his mouth at times, Coleman became a beloved figure in San Diego and earned himself a place in Cooperstown as a broadcaster. He made one All-Star team in 1950 and the sum total of his baseball career was 6.6 rWAR. But that is okay. He served his country, he served his team and he served the fans. And he won four World Series rings and checks along the way. He even called Mickey Mantle’s 500th homer. That is enough history for many men. Continue reading Jerry Coleman’s 1957 World Series