A good situation

So, last night couldn’t have worked out too much better for the Yankees.  Sure, Pettitte had a bad night and Bruney was really frustrating, but the bottom line is the Yanks got the win they needed and didn’t have to use any of their premium relievers.

Now the Red Sox need to beat the Yankees top two starters with a well rested Hughes and Rivera ready to go.  The Yankees have a real chance to put the Red Sox away.  With Joba being limited, no set 5th starter, and A-Rod in need of consistent rest, the Yankees could really use a not-so-stressful September and these two games could help them get it.

How important is this weekend?

Yankees-Red Sox is always overhyped and no matter what happens this weekend, the Yankees will have at least a 3.5 game lead.  Really though, the Yankees only need to win 1 game this weekend to still be in control of the division.  They have their pitching lined up perfectly.  There is no excuse for them not to win a game or two.

I have to say, as much as I disliked much of what Joe Torre used to do as a manager, he understood these kind of series very well.  I still remember in 2004 the Yankees went to Fenway in much the same situation – they just needed to win one game to keep control.  Torre, in the very first game, went to Tom Gordon early on, asking both him and Mo to pitch more than an inning.  Sure, Torre kills his relievers, but this is one case where I think it’s acceptable.

Looking at tonight’s game, if I’m Joe Girardi, I don’t play around.  If Pettitte can hold a lead into the 6th inning, I don’t bring in anyone but Hughes or Rivera.  Both are well rested.  As a matter of fact, Hughes needs innings at this point.  He’s good for 2.  Mo is good for 1 and change.  Does that mean you need to be careful with both guys the rest of the series?  Of course.  But the Yankees have AJ and CC going the next 2 games and, as I said, they only need to win 1 game to keep the division in check.  If you get that one game tonight, you put all the pressure on the Red Sox, because they pretty much have to win the next 2 and have to beat 2 top notch pitchers to do it.

So while this weekend is not nearly as important as I’m sure it will be made out to be, I still think Girardi needs to lock down a win as soon as there’s a chance, which means no Aceves pitching in the 7th or 8th inning tonight in a close ballgame.

Fixing the draft

Jayson Stark has an article up on ESPN.com that discusses ways to fix the “broken” MLB draft system.

Exactly how broken is the current system though?  The number one argument is that it’s not fair, and, on the team level at least, that is somewhat true.  Teams with more money can offer players they draft in the lower rounds a bunch of money to sign.  However, consider this: the Yankees, clearly the biggest spending franchise in baseball, have maxed out at about $7 million per draft.  So for $5.5 – 6 million a year, any team can sign a good number of players.  And it’s not like they have to worry about a bidding war; once a team drafts a player, only that team can sign him.  Wouldn’t it make more sense, if you’re a small or mid-market team, to spend a few million less on payroll and instead compete heavily in the draft?  After all, young players are the cheapest players.

In terms of the players actually being drafted, the current system isn’t really fair, but in the opposite way.  By being drafted, players lose most of their leverage because they can only sign with that team.  It’s not a free market system.  Sure, these kids still sign big deals, but many don’t and for large percentage of them, this is the only big deal they’ll ever get.  Baseball requires an absurd 6 years of major league service time to become a free agent.  A $500k bonus may seem like a lot, but in all probability, that player won’t get another significant contract in quite a few years, if ever.

Stark makes the following argument regarding making changes to the draft:

They have to happen — because any system that’s paying an 18-year-old amateur more than a five-time Cy Young winner needs more repairs than a 1962 Volkswagen.

This is a very naive way of looking at things.  One thing teams are beginning to realize is that young talent is of paramount importance, as is paying players for what they WILL do – not for what they’ve already done.

If right now the Yankees put every player on waivers, who would be the most desirable?  Almost certainly Joba Chamberlain.  Is it because he’s the best player?  No, he’s the best contract – still cost controlled, with budding potential.  He’ll only get better.  Derek Jeter?  Undeniably a more valuable player than Joba in terms of winning games this season, but he makes $20 million a year and is in his mid 30s.  So the more valuable player to the franchise is Joba.

So to get back to Stark’s article – a system that pays the young player more than an aging veteran is actually a much more accurate one, in terms of rewarding the player who is in the most demand.  Isn’t that how it should be?  Should a player make more money just because he’s done more in the past, even though his value to a team, RIGHT NOW, is less?  To be clear, I don’t mean value in terms of wins and losses but value to the franchise, in terms of contract and potential.

Is the MLB draft perfect?  Certainly not.  But in order to truly “fix it,” it is important to identify what the real problems with the system are.  Stark fails to do that.

Wallace Matthews: “I don’t understand inning limits”

Things have been going pretty well for the Yankees lately and this season in general.  One bright spot has been the pitching of Joba Chamberlain.  Sure, he’s had some frustrating outings, but considering his age, he’s showing that he has the ability to be a front-end starter.  So what’s the problem you ask?  Well, according the Wallace Matthews, the Yankees “coddling of Joba is out of control.”  With a headline like that, surely they must have shut Joba down for the rest of the year.  Wait – they’re only pushing back his last couple of starts by a few days?  Is this really worthy of outrage?

Let’s look at some low-points:

[…] and right now, it sure looks like the only thing that can stop them [the Yankees] is injuries.

But no one can stop injuries, not even the Yankees, despite their silly plan to restrict Chamberlain’s total regular-season innings to 160, which means from here on, he will pitch once a week, or less.

So – only injuries can stop the Yankees now, but they shouldn’t be cautious regarding injuries. Brilliant.

Absolutely injuries can be prevented. Why do you think players wear helmets? Sure, innings limits aren’t quite as obvious a form of protection as a helmet is, but same idea.

The logic is quite simple. Say that I decide I want to start throwing a baseball and I want to be able to go outside and throw it 100 times and not wake up sore the next day – and mind you I haven’t thrown a baseball consistently in years. What should I probably do? Go out and throw it like 10 times. Then next time out? A little bit more. Isn’t this obvious? And are innings-limits that much different? You don’t want a pitcher to throw an obscene amount more than he did the previous year.

Matthews then sites a bunch of pitchers who have had high workloads early in their careers and turned out fine – which is really the equivalent of me saying “well my grandfather smoked cigarettes for 60 years and was fine so obviously they can’t hurt you.” (Interesting though that he lists Justin Verlander, whose terrible year last year was almost certainly a product of his overuse. And what about his teammate Jeremy Bonderman? I could go on, but you get the point.)

Perhaps my favorite line though:

So much for scientific “studies.” If a guy is going to get hurt, he’s going to get hurt, and no amount of coddling is going to prevent it, because at some point, they all have to go out on the field and play.

I love how studies gets the scare quotes, like these studies aren’t real. Listen – people who are much smarter than you have conducted these studies and there is a tremendous amount of money on the line.

And since when did baseball turn into Greek tragedy, where a player cannot avoid his divine fate? Hey, ya know what, I’m going to hop in my car and drive 120 mph down the highway without wearing a seat-belt. And I’m gonna remove all my mirrors first. I mean, come on, if I’m gonna get injured in a car accident, it’s going to happen no matter what I do.

So this article is obviously stupid enough, but you know what it’s lacking? An older baseball player who can be outraged about “numbers” and “science” changing the game. Oh, thanks Bob Klapisch and Tom Seaver.

I don’t care enough about what Tom Seaver says to go through this article extensively, but it does provide this gem:

Seaver says Chamberlain will never acquire a warrior-ethos if he’s coddled in his early years.

The Yankees inadvertently are teaching Joba to fear innings, which will only make him soft in the future.

How will Joba succeed if he never acquires his warrior-ethos? If he doesn’t become a warrior, he’ll never be able to properly wield his +5 battle axe and lead his army to victory. Oh wait, wrong game. So what the hell is a warrior-ethos? Oh, right – nothing.

And speaking of nothing – let’s not teach Joba to fear “innings.” He’ll just sit in the dugout, quivering, refusing to take the mound. “I can’t go out there – that’s an inning! I’m terrified of innings!”

How about we worry about him being afraid of real things? Like throwing the ball over the plate for strike 1, which seems to be the only real thing holding him back right now from being an elite starter.

Aceves being primed to start?

It is expected that Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin will start games this weekend, but with Alfredo Aceves going 4 innings in his last relief appearance, you have to wonder if the Yankees aren’t ultimately grooming Aceves to take the 5th starter spot.  Is there any other possible reason why a guy who is traditionally a 7th/8th inning reliever would pitch 4 innings?  It’s not like there were no other relievers available; he was the only one used.

I think that while the Yankees recognize that Phil Hughes would be their best answer in the 5-spot, they don’t want to mess with his arm this close to the postseason, considering how well he has taken to the setup role.  Aceves is their next best starting option, and thanks to that 15-inning game where he pitched 3 innings, he was already on his way to being stretched out.

Also to consider is that Demaso Marte is due back in the coming days, so the Yankees will likely need to send someone down.  Hopefully having Marte also means Aceves won’t be needed in the bullpen, but this could be wishful thinking.

There are roughly 2 weeks left until the rosters expand, so the Yankees could choose to send down either Mitre or Gaudin (probably whoever pitches worse this weekend) or simply keep 13 pitchers and send down Pena.

One thing to note about Mitre:

Vs. RHB: .250/.281/.385

Vs. LHB: .500/.537/.700

That’s BA/OBP/SLG

So essentially he turns righties into a slightly worse version of David Ortiz (ie, terrible) while lefties become a better version of Albert Pujols.  Doesn’t that just scream middle reliever who should be brought in to face righties?  It does to me.

Aceves’ splits?

Vs. RHB: .222/.276/.419

Vs. LHB: .200/.252/.295

Of course Aceves’ numbers look better overall because he’s been a reliever for most of them, but it’s obvious from this that he has no real lefty/righty split; if anything he’s better againt lefties.  So it makes sense that he’d be a more effective starter.

And the momentum shifts back

I’ve been telling anyone who would listen (which probably isn’t that many people, but still) that you can’t make too much of the Yankees-Red Sox head-to-head matchups.  Sure, the Sox won 8 in a row early in the season, but baseball is a game of momentum.  So it’s silly to say things like “the Red Sox own the Yankees” or, if you’re John Henry, “maybe it’s the MT curse.”

The Yankees and Red Sox are pretty much always amongst the top teams in baseball.  So if the Red Sox won 8 in a row, guess what was probably going to happen next?  So the 4 game sweep isn’t necessarily all that shocking.  I do have to say though: don’t the Red Sox and their fans know better by now not to gloat over April wins?

The Yankees now have the biggest lead of any division leader and even the staunchest Yankee-hater would have to say they’re the best team in baseball right now.  There still is a lot of season left to play though and these teams have 2 more series against each other.  Realistically, the Yankees will only need to roughly split those games to maintain a lead, but who knows.  Last I checked Sergio Mitre is still in the rotation and Joba still has an innings limit.  But it’s hard not to be excited this past weekend.  Some thoughts:

-  The “A-Rod is not clutch” stuff needs to finally be buried.  How many times does he have to win games for people to stop believing the media storyline on this one?  He crushed a hanging breaking pitch to win the game against Tazawa, but I think his homer against Lester was even more impressive because Lester was dealing.  Everyone was hitting Tazawa hard.  That Lester pitch was a good pitch – A-Rod was just better.  And that’s what you’re cleanup hitter is supposed to do.

-  All of the top 4 starters are finding their groove, despite Joba’s 7 walk performance.  CC, AJ, and Pettitte are all traditionally 2nd half guys, excluding Andy’s last season.

-  The bullpen has been good – I’m even learning to have some faith in David Robertson – but I was definitely freaking out as soon as Girardi let Coke face Pedroia last night.  My fears turned out to be well-founded, but at the end of the day, a win is a win and now Hughes doesn’t pitch on three consecutive days.

-  And speaking of protecting young pitchers – how many more starts will Joba be good for?  He reaches the “30 innings more than last year” mark in 15 more innings.  He can probably go a little bit more than that, but by how much, especially with the Yankees hoping for a deep postseason run?

Throw strikes

This is going to be a quick post – I’ve spent the last week finishing up grad school stuff so this blog hasn’t been too much of a priority.

Just wanted to issue one complaint in an otherwise solid Yankee win: the Yankees need to stop walking people.  I am starting to really believe that Rivera could pitch another 10 years, simply because he doesn’t walk anyone.  Yes, Mo is great because of the cutter and his unflappable nature and all that.  But at the end of the day, he is so consistent in part just because he doesn’t walk anyone.  Guys like Robertson and Melancon need to take that to heart, because they certainly have the stuff to be very good relievers.  Same for Joba of course – he just needs to pick up the tempo and challenge people.  All these guys are young so hopefully they’ll learn, but it does get frustrating to watch.