Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The New Moneyball And The Corner Bakery

My first admission is that I am 62-years-old. As a fan of some 56 years of MLB, I have to fight my inner Murray Chass (or Tony La Russa apparently) and not be a curmudgeon about baseball analytics. I use them. I enjoy them as rating tools. But there is just something about the entire game being run by them that rubs me in all the wrong George Orwell places.

My curmudgeon side will complain that analytics is the cause of shifts in baseball and lower batting averages. They are the cause of being unhappy that Justin Verlander's career was petering until he went to Houston. Can't a guy I don't like die a graceless death already?

My inner Murray Chass will bemoan strikeouts that are just outs when I will never accept that or that they are worth it if launch angles create more homers along the way. I won't ever be able to figure out why Designated Hitters who never touch a glove all season get negative dWAR. I'll never understand how Didi Gregorius never rates higher defensively than he does or how the defense of a lousy hitter makes him a better player than a really good hitter.

My second admission is that I long ago accepted that is the game now as we know it. I get it. I am, after all, the kid who played multiple Strat-o-matic baseball game seasons each summer knowing they were an early form of statistical analysis. I will never be an Eno Sarris, but I've done my best to understand as much as I can about what the numbers mean. It's okay. I'll deal.

But then I saw this video on Twitter. And the ever smug, I-know-more-than-you, Brian Kenny introduces Mr. Sarris to talk about the new Moneyball and how analytics is taking over the game from every angle right through player development. I remember when the (very pleasant) Mr. Sarris was a hack blogger like the rest of us. Good on him for carving a career out of figuring this stuff all out. I root for people like him.

So anyway, I watch this video and instead of marveling at how far technology has come in baseball, I got this sinking feeling. There is a sort of innocence lost in being able to parse the game into its minutia.

For some reason, the thought process made me think of cookies. Yes, this is the time of year I think about cookies. I am really good at making cookies. My cookies taste better than ANY cookie I've ever bought at the grocery store. Why is that? Nothing you can buy in a package tastes as good as it did when we used to go down to the bakery and buy from a nice man and his wife. THOSE were cookies!

Is there a similarity here? I think there is. The act of making cookies in mass production came from information. The basic formula is how a company can mass produce cookies that consumers will buy despite not tasting as good as their bakery forebears. Use the cheapest materials, find artificial replacements for real ingredients and design machinery and packaging to produce a somewhat tasty, cheaply-made bulk product for the masses.

All those cookie decisions were made by analyzing data. And these companies, whether it be Nabisco or Keebler rely on tons of data to balance performance versus cost. It sounds similar does it not? The bottom line is maximizing the dollar.

But some of the magic was lost. Bakeries cannot compete with mass production. They make a better product but it costs more. I feel a loss not making a special trip to a bakery and smelling the delicious odors and trying to understand what the owners were saying.

Some of the magic of baseball is being lost for me. Does that make me Murray Chass? Gosh, I hope not. Players do not play their entire career with the same team. Next year's roster will look totally different than this year's. A hit up the middle is no longer a hit. Strikeouts with a man on third with one out are okay. No, it's not!

When a rookie came into a league, it was like trying a new cookie recipe. Would it be a winner or a disappointment? Now rookies are measured from molecular structure to entire psychological profiles. Sure, some still flop. But young players just seem to have it so much more together than they did even ten years ago.

I am having a problem describing what I am feeling here. The game just seemed more basic and rooted in my past. If my scorecard read, "5-3," it meant that the third baseman fielded the grounder over by third base, not between first and second (and no, I am not advocating doing away with shifts). There was more mystery to the game which made it unpredictable and accessible.

I wish I could express things better. Let's just say that the attached video that started this thought process made me feel like I had lost something. Cookies no longer melt in my mouth (unless I make them myself). And baseball feels more like a science project than a game.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

On Trading Miguel Andujar

Rumors rule the off season and as the market heats up, they are swirling in gusty winds. Of course, rumors are just rumors until they are not. But they do get clicks don't they? The latest gust has the Yankees, Mets and Marlins involved in a three-team swap as the Mets desperately want to get J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins and the Yankees would love get a big-time pitcher and Derek Jeter wants a Major League player. The name swirling for the Yankees is Miguel Andujar.  Another piece stated that the Yankees were willing to listen to talks concerning Andujar.

Granted, we are just talking rumors here. And granted, the Yankees need pitching as we have seen time and time again that pitching wins the post season. But if there is any kernel of truth to these rumors, why Miguel Andujar? Is it his defense? Or that he does not walk enough? Or is the truth closer to the fact that the Yankees really want to sign Manny Machado? Or is it all three?

If the Yankees were to trade Andujar, they better have Machado all but locked up because Miguel Andujar was the rock of the Yankees' offense in 2018. He was consistently a presence in the lineup from when he arrived to when the season ended. He did flop in the playoffs, but so did a lot of Yankees. As good as Andujar was in the first half of the season, he was better in the second. There is no way the Yankees would have won a hundred games without him.

There is also a pretty good comparable to Miguel Andujar. His name is Robinson Cano. Remember him? He is a Met now. But Robinson Cano had stellar years with the Yankees. Yes, he was a bit of Machado without the mean streak, but he was really, really good.

Cano started a year younger than Andujar. But let's compare their first full season in the big leagues:

  • OPS - Andujar: .855, Cano: .778
  • OPS+ - Andujar: 126, Cano: .106
  • rWAR - Andujar: 2.2, Cano: 0.8
  • dWAR - Andujar: -2.2, Cano: -1.8

Maybe those comparisons are not fair to Cano because he was a year younger. Cano blossomed in his second year. Let's compare Andujar's first year to Cano's second:

  • OPS - Andujar: .855, Cano: .890
  • OPS+ - Andujar: 126, Cano: 126
  • rWAR - Andujar: 2.2, Cano: 3.2
  • dWAR - Andujar: -2.2, Cano: -0.1

At least they are in the ballpark. But again, that was Cano's second full season. Andujar is faulted for his swing at everything approach. He walked only 28 times. Cano only walked 18 times in both his first and second seasons. Cano was able to build his walk rate to the 50-60 range mid-career. There is no reason to think that Andujar could not do the same.

Let's talk about Miguel Andujar's defense. It would be foolish to think that Miguel Andujar could become as good a defender as Robinson Cano became. Cano has better instincts and range. But, by all means, Andujar could get much better than he was in 2018. For one, make the guy play on the front of the dirt so that he does not lose runners being so deep. Work with him on not backpedaling on everything. If he could approach league average, he would be a superstar for years to come.

As good as Robinson Cano has been as an offensive player, Andujar can be better. He was a better hitter in the minors and he started with a bang in his rookie season. He seems like a Roberto Clemente-type offensive talent with more power. Other than his low walk total, there is nothing not to like about him offensively. He is going to be a batting star in the Majors for a long while. That's a hunch, of course and time will tell.

There is another strange thing about this rumor: Why would the Mets trade one of the team's star pitchers if pitching and Realmuto is the team's only shot of post season glory? It does not seem to make sense for them to do so.

Perhaps serving Andujar up for a trade will help the Yankees in the near future. But consider that Chase Headley, a veteran, only had a higher rWAR once while with the Yankees than Andujar's 2.2 tally. And that 2.2 tally was the exact same as the 2012 Alex Rodriguez who cost a heck of a lot more money. The bottom line is that losing Miguel Andujar will hurt and we will see him in the All Star game for years to come...playing for somebody else.

Monday, December 10, 2018

George Steinbrenner Snubbed Again

For decades, some sort of committee has been in place to consider players, team execs and managers who were not elected to baseball's Hall Of Fame via the sports writers' vote. The latest iteration of those committees is called the "Today's Game" committee. This committee's results are in and are hardly inspiring. Harold Baines was elected and should not have been. Lee Smith was elected and teeter-totters on the fence at face value and George Steinbrenner received less than four votes out of sixteen. Say what!?

George Steinbrenner bought baseball's most glittering franchise (with partners) for $10 million, a low figure because CBS had run the team into the ground. His tenacity, ferocity and controversial reign took a shabby franchise and made it the glittering jewel of all sport teams.

There is some understanding of why people would not vote for him. There were the suspensions from baseball. Steinbrenner was bombastic and disliked my many. His treatment of Dave Winfield was particularly odious. There are many stories about his terrible treatment of employees. There was a lot to dislike. But look, if Tom Yawkey is a Hall Of Fame owner, Steinbrenner should be too.

Steinbrenner defined a baseball era. George Steinbrenner was the first to exploit the free agent market. He was the first to spend big money to win. He dominated the news to such an extent that baseball and the Yankees were hot topics. He did not just raise the status of the New York Yankees. His success in building the franchise value rubbed off on all baseball franchises around Major League Baseball.

Baseball players owe Steinbrenner a debt for raising their value. Teams own Steinbrenner a debt for raising the value of their own franchises. That sounds like someone whose contributions should be remembered and enshrined.

The biggest thing about whether Steinbrenner belongs in the Hall of Fame is this: You cannot discuss Major League baseball from the 1970s to the 1990s without mentioning George Steinbrenner in the narrative. It does not matter if he was mouthy, arrogant and did some bad things (among many good ones). What matters was that he mattered. He mattered a great deal.

Not having George Steinbrenner in the Hall Of Fame along with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds defeats the purpose of having a Hall of Fame. If making a moral stand dilutes the narrative of people who defined their eras, then just tear the whole thing down.

Monday, December 03, 2018

MLB Off Season Is A Lot Like Waiting For Christmas

For those of us who celebrate Christmas (and no judgments if you do not), there is this anticipation about what kind of gifts (if any) will be ours for the big day. On the one hand, you hope that you will get at least something and on the other, you hope if you do that it will be something you really want and need. Fans of baseball teams have this same collective feeling during the off season where rumors abound but only time will tell what actually comes about.

The first part of the equation is already answered for New York Yankee fans. The trade for James Paxton was a nice little present under the tree. But it is like getting some sort of electronic gizmo. Will it work as advertised? Past deals involving Sonny Gray and A.J. Burnett put the fear of hoping for too much from this new gift.

But will that be all that the Yankee fans get? The team lost two big bullpen pieces. They still don't have a real first baseman. Second base will need a decent player until Didi Gregorius comes back--that is, if Gleyber Torres slides over to short instead of some terrible long-term deal given to a dirty, self-absorbed free agent signing that will be Gary Sheffield 2.0. Forgive the non-analytical belief that talent alone is not enough to make a team better.

Will there be any big, gaudy presents under the tree? Will the Yankees be able to resist Bryce Harper? Yes, Yankee Stadium was made for him. Yes, his on-base ability is tempting. But where will he play? Perhaps that is too good a gift to question like Giancarlo Stanton was and you figure out later where it fits on the shelf. And which Bryce Harper is the real one? The MVP one or the one with a low batting average, big-time strikeouts and terrible defense?

By the way, you heard it here first: 2018 was an adjustment year for Stanton. He will be huge in 2019. Very huge.

Will there be any big presents? Perhaps a big-name starter? At what price? Can that big-name pitcher come up big in the post season? Can he beat the Red Sox in a big game? With a long-term deal, will he become an albatross?

Will a fairly deep pool of talented relief pitchers be tapped? Should David Robertson come back home? Is Andrew Miller past his best pitching? Both he and Robertson are the same age and a bit of a gamble with a multi-year deal.

And what would be good stocking-stuffers? Luis Cessa going somewhere else would be one. What addition / subtraction deals would make the team better enough to add a win or two over a season? A nice return for a traded Sonny Gray would be great. Gray and Greg Bird for Eric Hosmer and cash might be a nice thing for the stocking.

Like Christmas celebrants everywhere, this off season is much like the anticipation and tension of what will be under the tree on the big day. Will there be disappointment or will there be immediate appreciation? And if it is the latter, will it actually work when taken out of the box to play? Sometimes the anticipation is hard on the stomach.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Coming MLB Salary Crisis?

We have been very fortunate to live with relative peace between MLB and the players' union. There is an entire generation that has not experienced a work stoppage or a owner / player crisis. The game has changed since the current agreement between the sides was last negotiated. Players are getting younger and it has become harder for older free agents to get jobs. Is a crisis looming?

The current pay system made sense when the agreement was being signed. Players would bide their time through the team control years and then reap their rewards. The owners got great value in the early careers of its players and then coughed up the money to re-sign them after control was over or sign other players on the market.

An inkling of trouble ahead occurred last winter when free agents could not find jobs and shouts of "Collusion!" filled the air. But it was not collusion. The facts are that analysis now rules decision making for teams and teams are going younger and reaping value from its players during their young, peak seasons.

For the exceptional players such as Manny Machado, Mike Trout and a few others, this has worked out just fine as they started young and were then positioned to make big bucks at an age when it seems more reasonable to ask for it. A ten year deal to a 26-year-old is somewhat more palatable than the same deal to a 30-year-old.

The trouble is, not all players are Mike Trouts and Mookie Betts. Some like Josh Donaldson (for example) are going to find it extremely difficult to get multiple years after hitting free agency in the early thirties. And players who start young and play just above league average will replaced by younger players who can do just as well when it is time to "cash in."

The old standby of artificially keeping young players in the minors to keep control longer is going out the window. Young players are exploding all over baseball as analysts succinctly show that these young players will never be better (and more valuable) than they are right now.

One just has to look at the WAR leaderboard over the last ten years. was used for position player leaders because it is easier to see ages on that site.

The Median age for the top ten position players looks like this:

  • 2018 - 25
  • 2017 - 25.5
  • 2016 - 25.5
  • 2015 - 26
  • 2010 - 27.5

The Median age has decreased by 2.5 years since 2010.

The average age of players in baseball has changed as well. The numbers may not seem drastic, but consider how many players there are and the decrease holds much more gravity.

Average player age:

  • 2018 - 28.1
  • 2017 - 28.3
  • 2016 and 2015 - 28.4
  • 2014 - 2012 - 28.5
  • 2011 - 28.7
  • 2010 - 28.4
  • 2009 and 2008 - 28.8
  • 1998 - 28.9

Let's look at the 2018 Yankees for a moment. 21.9 Wins Above Replacement were tallied by players making less than a million dollars. That is 42.6% of the team's total. Back in 2008, that tally was 12.2 WAR or only 28.4% of the team's total. The Yankees are getting more value from younger players than ever before. Even if you go back to 1998 in the second year of the Core Four, that group making less than a million dollars (which included Jeter and Rivera) tallied 38.2% of the team's WAR that season. Gene Michaels was way ahead of his times.

Thinking about these things, the players' union has a lot to discuss before the current agreement is up. Much more of the value of play is being provided by younger and younger players. These player are not making any money (comparatively speaking). Analysts rightly have convinced teams that this is the way to go and signing (hopefully) break even value deals long term for free agents does not make as much sense. There is the positive that younger players get to free agency quicker. But this only benefits the elite talent. The union will need to ask for more of a value / pay system to counteract this trend.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

James Paxton - A Sweet Yankees Move

Acquiring pitchers is such a risky move. Elbows, shoulders and just about anything else can derail a pitcher and leave a team in the lurch if they had high hopes for him. That is why signing free agent pitchers is such a perilous business. In James Paxton, the New York Yankees obtained one of the most talented pitchers in baseball while mitigating their risk.

Yes, the trade did cost the Yankees three MiLB players. One of them, Justus Sheffield, might be a special talent in his own right. But Sheffield has yet to prove anything and Paxton is a known quantity in his ability to get MLB batters out.

The best part of the deal is that it does not commit the Yankees to a long-term deal and mega-millions to obtain a top notch pitcher. Paxton is under team control for two more years and signing him via arbitration rates will be much cheaper than getting a similarly talented pitcher with long-term baggage of salary. Oh, the Yankees might still get one of those. But at least one deal was incredibly reasonable.

Will Justus Sheffield turn out to be a great pitcher for years to come? Possibly. The question is his command. The Yankees have been down that road before with Dellin Betances (as a starter) and others--great talent, but not always great execution. The right pitching coach could turn him into a stud. These are all "mights" and "coulds." Paxton has the track record.

The one gray specter with Paxton is the ability to stay on the field. He made significant strides on that side of things in 2018. But he managed only 160+ innings and that is the most he has pitched since he started his career. To the Yankees, and, it makes sense, the risk is worth taking.

What do the numbers tells us about James Paxton?

The Good:

  • He has absolutely owned the Astros but did not fare well in his one start against the Red Sox and struggled against Cleveland.
  • He has won 60% of his games against teams with a record of .500 or better. His home run rate jumps high in this category.
  • He is the rare pitcher who actually dominates the third time through a batting order. For anyone who witnessed with alarm the four or five inning starts for Yankees starters down the stretch, Paxton will help there. He is strong with high pitch counts too.
  • He is actually better against right-handed batters as a lefty hurler than against lefties.
  • Sure, "wins" is not a favored stat these days, but two things about them with Paxton: If you give him three or more runs in a game, he is 36-10 for his career. The Yankee offense should do that easily. And cluck if you'd like, but he has won 60% of his games in his career, a mark that always separated pitchers in this corner of the world.
  • He has always been good with runners in scoring position and in clutch situations.

The Troublesome:

  • The injuries
  • After a great start last year, he was just middling in the second half.
  • He led the league in wild pitches two years ago and had a high count in 2018. Pair that up with Gary Sanchez behind the plate and it seems scary.
  • He had his lowest WHIP of his career in 2018, but that was evened out by a big jump in his homers allowed. His rate in 2018 doubled what it was in 2016 and 2017.
  • He is much better with five days of rest than he is with four days.
  • While the home run rate might be a fluke due to a spike in homer to fly ball ratio, his ground ball rate has dipped six to eight points of the last two seasons.
  • He has never pitched in Fenway Park.
  • The last time the Yankees got a pitcher from Seattle, it did not work out so well. Heh.

All in all, Yankee fans have to be excited by this trade. Some may rue losing Sheffield, but if Paxton can build on 2018 and stay healthy, Sheffield should become a forgotten memory.

Monday, October 29, 2018

So The Red Sox Won The World Series...

First of all, congrats to all Red Sox fans as you celebrate another championship team. It is what baseball fans live for and I lift a bottle of Sioux City Birch Beer to toast your happiness. That said, it has been nine seasons since Yankee fans have had that sort of feeling. It is time to think about what the Red Sox are doing right and what the Yankees need to do to turn these feelings around.

Unequivocally, the Red Sox have simply outsmarted the Yankees. No, that does not mean they tricked the Yankees. What it means is that they have been run smarter. They made the first move in the manager cycle by firing John Farrell, a terrible manager, for Alex Cora, a brilliant one. Of course, there were times during the season when the Red Sox Nation were anti-Cora on Twitter. But that is what fans do.

The Yankees could not do much about this though as they were still in the playoffs at the time and the Red Sox were smarting over their playoff loss. The Yankees came within a game of the World Series in 2017 and then fired Joe Girardi in favor of Aaron Boone. Boone is a nice guy and all, but Girardi was a better manager and Cora was the best choice for 2017.

The Red Sox also pulled the trigger on J.D. Martinez. People were worried about his feet and his age and those factors may still kick in as the contract continues. But Martinez was the right guy at the right time and as soon as he was signed, the Red Sox could have started selling World Series tickets. It was the perfect signing. Martinez took them from an average hitting team to the smartest and most effective offense in the game.

In a way, the Red Sox are like the Gene Michael / George Steinbrenner team of today. They will go out and spend money, but they spend it wisely and use their tools wisely. The Yankees, meanwhile, were trying to stay under the salary cap (call it what you want). I really cannot blame them for doing so. Why get "fined" millions and millions of dollars when you can take a year and reset the penalties. It might work out better in the long run.

I credit Martinez for making all of the Red Sox hitters smarter hitters. When you read about his fanatical approach to film and studying the art of hitting, it rubbed off on all the hitters in Boston. Freed from dour Farrell, the younger players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts could look to Martinez as the role model and blossom.

The Yankees won a hundred games. That is pretty impressive. Most of that work was done in the first half. The Red Sox won 108. That is no fluke. They were the better team. So what now?

First of all, the Yankees need at least one stud pitcher. Yes, they have Luis Severino. But they could use another one. There are a couple of choices in the free agent market. It will be disappointing if they don't get one of them. You cannot count on Jordan Montgomery yet and we will have to see what kind of pitchers Justus Sheffied and Jonathan Loaisiga can be.

So a rotation of New signee, Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, the better of the young guys (you cannot leave out Domingo German here) and perhaps bring CC Sabathia back for $8 million or so. The Red Sox proved that despite recent horrifying trends, the starting pitcher is still important in Major League Baseball. Hurrah that! I do not believe any team can keep expecting to get fifteen outs from the bullpen every game. But then again, I have always hated change.

The Yankees need a very good first baseman. They have given up (finally) on Greg Bird and though it was fun, Luke Voit is not that guy.

I would really hate to see the Yankees sign Manny Machado. I know that is an unpopular thought. But the guy just turns me off. I do not want to root for him and I do not want him to come to a team that is full of excellent people as well as players. Besides, Gleyber Torres IS a shortstop and there are options for second.

I cannot see the Yankees renewing Brett Gardner. It is a cruel world, but he is in Bernie Williams territory. He can field much better than Bernie, but he cannot hit like Bernie. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-reference had Gardner with a WAR at 2.5 or slightly higher. That is worth the $11.5 he was paid. So maybe one more year. We will see what happens.

Gary Sanchez needs to get fixed somehow. He could not do anything right in 2018. If he does not return to 2017 form, it will be tough because Austin Romine should never get more than a game or two a week.

The game now is about youth. The Yankees went that route and it almost paid off in 2017. They were darned good in 2018. Just not good enough. Long-term geezer-ending contracts stink at the end and I hope the Yankees avoid that. Whatever they do, perhaps they could learn a few things from their highly successful division mates up north.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Yankees Gave The Advantage Back To Boston

I warned the Yankees about Brock Holt before the game yesterday. The Yankees usually hold their own against the superstars. But the utility guys kick them around all the time. The guy has a 91 career OPS+ and he gets ten total bases in one game against the Yankees. Ah well, the fact is that once again, Luis Severino could not come up big in a playoff game. So he got David Priced by the Red Sox and from there, all hell broke loose.

So now the Yankees face elimination. They have to beat the best team in baseball two games in a row to advance. They lose tonight, they go home. And surprisingly, the Yankees have chosen CC Sabathia to start the game. While this seems a big gamble, it is not as if Sabathia hasn't been here before. He is 2018's Andy Pettitte trying to rally the day. But I thought sure that J.A. Happ would get the start. Boston is why the Yankees went and got him, right? That becomes moot if the Yankees go home.

On the other side, the Boston Red Sox will start, Rick Porcello, a pitcher who has made the Yankees look stupid on many an occasion. The Yankees had a lousy batting plan against Nathan Eovaldi and if they don't plan better against Porcello, they will go home. It is as simple as that. The Yankees cannot continue to try to pull the ball against these guys. Eovaldi will invade the dreams far into the winter.

Aaron Hicks is back. Is that a good thing? Can he play defense with a bad hammy? Can he play it as well as Brett Gardner? At least he will bat third and push Luke Voit down in the batting order. The Yankees got really carried away by batting Voit third yesterday. The guy is easy to love and all of that, but he is not a three-hole hitter and will bog down against good pitching. He is another guy who had all his success hitting the ball to right field and suddenly wants to pull everything now. Why do all Yankee players turn into that? Giancarlo Stanton? Gary Sanchez? Pull, pull, pull. Go the other way!!

The Yankees will win if they have a good plan against Porcello and get him early AND if CC Sabathia can survive four innings with less than three runs. The Yankees will lose in all other scenarios. But at least one shred of dignity will be left. Other than the Braves, the Yankees will be the only vanquished Division Series team that won at least once in the series.

Oh, and remember one thing. In 2004, the Yankees took a 3-0 series lead against the Red Sox by scoring 19 runs in the third game. They never won the fourth game. So anything is possible. It's just not probable.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Yankees Set Up Nicely Against Boston

In a series of five games with the Red Sox getting a home, home, away, away, home advantage, it was crucial that the New York Yankees win one of the games in Boston. Thanks to Boston's insistence of starting David Price, the Yankees accomplished the split up in Boston. That sets the team up nicely as the series becomes a best two-out-of-three contest with two of the games occurring at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees could not have given the team a better chance to upset this American League Division Series.

But that means little. The team still has to go out and beat Boston, a great team, and beat them both games in New York. The Yankees will not want to play a fifth and deciding game in Boston. The Red Sox are very capable of winning one or both of the next two games.

The good news is that the Yankees can start Luis Severino tonight and J.A. Happ tomorrow. The former gives the Yankees its best pure talent on the mound to take a lead in the series. The latter is a lefty, something always useful in Yankee Stadium, and Happ should be better than he was in Game 1.

What could go wrong? Plenty. Severino could come out wild or flat and get banged around. He has lost his pinpoint command that he displayed in all of the first half of the 2018 season. He struggles to get through four or five innings with high pitch counts and lots of tension. He still shows flashes of what can make him so dominant. It would be great if he could be efficient and go deep. If he can do neither, that can be a problem.

What else can go wrong? It has been absolutely galling to see Nathan Eovaldi throw sixteen scoreless innings against the Yankees since Boston picked him up from Tampa Bay. Yankee fans have to be totally befuddled by that development since Eovaldi was a subject of derision when he pitched for the Yankees.

Eovaldi's improvement is not a fluke. His biggest problem when he worked with the Yankees was that his pitches had no movement to go along with his velocity. Thus, a team knew what it was getting and could pound him. Now, it seems as if everything Eovaldi throws has great movement and with his velocity, that makes things difficult for a team that swings for the fences like the Yankees do.

What the Yankees need to do is look for a good first pitch fastball to hit and be aggressive. Later in the count, look to the opposite field as he will be throwing cutters away from the right-handed batters.

The Red Sox have announced some lineup changes for Game 3. Brock Holt, Rafael Devers, Christian Vazquez and Steve Pearce will be starting in place of Ian Kinsler,  Eduardo Nunez, Sandy Leon and Mitch Moreland (respectively).

The Red Sox lose defense without Leon, Kinsler and Moreland, but Holt has always been a pain in the neck for the Yankees and Devers has more power than Nunez though they are both sub-par on defense. Pearce has been a Yankee killer since forever. Yankee fans hate that guy.

The Yankees have put themselves in a very good position. But the Red Sox are terrific and rarely beat themselves. While certainly better than coming home down by two games, the task is still great and the odds of the Yankees winning this series are still 50/50.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Yankees' Pitching Strategy Against Oakland

The Oakland Athletics made a lot of headway and almost overtook the New York Yankees for the right to host the 2018 AL Wild Card Game. The Yankees held on and get to host the game. There are pluses and minuses there. The A's do not hit nearly as well at home as they do on the road. But, then again, the Yankees have won one game in Oakland combined in 2017 and 2018. Besides, in games like this, the crowd and lack of travel will be big items. The biggest question will be how the Yankees will set up their pitching for the game.

If you take a deep look at Oakland's team batting splits, two things become noticeable. The first is that Oakland fares much worse against power pitchers than others. The A's' team OPS sits at a very healthy .765 to go along with a slugging percentage of .439. Against power pitchers, those rates are .734 and .411 respectively.

That bodes well for the Yankee bullpen, but the Yankees' resident power starter is Luis Severino. Severino has faced Oakland three times since the beginning of 2017 and has an ERA over 6.00 in those three games. The Yankees on paper (with small sample sizes) should probably avoid Severino. But that is a little unfair to the pitcher. He pitched a good game (at home) against the A's early in the season and his last loss was that disaster when his catcher fouled him all up.

The other telling split is the difference when the A's face right-handed pitching versus left-handed pitching. The A's' OPS against LHP is 30 points lower than against RHP, but more importantly, had a 22 point lower slugging percentage against the lefties. The most important thing for both teams in this game is to keep the opponent in the yard.

The Yankees have two lefty starters, J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia. While the heart yearns for Sabathia to get the start for the old warrior he has been, The only other good start this season against the A's other than Severino was Happ. You would probably not even consider putting Sabathia on the roster for the game.

The lefty vs. righty split would seem to also give Stephen Tarpley the edge for a roster spot over Tommy Kahnle.

So we have two little weaknesses for the A's. They do not hit power pitchers as well and they fare worse against lefties. This is not to say they are not capable of mashing either. The only point is that there is an edge with these two scenarios.

So, who should it be? Well, we can rule out Sabathia, Lance Lynn (gosh no), Masahiro Tanaka (not a good match-up) and (does it need to be said?) Sonny Gray. That leaves Happ or Severino.

Let's face it: these games are a crap shoots where anything can happen. But the feeling is that it should be Luis Severino over Happ for two reasons. First, it always seems better to go with your best real talent. No starter on the Yankees has more talent than Severino. Secondly, if all goes well and the Yankees win the game, then you have Happ for two games against the Red Sox.

One other point to consider for whoever does get the start: The Yankees and the A's both put the first pitch of an at bat in play at the same rate. In fact, only two at bats separate the two teams. But while the Yankees have a .773 OPS on doing so, the A's have an incredible .883 OPS. The lesson here is that the A's like to jump on a good fat first pitch and the Yankees should not let them do it.

Now that we have decided who should start the game, we need to think about who should be on the 25-man roster for the game. Let's start with the line-up:

  1. Andrew McCutchen - LF
  2. Aaron Judge - RF
  3. Aaron Hicks - CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton - DH
  5. Didi Gregorius - SS
  6. Miguel Andujar - 3B
  7. Luke Voit - 1B
  8. Gary Sanchez - C
  9. Gleyber Torres - 2B
  10. Neil Walker - Reserve
  11. Austin Romine - Reserve
  12. Brett Gardner - Reserve
  13. Ronald Torreyes - Reserve
  14. Tyler Wade - Reserve (base running)
  15. Luis Severino - SP
  16. Jonathan Holder - RP
  17. Stephen Tarpley - RP
  18. Adam Robertson - RP
  19. Chad Green - RP
  20. Dellin Betances - RP
  21. Zach Britton - RP
  22. Aroldis Chapman - RP
  23. Luis Cessa - RP
  24. Lance Lynn - RP
  25. Domingo German - RP
You hope to get five innings out of Severino and then go: Robertson, Betances, Britton and Chapman. If you get less than five, go with Chad Green and perhaps Tarpley in a situational at-bat. If Severino is terrible from the start, go with Holder. The last three are in case of extra innings.

A one-game scenario is no fun. As they say, "Anything can happen in one baseball game." The Yankees should win with a better overall offense and bullpen and a better starter than any that Oakland can throw out there. But what will be will be. The most a team can do is field its best talent and hope that it is enough.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Yankees May Get Plenty Of Rest In The Playoffs

Nowadays, if a person was to question any of the landslide of decisions being made by a team's analytical department, that person would be considered "Old School" or out of touch. I support and appreciate many of today's new numbers. They do help in understanding things. I have spent a fan's life with a love of box scores and for poring over statistics.  But some still seem counter-intuitive to me. Resting position players is one of them.

I have always written as a fan with a typewriter. The Yankees have always been my team. I am a fan of all things baseball, but the Yankees are deep, deep in my blood and my DNA. The first 77 games of the 2018 season were probably the most fun I have had watching the Yanks in over fifty years of doing so. Why the first 77 games? It was the last game the Yankees were in first place. The team's record was 52-25. With all the young players and the addition of Giancarlo Stanton overcame the concern of the lousy starts by Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Sonny Gray.

Since that point, the Yankees have only gone 39-33 and they are 6-8 in September. When they do not hit multiple homers, they cannot score, the pitching has been inconsistent and sometimes the focus seems to come and go. The team does not seem to have a valid plan against the pitcher they are facing. Rather, they stick to their own batting agenda. Those are all observations, so take them or leave them.

The one thing that has rankled more than anything is the emphasis on resting position players. A fan tunes into a game and Aaron Hicks is not playing or Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar. If I am not mistaken, those three are the most versatile hitters on the team. Two of them are incredibly young. What is that fan to think?

The first question is: How much rest does a really young player need? The second is: How do you create statistical wins when a game can be lost because one of those three are being rested? Is a statistical win more critical than an actual one?

Let's take the most recent such events. The Yankees had what seemed like a soft spot on their schedule. They played teams like the Twins, Tigers, Blue Jays, etc. This soft spot was in front of the last two weeks that were going to feature a bunch of games against the Red Sox and Rays, both teams that are tough to beat. You would like to have your foot full on the throttle for those games, right?

The period starts right after the Orioles series that the Yankees swept to start the stretch off on the right foot. Next came the White Sox (beginning August 27). The Yankees were short-handed without Didi Gregorius and Andrew McCutchen was not there yet. So the team can be forgiven for DHing Andujar and starting Walker. But they lost two of three.

Then it was on to Detroit, another bad team that had purged its best players. Shane Robinson started in right field and Kyle Higoshioka was behind the plate. Dillon Betances blew a save in a game where he faced left-handed batters in the bottom of the ninth and Zach Britton faced the right-handed ones in the eighth. Bizarre. They went on to split that series, 2-2.

They had a critical three-game series in Oakland. They lost the first game and won the second. In the third game, Miguel Andujar was "rested." The Yankees lost that one and only managed five hits. What everyone will remember is how badly Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez worked together that game. A little offense might have helped, especially in the first inning when they loaded the bases and were a hit away from popping Mike Fiers.

They Yankees won the first two games of a series in Seattle. Then they lost the third one. Andujar was again riding the pines and Didi, though back, was not allowed to start and only pinch hit as his replacement went 0-3.

It was on to Minnesota and the Yankees won the first game. But Sonny Gray was given a start and it did not go well. Brett Gardner was given a day off and Stanton played left. There was one play Stanton could not make that Gardner would have cleaned up that had a lot to do with the runs the Twins piled up--as did a passed ball by Austin Romine who had to play because Gray was pitching. Jonathan Loaisiga should have started the game. Brett Gardner should have started that game. Gardner again did not start the last game which the Yankees also lost. Sitting Gardner meant sitting a player who had seen the starter, Jake Odorizzi more than any other Yankee.

Finally, the team came home to face the Blue Jays. They won the first game easily, 11-0. The rest of the series was awful. Andujar again (!) did not start on Saturday. He did hit a grand slam pinch hitting later in the game. But perhaps, if he had come up in the bottom of the second when the Yankees had bases loaded and no outs, he would have fared better than a Neil Walker strikeout (followed by two more strikeouts). Say Andujar kept the rally going and pushed across a couple of runs, the Yankees would have made different pitching decisions and not let the game get out of hand.

Dillon Betances blew the save plain and simple in the last game. But the Yankees only scored two runs and Neil Walker came up in the ninth and flied out deep (I'll give him that) because the Yankees had removed Andujar for defensive purposes.

The last one listed, that second Blue Jays game was so not understandable. The Yankees had just had a day off the previous Thursday and had another one coming on Monday after the series. Again, how much rest does a player need?

What this does is defy a sense of urgency. The Oakland A's are breathing down the Yanks' collective necks for home field advantage for the Wild Card Game. The Yankees are one for 2017 and 2018 (combined) at Oakland. Every game needs to be played to the max for the rest of the season. But how do you create that mental image in a player's (and the fans') mind when resting people is more important than winning? There is no science that can measure the psychology such decisions create in players.

Perhaps I am a big old school. Why do teams like the Yankees mess around and have Aaron Judge get his toes wet for a week before letting him hit in a live game? Why is Aroldis Chapman throwing simulated games when Betances has blown two games in the past week? Again, where is the urgency? The Yankees urgently need to play the Wild Card Game at home. And even then, they could go home after one game if they lose.

The Yankees have bought into the idea that players need regular rest. It is an idea that has full sway in MLB team analytical offices. Joel Sherman was quoted in this Mike Axisa article that Theo Epstein, AKA, "The Brilliant One," said that a player getting 650 plate appearances was "passe" and 500 was plenty. What!? You are going to take thirty games of Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, etc., away from their respective teams!? It is absurd. It is also unfair to the paying fans not to see the best players on the field. I am not buying this one. Throw rocks. Call me Gramps. That's fine. But it is absurd.

This season could have been so much more. You can blame it on injuries. Every contending team has had injuries, so I do not want to hear that excuse. I said before the season (on another site) that the Red Sox made the best managerial decision and the Yankees did not. I still believe that. Joe Girardi was fired because he tried to create too much urgency. Aaron Boone does not create enough. I know where Girardi got the team last year. We'll see what happens this.