Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Yankees Season Heads To The Sewer

The New York Yankees' 2019 season heads to the sewer this week...Oakland Coliseum that is (Lord, forgive me). It is my second worst baseball venue just behind Tropicana Field. The Coliseum is a place that has been outdated since a few years after they opened the place in 1966. The foul ground is famous and ridiculous and seems to cover more area than Rhode Island. The sewers there have been known to back up, of course, and that is the inside joke. But this series is not a joke as once again, the Athletics have put yet another surprise season together and have been playing .600 baseball since June. And, they are very good at home.

You look at the A's roster and you wonder how they do it. Four or five of their regular lineup members have a lower OPS+ than 100. The starting pitchers are a hodge-podge of castoffs from other teams and closer, Blake Treinen, has had a disappointing season compared to last year's amazing one. Treinen has been picked up by Liam Hendriks. Yes, that Liam Hendriks. Out of nowhere, Hendriks is having an incredible season with over twelve strikeouts per nine while walking less than three per. His ERA of 1.54 is backed up by a FIP of only 1.94. He has more than made up for Treinen.

The A's starting rotation has been solid despite not having any big arms or stars. Mike Fiers, the much-traveled 34-year-old has found a good home in Oakland. Since his pickup as a trade deadline deal a year ago, he has gone 16-5 in 35 starts with a solid ERA of 3.53 over that span. His WHIP this season is a solid 1.109. The Yankees will face him Wednesday night.

Brett Anderson has been a solid starter as has Chris Bassitt. Their best starter, Frankie Montas, is serving an 80-game PED suspension and will not return until September 25. The A's went out and looked for bargains in the rotation that could fill the gap and came up with Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark. The latter has been good while the former has not been good. The Yankees will see them both sandwiched around Fiers.

The bullpen is decent. Treinen is still trying to work it out, but Hendriks is getting the bulk of the closing duties. Middle-aged relievers Yusmeiro Petit and Joakim Soria still know how to get people out. The rest of the bullpen does not have flashy arms and have high walk rates. So if the Yankees can crack the bullpen early, they can do well.

As mentioned, the Athletics' lineup is spotty, which rhymes with Piscotty, who should be back for this series from the DL. That is actually good news as he does not hit that well. The catching corps for the A's have been an offensive drag. Josh Phegley is the regular, but no one would consider him a great-hitting catcher.

Second base has also been a disaster for the A's. Jurickson Profar continues to disappoint and the A's have recently experimented with old friend, Corbin Joseph. Joseph has yet to prove he can hit in the Majors.

Elsewhere, Robbie Grossman, Khris Davis and the aforementioned Stephen Piscotty have had disappointing seasons at the plate. It is difficult to forget, though, that Khris Davis kills the Yankees.

The good hitters the A's have are really good. Matt Olson at first, Matt Chapman at third and Marcus Semien at short have all had outstanding seasons. The Yankees are fortunate that center fielder, Ramon Laureano, is out with an injury. He had been mashing the ball as well. Mark Canha has been a major boost to the team and as a fourth outfielder, has played 90 games and has an OPS of .887.

Basically, the Oakland Athletics has a middling offense with some great hitters and a slightly above pitching staff with a lot of duct tape. But here they come again.

If you decide to stay up late this week to watch, here is what to expect. The Yankees have a better than good chance in Game 1 as Domingo German matches up really well against Homer Bailey. In Game 2, I favor Mike Fiers over JA Happ. In the finale, I would give the Yankees a slight edge with Masahiro Tanaka pitching in a big park against Tanner Roark. It will be an interesting series and one we might see again in the playoffs.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Yankees Middle Relief Brings No Relief

Sunday's loss to the Cleveland Indians really highlights a huge issue for the otherwise juggernaut team. If the starting pitcher has a bad day, the Yankees do not have pitchers who can stop the bleeding. The team's strength, of course, is the team's offense and the back end of the bullpen. But since the Yankees rely on all four members of the back end in games where they are ahead and they are never asked to pitch more than two games in a row, the middle area of the bullpen must close the gap. And they cannot.

The problem begins with the starting rotation. Masahiro Tanaka and Domingo German average slightly above five and two-thirds of an inning per outing. JA Happ, CC Sabathia and James Paxton average just slightly above five innings per outing and less than five and one-third. Everyone who follows the team knows that the lack of length (in innings) by this starting staff is a huge weakness. But since the Yankees did not (or would not) address the problem at the trade deadline, it is what it is and cannot be fixed.

If the Yankees are ahead in the game, then Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman must all pitch to cover the last four innings of the game. If the Yankee starters could go seven innings, then you could split the four and use two a night. That does not happen with this 2019 version of the New York Yankees. If you use all four two nights in a row, then the rest of the bullpen has to get the outs. They cannot. And sadly, the rest of the bullpen cannot even hold big leads forcing the back end of the bullpen into action when things seemed to be a done deal.

Let's look at the list of long relievers, middle relievers and the sad sacks of the rest of the Yankees' bullpen:
  • Jonathan Holder did a great job last season but has been a disaster this season. Now he is injured. His ERA is a bit inflated, but his FIP is not sterling and sits at 4.45. The strikeout rate is good, but he allows too many hits and homers.
  • Nester Cortez Jr. was cute for a while and heaven knows the Yankees' radio broadcasters love him. The cuteness has worn off and Cortez Jr. cannot seem to stop those tack-on runs from the other team that put games out of reach. He now has a 4.56 ERA and a FIP of 5.05. His WHIP is rapidly approaching 1.4.
  • Chance Adams did not work out. As much as Yankee fans who love prospects rooted for him, Adams does not look like a MLB pitcher. His numbers are simply horrid.
  • Stephen Tarpley has gotten a lot of air time and, at times, looked very good. But they have been too few and too far between. His WHIP is over 2, he walks too many batters and he gives up (like all on this list) a startling number of homers. He is now on the injured list.
  • Jonathan Loaisiga has only pitched in five games. And he has the proverbial "great stuff." But he cannot harness that stuff. His ERA is 5.94 and his FIP is slightly lower. His lack of command makes him unattractive. He has the stuff of a Luis Severino or a German. But until he can figure out some consistent way to make it work, he is not a good option.
  • Luis Cessa is a personal pet peeve. The ONLY reason he made the team out of Spring Training was that he was out of options and the Yankees did not want to lose him. That reality has made him like a Rule 5 player selection where the Yankees must keep him as part of the team all season. His ERA is 4.36, but his FIP is closer to five at 4.92. Cessa's most maddening trait is to get the first two outs of an inning and then walks a guy and all hell breaks loose.
  • Joe Harvey, Joe Mantiply and Brady Lail. Thanks for trying. We rooted for you.
  • David Hale is the only middle reliever that has gotten the job done. But he has a back issue and that is never good. He is out of action until, at least, the end of the month.
  • Chad Green has been a puzzle. At times he looks brilliant and then at times he is a mess. His overall numbers are bad. His ERA is 5.59 but his FIP is 4.19. His strikeout to walk rate is sparkling. But his WHIP and hits per inning are ugly. He was doing well as an "opener" and then he was not. 
What options do the Yankees have at this point? On the immediate end, there is not much. The team will probably give Loaisiga and Domingo Acevedo a shot at some point. The latter is intriguing. He has put up great strikeout rates an does not walk many (2.4 per nine). But he has given up a boatload of hits and homers for the Railriders in his first ten games. He is already on the 40-man Roster. And at some point, the Yankees will see what they have with Ryan Dull. Dull is also on the roster.

In the longer term, the Yankees can hope that Luis Severino can get back soon. He could pitch the remainder of the season in the bullpen, be an opener and add some quality innings. The same could be said of Jordan Montgomery. But Montgomery does not seem as close to returning as Severino. And, it would be great if Dellin Betances was ever available and can pitch close to his usual dominance.

It could not hurt things to try Loaisiga, Dull and Acevedo right now and DFA Cessa and Adams. The former has had four years to make his mark and has not. The latter simply does not seem to be a prospect any longer. Keep Chad Green and hope you get more good than bad. Hope that Hale comes back soon and limit Nester Cortez Jr. to one or two innings.

The reality is that the starting rotation will not get better. They cannot seem to limit the pitches per batter and per inning to get longer into games. The Yankees have to get a combination of relievers that can hold the other team to whatever damage the starters have allowed and give the offense a chance to get back in the game. Sabathia left after giving up four runs on Sunday. The Yankees scored four runs. Unfortunately, the bullpen coughed up another four runs making things a moot point and a loss.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Things I Worry About With the New York Yankees

The bottom line for the New York Yankees 2019 has a nice flush to it at the mid-point of August. The team has a healthy ten-game lead on the second place Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox are out of it (if not mathematically). And the Yankees are fighting among three teams for the best record in baseball. Those are all good things, right? Then why do I worry so much? Is it just my nature to worry? Or are my concerns legitimate? Let me list them out.

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge does not look fearsome at the plate. If anything, he looks tepid and easy to pitch to. His fly ball rate has shriveled up. He seems to have lost his sense of the strike zone. Pitchers are exploiting his weaknesses at will (good pitchers and not-so-good pitchers alike). What is wrong with the big guy? Has he lost his way? Is it just a slump? Is it lingering effects of his torn abdominal muscle? When he is right, he adds a dimension of fear into the Yankees' lineup. It gives fans a sense of anticipation and hope. None of those things are there right now. Gosh, I hope it is just a slump.

Bullpen Walks

Nobody seems concerned that all the big guns in the bullpen cannot manage to pitch an inning without a walk or two. It concerns me greatly. Adam Ottavino has more walks allowed than Domingo German and CC Sabathia. He is only two behind Masahiro Tanaka and three behind JA Happ. Zack Britton is only three walks behind Ottavino. Even closer, Aroldis Chapman is walking four batters per nine innings.  The addition of Jonathan Loaisiga does not help that proposition with his five walks per nine.

Sooner or later, these walks will catch up to the bullpen. In many ways, it already has. Ottavino coughed up a lead this week. I long for two things. One is 1-2-3 innings from these "big" relievers. And two, I long for each and every one of them to stop fooling around with two strikes and go after the hitters. Tommy Kahnle is the only one who consistently throws strikes when he comes in to pitch.

Starting Pitching

Yes, there have been some better starts lately. But they have come against bad teams. I have absolutely no confidence in any starter as a "shut down" pitcher and none of them can consistently get to the fifth inning with less than 100 pitches. Paxton has been showing signs of figuring things out. But put five good starts together before any kind of comfort level returns. Tanaka is a different pitcher in each and every outing. Which he will be on any particular night is impossible to predict. And Happ is just not there. He cannot get his fastball command no matter how often he pitches.

Injuries Continue

Yes, the big story has been the "next man up" mentality shown by fill in players playing for the Yankees' stars. But how soon does Cameron Maybin return to what he has always been before? Will the magic last for Mike Tauchman and Gio Urshela? Do you really want Mike Ford getting post season at bats? Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks have been total injury busts. Luke Voit might get back at the end of August. Edwin Encarnacion was just starting to deliver and he is gone. It just never seems to end. Does it worry anyone else that this "magic" can turn to sawdust at any time? Will these surprising players hold up against post season pitching? Its worrisome.

The other thing about injuries is the lack of continuity it causes. Somebody comes back, has to get his timing back and then hope that he does not get injured again. The great Katy Sharp told me that the Yankees have had the same lineup less than five times all season. Holy smokes!

Aaron Boone And The Bullpen

The Yankees' manager has been exemplary in most ways this season. The success has to be given to him at least partly for his indefatigable nature. But one area of weakness is the opposite of Joe Girardi's. Girardi always had too quick of a hook. Boone always seems to be two to three outs too late. He completely ruined the feel good story of Brady Lail the other night by pitching him an inning too long. Now the poor guy has been DFA'd. I hope you had a nice moment, Brady. Luis Cessa always pitches an inning too long as does Nester Cortez Jr. It has been a consistent problem. Add in the pressure of the post season and what happens?

So, yes, I should be rolling along with this train as it rides toward what seems to be a division win. I should be enjoying this ride. But I do not. I worry. I fret. And I hope like everything that my fears are all unfounded.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Bad Luck Yankees Or Is It More

The good news is that the New York Yankees keep winning. They just completed a sweep of the Boston Red Sox, the erstwhile defending champs who cannot seem to get out of their own way. They are still nine ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the loss column despite that the Rays seem to play one awful team after another and keep winning. They are fighting the dang-fangled and brilliant Astros for the best record in the AL. But the injuries just keep coming and coming. Are these injuries just bad luck? Or could they have been more preventable?

I keep going back to a conversation I heard on talk radio. I cannot remember the NBA player who was being interviewed nor the specifics. But I remember the gist of it. The question was posed to him if his team was more successful than this other contending team because they were able to stay healthier. His answer resonated with me. He said there was a reason why the other team was injured more often and that was because this player's team made sure to hire the most brilliant conditioners and the other team did not.

Is that statement made by an athlete in the most demanding physical sport of the top sports relevant to the Yankees? It could be. Some of the Yankee injuries could not be conditioned against. Edwin Encarnacion getting hit by a pitch has nothing to do with conditioning. Miguel Andujar tearing his labrum on a dive back to third could not be prevented with conditioning. CC Sabathia's knee is just wearing out. There is nothing to see there.

But it is all these muscular issues that baffle me. Here is a partial list:

  • Aaron Judge with an abdominal strain
  • Giancarlo Stanton's original bicep strain.
  • Gary Sanchez with a groin injury and another strain before that one.
  • Luis Severino who after his shoulder problem experienced a lat strain.
  • Dellin Betances who is in the same boat as Severino.
  • Gleyber Torres has a core issue
  • DJ LeMahieu had a core issue.
  • Cameron Maybin had a calf strain
  • Domingo German had a hip-flexor strain.

That is a lot of muscle issues and it is just a partial list! Back in April, the blog, Bleeding Yankee Blue posed the question strongly and yet here is is months later and there is total silence on any fallout of what all these injuries mean as far as any team or coach culpability.

Here are the questions I would like to see answered about this issue:

  • Do the players buy in to the Strength and Conditioning program?
  • If not, why not?  
  • Should contracts deal with player's specific training regimens?
  • Should players who have their own Strength and Conditioning people be approved by the team's staff?
  • How does the amount of money the Yankees spend on Strength and Conditioning compare to other teams?
  • How does the Yankees' staff compare on the national or regional market? Are they highly rated?
  • Do all these strategic days off given to players help or hinder them in a muscular conditioning way? And how would they know? It does not seem to help any from what I can see.

I think fans have a right to know this kind of information. And it would definitely be something to want to know if the situation is as bad as it seems and costs the Yankees a wonderful chance at a World Championship.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Impossible Road Of The Colorado Rockies

I started thinking about the Colorado Rockies during their weekend series with the New York Yankees. I would not say I feel sorry for the players, fans or team. Baseball is baseball and is a treasure to play, watch and experience. I would say that the team and its fans have a nearly impossible task to sustain viability and long-term success. It has impossible to sustain pitching or provide batters with any kind of consistency and respect. Players for the Rockies are doubted for Hall Of Fame consideration and for post-season awards such as the MVP. There seems to be this hopelessness that anything can ever change for the Rockies.

Let's take the current baseball season for the Rockies as it seems typical. The Rockies have been in existence since 1993. During that time, they have never finished in first place in their division. They made it to the World Series once and were promptly swept. That was the only season the team also made it to the NLCS. The Rockies have won 90 games in a season only three times with none of them coming back to back.

The 2019 current Rockies' season is typical because the Rockies had a good season a year ago. They won 90 games. They were the wildcard team for the second straight season and actually won the one-game play-in to make it to the NLDS. Once again, they were swept in that series. This year, as has happened many times in the past, they have fallen back and barring an extraordinary run, will not be a wild card team.

And what of their best players? Larry Walker and Todd Helton had remarkably similar offensive careers. Walker compiled 72 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in his great career while Helton compiled 61 WAR. Walker has thus far been denied a place in to the Hall Of Fame. Helton will likely never get close.

I believe that Larry Walker is the only Rockies player to receive an MVP Award. Helton never came close even though he led the league in WAR the year 2000. He had another amazing season in 2001 and came in ninth in the MVP voting despite having the fifth best WAR total (behind a quartet of juicers).

Throughout the years, the Rockies have not been able to sustain pitching. Ubaldo Jimenez came in third in Cy Young Award voting in 2010 and quickly fell on his sword the following season and was never the same. Kyle Freeland came in fourth in Cy Young Award voting last season and has a FIP over six this season.

Anyone who has a little baseball knowledge has already known what the problem has been for the Rockies though I have not stated it directly. And to state it plainly, the location of where the Rockies play their home games is the problem. And it is a problem that seems to defy mending.

The problem is not Coors Field. That is a beautiful ballpark with a 4.7 fan rating (out of five) with over 15 thousand reviews. The team draws really well. The fans come out in droves. So it is not the venue and it is not the lack of local support (unlike, say, the Tampa Bay Rays). The problem is playing baseball in Denver, Colorado.

There is a baseball term called the Ballpark Factor. This "factor" basically calculates whether the ballpark is easier for the batter or the pitcher. A 100 score is considered neutral where neither the batter nor the pitcher have the advantage. There are some venues that favor hitters. Everyone knows which they are: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Camden Yards, Citizens Back Park, Miller Park, Globe Life Park and maybe one or two more.

Most of those venues favor the batters less than you would think. Globe Life Park in Texas has historically been one of the best batters parks. And their 109 Ballpark Factor rating shows that. The rest are in the 103 to 106 range. For some reason, Camden Yards is up to 109 this season which is higher than historical. Now compare all these fine places to hit with Coors Field. I will start a new paragraph to give the facts there as they are astounding.

Coors Field has a historical Ballpark Factor of 121. This year, for some reason, it sits at 128. That is an astounding number. It is ten to twenty points higher than the other worst pitching parks and more than twenty over what is considered neutral. No other venue comes close. Again, this is not a Coors Field problem. The dimensions at Coors are huge compared to other parks. The right field and left field lines are forty to fifty feet longer than Yankee Stadium!

It is the thin air of Denver that makes baseball impossible to sustain at Coors Field. The talk for years has been that breaking pitches do not break and the ball simply has less resistance when it is hit. How does this affect the road / home results for the team?

The batters and pitchers have had an awful time adjusting to either being on the road (batters) or at home (pitchers) and this is a historical problem. In 2019, the Rockies have a team batting OPS of .894 at Coors. That is an incredibly high OPS which means that team players are batting at elite levels there. But on the road, it is a different story. The team's road OPS is .658. The difference is striking and telling.

And this is nothing new. Last year was similar:  .852 at home and .665 on the road. The year before (2017) was .862 at home and .703 on the road. Go back ten years to 2010 to take a historical look at the numbers are the same, .866 and .652. Go back twenty years and it was, .941 and .742. This is about as historical a problem as you can document.

The pitching has had similar problems in reverse (of course) where historically, they have pitched far better on the road then they have at home. There are some notable exceptions that the batters did not have. 2017 was nearly a wash for the pitching at home and on the road. The 2001 and 2002 seasons were close enough to be respectable. But historically, it has been much harder to get good pitching results at home for the Rockies.

Pitchers cannot sustain careers in Denver and historical numbers back that up. Of their top twelve compilers of WAR over the years, only two are pitchers. Ubaldo Jimenez compiled 19 WAR based pretty much on two seasons and the other is the venerable Aaron Cook who compiled 17 WAR. Compare this with the Diamondbacks who have been around since 1998 and have three of their first four WAR compilers as pitchers.

To be honest, I do not know what my final point here can be. With the fan support, I am not advocating moving the Rockies to a more tenable place to play. In fact, those fans deserve some success for their support over the years. I guess all I am saying is that the Rockies have more to overcome to succeed than any other team in baseball. Playing in Denver and then in the rest of the baseball world is like two different games. It is too much a task for batters and pitchers to overcome with any kind of consistency. The location hurts the team's results and its reputation. And I find both to be a bit of a sad story.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Yankees and Rays: Baseball Highs And Lows In Two Games

The New York Yankees came into this home series against the Tampa Bay Rays with an opportunity to increase their distance from the team's closest rival. On Monday night, after an exhilarating homer by Edwin Encarnacion put the Yankees ahead by two in the bottom of the eighth with the usually reliable, Aroldis Chapman, on the mound for the ninth to close it out. He never did, of course, and, for the team and the fans alike, the Rays gave the Yankees the most deflating loss of the season. In the course of one half inning, two games switched in the standings.  As low as that loss was and as angry the reaction, the following night turned the tables as the Yankees scored six in the eighth to bury the Rays and provided one of the best and most fun win of the season. Two nights led to anguish and euphoria!

And that is the beauty of baseball. This is why I chafe when all these talking heads on sports radio call baseball boring and needing a heavy dose of fixing. Bah humbug! I have even heard the talk of paring the season down to a hundred games! Sacrilege! The most I would ever accept would be 154 because there is a historical value to that number. That is how many games Babe Ruth played in a season.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with baseball as it stands right now. The game is as beautiful for me at 63 as it was when I was 13.  Oh, I know, I stand on the wrong side of demographics. It is a young person's world and I am the anachronism. Bah humbug again. My generation has buying power. My generation watches the games religiously. My generation grew up with the marvelous wave of each baseball season and love it as passionate as can be.

Once again, it is the media that is driving the narrative which drives social media which catches young people's attention like moths to flame. I will not beat this too far in the ground, but it is the me-first NBA and the head-cracking NFL and their crooked college counterparts who get all the media love and nothing else stands a chance.

These beacons of media say that baseball needs personalities. I do not totally disagree with the assessment. But if Mike Trout is considered boring because all he lives for is to play baseball, that passion itself for the game and his team is enough. And lets define personality for a second. What exactly are they talking about?

Apparently, on some level, personality means a sort of primal pounding of the chest when a player does something particularly above average. A big dunk or a long run or touchdown catch deserves such chest pounding. Am I all wet when my favorite memories were of Barry Sanders simply handing the ref the ball after another spectacular jig to the end zone? That was class. Sanders was quietly saying, I did this before and I'll do it again.

I remember the Knicks in the late sixties and early seventies when passing the ball was the prettiest thing I've ever seen and long shots getting buried with just a move back into assuming defense after the made shot. We went crazy over those teams as kids just like I'm sure Laker and Celtic fans cheered on Magic and Bird as their artistry on the court had no peers. There was no chest thumping and we ate it up.

So what then is personality? Is it becoming an "influencer" in social media? If that means having a good time with fans, well, great. Yeah. I seem to remember baseball players doing that first. Remember LoMo? I am all for such fun accounts online. But if it leads to politics, leave me out. Just like the stars of Hollywood, being really good at sports does not make one an expert on politics. I simply don't care what they think. I have my own mind, thank you.

Is personality when players get caught up in romances and gossip fodder with other famous people? Do I really care which Kardashian is shacking up with which famous basketball player? What does that have to do with the sport they play?

All the definitions of personality that I see so far are negatives. It is about the starved for attention, the adulation of a gullible public and the mockery of what is really news. The argument goes nowhere unless the idea is to get a bunch of gullible youngsters to want to emulate these news makers. And is that really what you want to have emulated? Should all kids want $200 sneakers because LeBron wears them?

No, it is the sport that counts. Mike Trout's problem is not that he is boring. Watch the dude play, for heaven sakes! The problem is that more than half of his games start after ten o'clock Eastern Time. And while we are on the Mike Trout subject, let's interject a minute about the All Star Game. I remember growing up and the really big stars like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle played the entire All Star Game. Those were the guys everyone really wanted to see. Mike Trout is the biggest star in MLB. And he played four innings and got two at bats. Really!? Way to give the radio sports hounds some ammo.

I enjoy watching the NFL. I do. But I hate the primal peacock strutting. Seriously, your team is losing by three touchdowns and you are going to stomp around and pound your chest because you got a sack? Give me Barry Sanders' class any day. And the last I checked, an NFL game lasted just as long as most MLB games and the last time I studied this subject, there was even less time actually playing the game in the NFL than there is in a baseball game. I cannot watch the NBA. I was taught the game and loved it. But then players were allowed to travel at will, play zones with impunity, palm the basketball bringing it up the court and the inevitable primal exhibition when a successful dunk takes place. It is unwatchable for me.

I cannot watch college sports because of all the shenanigans that go on recruiting players and all the money that is made by the schools when the players receive nothing. I cannot support that.

All that aside, baseball is not perfect. Bad things happen. Players cheat. Players misbehave. Players get arrested just like any other sport. But baseball is as much a key part of my life as The Beatles were and are. It has been with me through loss and gain and more loss. Life lessons like: If things go badly, there is always tomorrow and this may have been a bad year, but there is always next year. It is a fabric of my being.

And this--for the millionth time--becomes crystal clear with the games Monday and Tuesday between the Yankees and the Rays. On Monday, Rays and Rays fans are soaring with a thrilling win by unlikely hero, Travis d'Arnaud. Yankee fans are crushed. The next night, Rays fans are crushed and Yankee fans are celebrating Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius. That is baseball. That is the greatest sport on earth. That is the beauty of six games a week for six months and then a month of drama. Leave baseball alone. It is perfect the way it is.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Yankees Miss Jugular

The New York Yankees won the first two games in their series against the Tampa Bay Rays and built their largest lead of the year in the division. They lost a tough game on Saturday on a walk-off homer. Hey, that happens. The team still had a chance of leaving that house of horrors called, Tropicana Field, of taking three of four games. Instead, Aaron Boone said it was a good time to rest his two most reliable and versatile hitters (and All Stars), DJ LaMahieu and Gleyber Torres. The Yankees scored one run against Charlie Morton and settled for a split. Instead of stepping on the Rays' jugular, the Yankees stuck to their every game is not important way of life.

I should be ecstatic with the lead the Yankees have in the division considering all the injuries the team suffered over the first half of the season (and continue to have). I should feel good about where the team is heading into the break. The team's place in the standings beats my expectations and hopes to this point. I should be grateful, right?

I would be more grateful if the Yankees' manager and staff (and those analytic squad-mates) had more of a killer instinct. I keep going back to my lack of understanding of the value of rest when a game is lost in the process. In theory, the rested player will perform at a higher level and be worth a few more percentage points in Wins Above Replacement from being rested. What I do not get is how hypothetical "wins" are more important than actual wins.

The counter argument would be: Can you guarantee that the Yankees would have won against Morton if DJLM and Gleyber played the game? Of course not. That said, I still think the odds of winning would have been far greater. The value of DJLM and Gleyber Torres is that they are versatile hitters. Those are the types of hitters needed against an ace like Charlie Morton. Without BOTH in the lineup, the Yankees are basically full of three-outcome batters (walk, strikeout, homer). A pitcher like Morton can fully exploit a lineup like that just as Morton did with one run and a gazillion strikeouts.

 Aaron Boone said that he felt that both needed a break as the team leaned on them heavily during the first half. How heavy is heavily? Both DJLM and Gleyber Torres have played in 81 of the Yankees' 88 games. They each now have seven days off to this point in the season. That does not sound overworked to me. Gleyber Torres is 23-years-old. Brett Gardner has played 83 games thus far. He is the older veteran.  Cody Bellenger is also 23 and has played in 88 of the Dodgers' 91 games. Max Muncy is closer to LeMahieu's age and has played 89.

One could also make a point that Torres and LeMahieu will not get a normal break like the others because of the All Star Game and have to travel to Cleveland. Oh boohoo! Mike Trout played Sunday as did Bellinger. Both are the best players in their respective leagues and have to travel further away from and to home for the All Star Game than any of the Yankees' players.

I do not advocate the Billy Martin way of playing his players and his pitchers until they dropped. Boone is observant enough to see the signs that a player needs a day. But this feels all too programmed and, at the same time, illogical. All I know is that the Yankees allowed the Rays to get two games closer and keep their hopes alive and, more importantly, allowed the Red Sox to creep two games closer instead of being buried in a deeper hole come the All Star Break. AND, it hurt them in the "best record in the AL" department.

The Yankees are in a tough division that is far from decided. Injuries still present problems and question marks. Pitching is still a bit of problem. The Yankees need to present the best possible lineup on the field. That means having versatile hitters interspersed with the boppers who sometimes deliver and sometimes do not. I should be happy. And I am. But I would be happier if this team had more of a killer instinct.