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.

Game 69 – Please don’t whack Tanak

The New York Yankees are back home at Yankee Stadium after a successful road trip (anytime you win more than you lose with a West Coast swing is a good thing) that did have its share of ugh moments. And the pitching match-up is a potentially sparkling arm party. The Yankees, of course, host the current leaders of the AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays. Masahiro Tanaka will need to keep the big boys of the Blue Jays’ lineup in the park, one of the few things he has had trouble doing at home. Runs might come at a premium as Continue reading Game 69 – Please don’t whack Tanak

An interview with Rudy May

A little while back I signed on Twitter and there in my notifications was a note that Rudy May followed me. That Rudy May!? Sure enough, it was the former pitcher. He was one of my favorites during his years with the Yankees and so I wrote an article here about him. Mr. May was kind enough to tweet me that he enjoyed the article and so I became bold and asked him for an interview. He kindly accepted and we recently had an hour conversation that I thoroughly enjoyed. Rudy May is a delightful guy.

I searched the Web to see if anyone else had interviewed Rudy May recently and I found Jeff Pearlman’s great interview back in January for Mr. Pearlman’s site. The last thing I wanted to do was to cover the same ground. But I did start the conversation bouncing off one of the answers to Mr. Pearlman’s questions. The rest flowed from there.

IIATMS: Mr. May, I read with interest your comments about how you loved Earl Weaver. From a fan’s perspective, Weaver always seemed like a cantankerous and grouchy little guy. But you paint a different picture. What was so great about him?

RUDY MAY: Earl Weaver was a wonderful, wonderful man. Many are mistaken to see him on the outside. We saw him on the inside. He was a great manager and he wanted to win. He cared about his players and more than anything else he was honest.

In 1977 I had a chance to win 20 games and after my eighteenth win, Earl called me in his office and I knew something was up. He said, “Rudy, you have a chance to win 20 games…” And I said, “I’m going to win 20 games.” And Earl said, “No you’re not.” Earl explained his reasoning for starting other pitchers in the last few games. He was so honest.

And I said, “Earl, I have a bonus if I win 20 and not being able to get a chance to get there is going to cost me a lot of money.” Earl didn’t know and he was concerned and said he was going to talk to Hank about getting me the money anyway. He went to bat for his players.

The following year, the Orioles traded me to the Expos and did not consult Earl and he wrote me a letter explaining that he didn’t want to see me go. That’s the kind of man he was.

Years later, my wife and I went on a cruise with him and wife, Marianna, and afterwords, my wife said that Earl Weaver was nothing like I had explained him. He was twice all that! Earl Weaver was a great manager and a great man.

IIATMS: We have had a sad couple of weeks as Tony Gwynn died and Bob Welch died last week. Do you have any thoughts about either player?

RUDY MAY: I did not know Bob Welch personally and my good friend, Dusty Baker, used to talk about the guys he played with and Welch was one of those guys. But I did not know him personally.

The thing about Gwynn was that I was playing golf with this guy from the military and of course the guy had spent a lot of time in San Diego and was a huge fan of Tony Gwynn. While we were playing, someone stopped him and told him that Tony Gwynn had just passed away. We were all shocked. He was much younger than me. Nobody should die that young.

I’m getting to the age where I lose friends. For several springs, my wife and I would go to Florida and see the guys and play golf and go on cruises and things. One year, we spent some time with Mike Cuellar and Odom and right after we returned, I got a call that Mike wasn’t doing well as a result of a stroke. I called him and he assured me that he was fine. He died the next day! It’s hard.

IIATMS: When people remember you, they think of you as the ultimate “swing man,” a guy who could succeed both as as starter and out of the bullpen. But when you were actually asked to perform the role, did you chafe against it?

RUDY MAY: No, not at all. I loved baseball. I loved playing the game. If I could have hit, I would have been a second baseman. Willie Randolph used to yell at me all the time, “Get out of here! Can’t you see I’m trying to get my infield work done?” I just loved to play the game.

In 1980, I had a back injury and I stayed in Florida a few weeks after Spring Training was over. And when I did get back to the team, Dick Howser–who was also a great manager–heard that my back was still ginger and started me out in the bullpen. And I did great there. But then we had a few problems in the rotation and he moved me there and I did great there and they kept me in the rotation.

I just wanted to play. So whether I came in the fifth inning or was asked to close out a game or to start, I didn’t care. I just wanted to play.

IIATMS: How much did catchers make a difference in your success as a pitcher. The numbers say that you had great success pitching to Rick Cerone, for example, and were successful with guys like Thurman Munson, John Stephenson, Gary Carter and Joe Azcue and had little success throwing to guys like Jeff Torborg, Butch Wynegar and Tom Egan. Was that just a coincidence or is something there?

RUDY MAY: It’s funny, I did have great success with Cerone, but we almost got into several fights because he would get mad at me when I didn’t agree how I wanted to pitch to a team or a hitter. And then with a guy like Jeff Torborg, both of us wanted to win so badly and for some reason, it just never worked out. I think more of it comes from the players behind you as a pitcher and a catcher. In some situations, we just didn’t have great support behind us.

As for Tom Egan, we were a couple of really young kids at the time and we simply didn’t know what we were doing. But he was a great guy.

I will say this about each and every single catcher I pitched to: They all gave everything they had to win a game. There wasn’t one exception.

IIATMSWho had the final decision on how a batter would be pitched?

RUDY MAY: You and your catcher worked on it together. We would review a lineup before a game and go over each guy. It was a team effort. Once you were an established big league pitcher–and I can’t even describe completely what that means–you had a lot more confidence on how you wanted to approach a certain hitter.

IIATMS: How about umpires? You had poor records and statistics with guys like Bill McKinley, John Rice, Joe Brinkman and Terry Cooney and good success with Larry Napp, Merle Anthony, Nester Chylak and Jim Honochick. Did umpires make that much of a difference?

RUDY MAY: No, I don’t think so (laughs), Nester Chylak wanted you to keep the ball around the plate and would tell the batters that the pitcher was around the plate and better be inclined to swing. But mostly, if you were around the plate a lot, especially, again, when you became an established pitcher, you would expect to get the benefit of a call and you usually did. Things got tighter in big games and during important times in a game, but as a rule, that’s what it was like.

IIATMS: Today’s game would drive them crazy with all the time in between pitches!

RUDY MAY: I know! There is a guy who pitches for Boston that does all kinds of things between each pitch. That never would have happened when we were pitching.

IIATMS: Even Derek Jeter has slowed down. I remember him making fun of Nomar Garciaparra during the All Star Game and now he does the same thing!

RUDY MAY: Yes! When Derek first came up, he would get right in the box and hit. Not any more.

IIATMS: Did you ever get thrown out of a game?

RUDY MAY: (Pause) I had a little problem with Don Deckinger. I think it was in 1976. I got a little out of hand and they were going to suspend me. I had a meeting with Lee MacPhail (then the President of the American League) and he decided not to suspend me. But I didn’t get thrown out of the game though.

IIATMS: When you were with the Angels, you pitched with Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana and Ryan threw over 300 innings as a young man and Tanana over 260. Today, they protect the young arms and yet they get hurt just as much or more. Ryan tried to change some of that with the Rangers but did not last very long.

RUDY MAY: I’ve known Nolan for years and we told him that he wouldn’t be able to change things and that it was too well established practice now. But you’re right. They have big money invested in these arms and they want to protect the investment.

One of the things I really wanted to do in my career was to pitch 300 innings in a season. 251 was as close as I got (1977). But we wanted to finish what we started. I wanted to win. I did everything in my power to win and if I left without the lead or tied, it was a negative. It’s not the same now. They have a starter getting big money to pitch five or six innings and then high paid guys to get to the ninth and then a high paid guy to close the game.

IIATMS: One of the things I noticed about your career was that your career starts had a high percentage (35.7%) of games where your offense scored two runs or less. That had to be frustrating.

RUDY MAY: It was. In 1971 and 1972 I had two great seasons. I had a good ERA, plenty of strikeouts. But I had a bunch of no decisions and one year I finished a game under .500 and the other a game over. And I only had eleven or twelve wins in each season. Like I said, I wanted to win. Everything I did was to win the game. So that was frustrating.

IIATMS: Do you know that your career record in those games where your team scored two runs or less was 16-95? And that when your team scored three runs or more, you were 114-43?

RUDY MAY: No I didn’t! That’s amazing. When I was traded away from the Angels, I was really sad and distraught because I wanted to continue to pitch out of California where I grew up. But it was really a blessing in disguise.

I learned how to pitch in the east and with high humidity. I used to struggle when I came to Baltimore because it was so hot. But once I played for them, I remember watching a California guy pitching in the heat and he was dying out there and I was comfortable. I understood what he was going through.

On the West Coast, the fans went to the game as a family outing. In the east, whether it was Philadelphia, Boston, New York or Baltimore, those fans wanted to win. And if you didn’t, they would let you know how unhappy they were and vice-versa. That incited my spirit and gave me added incentive.

And I knew that if I did well, the team behind me would do well and I really enjoyed those years in the east. I knew I was going to win.

IIATMS: Today’s thinking is that the win is not the best way to evaluate a pitcher and the focus more is on strikeouts compared to walks and how few home runs are hit. You talk about how those years in 1970 and 1971 cost you a lot of wins so you seem to prove what is being said.

RUDY MAY: Back then, the general managers wanted to know how many games you won. And if you tried to tell them about how well you pitched and the strikeouts and ERA, the general managers would just say yeah, but you didn’t win. It’s not that way today.

When I talk to kids and they want to know how to succeed at baseball and I tell them three things. First, you have to love the game. Secondly, you have to have an affinity for the game you love and third, you need to want to win and be Number One.

Everything I tried to do was to win a game. And it all was about how much I loved playing baseball.

IIATMS: The statistics show that you fared pretty much the same no matter what park you happened to pitch in. Did you have a favorite or least favorite park to pitch?

RUDY MAY: In Detroit, I was always comfortable and I liked pitching there. I also enjoyed Yankee Stadium, but I would have to say that I enjoyed Detroit the most.

All the others you could just grab out of a hat after those two.

IIATMS: A lot of those cookie cutter stadiums with astroturf were around when you were pitching. How did you feel about those?

RUDY MAY: I didn’t like them. And it was about money. You didn’t have to pay a grounds crew. I didn’t pitch as well there (Editor’s note – He did just fine). The ball got through the infield quicker and the outfielders had to play those crazy big bounces. You had to work harder to fool the batters.

I broke an ankle on that turf once and also broke my shoulder when I tripped going after a ball on that stuff. So, no, I didn’t like it.

IIATMS: You were very successful in your career in preventing stolen bases. Those who tried were only successful 55% of the time when the league average during your career was 64%. Is that something you worked on or something that came natural?

RUDY MAY: Tommy Davis is a real good friend of mine and I’ve known him for years. During a freeway series, I picked him off and I picked off Rickey Henderson too. When I first started, I realized that stealing off a left-handed pitcher was actually much easier if you didn’t have a good move. So I worked hard on a snake move to make it harder for them to steal.

A good move from a lefty is a fine line between a balk and a good move. if you became established as a pitcher and had a good period of time getting away with your move, they didn’t call the balk and it made it harder to steal bases.

IIATMS: One last question: Who was a better shortstop for you, Mark Belanger in 1977 or Bucky Dent in 1980?

RUDY MAY: You’re really trying to trip me up with that one aren’t you!  I would have to go with The Blade, Mark Belanger. Don’t get me wrong, Bucky Dent was terrific in 1980, but The Blade was terrific.

In 1977, I had the lowest strikeout rate of my career (indeed – 3.8 per nine). The Blade would tell me, “Just let them hit the ball to me.” And he was right. With an infield of Brooks Robinson at third, Belanger at short and Bobby Grich at second, they wanted you to let the batters hit grounders to those guys and that’s what happened.

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Rudy May was a delightful guy to interview. He was very gracious and made me feel like the conversation was personal. He started a lot of his sentences with, “William, …” And that made the conversation a real treat. I always enjoyed him as a player. It’s great to know that he’s even better as a person. Continue reading An interview with Rudy May

Game 67 – Secret elders from a gentle race

Before the Yankees began this West Coast road trip, both the team and its captain were receiving heavy criticism and debate. The team has won four straight and Derek Jeter has picked up nine hits and two walks in the four games and scored five times. Could these secret elders from a gentle race be on a roll?

The heading is in honor of Scott Kazmir whose name always reminds me of Led Zeppelin and a song title with a similar name. Kazmir has long been a familiar foe to the Yankees and has faced the team nineteen times in his career. Kazmir is having a great season and his peripherals are fantastic.

The Yankees counter with Hiroki Kuroda who pitched pretty well his last time out in the now famous game where the Yankees went one for seventeen with runners in scoring position. Kuroda should benefit from the large dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum and the super large foul grounds.

The Lineups:

New York Yankees:

  1. Brett Gardner – LF
  2. Derek Jeter – SS
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  4. Mark Teixeira – 1B
  5. Brian McCann – C
  6. Alfonso Soriano – DH
  7. Ichiro Suzuki – RF
  8. Yangervis Solarte – 2B
  9. Kelly Johnson – 3B

SP – Hiroki Kuroda

Oakland Athletics:

  1. Coco Crisp – CF
  2. John Jaso – C
  3. Josh Donaldson – 3B
  4. Brandon Moss – 1B
  5. Yoenis Cespedes – LF
  6. Jed Lowrie – DH
  7. Stephen Vogt – RF
  8. Andy Parrino – SS
  9. Eric Sogard – 2B

SP – Scott Kazmir

It might surprise you to see so many lefty batters in the Yankees’ lineup, but so far this year, Kazmir has been much tougher on right-handed batters and not the other way around.

Have fun on another late night, bleary-eyed West Coast game. The game starts at 10:05 p.m. ET and can be seen on the YES Network for you locals and The MLB Network for us far-flungians. Continue reading Game 67 – Secret elders from a gentle race

Don Zimmer The Catcher

The passing of Don Zimmer this week hit me pretty hard. I moved to New England in 1975 and watched a lot of Red Sox games and he became a sympathetic figure to me for the collapse of his Boston Red Sox and for the booing he received even if it meant my favorite team won during those years. And then with the Yankees for those glorious championship years, I really felt that he made Joe Torre a better manager and I enjoyed the way Derek Jeter rubbed his head and the laugh invoked by the action. I wanted to write some sort of tribute for the man I did not really know but had developed a fan fondness for, cemented when he stood up to Steinbrenner and told him to stuff it. But what could I write that hasn’t been written a hundred times by writers all over the country?

All the aspects have been covered—his managerial years, his championships with the Dodgers as a player, Bill Lee, the Red Sox, his run with the Yankees and his final years becoming a beloved figure in Tampa. The word, “Lifer,” is often used. It has all been written.

So I decided to look at his playing days to see if I could get a nugget from there. I did not want to focus on the beanball that almost killed him and led to batting helmets in baseball and a plate in Zim’s head. I wanted something else.

But the truth is, Don Zimmer wasn’t much of a player, though he hung around for twelve years, played in Cuba and Mexico and even a year in Japan. He was a utility player, never a star. It’s often mentioned that Zimmer made the All Star team in 1961, but even that year, he had a good first half and faded in the second and was only worth a 1.2 WAR that season. In fact, despite the All Star nod, he was exposed to the expansion draft after that season and drafted by the new National League Mets for their fledgling season. Even then, he started poorly and was traded away in early May.

Don Zimmer batted eighth more in his career than any other batting lineup spot. Before the days of the DH, the eighth spot was where you put your bad hitters.

So I went back to his managerial career and again, he had his moments. Despite the collapse, the Red Sox won 287 games in a three year period with him at the helm. His 1989 Chicago Cubs featured three current managers (Ryne Sandberg, Lloyd McClendon and Joe Girardi) and finished first in the NL East that season. They would go on to lose to the Giants in the Championship Series.

But other than the collapse that everyone talks about and the Bill Lee thing, there are no great nuggets left there and his overall managerial record was a mundane .507.

So what then? What is left? Then one small thing caught my eye so I thought I would share it with you. I was looking to see if Zimmer as a utility guy was a good fielder. He was decent enough and Baseball-reference.com gave him a 1.9 dWAR for his career. He played nearly an equal distribution that totaled 975 games at shortstop, third base and second base. Second base appeared to be his best position.

But it was while looking at those fielding positions that I noticed something interesting. Don Zimmer also caught in 35 games. Upon looking further, I discovered that all of those games were during his last two seasons in the big leagues. I looked at his minor league career and he never caught prior to reaching the Majors and once again caught some in the minors after his days in the Majors were over. Why did that happen?

His first foray into catching was in the last two games of the 1964 season, his penultimate in baseball. He was then playing for the Washington Senators, a terrible team managed by Gil Hodges who would go on to have success later as the Mets’ manager. In the next to last game of the 1964 season, in a 7-0 loss, Zimmer pinch hit for the pitcher in the seventh inning. It would cause a double-switch and you would figure that the backup catcher would finish the game taking Zimmer’s place, but Zimmer stayed in the game to catch for two innings.

The same thing happened the next night except it was in the eighth inning and Zimmer caught just one inning of yet another loss to end a very bad season. Two things worth noting here are that Zimmer struck out both times he pinch hit and the games were his 999 and 1,000th as a Major League ballplayer.

If that has been the end of Zimmer’s catching highlights, the story would make more sense. It would be just two brief glimpses and two blips on what was essentially a career utility infielder.

The questions I cannot answer are how this came about. Had Zimmer fooled around as a catcher in practices? Had Zimmer presented the idea to Hodges? Was it simply an end of the season goof thing like Casey Stengel starting Mickey Mantle and short and Yogi Berra at third on the last day of a lost season a decade earlier?

But it turned out not to be a blip thing. In his last season in the big leagues in 1965, Don Zimmer played 33 games as a catcher and was the starting catcher for 27 of those games for the Senators! In fact, he caught more games than he played any other position that season.

Again, the Senators were terrible and the catching position was a black hole offensively for the team that season. Think 2013 Yankees bad. But Don Zimmer was at the end of the line in his career and did not offer any real relief offensively. There must have been an injury involved or something because there were two stretches where Zimmer would start every day as the catcher for a week or two each time.

According to what scant statistics we have for fielding back then, his range was higher than league average, but his fielding percentage as a catcher was below league average. Remarkably, he did throw out 50% of the twenty base steal attempts made against him. The league average was 34%. I also cringed when I thought of the danger of a guy with a plate in his skull playing all those games as the catcher!

It’s not much of a story and only a footnote of the long baseball life that Don Zimmer enjoyed. The highlights (and lowlights) of his career have been covered. But I wanted to write something because I was fond of the moon face of Don Zimmer and will miss his presence around the game. May he rest in peace. Continue reading Don Zimmer The Catcher

Game 58 – El Nuno verses Jesse Chavez

There is nothing like home cooking for the Yankees. Errr…maybe not. Maybe more than two runs would be good…just to change things up a little. With Vidal Nuno on the bump for the Yankees, more than two runs might be downright necessary.

Nuno’s home / road splits are not pretty and batters are putting up a .998 OPS against him at home. Even more surprising are his splits against left-handed batters. You would think as a lefty Nuno would be putting those batters away, but the opposite is the case, Lefty batters are hitting to the tune of a 1.155 OPS against him. Eek! Hide the children! All nine of the home runs he has allowed this season have been at Yankee Stadium and his strikeout to walk ratio is cut in half at home.

See Katie Sharp’s excellent article for more about Nuno and pitching at Yankee Stadium.

Jesse Chavez was an early surprise for the A’s but has run into some harder times lately. He too is a bit homer-prone and his 2.78 ERA is a bit misleading since his FIP is some seventy points higher. Two runs will not cut it this game, so some of those dingers would be welcomed.

The Yankee bullpen will come into play tonight with Nuno pitching and the Yankees got some reinforcements. An old man’s blood pressure will certainly benefit from not seeing Mr. Aceves coming out of the bullpen.

The lineups:

Oakland Athletics

  1. Craig Gentry – CF
  2. Jed Lowrie – SS
  3. Josh Donaldson – 3B
  4. Yoenis Cespedes – LF
  5. Derek Norris – C
  6. Brandon Moss – RF
  7. Kyle Blanks – 1B
  8. Alberto Callaspo – DH
  9. Nick Punto – 2B

P – Jesse Chavez

New York Yankees

  1. Brett Gardner – LF
  2. Derek Jeter – SS
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
  4. Mark Teixeira – 1B
  5. Brian McCann – DH
  6. Yangervis Solarte – 3B
  7. Brian Roberts – 2B
  8. Ichiro Suzuki – RF
  9. John Ryan Murphy – C

P – Vidal Nuno

Clouds are supposed to roll into the Bronx as the evening goes on, but the rain should hold off until well after the game and temperatures will hover in the low 70s. The game starts at 7:05 and can be seen locally on the YES Network and ESPN2 out of town. Continue reading Game 58 – El Nuno verses Jesse Chavez

Cardinals fan meme questioned

The New York Yankees just finished a three game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals. The Yankees took two of the three games and thus had a successful series. The two fan bases are fun to compare. You cannot deny that the Cardinals have something special in St. Louis. The sea of red is everywhere and no city supports their team better. But they also, with a few rational exceptions, do not like their team questioned in any way. Yankee fan, on the other hand, love to argue and usually do so against each other!

Last night on Twitter was a typical example. I wasn’t picking on the Cardinals, which is the funny thing. It was actually a compliment to the Yankees for the series. I tweeted:

In my mind, that is not saying anything bad against the Cardinals. The current MLB strikeout rate is 20.2%. So 9.8% for a series is a nice bit of information. It was one of the few things nice you can say about the Yankees’ inconsistent offense thus far this season. In the last seven days, the Yankees’ strikeout rate has been 13.5% and it is only 17.8% for the month of May, nicely below league average.

But a Cardinal fan took exception to the tweet and fired back:

I thought that was interesting. So I decided to see if that was indeed a “thing.” A couple of articles I did find seem to indicate that it was indeed a “thing” during the Tony La Russa / Dave Duncan days. But now pitching coach Derek Lilliquist states that the current philosophy is more of a hybrid.

In other words, the current power pitchers the team has make it conducive to pitch up in the zone and get their share of strikeouts. That was anecdotal evidence that this fan’s meme was perhaps dated. What do the statistics say?

The statistics show that the Cardinals are fifth in baseball as a pitching staff in strikeout percentage of 22.0%. It was higher before the series with the Yankees. Since we’ve already said that the league average is 20.2%, the Cardinals are decidedly better at striking people out that most of the league.

If the Cardinals are still pitching to contact, they aren’t doing it very well. The pitching staff is currently 20th out of thirty teams in contact percentage against. But have no fear, that is a good number, not a bad one. Missing bats is a good thing.

If you are pitching to contact, it would be preferable to have a staff that features ground balls. In fact, from the articles I culled for this piece, the Duncan philosophy was to pitch down in the zone to get ground balls. But the current Cardinals are nineteenth out of thirty teams in causing ground balls and they are eighteenth in ground ball to fly ball percentage.

Sometimes fans aren’t as informed as they could be. But that is understandable. The only problem with not being current in what a team is really doing is the risk of blindly defending a meme that is no longer defensible.  And to get back to my original point, the Yankees did do a great job of frustrating the Cardinals current strategy by actually getting the bat on the ball quite often. Continue reading Cardinals fan meme questioned

Comparing the 2014 Betances to the 1996 Rivera

We at IIATMS have written a lot about Dellin Betances thus far. And why not? Doing so is certainly more palatable than talking about the too many starts Vidal Nuno is getting and an offense that makes Hector Noesi look good. We’ve talked about Betances’ maturation, we’ve gushed at his strike zone charts, we’ve wondered if he was overworked and we have wondered what makes him so good. Me? I was thinking about a comparable for what Betances is doing this season. I instantly thought about Mariano Rivera and 1996.

Rivera, like Betances was deemed to be a better option in the bullpen than as a starter. And it was a Hall of Fame-making decision for Rivera. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Betances is heading for the Hall of Fame based on eighteen appearances, but he sure is bursting on the scene much as Rivera did in 1996.

One difference between the two seasons is that Joe Torre quickly saw what Rivera was doing in the early part of 1996 and quickly moved him into high leverage situations. Betances is still being asked to plug the leaks of weak starters to give the Yankees a chance to win the game. But their workloads by this time in the year were similar as Rivera ended up 1996 with 61 appearances and 107.2 innings of work. Betances is on pace to pitch 69 games with 99 total innings of work.

So their respective workloads have been similar. By this date in 1996, Mariano Rivera had pitched eighteen times for a total of 34.2 innings. Dellin Betances has pitched nineteen times for a total of 27.1 innings. It’s possible that Betances is being overworked, but he is in familiar territory here.

Let’s look at a comparison of their statistics through each’s first eighteen games:

  • Rivera (96): 4.2 hits per nine, 1.04 ERA, 9.09 K/9, 3.11 BB/9, 2.91 K/BB, 128 batters faced.
  • Betances: 4.8 hits per nine, 1.73 ERA (1.14 FIP), 15.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 5 K/BB, 99 batters

More:

  • Rivera: .384 OPS against, 66% strikes, 13% strikes looking, 15% strikes swinging
  • Betances: .477 OPS against, 65% strikes, 21% strikes looking, 14% strikes swinging

More:

  • Rivera: 42% inherited runners scored, 3-0, 2 saves, 5 holds, 411 pitches
  • Betances: 29% inherited runners scored, 2-0, 0 saves, 4 holds, 421 pitches

Mariano Rivera was more stingy with runs scored and hits but Betances has the higher BABIP and his FIP puts him in similar territory. Betances has doubled the league strikeout rate while walking slightly less and thus has a higher K/BB ratio. Rivera was about 40% higher than the 1996 league strikeout rate. Rivera had double the WPA of Betances for more high leverage situations.

But I think the bottom line here is that what Dellin Betances is doing this season rivals the great season that Mariano Rivera put together in 1996 to this point in the season. Rivera would go on to have one of the great relief seasons ever that year with 5.0 of rWAR. It remains to be seen if Betances can finish what he has started to compare the two at the end.

As great as Mariano Rivera’s break out season was in 1996, Dellin Betances is right there thus far in this his breakout season.

  Continue reading Comparing the 2014 Betances to the 1996 Rivera

Rudy May Day

In 1980, Rudy May had a terrific season for the New York Yankees. He led the league in ERA, FIP, WHIP and strikeout to walk ratio. He came in third among all American League pitchers in WAR. But he did not receive a single Cy Young Award vote. Of course, those were the days before anyone thought anything about WAR and FIP and K/BB ratios. All the writers knew was that Steve Stone went 25-7. Two Yankee teammates of May that year also received votes in Cy Young voting, Tommy John and Goose Gossage. Rudy May‘s season was pretty much overlooked.

It is only through hindsight with the measuring tools we have now that we can truly appreciate the season Rudy May had in 1980. May pitched in 41 games, 17 as a starter and 24 in relief. He still compiled 175.1 innings that season. His final record was 15-5. He completed three of his starts, threw a shutout and chipped in three saves. He did it all and still wound up with a 2.46 ERA. And even though he was tagged with the loss, May pitched the best-pitched game for the Yankees in an ALCS swept by the Royals.

In Rudy May’s 17 starts in 1980, he went 10-3 with a 2.52 ERA. In his 24 relief appearances, he went 5-2 with three saves and a 2.34 ERA. He had a .602 OPS against as a starter and a .611 OPS against as a relief pitcher. And though he was a left-handed pitcher, he was no LOOGY and compiled 57.2 innings in his 24 relief appearances. As a spot-starter, he was not a bullpen blaster and pitched 6.89 innings per start. He did it all. And he did it all well.

In 1980, Rudy May was in his second stint as a Yankee. He pitched for the Yankees for the stretch run in 1974, a full season in 1975 and started the 1976 season with them before being traded to Baltimore. The Yankees got him back in 1980 and he finished his career with the team for the next four years. Only the last season, at the age of 38, was he ineffective.

The sad thing about the facts in the last paragraph is that he was sandwiched around the Yankees’ World Series years of 1976 to 1978. He missed his chance at two rings during those years. He did get to one World Series in 1981 with the Yankees and pitched three times in relief with good effectiveness in a losing cause as the Dodgers took that series.

All in all, Rudy May pitched parts of seven seasons with the team and those seasons were the best of his sixteen year career. He went 54-46 during his tenures with the Yankees with an ERA of 3.12. He started 102 games for the Yankees and relieved in 82 more. He completed 30 of his 102 starts with five shutouts. In relief, he saved seven total games for the Yanks and finished 41 games. He was the ultimate swing-man.

While in the employ of the team from the Bronx, he had a 120 ERA+, an FIP of 3.04, a WHIP of 1.183 and only gave up 0.5 homers per nine innings. 12.1 of his career compilation of 20.8 WAR was compiled while with the Yankees.

It’s not like he did not have other good years with other teams. He went 18-14 with the Orioles in 1977 and went 10-3 for the Expos as a swing-man in 1979. He finished his career with a record of 152-156, four games under .500 largely because of the beginning of his career with the then California Angels–soon after that team’s entry as an expansion team. His record with the Angels in seven seasons was 51-76. That means that the last nine seasons of his career, he went 101-80.

There are many Yankee fans that remember Rudy May fondly. As one of those, I found it very cool when he recently followed me on Twitter. When I thanked him for his follow and told him how I remembered his 1980 season, his answer was very modest: “Thank you for the recognition, but was not anything to compare with some of the greatest lefthanders.” 

Rudy May was not one of the greats, so perhaps he is correct there. But he was very good, especially for the Yankees. His post season body of work all occurred with the Yankees and he pitched six times in that capacity for 19.2 total innings. His WHIP in those games was 1.119 with 6.9 K/9 to only 1.8 walks per nine.

He was just one of those solid, professional players that become cogs on teams and are often under-appreciated. He should have gotten some votes in the 1980 Cy Young voting. His contributions that season were important and should not be overlooked.  The Yankees sure could use a Rudy May today.
Continue reading Rudy May Day

Short grouse about that last pitch

The Yankees were one out away from getting out of a jam in the bottom of the ninth inning. One more strike and they would have fought into extra innings with a chance to win the game. They never got the one strike as good old Mark Reynolds hit the ball into left-center for the game winning hit. Adam Warren threw the pitch and it might have been the worst 0-2 pitch in history.

First of all, Mark Reynolds had history against him. Reynolds had been in 0-2 counts 863 times in his career. After arriving at that count, Reynolds had struck out 512 times. It works out to a 59% strikeout rate in those situations. He had a .429 OPS in those situations. The odds were all in the Yankees’ favor.

Adam Warren had been throwing 95 MPH gas. A letter-high fastball would have worked. A low fastball would have worked. A fastball on the outside corner would have worked. Instead, whether it was Tony Pena or Joe Girardi or John Ryan Murphy–someone called for the slider. Not only was it the dumbest selection to throw to Reynolds, but it was as poorly executed as physically possible.

Sure, it is easy to second guess. Sure, it is easy to be a television manager. But this one got me steamed. Here, for your edification is the location of the pitch. A picture here does not paints a thousand words.

Warrens Pitch to Reynolds

 

The pitch looked like a fairly good one since it was down and out of the strike zone. But I watched it. The slider just rolled up there like some kind of dying  quail. Reynolds did not miss it because it was a poor pitch that should not have been called thrown at the worst possible time. Ballgame. Continue reading Short grouse about that last pitch