The Boston Red Sox Decline Was Accurately Predicted Before Last Season

May 11, 2012

Back in December 2010, I wrote this piece  indicating the Boston Red Sox were “trying to keep up with the Joneses” ie: the New York Yankees, when they traded for then San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

The premise behind the story was that the Red Sox didn’t have the kind of money the Yankees have, and they would likely fall the way of the old Soviet Union if they tried to keep up with the Yankees in spending. Paying tons of money and trading young kids to win now over the Yankees would make the Red Sox worse in the long run when their farm system becomes incapable of producing new players to fill in for their aging stars when those stars suffered declines or get injured.

I was ripped twice as hard about this story as I was in my Jason Bay Would Be a Huge Mistake for the New York Mets piece I wrote a year earlier. And Mets fans really ripped for that piece.

But in both instances I was completely wrong.

It really didn’t take as long as I originally thought for both those thought processes to prove fatal for each team.

The Boston piece was more about their thoughts on trying to outspend the Yankees rather than actually getting Gonzalez, but by using their top prospects for trades and signing free agents to win now. The Yankees spent lavishly after not making the playoffs in 2008, inking CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett to over $400 million, then promptly won the World Series in 2009.

The Sox thought having overpaid superstars at every position would help them, so in successive big name transactions they traded for Victor Martinez (during 2009) and Gonzalez, plus signed John Lackey (5/82.5), Mike Cameron (2/15.5), Carl Crawford (7/142), Bobby Jenks (2/12) and Marco Scutaro (3/17) to multi-year free agent contracts. Josh Beckett was also re-signed to a big extension  (4/68) prior to 2010.

And before all this, Daisuke Matsuzaka has cost the Sox over $110 million for one good season. He missed most of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Scutaro has since been traded but Lackey, Crawford and Jenks have all been hurt, Beckett was good last season until he started drinking beer (1-2, 5.48 ERA down the stretch), and has his own problems this season*. In addition, they are now paying Gonzalez $21 million over the next six seasons.

* I was at the Winter Meetings a few years ago and was speaking with someone who knew Beckett pretty well, and told me a few pretty intersting stories from his Florida Marlins days. Let’s just politley say that Beckett isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.

That is now $458 million to be paid out to five players (AGon, Beckett, Crawford, Jenks, Lackey) of which only one is now playing equal to what was expected. But did you also know that so far this season Gonzalez has the fewest number of extra base hits of any Red Sox starter with 100 or more plate appearances?

But, with all that outlay of cash and traded away young players) the Red Sox haven’t won a post season game since 2008. They haven’t even made the post season since 2009 where they were swept by the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS. Martinez didn’t help them win in that series, did he?

Here is a direct quote from my Gonzalez piece: “...the Red Sox do have a set pitching staff entering 2011 with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Beckett, Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Felix Doubront, who the Padres did not receive, is a very capable reserve starter.

That is it, though. There are no other starting pitchers in their higher up system who is any good. So the Red Sox have a top six with no others to complement them if there is an injury.”

They collapsed last season in September when they blew a nine game lead and most of that collapse centered on the lack of healthy and effective starting pitchers who could win just one game! Maybe Justin Masterson (traded for Victor Martinez) might have helped. Casey Kelly might have been good enough to come up from Double A and win one game. They also had some bullpen issues last year which Nick Hagadone (also traded for Martinez) might have helped. Hagadone is a hard-throwing lefty who has also been one of the Cleveland Indians best relievers this season with a 0.87 ERA, .484 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 ratio.

This year, under new manager Bobby Valentine, similar events are occurring to this organization, especially injuries and much ineffectiveness. Lackey is out for the season, Matsuzaka and Crawford have not played in 2012, Youkilis is hurt again (a nagging back injury), Jacoby Ellsbury is sidelined (again), and the starting pitching has been brutal.

Plus, in their quest to convert their top set up man Daniel Bard to the rotation, the two big arms looked on to fill the bullpens late innings, Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon, are both not with the team. Bailey has been hurt all year and Melancon (who I really like as a reliever) was ineffective early and shipped to Pawtucket. Similarly, the player they received for Theo Epstein, Chris Carpenter – another late inning reliever, is also disabled.

And you probably thought only the New York Yankees had miserable results with pitchers they traded for?

And like last season, there is not a lot in the Red Sox minor league system that can help now. Sure, Will Middlebrooks was brought in for Youkilis and has performed well (can I throw out a SSS here?) but not many of their other top prospects are remotely close to helping out in 2013, let alone this season. When Ellsbury went down, the Sox had to trade for an almost finished Marlon Byrd; when the bullpen needed help, they turn to Vicente Padilla and Andrew Miller, one of the failed starters from September 2011. 

Now, the Red Sox look to bolster their offense with the promotion of Daniel Nava. Lol.

I am not saying that trading for Gonzalez was a bad idea in and of itself. Obviously, he is a quality player who can consistently put up big time, MVP caliber number each season. But he is committed to the first base position for several years, until David Ortiz is gone and then AGon will likely move to DH.

But with all that money spent with no titles, no ready prospects to fill in when injuries occur, was it really wise to try and spend like the Yankees and lose young players at the same time? If the Red Sox let Anthony Rizzo play at Triple-A last season and then come up this year, would the Red Sox be any worse than they are now? Which, of course, is mired in last place, a full 7.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.

Was it worth it to try and buy a title last season?

It is interesting that both teams the baseball pundits thought would be in the 2011 World Series, the Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, didn’t even make that World Series and are mired in last place this season. Like the Sox, the Phillies lost key contributors Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and after they traded many of their top prospects, they have no one to come up and contribute on offense. Plus, like the Sox situation with Crawford, the Phillies owe an already performance declining Howard over $100 million for next FIVE years.

But unlike the Red Sox, the Phillies do have a trio of tremendous starting pitchers in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Those teams which try to win every year by overpaying for talent eventually have problems when injuries and ineffectiveness occur. Too much money for very little return puts a damper on their current team and down the road when young kids are blocked by overpaid bums.

Most of the World Series championships won over the last 30 years have been won with home grown players who, when allowed to develop and contribute, provide their organization with quality value with quality play.  San Francisco won with their home grown starting pitching and Texas has been in the last two World Series with mostly young players who have come up through their system. Of course there are exceptions (like the 2009 Yankees), but these are exceptions and not the rule.

The Red Sox do have some promising kids in their system, but they are all down in the Low-A and High-A. It would behoove the Sox to allow these kids to develop and be ready for 2014 and beyond. Trading away any of these kids for an arm or big bat now will only continue the circle of idiocy. But one small issue like not being very good for a couple years might have to be stomached by Red Sox nation.

So, what to do? Let the kids play.

The Red Sox have an average age of over 30 for their team, way too old for the young game played today. The Sox need to get younger and use some of the tools they have in their system. The aformentioned Middlebrooks. Keep him in the lineup. Mike Aviles is a nice player, but is he your future at shortstop? You have a top prospect at Triple-A in Jose Iglesias. Why not let him play? From his days with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, Bobby Valentine appears to work well with young players and wanted to have Iglesias as his starting shortstop at the beginning of the season, but was “overruled” by GM Ben Cherington. Ryan Lavarnway is a power hitting catcher who would fit nicely in Fenway Park.  

Time the change the attitude in the clubhouse.

When the Red Sox tried to win it all every year after year by obtaining Victor Martinez, John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, costing themselves cost-controlled young talent and future draft picks, then re-signing the intelligently challenged Josh Beckett, the hierarchy put a process in place which could affect their ability to win over the next few years.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I might believe that Theo Epstein, who conveniently left to become grand pooh-bah of the Chicago Cubs, did this on purpose.

My prediction of the Red Sox demise by not having quality young players to help in case of injuries to overpaid talent came to roost last season with no pitchers who could win a game down the stretch, and this downfall continues at the beginning of this season.

I am sorry Red Sox fans, but this case of Keeping up with the Joneses has pushed this team into pre-foreclosure status.

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New York Yankees: Can Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild Really Fix A.J. Burnett?

November 26, 2010

All the New York Yankees news the past week or so has been about Derek Jeter and his new deal. How much will Jeter “settle” for and will the Yankees come up from their three-year, $45 million deal. Also, some Mariano Rivera news has popped up. Will the Yankees give him a two-year deal?

But one big story a couple weeks ago was the hiring of new Yankee pitching coach, Larry Rothschild. His big job would need to be “fixing” A.J. Burnett, a bad pitcher locked into an $82.5 million body.

Larry Rothschild really has his work cut out for him.

Tons of articles about how Rothschild needs to find out what is wrong with A.J. Burnett, identify those faults (which are many) and “fix” A.J. Burnett’s mechanics.

That is going to be very difficult.

You see, Burnett is entering the third year of a five-year contract which is paying him $16.5 million per year. Chump change for most of us, but real money to Burnett.

Burnett is also going to be 34 years old in 2011, has a dozen seasons of pitching in the major leagues on his ledger and has thrown 1,770 major league innings. Rothschild has pitched a total of 8.1 innings during his major league career.

Do you really think Burnett is going to scrap the way he has pitched for more than 12 seasons to go along with a guy who doesn’t have enough innings for even one complete game?

I don’t think so, because even though A.J. is deemed “a good guy” by most of the Yankee beat writers, I see Burnett as a guy who cares only about himself.

Burnett has had his share of incidents with the teams he has played. First, he was kicked off the Florida Marlins team in September 2005 for detrimental comments about the manager, Jack McKeon, and the organization.

He was kicked off the team! The Marlins said, “Get lost, we don’t want you around here anymore!”

Burnett also showed up one day this season with a black eye. No one has said what happened, but I would not be surprised if Burnett popped off to someone in the locker room (Jorge Posada?) who took matters into his own fists… I mean, hands.

As I wrote in the past, I would have stayed far away form A.J. Burnett two winters ago. He showed to have a bad attitude and only performed well in arbitration and his walk years. I even had a huge discussion about it on 1050 NY ESPN radio host Michael Kay. His last comment was “that is who the Yankees really want.”

The Yankees should have passed on Burnett. When you look into Burnett’s career, he really hasn’t had one dominant season, not even a few really good seasons. He has always gotten by on the fact that he “has great stuff.” But when you can’t get hitters out on a consistent basis, you don’t have great stuff.

Even Burnett’s “good” 2008 season in Toronto, he was 5-1 with a 2.05 ERA against the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but only 13-9 with a 4.93 ERA in all other games. Typical Burnett of pitching well in a walk year against two rivals, but not doing well otherwise.

Now Larry Rothschild will be looked upon to save the big (black eye) guy. While it is somewhat easy to recognize pitching faults and work with the pitcher to correct them, it is much more difficult to get past the pitcher’s mental faults.

Burnett has many mental faults and it will be tough to get him to change those to become more confident and to concentrate more on each pitch.

Physical faults can be corrected.  

The biggest issue is that Burnett does not have command of his fastball. How many times do you watch a game and the Yankee catcher is set up on one corner or the other and Burnett throws a fat pitch right down the middle?

Too many times. And when the ball does not travel over the middle, it usually misses way outside or way inside, often hitting the batter. In fact, Burnett led the major league in hit batsmen in 2010 with 19.

No control with or command of the fastball, which is always what you hear manager Joe Girardi say after bad Burnett outings. Burnett’s pitches move too much.

Easiest thing to do to “fix” Burnett is to have him throw his fastball right down the middle. They can first test A.J. to see if maybe he has his A game and can hit the corners. But that rarely happens so move to Plan B is needed.

Since Burnett can not hit a corner on a consistent basis, the thing to do is have the catcher set up for fastballs right over the middle of the plate—every fastball, every time. Then, when A.J. has his movement going, or he is not concentrating, the pitches he throws to the glove will miss to either side and be near or right on the corners.

Tough for hitters to take those pitches and even tougher for them to hit.

We used to do this in college with high velocity guys who could not locate and Davey Johnson convinced this was the way to go with Sid Fernandez back in the 1980s. El Sid was a really good pitcher for the New York Mets during their heyday, allowing precious few hits but tons of free passes.

This tactic couldn’t be any worse than how A.J. performed in 2010. Throwing the ball down the middle could only be better, but the Yankees would never do something as simple as that.

In 2010, A.J. has had his worst statistical season as a full time starting pitcher. Worst strike out rate, worst WHIP, worst HR rate, worst ERA and almost worst walk rate.

That has to be a really bad FIP.

So they will attempt to “fix” Burnett’s mechanics.

Let me help out the new pitching coach with identifying Burnett’s mechanical issues.

Burnett uses a big hip turn where he shows the number of his uniform and his back pocket to the hitter. No need for this as it does two things. This provides no benefit to velocity and actually pulls Burnett away from the forward momentum he should be delivering directly to the plate.

What this big backwards hip turn does is reduce his velocity by creating excess movement during the delivery. Velocity has nothing to do with the strength of your arm, but the power of your core including a powerful hip turn after the front foot lands.

The big hip turn will also usually cause the lead leg to swing out and straighten when the lead leg should remain in a bent position. It is not good when the front leg acts like a swinging gate.  As I said earlier, a big turn of the hips is good after the front leg lands, not before it.

A swinging gate front leg often causes the landing foot to plant in different spots, away from the mid-line to home plate, causing the aforementioned reduced velocity and any concept of control of his pitches 

Add in the fact that Burnett does not concentrate on every pitch and that is a recipe for disaster. A disaster which turned out to be his 2010 season.  

Repeating mechanics is very difficult for Burnett because of so much movement and lack of concentration. Similar to what Dontrelle Willis has been going through since, well, forever.

First step to “fix” Burnett is to eliminate his aggressive backward hip turn and have him bring the lead leg up, down and out. Eliminating all the excess backward movement will increase Burnett’s velocity and improve his control.

As I mentioned earlier, the toughest thing for Rothschild to “fix” is Burnett’s mound demeanor and concentration. Burnett doesn’t seem like he really cares out on the mound. Several pitches in a row look good, then four hits and two walks later, the Yanks are down by three.

Only thing which works on the mental aspect is to treat the player like a child. Take things away, like his spot in the rotation. But that will never happen with all that money being paid to Burnett.

I can’t see Burnett listening much to what Rothschild says. If Burnett proves me incorrect, then it would be great all around for Yankee fans, but I just don’t see it based upon his track record of individualism.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Best thing for the organization is to try and work a trade for A.J., eat lots of cash and let a young kid from the system take his spot. Get rid of the black cloud of having pressure on Rothschild to “fix” Burnett and having constant questions after every one of Burnett’s bad starts.

With Andy Pettitte looking like he will return for one more season and the almost certainty of signing Cliff Lee, the Yankees can afford to take a hit by trading Burnett (limited no trade clause) and using a kid (Ivan Nova, David Phelps?) as the fifth starter.

They couldn’t do any worse than the 10-15, 5.26 ERA and 1.511 WHIP Burnett put up last season.

Biggest way to fix Burnett is to not have him around anymore.


New York Yankees: A.J. Burnett Needs to Start In The ALCS

October 14, 2010

We now know the New York Yankees roster and their pitching rotation for the ALCS.

A.J. Burnett will start Game Four in Yankee Stadium. And while many people feel it is the wrong move, it is definitely the correct move for the Yankees to make if they want to advance to the World Series.

While many fans want CC Sabathia to throw games One, Four and Seven on three days rest, it would be foolish to heap that much on the big guy. With better performances by Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes in the ALDS, it would benefit the Yankees if all three of their ALDS starters were scheduled for two games each on regular rest in this series.

I would much rather have all three of the Yankees top starters pitching two games each than CC running out there three times. Overall, the Yankees starters are much better than the Rangers starters, even including Cliff Lee.

And including A.J. Burnett.

Other than Lee and Wilson, the other two Rangers starters are not that good.

Colby Lewis was an All-Star for the first month of the season, but has thrown for almost a full run higher in the second half. Tommy Hunter is two runs higher in the second half, and much better at home than on the road.

He pitches at Yankee Stadium in Game Four, going up against Burnett.

I wrote it was a mistake for the Yankees to keep A.J. on the ALDS roster because he was never going to be used. First, he is not a relief type pitcher as he does not throw consistent strikes, the key ingredient to being a successful relief pitcher.

Second, keeping A.J. off the ALDS roster would allow him to stay fresh by going down to Tampa and pitching in real games down there, keeping himself in pitching shape. It would

The biggest issue for starting pitchers is when they pitch with too many days rest. Their command suffers. A.J. will have had 17 days off from live pitching when he toes the rubber in Game Four Tuesday night.

And Burnett is already having issues with his command now that he back throwing to live hitters.

Sabathia had eight days from his last start of the regular season to his ALDS start. CC lacked command in that start, allowed five hits, walked three and missed his locations all game long.

David Price missed the same amount of days before his first ALDS start and had a similarly outing. His second outing in the ALDS (although he received another loss) was much better command wise.

So, AJ has to many days off. So why should he still get a start in the ALCS?

It will make the other starters better. The time period between their first and second starts will be on normal rest. While I believe Sabathia on nine days rest will struggle again tomorrow night, he will grind through that game, and the Yankees will come out on top.

He could go on three days rest.

And both Hughes, the up and coming young stud, and Pettitte, the aging but still very effective (and oftentimes dominating) lefty, will not be thrown on three days rest. The Yankees will not do that to their No. 2 and No. 3 starters, at least not in the ALCS.

If Hughes and Pettitte were going on three days rest, they would likely be limited in the innings they throw in their first games, probably six. Limited innings would severely put an added emphasis on the back end of the bullpen.

The bullpen has been good over the second half of the season. The Brian Cashman trade for Kerry Wood has solidified an already strong pen, and has appeared to lift the performances of most others back there.

But if Hughes and Pettitte become six inning pitchers, I do not know if the bullpen will be able to get nine outs per game not started by Sabathia. CC’s three day rest start in last season’s ALCS was an eight inning gem, but the other pitchers all had that extra day of rest and went on regular rest.  

No extra day this season. Hughes and Pettitte are not three day rest guys this season.

Not when they have a starting pitcher in Burnett who can possibly go out in Game Four and pitch a good ball game like he did last year in Game Two of the World Series.

But if bad A.J. shows up, hitting the barrels of bats, going deep into counts and walking hitters, Joe Girardi will pull him early in Game Four.

That is why Sergio Mitre is again on the roster, and was pretty good during the season coming in relief. In 13 relief appearancesof more than one inning, Mitre only allowed a run in four of them.

Mitre will likely keep the Yankees in the game if Burnett falters early, but if Burnett is on, the Yankees will have easier access to a second straight World Series.


New York Yankees Make Mistake By Having AJ Burnett on the ALDS Roster

October 5, 2010

The New York Yankees post season roster is always highly debated, but this season the roster has a few extra spicy sidebars. We now know for sure what has been assumed for at least a few weeks: AJ Burnett will not get a post season start.

But if Burnett is not going to get a start, then he should not be on the post season roster in the ALDS at all. He is not going to get any late innings work, as those are reserved for Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and David Robertson.

A.J. will only get long relief work, and that is if the Yankees are down by a few runs early or the games goes into a few extra innings.

In the first case, the reliever is in the game to “hold” the other team down and keep the game close. In the second example, the tight game takes on added pressure that a single bad pitch could cost a victory. 

One of the biggest needs to be a relief pitcher is to have control of the strike zone. I do not care if the reliever gives up hits, just do not walk anybody. Without a walk involved or back-to-back extra base hits, it usually takes three hits to score a run.

In either scenario, there are usually very few or no innings left and the team can not afford to put extra runners on base. If a reliever walks guys and gives up a few runs, the offense has fewer opportunities to get those runs back. While it is not OK for a starter to walk many guys, either, a team has far more chances to get early runs back if a starter gives up walks and runs early on.

It is imperative, and rule No. 1 for a relief pitcher, to throw strikes.

A.J. Burnett DOES NOT throw strikes consistently and can not be trusted to pitch in big spots, especially extra innings where his high walk rate (3.8 per 9 IP) would really hurt. He does not deserve a roster spot as he will not even get a chance to pitch.

But Burnett will pitch in the ALCS if the Yankees get that far. Probably in a Game 4, and for that reason, Burnett should also be off the ALDS roster.

It will allow him to go to Tampa to work out in Tampa and pitch during instructional league games against real hitters.

Forget the innings limit garbage and “saving the arm.” One of the keys for starting pitchers is to throw consistently against hitters, keep in rhythm and stay in pitching shape. If A.J. is in the bullpen for the ALDS, he is taken out of his consistent throwing.

I also believe Sabathia will have issues after not throwing for eight days between his last start and his first in the ALDS.

CC Sabathia will go his customary seven or eight innings win or lose, and I do not foresee him getting rocked early to where he has to be removed. So, no need for a long man in Game One. Andy Pettitte will go Game Two and will get at least five or six innings, maybe seven if he is cruising along.

And with Sabathia saving the bullpen in Game One, everybody is ready for Game Two. Phil Hughes has been pretty reliable all season. He has gone at least five innings in all but one start, and if not on an innings limit this year he probably would have gone five in that game, too. Expect Hughes to give his customary six innings in Game Three while allowing three or four runs, including at least one home run.

If those first three starts go as I anticipate, then the bullpen will need to get seven innings worth of outs. Joba, Wood, K-Rob and Rivera can do that with a little does of Boone Logan thrown in. There is no need for Burnett, unless one of the games goes extra innings.

And isn’t that what middle relievers are for?

Burnett was not great the last time he pitched in extra innings, allowing three hits, two earned runs and a walk, taking the loss. Granted he did throw that inning on two days rest (stop the presses!), but still was typical AJ Burnett.

Joe Girardi made a great choice in putting Sergio Mitre on the roster instead of Chad Gaudin. Mitre throws more strikes (2.7 BB/9 IP), has a lower ERA, WHIP and HR rate.

He also does very well against left-handed hitters (.226 BA/.261 OBP/.368 SLG) and in 13 relief appearances of more than one inning, Mitre has only allowed runs in four of those contests. Gaudin allowed runs in 10 of his 17 appearances of more than one inning. Mitre’s success against left-handed hitters (plus his ability to go multiple innings) likely cost Royce Ring a shot to get a roster spot as a second situational lefty.

And why is Dustin Moseley on the ALDS roster? He will not pitch unless the Yankees are getting killed, and they probably will end up losing by more if he enters a game. On the season, Moseley had an ERA just under 5.00, and the worst strike out rate, walk rate and home run rate of any Yankee pitcher. He is the worst possible candidate to be on a post season roster.

Girardi’s confidence in Moseley is baffling.

He has worse numbers than even Javier Vazquez, and has terrible number in relief roles. Meanwhile, Vazquez is 2-0, with a 2.70 ERA and limiting opponents to a .528 OPS in relief.

So instead of having both A.J. Burnett and Dustin Moseley on the ALDS roster, with both likely in the same role as Sergio Mitre as long man, Girardi should have been more versatile with his roster. I would have taken Vazquez over Burnett and taken an extra bench player such as Eduardo Nunez over Moseley. Burnett and Moseley are not going to pitch much, if at all, and it would be better for the Yankees to have that extra bench player.

With Golson in for Swisher for defense, the Yankees also lose their speed player in case they need to pinch run for someone. For example, Yanks are leading late and Golson is in for Swisher for defensive purposes but the Twins rally and tie the game.

Posada gets on base his next time up and you want to run for him. Run with Cervelli since he will replace Jorge? Good, but not great. It can’t be Ramiro Pena because he is your emergency infielder. If he runs for Posada, what happens if Alex pulls something? Who plays infield then?

That is where Nunez comes in to play. He can run and then provide added insurance as another infielder.

Roster management in a five game series should be much different. Teams don’t need that extra pitcher, and the Yankees have 11 arms on their ALDS roster. Extra position players would help a team more in various situations than an 11th pitcher.

The Yankees made a mistake carrying both Burnett and Moseley.


Cliff Lee: With CC Sabathia Leading the Way, Is Lee To Yankees a Done Deal?

August 23, 2010

A story in today’s New York Post quotes CC Sabathia after his 17th win yesterday, “I’m here,” Sabathia said. “Hundred percent.”

Sabathia is referring to the clause in his contract to opt-out after next season. CC was not sure he or his family would like the hustle of New York, and being Californians, wanted the option to go back to the west coast.

I think you know I’ve built a house here, right?” CC said. “My kids go to school here. We live here year round. So I’m not going anywhere.”

That is great news for the Yankees, who have relied on Sabathia more this year then they even did last season. A remarkable feat indeed, considering CC won 19 games in the regular season last year, three more in the post season and was the stopper when the rotation became erratic.
Deja vu all over again in 2010, right?
What CC’s declaration also tells me is that Cliff Lee is even more likely to sign with the Yankees next season after becoming a free agent. After being traded THREE times in less than a year, Lee wants to play with what is comfortable to him.
And CC is comfort food for Cliff Lee.
They are really good friends since their days with Cleveland, and CC is perhaps the biggest cheerleader for players to come to New York. And with Lee and Yankee rotation stalwart A.J. Burnett both hailing from Arkansas and sharing the same agent, Lee is almost guaranteed to become part of the 2011 Yankee rotation.
But would it be a good idea?
Lee has not been that good since the early July trade to the Texas Rangers. In his nine starts for Texas, Lee has a 2-4 record with a 4.18 ERA, and the Rangers are 3-6 in Lee’s nine starts. His seasonal ERA has risen almost a full point from 2.34 to 3.09.
And most of this damage has come from the American League East opponents Lee has faced, the same opponents he would face in about half his starts if he were a Yankee next season.
Baltimore beat Lee up Saturday, hitting four home runs in the process. The Orioles also bombed Lee in his first Rangers start, belting three more dingers. It is interesting, but the Orioles (the last place Orioles) have scored at least one run in eight of the 15 innings they have faced against Lee.
Lee did not fare well against Tampa Bay in his one Ranger start, allowing six earned runs, and lost both his Tampa games while pitching for the Seattle Mariners. Lee dominated Boston for most of his one start as a Ranger, but blew the lead in the bottom of the 9th inning. It was a game the Rangers would eventually lose.
And that game was the first of many games Lee has allowed late leads to evaporate. On the 11th, Lee dominated the Yankees but blew up in the 7th inning, allowing four hits and two runs before leaving. His next start, Lee had a two-run lead in the 8th against the Rays before allowing five hits and four runs.
In Lee’s five starts against the AL East since the trade, the Rangers are 0-5 and Lee has a 6.22 ERA. But in his four starts versus the lowly Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s, Lee is 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA*.
*Funny thing, is that Lee is dominant against all teams but the AL East and the San Diego Padres, who have tattooed Lee for 10 earned runs in 13+ innings.
Is it the vaunted issue of pitching against the AL East? If so, then it would be a major problem if Lee signed with the Yankees at a five (or more) year deal for CC type money. Similar to how the Red Sox must feel about signing John Lackey away from the comfy AL West to the powerful AL East.
Is it because certain teams approach Lee differently? In his most recent start against the Rays, Lee faced 34 batters, and has 27 of them swing at a pitch before taking a called strike. In his last start, the Orioles also were very aggressive, with 19 batters swinging at a pitch before getting down in the count by taking a strike.
Or coming off his 272 inning 2009 season, is it that Lee has just tired some during this season? He did miss the first month of 2010 with a small suspension for throwing at an opponent and then suffering a minor injury.
What ever it is, Lee has not been the same pitcher.
The Yankees would want to sign Lee for their own purposes, but to also keep him away from one of the AL contenders for the next four or five years like Texas or LA, maybe Boston if they can deal away Lackey or Daisuke Matsuzaka.
But the last time the Yankees signed a free agent pitcher to keep them away from their rival did not work out as expected, right A.J. Burnett fans?
Even though the Rangers still have an eight-game lead in the AL West, Lee’s performance has not been what they, or anyone else has expected. Lee will not have the comforts of facing the NL or AL West lineups in the post season.
Despite last years playoffs, the Yankees have scored seven runs in 15 innings against Lee this year, and Tampa Bay has beaten Lee three times this season.
Lee’s performance against the AL East playoff teams should be a huge factor regarding the value of his next contract. If he suffers through a miserable 2010 post season, would the Yankees go all-out for Lee as is expected?
CC Sabathia hopes so, and might change his mind about the future if Lee is not in pinstripes.

The New York Yankees: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Segment No. 5

June 28, 2010

This is the latest installment of the 2010 New York Yankee progress, honoring the epic Clint Eastwood movie of the same name.

MOVIE TRIVIA: Given that the Italian Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo literally translates to the English: The Good, the Ugly, the Bad, reversing the last two adjectives, advertisements for the original Italian release show Tuco (Eli Wallach – the Ugly) before Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef – the Bad) , and, when translated into English, erroneously label Angel Eyes as “The Ugly” and Tuco as “The Bad”.

Now I know why beat reporters who work on deadlines get very frustrated.

I had the following paragraph all ready during the 9th inning of last night’s Yankees – Dodgers clash.

“Since my last installment (No. 4), the Yankees have played 12 games, resulting in a 6-6 record. What is more important is that the Yankees still have themselves the No. 1 record in the major leagues at 46-29, a game up on the pesky Boston Red Sox.”

After the stunning comeback last night over the Dodgers, correct that to a 47-28 record and two game lead over the injury-depleted Red Sox.  

The Yankees have been 16-8 in June, with a split of their just completed, six game West coast Inter-league trip through Arizona and Los Angeles. During the last 12 games, the Yankees lost three in a row once (two to Philadelphia and the opening game versus the New York Mets).

All numbers are from the last 14 days, unless noted.

THE GOOD

CC Sabathia – with all the hub-bub over AJ Burnett’s disastrous June, have you noticed that the only pitcher the Yankees should have signed two season’s ago, is 5-0 in June? Sabathia became the third pitcher this season to win five straight starts while going seven plus innings in each?

The other two? See below.  

CC was 3-0, 1.57 ERA over the three starts the past two weeks. Simply dominant.

Phil Hughes – because of his innings limit skipped start out west, he only made one start over the last weeks. Phranchise made it his 10th win, going seven strong over the New York Mets, avenging his only loss to the Mets and Mike Pelfrey.

Robinson Cano – hit .298 BA/.365 OBP/.489 SLG/.855 OPS with two runs, which isn’t exactly Canoesque as we have been programmed to see. But he continues to come through with huge hits, culminating in last night’s extra-inning, game-winning home run off of left-handed reliever George Sherrill.

He also has a string of 60 errorless games. Interestingly, his throwing error was during Dallas Braden/Alex Rodriguez “don’t cross my mound” game.

Alex Rodriguez – starting to get the power stroke back with three home runs this past week. He slashed .256/.362/.564/.926 with the three HR’s and 11 RBI. All three home runs were huge, giving the Yankees the lead in this game and this one.

His home run last night got the Yankees on the board with his fifth inning two-run shot off of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

I am concerned with Alex’s hip/groin issue as it has made him much slower in lateral movement. It also has eliminated his ability to steal a base.

Brett Gardner – until getting hurt last night, Gardner was hitting .342/.419/.395/.813 while continuing to play great defense. He still leads the other New York left fielder, Jason Bay, in OPS this season (.821 vs. .791), while making considerably less money.

Colin Curtis – due to inter-league games in NL parks, he made his major league debut this past week. When Jorge Posada was catching, Curtis was the primary left-handed bat off the Yankee bench.

He had a few hits in six at bats, driving in four runs. His great at bat last night led to a RBI ground ball.

He has shown a good knowledge of the strike zone, takes great swings and can play better than average defense.

Read more about Curtis here in my 40 man roster advice from last season.

Good video of Curtis here on the biggest challenge of his life.

Good deal for Curtis, who is a very likable guy, cancer survivor and all.

He also played his college baseball at Arizona State. I remember in 2008, after the Trenton Thunder won the Eastern League title, I asked Curtis if that title was bigger than starring in the College World Series his junior season.

He smiled, took a few seconds, and said “the College World Series was awesome.”

In that Series, he faced Joba Chamberlain and former Yankee Zach Kroenke of Nebraska in Game 2, doubling off Kroenke in the 8th.

Chad Huffman – like Curtis, Huffman got his first major league hit within the last two weeks. He also had that big two-run single in Sunday night’s stirring comeback against the Dodgers.

And he hustles all the time.

Mariano Rivera – A great move by Joe Girardi in bringing in Mo into a tie game on the road again last night.

Two times in one road series, and two wins. I guess Girardi can learn from his mistakes when he did not use Rivera in that June 5th extra-inning road game at Toronto.

As I tweeted last night, Rivera is like an elite piece of real estate – location, location, location. When he hits the corners, he is unhittable.

David Robertson – he continues his really good pitching after a disastrous beginning to 2010.

In 5.2 innings over the last two weeks, he allowed a single cheap run. His overall ERA is now 5.04 (it was over 14 in early May!), but in June he has pitched to an ERA of 1.00.

People wanted to dump him to the minors in early May, but he is now the most consistent bullpen arm not named Rivera.

Yankees rookies – very interesting, but four Yankee young players have gotten their first major league hit this season; both Curtis and Huffman, plus Greg Golson and Kevin Russo. And Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez pitched well earlier when the bullpen needed a few new arms.

Sure, the team’s payroll is around $200 million, but the organization is doing a much better job at bringing up their young players and letting them play.

Joba, Phranchise, Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, David Robertson, and even when they started this new trend by bringing up Cano and Chien-Ming Wang in 2005.

THE BAD

Mark Teixeira – I am sorry, but Teixeira needs to change his approach from the left side to stop being a complete pull hitter.

But from what I hear, Teixeira is not a willing participant in the adjustment game, and thinks “he will come out of it on his own.”

He won’t by continuing to try and pull every pitch when he hits left handed.  

With pitchers getting better, Teix getting older and the usual big shift, Mark’s split against RHP is a terrible .228/.333/.386/.719.

I do not see him improving unless he makes some changes.

Jorge Posada – he is beginning to look old, with a slower bat. But it might just be him getting back into the groove of playing every day.

Posada will get more consistent at bats as the Yankees are finished with the National League parks and Jorge can DH a few days a week.

Last night’s 9th inning ten-pitch at bat against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton was the Posada we know.

If he hits the way he can, the lineup can withstand the continued year-long slump from Teixeira.

Joe Girardi – even though I am a big fan of his Mariano Rivera move, Girardi still tries to show everyone that he is a National League manager. Too many double switches by pulling Swisher out of games, and leaving his bench very vulnerable.

But the NL park games are over.

He was gong to pinch hit Ramiro Pena at Arizona in the Mariano game. I would rather see CC Sabathia pinch hit then Pena, especially after using both catchers. Pena is the emergency backup.

Then with first and third, with one out in LA, and Gardner on first base, Girardi elects to have AJ Burnett bunt over the runner to second.

Why not have Gardner steal second instead? If he gets thrown out, and AJ makes an out (very likely), then Derek Jeter leads off next inning.

I am a big fan of the bunting game, but with one out, giving away an out when AJ isn’t moving over two runners is a big mistake.

THE UGLY

Derek Jeter – whew! That three strikeout performance Saturday night was brutal. His slash line over the 12 games is worse – .244/.358/.289/.647 with ZERO extra base hits and no RBI.

Chan Ho Park – a .400/.444/.680/1.124 slash line is great if you are a hitter, but just brutal if you throw the ball for a living. Many have pointed out that it is usually his second inning which causes lots of damage, but some of his single inning appearances aren’t great either.

I do not believe it is Park’s durability which is an issue, as he was a starter and has several successful multi-innings appearances this season, including April 7th at Boston and June 5th at Toronto.

But after a really good 2009 season, maybe Park isn’t that good this season. This is typical of many relief pitchers.

But if the Yankees only pitch Park for a single inning, then he needs to go. Other pitchers can go the one inning route, but an effective bullpen needs lots of guys who can go multi-innings.

When Alfredo Aceves comes back, Chad Gaudin is gone, but Park is not far behind. The Yankees have lots of patience with ineffective relievers (see Damaso Marte last year), but if Sergie Mitre comes back, too, Park could be gone.

AJ Burnett – it is not Dave Eiland’s month off, lack of in your face, walk-off cream pies, or Jorge Posada catching him.

It is AJ Burnett. He is not that good.

I was against him coming here in the first place, and have never wavered off my thoughts. I still believe he will eventually be on the disabled list.

He can not throw strikes to specific spots, thus leaving the ball out over the plate, where it gets roped all over the park. Except for his really good 2008 season, Burnett is basically a .500 career pitcher. There is a reason for that.

He is not that good. When you can not command your pitches, you will never pitch well. And it does not appear he concentrates on every hitter in every situation.

Never a good combination.

ANSWER: The other two pitchers in 2010 besides Sabathia with five straight starts, five straight wins and each win going seven or more innings is Ubaldo Jimenez and Nick Blackburn.

Jimenez was the easy choice, but Blackburn was tough. He has had a terrible April and June, but sandwiched them around an amazingly dominating May.

I guess he is destined for a really good July?


The New York Yankees: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Segment No. 4

June 15, 2010

This is the latest installment of the 2010 New York Yankee progress, honoring the epic Clint Eastwood movie of the same name. According to the astute readers of imdb.com, the Baseball-Reference of the movie and T.V. industry, “Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ” is ranked as the No. 4 movie of all time .

What is more important is that the Yankees have vaulted themselves into the No. 1 record in the major leagues. With Sunday’s 9-5 win over the Houston Astros, combined with Tampa Bay’s 6-1 loss to the Florida Marlins, the Yankees and Rays are tied atop of the AL East with identical 40-23 records , the best record in MLB.

The Yankees have been 9-3 in June, fattening up on the Baltimore Orioles (5-1) and the Houston Astros (recent three game sweep), while losing two of three to the pitching-rich Toronto Blue Jays.

All numbers are from the last 14 days, unless noted.

Il Buono

No. 1 Robinson Cano —has slashed .395 BA/.469 OBP/.605 SLG/1.074 OPS, with three doubles, two homers, seven RBI and 13 runs scored. Even more impressive are his numbers over the last month at .443/.476/.660/1.136.

During one stretch of his recent 17 game hitting streak, Cano had multiple hits in eight straight (19-33, 3 2B, 3 HR, 14 RBI).

Simply ridiculous, and at the top of the leaderboards for American League MVP.

No. 2 Brett Gardner —How can you not love Brett the Jet?  After a mini-slump which brought his numbers down considerably, Gardner began to hit again (and walk), by slashing .455/.552/.773/1.324 over the last week. Included were a double, triple, and his third home run.

Until Sunday, that homer tied him for the New York city left field lead with the New York Mets Jason Bay, he of the $66 million contract. Bay hit his fourth home run Sunday, but Gardner still leads the very wealthy Bay in OPS (.822 vs. .806).

No. 3 Derek Jeter —Do you really think he was going to stay on the bad list forever? After going through a long funk at the plate and in the field, which prompted the annual “Is Derek Jeter Done?” articles, Jeter has ripped a .333/.391/.514/.906 line over the last month.

While many do not like it when Jeter goes after the first pitch, he is hitting .404 with a .908 OPS when hacking at the first offering. The key is swinging at good strikes.

No. 4 Curtis Granderson —While Granderson’s overall numbers since returning from the disabled list are not great, the team has picked up its pace since Curtis returned to the lineup and his position in center.

That is because we saw less of Randy Winn (before being released), Marcus Thames and rookie Kevin Russo.

The Yankees are 12-4 since his return, but were only 7-11 in the last 18 games he was out of the lineup.

I would still like Granderson to sit back more when he swings, as he is often out in front on the right leg during swings and misses.

No. 5 Nick Swisher —He is turning in to one of my favorite Yankee players. I was not a fan of the trade which brought him here, but he has done very well, and has been instrumental in the lengthening of the 2009 and 2010 lineups. Has hit a very consistent .308/.402/.495/896 with 19 runs, eight doubles, three homers and 16 RBI over last month.

No. 6 CC Sabathia —What? He is struggling, right? Well, he is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in his two June starts. A 6-3 record thus far should be 8-3, but CC lost a win at Boston because of a rain delay and another when Joe Girardi pulled CC early against the Sawx and the bullpen blew the game.

This is a durable pitcher who should be allowed to throw 125-135 pitches each start.

No. 7 Andy Pettitte —Happy Birthday to Pettitte, who turns 38 today. Imagine on Thursday when Pettitte faces Jamie Moyer, who is seven years older than Andy?

Age is no factor for Pettitte, who is still dominating lineups by changing speeds and hitting corners. Again, why do scouts always worry about velocity and arm strength when a guy who does not top 90 MPH can consistently get guys out?

No. 8 Yankee bullpen —Over the last two weeks, the main part of the bullpen, Mariano Rivera, Joba, D-Rob, Chan Ho Park and Damaso Marte have been outstanding. They have thrown 21 innings, allowing 12 hits, five walks, and struck out 23. That is a WHIP of .809 and the one earned run allowed leads to a miniscule 0.43 ERA.

No. 9 Javier Vazquez —He is 4-1, 3.03 ERA over the last month with a 0.918 WHIP. While he has allowed five home runs, Javy has only walked five over his last 33 innings. He has been the most consistent starter this side of Pettitte.

He is similar to Andy by changing speeds and hitting that outside corner to RH hitters with his curve ball being the key to his success.

Il brutto

No. 1 Francisco Cervelli— Wow! He has come back down to earth faster than the Space Shuttle. Over the last month, the Cisco Kid has hit under .200 with an OPS of .522. He still dos come through with key RBI singles.

His 13 hits (all singles) over the last month have produced 12 RBI. He is still a force on defense and calls a great game.

I love the way he watches the batter before he puts down the sign. Concentrate on Cervelli during a couple at bats tonight and you will see what I mean.

No. 2 Alex Rodriguez —it has nothing to do with his lack of power, because he is still hitting the ball hard. But his injury could be more severe than a few missing days. Any long term time missed could hurt the Yankees lineup at a time when it was finally complete. (I do not count Nick Johnson).

No. 3 Jorge Posada —Two swings doesn’t make a season. Posada was brutal before his two grand slam weekend, but he also swung the bat better in other at bats during the Houston Series.

Posada gets into a taking pitches groove once in a while, taking good hitting strikes. This leads to indecisiveness and too much thinking at the plate.

When Posada is aggressive and still taking his walks by not swinging at balls outside the zone, he is a much better hitter.

Stay aggressive and hit good pitches, Jorge!  

Il cattivo

No. 1 AJ Burnett —An 0-2 record with 7.11 ERA in June with four home runs allowed in two games. Combine that with five walks and 14 hits in 12.2 innings pitched, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Bad AJ go home, but tell your twin brother, good AJ, to come back out and play.

No. 2 Marcus Thames —basically it is the entire bench which stinks, but since I think Thames never should have made the team in the first place, he is my poster boy.

Thames is 2 for his last 22 with eight strikes out and an OPS of .322. By the time his injury heals, I hope Chad Huffman (or Jorge Vazquez from Triple A) takes his roster spot – for good.

Combine Thames with Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo and Chad Moeller, and the bench is 14 for 81 with four doubles and six RBI over the last month.

That is why Alex needs to be back in the lineup soon.

No. 3 Chad Gaudin —There is no conceivable reason why Gaudin actually pitches in games or is on the roster. He stinks!

Having been released twice already this season, once by the Yankees should only reiterate how bad this guy is.

There is no reason why Gaudin should have been in the June 5th game in the bottom of the 13th in a tie game at Toronto. It only took nine pitches before the Yankees were walking off the field.

That 13th inning rundown: Batter One – leadoff walk on FOUR pitches. Batter two – sac bunt on second pitch. Batter three – game winning single on an 0-2 count!

No way the Yankees should lose on the road to a division rival without using your best relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera.

Get rid of this loser, Gaudin, and bring up Mark Melancon for good.