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.

A Sweet Golden Sombrero


This post is not going to be an analytical gem. It is not going to be some biting analysis about what happened in a game. It is certainly not a journalistic endeavor. Okay, you might be saying, “So what else is new?” Yes, I know. I’ve been writing about baseball on the Internet for twelve years. Let’s be real. Nobody has ever called me a journalist or an analyst. After all, my Twitter handle has always been, “@FlagrantFan.” No, this post is none of those things you can hang a shingle on. This is a post of a one-man celebration of an event that has never happened before. The Yankees struck out David Ortiz swinging four times in four at bats. That, friends, was a sweet Golden Sombrero.

Oh, the Yankees have struck out David Ortiz four times in a game before. It happened twice before it happened last night. The first time was on May 24, 2006. Randy Johnson started the game for the Yankees and got Ortiz swinging in the first. Johnson then got Ortiz to ground out before striking Ortiz out looking. Later in the game (which the Yankees won), Mike Myers struck Ortiz out swinging and Kyle Farnsworth struck Ortiz out looking.

The other game took place on April 24, 2009. Joba Chamberlain started for the Yankees and in three plate appearances against Chamberlain, Ortiz struck out swinging once, struck out looking the second time and singled his third try. Ortiz then flew out when facing Phil Coke. This was a game where Mariano Rivera blew a save on a ninth inning, two-run homer to Jason Bay. Damaso Marte then gave up a walk off homer to Kevin Youkilis in the eleventh. Rivera had struck out Oriz swinging in the ninth and Marte had struck Ortiz out swinging in the eleventh…just before the walk off homer.

Both of those games occurred in Fenway Park in Boston and in each game, Ortiz had put at least one ball in play and at least one of the strikeouts were looking. Last night also occurred at Fenway, but the difference was that Ortiz never put a ball in play and struck out swinging all four times.

Why is this such a moment of celebration for me? Well, there are myriad reasons. Here are just a few:

I don’t like him.

While I respect David Ortiz greatly, I really can’t stand the guy. Why? Because of his arrogant body language, his “there are two I’s in Team” attitude, his big moment in lifting up Boston after the bombing with a king-sized swear word…that’s just a few. And because he is the visible face of the Yankees – Red Sox rivalry.

He has killed the Yankees for years.

Last night was the 221st game David Ortiz has played against the Yankees. Before last night, the Yankees have seen him come to the plate 964 times, good for 818 at bats. In those 221 games, Ortiz has compiled 250 hits, 117 of them were for extra bases including 47 homers. Ortiz’s triple-slash line against the Yankees is .306/395/.565. Ouch. The Yankees have walked him 13.3% of the time. The Yankees have struck him out in 19% of his at bats.

It broke the Yankees’ usual approach to facing Ortiz.

I have seen probably 75% of Ortiz’s plate appearances against the Yankees. Too many of them are similar. The Yankees get ahead in the count and then start nibbling. The next thing you know, the count is 3-2 and the end results are either a walk, a big hit or a strikeout. Very few Yankee pitchers have had the temerity to get ahead of him and keep going after him. Michael Pineda did it three times and Dellin Betances did it the fourth time.

It is fun to watch him skulk back to the dugout.

Well…call it petty and small-minded. But it is! And he did it four times!

When it is all said and done, I will probably support David Ortiz for the Hall of Fame. I don’t care about steroids or PEDs. Was he a force in his generation? For sure. Was he amazing in his three World Series appearances, Yes, he was. Has he had a ton of big moments in big games, many of them against the Yankees? Yup. But for one sweet night, the Yankees, for the first time ever, did not let David Ortiz put a ball in play for four out of four appearances and gave him a swinging Golden Sombrero. I’ll take that moment with me for a long time. Continue reading A Sweet Golden Sombrero

Game 128 – Wisler While They Work

Severino vs BOS

The New York Yankees continue their interleague match-up against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta. The Yankees have young stud, Luis Severino on the mound squaring up with the Braves’ Matt Wisler. Severino is coming off his first win of the season and sports a very promising 2.74 ERA along with 9.39 strikeouts per nine innings.

Matt Wisler will be making his thirteenth start for the Braves and though he has a winning record of 5-4, his statistical line does not look pretty. His ERA and FIP are over five and his home run per nine rate is very high. Wisler does not strike out a lot of batters so his stuff is not the kind that misses bats.

But as always, the game is played on the field and you never know what is going to happen until it does. The Blue Jays have already won (what a surprise…) by tomahawking the Tigers, 15-1. Thanks for showing up, Tigers!

The Lineups:

New York Yankees:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Brett Gardner – LF
  3. Carlos Beltran – RF
  4. Brian McCann – C
  5. Greg Bird – 1B
  6. Chase Headley – 3B
  7. Didi Gregorius – SS
  8. Stephen Drew – 2B
  9. Luis Severino – P

Atlanta Braves:

  1. Nick Markakis – RF
  2. Cameron Maybin – CF
  3. Freddie Freeman – 1B
  4. Nick Swisher – LF
  5. Adonis Garcia – 3B
  6. Jace Peterson – 2B
  7. Christian Bethancourt – C
  8. Andrelton Simmons – SS
  9. Matthew Wisler – P

Some game notes: The game is being broadcast on FoxSports1 but if the Mets / Red Sox run long, the game will start on the YES Network. Mark Teixeira has a lot of inflammation from his bone bruise, but further tests as this point have been ruled out after seeing the Braves’ doctor. Stephen Drew is one for his last thirteen (.076) and his batting .176 over his last fourteen days.

Enjoy the game everyone! Continue reading Game 128 – Wisler While They Work

The Yankees’ One-Dimensional Offense

The game last night between the now-second place New York Yankees and the Houston Astros was a glaring look at the flaws of this 2015 team. I am not really talking about the pitching because every team’s pitching staff will get blown out like that occasionally (although the Yankees’ love affair with Chris Capuano is stunning). The real weakness of the 2015 Yankees is the one-dimentional offense. If they do not homer, they do not score.

The Yankees have now played 34 games in which the team did not hit a home run. The team is 10-24 in those games. In those games, the Yankees have averaged 2.184 runs scored a game. In one of those games, they managed to score ten runs. If you throw that game out, the average goes down to 1.94 runs per game. Just imagine the standings if the Yankees could have managed to be five or six wins better in those games.

To be fair, the Blue Jays, who never seem to lose these days, are even worse with a record of 6-25 when that team does not hit a homer. But the Blue Jays’ run scoring average is better in those games than the Yankees and for the Blue Jays, the pitching (before this streak) wasn’t that good.

The difference between the two teams this month is that the Blue Jays have hardly gone a game or two without hitting a homer. The last two times were the two games the Yankees beat them in Toronto. Those were the only two games the Blue Jays have gone without a homer this month. The Yankees have gone without a homer six times this month and are 1-5 in those games.

I have several observations concerning the inability to score unless there is a homer in the game. The first is that before Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, he and Brett Gardner were creating havoc at the top of the order. Since Ellsbury’s return, that is no longer the case.

Secondly, after Ellsbury and Gardner, the Yankees have four of the slowest quartet of base runners in baseball with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. You have to string together a lot of hits to get those turtles around the bases.

Thirdly, the bottom of the order is a wasteland. If you do manage to get some of the turtles on base, the odds of them getting batted in by Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan, et al, are slim. The non-pitcher batters in the 7-9 positions in the Yankee batting order have combined for this glowing triple slash line: .236/.284/.368 with only 132 runs driven in. When a full third of your lineup is nonexistent, it is tough to manufacture runs.

Lastly, the Yankees continue to be pull happy no matter the situation and what the fielders are giving them.

I have seen very few instances of people putting numbers behind the pull tendency other than listing the number of shifts employed against their batters. Here is a right-handed and left-handed breakdown of batted ball trajectories for the Yankees this year. We will start with the left-hand batters which we know are a pull happy bunch:

Yankees (league average) Left-handed batters:

  • Pull percentage – 36% (34%)
  • Up the middle – 49.4% (50.12%)
  • Opposite Field – 14.9% (15.9%)

Yankees (league average) Right-handed batters

  • Pull percentage – 31.2% (24.5%)
  • Up the middle – 53.1% (54.6%)
  • Opposite Field – 15.7% (20.8%)

I can somewhat understand the mindset of the left-handed batters where Yankee Stadium has a short porch in right field and that will make you want to pull the ball. But what is the deal with right-handed batters when left field in Yankee Stadium is death valley?

I admit that I am old-fashioned. I believe in the old “hit-em-where-they-ain’t” philosophy. I can understand trying to jack the ball when it is middle in. But if the pitch is outside and the situation can benefit from it, hit it where it’s pitched and pick up the run. I admit to getting very jealous of teams that do this regularly. I miss Hideki Matsui who would do it regularly. Of today’s Yankees, only Beltran and A-Rod make an effort to use what the pitcher and the fielders are giving them.

The predictability of the batted ball trajectory has its consequences with today’s shifts. When Yankee RHB hit the ball up the middle, their BABIP is .267, ten points lower than the league average (and the Blue Jays’ average). When LHB hit the ball up the middle for the Yankees, the BABIP is .277 compared to the league average of .296.

It also explains why the Yankees are terrible against ground ball pitchers. Against such pitchers, the Yankees have a .280 total BABIP and a .665 OPS. The league average is a .300 BABIP and a .718 OPS.

My last observation is harder to measure (at least for me). My observation is that the Yankees–particularly Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew and ,Chris Young–like to get themselves 0-1 and many times 0-2 and thus put themselves at the mercy of the pitcher because they refuse to swing at two middle-of-the-plate strikes earlier in the count.

Brett Gardner has put the first pitch in play only 21 times this season with over 500 plate appearances. But when he does (SSS), he has an OPS of 1.145. Stephen Drew has done it only 35 times and has a .286 average when he does. Chris Young has a .178 BABIP after getting into an 0-1 count this season.

The New York Yankees are too predictable, too intractable and that is fine as long as the homers are flying. But when they are not, the offense gets very ugly. I will leave you with one more observation. When the Yankees hit only one homer in the game, they are 23-22, a mediocre team. Combine them and when the team hits one homer or less, the team is 33.46. When the team hits more than one homer in a game, the team is 36-10. Can you tell which one happens more often?

The Yankee offense seriously needs to diversify when old habits are hard to break. That’s not to say it cannot happen with stressing and concentrating on making the offense more dynamic. I doubt that happens and if/when the Yankees make the playoffs, they will have an offense that can be handled by big-time pitchers that can keep the ball in the park..
Continue reading The Yankees’ One-Dimensional Offense

Game 123: Andy Pettitte Day

Andy Pettitte

The New York Yankees won on Jorge Posada Day so let’s see if the team can square up the series on Andy Pettitte Day at the Stadium. It will be a warm afternoon with CC Sabathia on the mound for the Yankees facing Trevor Bauer of the Cleveland Indians. Alex Rodriguez will sit this one out as once again, Brian McCann will be the DH with John Ryan Murphy behind the plate.

The Lineups

Cleveland Indians:

  1. Francisco Lindor – SS
  2. Mike Aviles – 2B
  3. Michael Brantley – LF
  4. Carlos Santana – 1B
  5. Ryan Raburn – DH
  6. Yan Gomes – C
  7. Abraham Almonte – CF
  8. Jerry Sands – RF
  9. Giovanny Urshela – 3B

Trevor Bauer – SP

New York Yankees:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  2. Brett Gardner – LF
  3. Carlos Beltran – RF
  4. Brian McCann – DH
  5. Gregory Bird – 1B
  6. Chase Headley – 3B
  7. Didi Gregorius – SS
  8. Stephen Drew – 2B
  9. John Ryan Murphy – C

CC Sabathia – SP

In other news: Brian Cashman announced that Michael Pineda will not pitch for the Yankees until September.

The game starts at 1:05 if not delayed by today’s festivities. Enjoy the game! Continue reading Game 123: Andy Pettitte Day

Nathan Eovolving – Part 2

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees

Looking at most leader boards on statistic sites, you cannot find a Yankee starting pitcher anywhere. They are not present in any of the big categories like FIP, ERA+, WAR or pretty much anything else. Yankee starters are deemed serviceable but not able to go long into games and at least most of the time, give the very good offense a chance to win the game. So imagine the glee of sorts to find a Yankee starter on top of one of a big-time writer’s lists–Keith Law’s list..

In a post last week, Keith Law ranked pitchers with the best pitches in various categories. For example, Law ranked Clayton Kershaw‘s curve as the best in baseball. Well, duh. Then we get to the split-fingered fastball and sitting on top of Law’s list is Nathan Eovaldi!

This is remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, Nathan Eovaldi did not have a split-fingered fastball before 2015. It’s a brand new baby of a pitch. Secondly…it’s Nathan Eovaldi. But is Keith Law correct?

I decided to look up the numbers on PitchF/X which keeps track of such things. The first thing I noticed is that only 26 MLB starters use the pitch. Compare that to the 85 starters that throw a curve as an example. This is a little like me having the best fried chicken in town when there are only two chicken dives.

But still, of all qualified starters, Nathan Eovaldi’s splitter has been worth 8.9 runs above average this season good for first place. Law doesn’t mention whether he used these stats to compile his lists or scouting. Either way, in this case, he is correct in that Eovaldi’s splitter is highest among qualifying starters in total value. The key word here is, “Qaulifying.”

Eovaldi has a teammate who hasn’t pitched enough innings to be considered a qualifying starter. He is, of course, Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka’s split-fingered fastball has been worth 10.2 runs above average. That would put Tanaka on top, qualified or not.

There is another way of looking at this statistic and that is the value of the pitch per a hundred thrown. In other words you take the total thrown and divide that into the total value and multiply that figure by 100. This changes our view a bit because all pitchers who throw a splitter do not throw them as often.

When viewed this way, the winner is Chris Sale, but Sale doesn’t throw the pitch nearly as often (maybe he should). Eovaldi comes in fifth when looked at this way. He throws the splitter 14+% of the time. Tanaka comes in sixth and throws it 24+% of the time. Tanaka throws it more, but Eovaldi comes out ahead of him on the value per pitch.

I would say that Keith Law’s rating, if based on statistics, would only be correct from one point of view. The bottom line is that Nathan Eovaldi has added a weapon and it has been a good one for him. The pitch has been a bit transforming and could really aid in his Eovolution.

Just to give you an idea of how far he has Eovolved this season, in April, May and June, Eovaldi pitched 82.1 innings and gave up 105 hits. Yeesh. In July and August, Eovaldi has pitched 46.2 innings and has given up 49 hits. That is much better. His batting average against has gone down every month this season.

And the pitch is very important because his other pitches all rate below average except for the two-seam fastball which is slightly above average.

All I know is that earlier in the season, I cringed at the prospect of an Eovaldi start. Now, I sort of look forward to them. I am looking forward to watching him today as the Yankees attempt to sweep the Twins! Continue reading Nathan Eovolving – Part 2

That Happened Fast

Welcome to second place, Yankee fans. That happened quickly didn’t it? Thirteen days ago, the Yankees had a seven game lead in the division. Now they are a half a game behind the Blue Jays. I suppose if there is any good news, they are still two and a half games up in the wild card standings. The other good news is that this collapse did not happen at the end of the season. Gene Mauch is safe in that legacy.

What happened here? The bottom line is pretty easy to see. The Blue Jays have won ten in a row and seem incapable of losing (at the moment) while the Yankees have gone 3-7 in that stretch and have lost their last five in a row. Yes, that will do it right there.

If you dig deeper, then two trends emerge: The offense has tanked and the bullpen is built to protect leads, not ties. Let’s start with the offense.

The top of the order has been brutal. When Jacoby Ellsbury came off the disabled list, he was batting over .300 with an on-base percentage over .400. Brent Gardner had a batting average over .300 and an on-base percentage over .390. Ellsbury is now batting .260 with an on-base percentage of .330. He has an OPS of .507 over his last 28 days.

Gardner has a .548 OPS in that same time span and has dropped to .282 / .365. Neither has stolen a base in those last 28 days. The dynamic duo has been inert.

But the lack of offense over the last seven games in particular cannot be handed to Gardner and Ellsbury alone. The second base duo has been pathetic. Over the last seven days, the sour duo of Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan have gone a combined 2-21 with no walks. Each has one hit in the past week. Drew’s one hit was a homer so his BABIP is .000 over that time frame, which has to make you laugh (if not cry).

Ryan came back from his most recent DL stint with a hot few games but again is the Brendan Ryan we all love to hate. As Brad lamented last week, how this has been allowed to continue halfway through August is truly amazing. It has been so bad that some are clamoring for a broken down,, aged Chase Utley to come and rescue the team. Seriously!?

Oh yes, the Yankees traded for a guy who can play second. His ghost is flying around somewhere.

The fans have come to expect so much from Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann. They are all having great seasons. When teams handle them or at least keep somewhat of a lid on them, the rest of the offense has to be capable of putting some runs on the board. This current Yankees team cannot. And that is why, after scoring 90 runs in nine games, the Yankees have scored nine in their last seven.

Watching the game last night, my stomach started sinking when CC Sabathia gave up his first run to allow the Indians to tie the game. When the Indians scored their second run with a gut-wrenching, two-out base hit, the spirit of gloom settled in. The great Yankees’ bullpen is very good with a lead and built for a lead. When there isn’t one and the offense cannot muster anything late and close, the bullpen becomes great at protecting ties or one-run deficits.

That is a good reason why the Yankees are 2-7 in extra-inning games this season and 1-4 in the team’s last five one-run games.

In a stretch like this, you always have to wonder if the team has just gone incredibly cold or if the team has just run into a bunch of hot pitchers. Or is it a combination of the two?  It does seem like all the team has faced the last nine games are knuckleball pitchers and flame throwers. It has the feel of that last playoff series against the Tigers doesn’t it?

There is still time this season and, like I said, at least this collapse didn’t happen the last week of September. The Blue Jays will not stay this hot. The Yankees will hit again (except at second base), Girardi will someday figure out not to bat Chris Young against right-handed pitchers and the bullpen can go back to protecting leads instead of holding the fort while the cavalry never comes. And who knows, Ellsbury and Gardner may steal a base again someday. Continue reading That Happened Fast

Hopes, Expectations and Luis Severino

Severino SWB

Yankee fans have been clamoring for Luis Severino for quite some time. He is not quite 21 and a half years old and the hopes are through the roof. His start tonight against the Boston Red Sox is one of the most highly anticipated events for a Yankee team built on veterans but thin in the rotation. Can Severino do what few others have done for this team over its history–be a powerful force as a call up in a pennant race?

It is a tall order and Severino is not very tall. Listed at six feet in height, he will look like a point guard next to Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda. But, we are not talking height here. We are talking about long odds and lack of precedents.

Think back, long-time Yankee fans. When was the last time a prospect was called up in a pennant race and met/exceeded expectations? Joba Chamberlain in 2007 comes to mind. Shane Spencer wasn’t a touted prospect but crushed the ball at the Triple-A level. He took Yankee Universe by storm in 1998.

Who is before that? I am drawing a blank all the way back to Mel Stottlemyre back in 1964. And Stottlemyre was called up much earlier. The point here is that Luis Severino is fighting long odds and a lack of precedent to be who we want him to be for his five or so starts from now until the end of the season.

Highly anticipated prospects are a bit like coin tosses. For every Kris Bryant, you have a Joey Gallo. Up until now, Luis Severino has been an idea. Tonight, that idea will either become a reality, a bust or somewhere in between. We will just have to watch together to find out what happens.

There are mixed opinions on Severino from talent evaluaters. Keith Law of ESPN is not especially high on him and doesn’t think Severino uses his legs enough to be a big league starter. ZiPS projections simulated him at 2-2 in his five starts with an ERA just over four runs per nine. Baseball America rates him highly.

It is hard to argue with Severino’s Triple-A numbers this year. He has a perfect 7-0 record in eleven starts with a 1.91 ERA. However, his strikeout rate is down from when he pitched in Double-A by quite a bit and his BABIP against is a really low .237. That brings his FIP up to 2.52, but that is still very good. Yankee fans would take that for sure!

Luis Severino has two plus-pitches with his fastball and change-up. The latter is exciting. When is the last time a young Yankee pitcher had that pitch in his arsenal? It’s almost like a Tampa Bay Ray dream. He does lack a strong third pitch, which is a bit worrisome the second and third time through a lineup.

Severino is also a right-handed pitcher pitching at Yankee Stadium. He was stingy in giving up homers his entire MiLB career. Will that translate to the Big Leagues? His walk rate is also a bit high to make me overly comfortable. I am becoming a bit of a Ron Gardenhire when it comes to my desire for a low walk rate.

Let’s take this a step at a time, shall we? Let’s not focus on his career or trying to project what he will do the rest of this season. Instead, what does he have to do to succeed tonight? Keys to me would be the same for any pitcher facing the Boston Red Sox: Get ahead on the counts and finish them off without nibbling.

The biggest obstacle for any young pitcher (and most established pitchers for that matter) is being afraid to throw too fat a pitch on a two-strike count and trying to be too fine. Severino’s stuff has got him to this point. He needs to trust it. The best way to attack David Ortiz, for example, is to get ahead on him and keep the pressure up. So many times Yankee pitchers get ahead in the count on him and then nibble Ortiz back into a comfortable place.

There are two things working in Luis Severino’s favor tonight. First, the Yankees are scoring a ton of runs and should keep that going against the knuckleball pitcher, Steven Wright. Wright is a feel-good story as everyone roots for the knuckleball. But the reality is that his home run rate per nine is 1.7 and his FIP is over five..

The second thing is that the Red Sox are in severe disarray right now. Last night’s game was a prime example with sloppy play in the field and terrible pitching. (after Henry Owens left the game). Catching a team when it is down and with a hot offense behind him at home are all benefits that could make his debut a fun one for him (and us).

Hopes and expectations are two different things. It is hoped that Luis Severino will give us something to remember tonight with a big flashy performance. It is more expected to think he can at least be as effective as Owens was last night for the Red Sox in Owens’ debut. I would take five or six innings with two or three runs allowed. If he can do that, he can give his team a chance to win.

And that is all that we should root for from Severino or any Yankee starter. Keep the team in the game and give them a chance to win. If Severino turns out to be Superman, all the better. Continue reading Hopes, Expectations and Luis Severino

The Slippery Slope of MLB’s Deal with DraftKings

There are so many fun things going on this season, that I should glory in a seven game division lead and sing the Yankees’ praises. And maybe I will do that next week. However, there has been something sticking in my craw for weeks now and I need to talk about it. The “It” is Major League Baseball’s marriage to DraftKings. The deal is, of course, worth millions to the league and its owners and you could even say that it draws more interest to the game from casual fans. But that doesn’t make this a good thing for the game.

First, some background, both personal and about how we got here. Let’s start with the latter. In 2006, the federal government passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in response to a growing plague of online gambling sites. As a part of that law, it is spelled out that fantasy sports are not gambling because it is a game of skill and not of chance. The difference spelled out made it possible for sites like Draftkings and Fanduel to state emphatically that what they do is not gambling, but a game of skill.

That distinction makes all the difference because everything those sites do is legal according to the definition. Draftkings states that fact right on its site and Major League Baseball, which has made its bed with Drafkings can hide behind the same distinction. For more detail on the law side of this equation, a good resource can be found here.

On the personal side of this equation is my long life and experience with addiction. I have addictive personalities on all sides of my family since I was a kid right up to the present. They include a mother-in-law, a stepfather, a stepdaughter and small spurts of it with immediate family members.

I have an addictive personality myself. I had to quit drinking the first time I went to college because I was out of control. The few times I’ve been to Las Vegas, I felt the draw and the pull. I’ve had to give up playing the lottery and am still battling food addiction. So far, nothing has ruined my life, but it hasn’t made it easy either.

As someone who has had the agony of changing the locks because a child was robbing us blind, I see these sites for what they are. The old saying that if it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, etc. It is a duck.

Let’s get to that skill versus luck distinction. Skill says you should start Gerrit Cole the next time he starts. But if, God forbid, he gets hit in the kneecap with a line drive in the second inning, kiss your skill’s behind and welcome to the luck side of the equation.

Doesn’t poker have a certain element of skill to it? There are better players than others. But it is still considered gambling. Many gambling games have a skill element. A lot don’t. But calling a one day fantasy game involving money as a total skill equation is just too slippery for me. Someone might have purchased Mark Teixeira on Monday night and he mashed the ball his first three times up. All three ended up in the glove of a player on the other team.

In my opinion, if you can lose vast amounts of money doing something and can develop an addiction doing so, then that goes beyond a skill game and dives headlong into gambling.

These daily pay games go by the same psychology as used by Las Vegas and the lottery agencies. They let you win a little bit to made it fun and exciting. But except for a very few, you are playing with house money and the house is going to win (while you could lose your own house).

You may think I am being overly dramatic here. And I can concede the point since I am personally and emotionally involved. But that doesn’t mean that these games are not creating addicts. For a comedic take (that is sad at the same time), just read this story. For a more clinical and frightening story, read this one.

You may think that the lottery is not a bad thing because only a few people ruin their lives not “playing responsibly.” But the truth is, we are turning a blind eye to the few because the majority is able to control itself.

Major League Baseball has a long history of trying to protect itself from the “soil” of gambling. It is why Shoeless Joe Jackson will never be forgiven despite winning his court case! It is why Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were banished from the game for a while for being doormen at a casino. It is why the all-time hit king will never be in the Hall of Fame and probably not in the game at any point.

How can a business that has worked so hard to protect itself from nefarious gambling issues make its bed with, definition or not, what is probably a gambling site. I can really see season long fantasy games being more skill driven because it spreads out the decision making throughout an entire season. But one game fantasy games are literally a crap shoot. Crap shoots are gambling. Major League Baseball has attached itself to what I feel is a gambling institution–albeit, a legal one.

It is not just that MLB has an advertising relationship with Draftkings. You cannot go to MLB.com or to the MLB Network and not be confronted by that relationship. But MLB is also a part owner of Draftkings!  They are all in, folks.

Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post said it well by stating: “So Manfred is right that the game is legal. But he chose not to grapple with the broader ethical dilemma.” And it opens the door, according to Kilgore, to further adventures in sports betting. If that is where we are heading, maybe a remake of Field of Dreams would have something different for Joe Jackson to say. Continue reading The Slippery Slope of MLB’s Deal with DraftKings

Nathan Eovolving

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees

There was a time earlier in this season when a Nathan Eovaldi start would bring a certain level of dread. We all saw his numbers with the Miami Marlins and his early results with the Yankees were not all that different. Here we are in July and at least the palms don’t get a bit sweaty until the fifth inning. That is progress. And if you look closely at the numbers, Eovaldi is evolving and there is the hope that the Yankees have themselves a pitcher here.

The big thing going for Eovaldi is that despite the lack of success his “stuff” produced, the “stuff” was there and he is only 25-years-old. Like the old line in the Alladin movie, “He can be taught!” The result of that teaching is starting to pay off.

In Eovaldi’s last six starts, he has pitched 33.1 innings and has allowed 30 hits. That is fairly significant an evolution as the one hallmark of Eovaldi’s entire career is giving up a bunch of hits. He has allowed 9.8 hits per nine innings for his career and was at 10.0 last year and a whopping 11.3 this year. Seeing that rate shift to 8.1 hits per nine in his last six starts is encouraging.

But the biggest level of the evolution of Nathan Eovaldi is his pitch selection. Eovaldi has never thrown a split-fingered pitch before 2015. Now it is a pitch he throws nearly thirteen percent of the time. According to Fangraphs.com, the pitch has become Eovaldi’s most effective pitch at seven runs above average for the season.  I should caution here that Fangraphs calls it a change-up and PitchF/X calls it a splitter. Whatever you want to call it, the pitch is certainly a big part of the game plan now.

For the first time in his entire five-year career, less than 50% of Eovaldi’s pitches are fastballs. And of those fastballs, he has eliminated the two-seam fastball altogether. Eovaldi also used to dabble with a cutter and that pitch is gone too.

This means that despite throwing 100 MPH as he did on several first-inning pitches last night, his repertoire includes four pitches: The four-seam fastball which he throws 49.5% of the time, the splitter at 12.7%, the slider at 25.6% of the time and the curve at 10.7%. It is a recipe that is starting to produce better results.

In the broadcast last night, I thought an excellent point was brought up when it was mentioned that Alex Rodriguez was asked why Eovaldi gave up so many hits despite throwing the ball so hard. A-Rod mentioned that all the fastballs were around the knees where batters have a better chance of catching up to the pitch. That makes a lot of sense.

You can see a concerted effort to get Eovaldi to throw his fastballs higher in the zone. Stacey is the queen of heat maps, so maybe she can show if he is actually throwing more fastballs up in the zone or not. But the observation last night was that maybe he is. The formula of throwing fastballs up in the zone and the split-fingered pitch lower in the zone should eventually lead to a higher strikeout rate and weaker contact.

All of this is not to say that Eovaldi has become a good pitcher. His strikeout rate is still lower than it should be and he is still basically a five inning pitcher. I do have to wonder if Eovaldi would do better now in the sixth and seventh and Joe Girardi just doesn’t dare trust him to go longer than five plus.

Girardi would have every good reason to not trust Eovaldi later in the game. The pitcher’s stats the third time facing a batting order and after a certain pitch count are atrocious. But you still have to wonder if the evolution of Eovaldi would warrant dangling a little more slack in that rope.

Most of us were angry when the decision was made a while back to put Adam Warren in the bullpen instead of Nathan Eovaldi. And we had a point. But Eovaldi is too tempting a project to cut off and slowly but surely, the results are getting better. At Eovaldi’s young age, if the Yankees can make a pitcher out of him and his stuff, the decision could pay off in years to come. Continue reading Nathan Eovolving