Celebrating Victories, Thumbs, and Catchers

Headlines:

Congratulations to Ron Gardenhire for winning his 1000th game as manager of the Minnesota Twins.  Only ten managers have done that with the same team. [FoxSports]

Not an MLB story, but interesting nonetheless.  Auburn pitcher Jay Wade was supposed to issue an intentional pass to Austin Anderson of Ole Miss.  He didn’t.  The video captures the rest of the story.  [FoxSports]

Hurry Back!

Will Middlebrooks heads to the DL with a calf strain.  An MRI is forthcoming.  Meanwhile, Brock Holt gets some time with the parent team.  Holt came through the Pirates chain and has had two previous trips to the bigs (Pittsburgh and Boston), hitting .250 in 124 at bats.  He’s a contact hitter, some speed but not a ton, and not a lot of power.  That makes him, what, a poor man’s Bill Mueller? [MLB]

Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira heads to the DL with a right hamstring pullAustin Romine will get his spot on the roster.  [SI]

Scott Hairston heads to the DL with a left oblique strain, which means that backup outfielder Tyler Moore returns to the Nationals.  [MLB]

Yasiel Puig injured his thumb sliding into first base on an infield single.  He stayed in the game – even forgot how many outs there were on a late game fly ball…  Anyway – he expects to get an xray soon. [MLB]

Speaking injured thumbs – Ryan Braun has been struggling with a thumb injury for nearly a full year now, and even the rest he got while sitting out last year for steroid usage didn’t help.  [ESPN]

National third baseman Ryan Zimmerman may have reinjured his shoulder on an awkward throw in Saturday’s game against the Braves.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!

Jon Niese returns to the Mets after his turn on the DL.

More Rehab…

Cole Hamels, Chris Stewart, Dane De La Rosa, Brian Wilson, Craig Gentry, Jake Arrieta, and J.A. Happ head off to minor league rehab assignments.

Baseball 365

Arrivals:

(1903) Mickey Cochrane – Hall of Fame catcher – probably the greatest one prior to the arrival of Yogi Berra.

(1908) Ernie Lombardi – one of the best hitting catchers, a two-time batting champ, and another member of the Hall of Fame.

(1937) Phil Regan – earned nickname, “The Vulture”, because he would swoop in as a reliever and take wins at the end of the ballgame.

(1943) Marty Pattin – I’ve probably written this before.  The first time that I bought my own pack of baseball cards was when I was probably six years old.  I took a quarter down to a corner store near where my grandparents lived on Sacramento in Chicago and bought a pack of Topps baseball cards.  There were no Cubs in that pack, and no other stars that caught my attention.  The one guy who stood out, to me, was Marty Pattin.

Pattin was born in the western suburbs of Chicago.  When his career – a good one – wound down, he would become the manager of the Kansas Jayhawks baseball team – but he left one year before I started broadcasting their games.  I believe he still lives in the Lawrence area, and I wonder if he ever heard my call.

Anyway – whenever I see his name, I think back to that first pack of cards.

(1951) Bert Blyleven – Hall of Fame pitcher and, like Jack Morris, the topic of enormous debate as to whether or not he was actually good enough to get the nod.  Chris Berman gave too many players nicknames in the 1980s and 1990s – but of the Bermanisms, Bert “Be Home” Blyleven was the best.

(1964) Kenny Williams – outfielder turned GM.

(1969) Bret Boone – another cheater, had some very big seasons in the 1990s.

(1971) Lou Merloni – my memory of Lou is that he was the guy who said that the Red Sox trainers used to give lessons in proper steroid taking…

Departures:

(1909) Doggie Miller

George Frederick Miller was born 15 August 1864 and with just a year of minor league ball was playing for Pittsburgh.  Miller was an agile catcher, a good hitter, and decent baserunner – which should have been enough to endear him to a generation of fans.  However, he had something uniquely special – and that was a remarkably loud voice.  So, when given the opportunity to coach the baselines, Miller would be heard all throughout the grounds – if not outside the grounds and a few blocks away.

His coaching voice was so loud it earned him the nicknames of Foghorn and Calliope.  The other nickname – Doggie – had to do with his rather unique batting stance.  A short, thin player – he propped himself even lower, and then he would kick forward with his front leg – almost like a dog taking a leak – before he would lean forward and slash at the ball.  Having been teased, Miller actually tried to hit without kicking his leg out, but it was ingrained into his routine.  He couldn’t hit without the kick.

Like many of the players of the 1880s and 1890s, he endured regular changes in the rules and equipment.  One change he didn’t necessarily take to was the chest protector.  A good enough player early in his career, Miller was often playing other positions to stay in the lineup – as his career wound down, he would eventually become the first player (and still only player) to play at least 20 games at every non-pitching position.

When his major league career ended in 1896, he wound up playing and managing in the minors,  Sadly, Miller contracted Bright’s Disease, however, and left this world before his 45th birthday.

(Summary thanks to my new favorite book – Major League Player Profiles – 1871 – 1900.)

Transactions:

(1975) The Astros purchased Joe Niekro from the Braves.

Events:

(1973) Ron Blomberg becomes the first designated hitter, drawing a walk off of Luis Tiant.  The second DH was Orlando Cepeda, who batted in the second inning of the same game.

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2010 Season Forecast: New York Yankees

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 103 – 59 (1st AL East, World Champions)
2008:  89 – 73
2007:  94 – 68
2006:  97 – 65
2005:  95 – 67

Runs Scored: 915 (1st, MLB)
Runs Allowed: 753, (5th, AL)

The Yankees were good – don’t get me wrong.  Using the ratio of  runs scored to runs allowed, they would be expected to win 97 games, which is still three more than anyone else – but a little lucky.

Just a little.

If I can digress a little bit, a lot was made about the large number of home runs hit in the new Yankee Stadium.  Yankee batters hit 28 more homers at home than on the road.  The Yankee pitching staff allowed 21 more homers at home than in road games.  The net gain on this is about 70 runs.  (Pete Palmer calculates the value of a homer at 1.44 runs – so that’s how I come to that conclusion.)

Despite this split, the offense as a whole at Yankee Stadium was actually lower than on the road (819 runs in Yankee Stadium, while 839 runs on the road) – and it was their own offense that was probably more responsible for that shortfall.  what this means, of course, is that if you would expect to add 70 runs on the scoreboard but wind up 20 runs short, the REST of the hits must have been removed.

That means that there were a few other factors that had a greater affect on offense – the size of the foul territory, the shape of the outfield walls, the length of the infield grass, whatever – than whatever pushed homers over the right centerfield wall.  For example, the Yankees hit only five triples at home, but 16 on the road – and they hit 25 fewer doubles at home, too.  This suggests that by having a bit shorter wall in the alleys, some balls leave, but the rest are caught and outfielders could shade in and cut off sinking liners and bloop hits.  Singles weren’t going through the infield – which suggests that the grass must have been REALLY thick, especially on that left side where veterans with less range inhabit the infield…

You wouldn’t want to make a TON of conclusions about it, but we’re talking about making up for a lot of missing hits in 2009.  We’ll see how this holds up next year.

Let’s get back to the team review.

Season Recap:

The season started with the admission in spring training that Alex Rodriguez, recovering from off-season hip surgery, had also spent some time in the steroid cocktail lounge.  A-Rod would miss the first month of the season, and take a little while to get back into playing shape.  Still, the Yankees had made a number of significant moves – signing C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher – to rededicate themselves to the task of winning a championship in the new Yankee Stadium.

For a month or so, the Yankees stumbled out of the gate, winning and losing a couple, until a five game losing streak at home against Anaheim, Boston,and Tampa put them two games under .500.  While some wondered if it was because A-Rod was gone, the truth was that the pitchers had a 5.79 ERA in April (See Chien-Ming Wang or Sergio Mitre) and that just couldn’t be overcome by any decent offense.  After losing to Roy Halliday in Toronto on May 12th, Joe Girardi was already feeling the heat of the New York scribes who insisted that he might get fired before the All-Star break if things didn’t get turned around.

What followed the return of A-Rod to the lineup was the entire team feeling complete – and an eight game winning streak put the team on the way.  Sure – the Yankees had a couple of rough stretches, they lost three in a row twice, and were just six games over .500 on June 23.  A-Rod wasn’t yet hitting the way we were used to him hitting.  The middle relief was staggering a little.  Joba Chamberlain was hearing calls he might head back to the bullpen.  Again, however, the noise was just that.

On June 24, the Yankees got things figured out.  Bam!  Seven game winning streak.  Right after the all-star break – Bam! – eight game winning streak.  If the Yankees lost three in a row, look out.  Getting tossed by the White Sox, the Yankees responded with seven wins and twelve wins in thirteen games.  I counted SIX winning streaks of seven games or longer.  And after June, where they batted .253 with a .354 OBP, the team’s batting average was higher every month until the season ended.

The Yankees fought off Anaheim and Minnesota, then blew over a very good Philadelphia team to win the World Series.

Pitching:

The Yankees had a dominant starter in C.C. Sabathia, and then three decent guys in A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain.  The fifth slot, however, wasn’t very good – and was a problem until the Yankees finally turned it over to either Philip Hughes or summer acquisition Chad Gaudin.

Sabathia was amazing – 230 innings of typical good work, saving his team about 26 runs over his time on the mound.  A.J. Burnett won 13 and saved his team 10 runs in 207 innings.  Andy Pettitte, who has done this forever, isn’t a great pitcher anymore – he’s league average – but with this offense, that’s good enough for 14 wins.  If the Yankees could just leave Joba Chamberlain alone, he’d probably be okay.  He was solid until the latter part of the season where he fell off and was about as far below average as Burnett was above it – 11 runs.

The fifth spot was crazy…  Chien-Ming Wang went 1 – 6 with a 9.64 ERA, and will get to figure things out in Washington.  For three years, he was a fine pitcher, but 2009 was ROUGH.  The Yankees tried Sergio Mitre – nine starts and a 6.79 ERA.  After that, the Yankees moved long reliever Philip Hughes in and he was pretty good:  96Ks in 86 innings, good control, and a solid ERA.  I think he has as good a chance of anyone to be groomed for the closer role in a year or two.  Chad Gaudin got six starts and was good enough.

The bullpen starts with the greatest closer of the last 20 years, the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who saved his team 21 runs in his 66.1 innings.  With a 1.76 ERA, you’d never know he was pushing 40.  Hughes was a good compliment, but the rest of the bullpen was up and down.  Alfredo Aceves was tolerable – good control and won ten games in middle relief because the offense could come back from any number of deficits.  David Robertson struck out 63 in 43.2 innings and saved his team a few runs here and there.  Phil Coke didn’t allow too many hits – but the ones he allowed seemed to leave the yard (ten homers in 60 innings).

For 2010, the Yankees added Braves starter (and former Yankee) Javier Vasquez.  You always worry about bringing a flyball guy to new Yankee Stadium, so while I love that the Yankees added a durable innings eater, I don’t think he’s going to be the ACE that he looked like in Atlanta.  I think he’ll look like A.J. Burnett at best – with better control.  ERA around 4.00 – and fans complaining it’s not closer to 3.00.

Additionally, the Yankees probably don’t NEED a regular fifth starter.  They are the one team that could throw Sabathia, Burnett, and Vasquez all the time, Pettitte most of the time, and rotate Chamberlain or Gaudin in there to give people an extra day of rest from time to time.  Seriously – Sabathia could make 40 starts (if not abused in his starts) and MIGHT win 25 or 28 games.

The rotation is going to be about as good as last year – the benefits of Vasquez offsetting whatever loss in productivity comes from Pettitte as he wraps up his career.  The bullpen isn’t going to be better than last year – but it might get used more.  Looking at this, I see a possible five run drop off defensively, but not not more than ten runs off from 2009.

Catching:

A lot is made about how easy it is to run on Jorge Posada. That really wasn’t a problem last year.  Throw in the fact that his teams win, his pitchers are better than league average (two things he probably doesn’t deserve a LOT of credit for, but they are good), and the fact that he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes – that’s pretty good.  His backups, Francisco Cervelli and Jose Molina, do a pretty good job, though Molina won’t be here in 2010.  What will make you nervous is Posada’s age, which might affect his offense this year.

Infield:

Mark Teixeira was all that you would want – impressive offensively, stable defensively.  He’s probably the best first baseman in the AL right now, though Kendry Morales is pretty special, too.

Robinson Cano is in the discussion for best second baseman in baseball.  He has a great glove and might win a batting title – all while hitting 20 – 25 homers.

Derek Jeter remains the most productive shortstop in the AL because he can still hit, gets on base a lot, has enough power, and is so good a hitter that it overrides the fact that he’s a miserable glove – that horrible decision to give him a Gold Glove last year not withstanding.

Alex Rodriguez still towers over most third basemen, finishing 30 – 100 again as he has every year since about 1980…  His defense at the position has improved every year, but he’s still not really all that good.

What scares you is the lack of depth here.  Ramiro Pena is a good fielder and hits a little.  Jerry Hairston is gone and nobody else looks like a major leaguer.  Would you trust Juan Miranda with a job?

I’d love to tell you that this group is going to sustain its production in 2010, but I can’t help but think that age is going to creep up on Jeter or AROD, and if one or the other misses a significant amount of time, it would be problematic (although possibly a benefit defensively).  I look for this group to decline by 30 runs offensively in 2010, and for the defense to slip by five or ten runs.

Outfield:

Last year, the Yankees had a productive Johnny Damon, a tolerable but not impressive Melky Cabrera, and the fun Nick Swisher from left to right.  Only Swisher was mildly above average defensively, but all three were quality contributors with the bat.

Cabrera was moved to Atlanta in the Javier Vasquez trade, which means that Brett Gardner will be the full time centerfielder.  I like this – Gardner is better defensively and despite the lack of power is probaby going to produce more runs because he gets on base.  I like him in the #2 spot behind Jeter.

Losing Damon will be tough, but the Yankees acquired outfielder Curtis Granderson for prospect Austin Jackson to play left.  After running productivity numbers for the two, it’s literally a wash – with the Yankees getting younger.  Granderson has actually slipped two straight years after looking like one of the greats in 2007.  I like him as a left fielder, though – and the pitchers will, too.

Swisher returns to right field, will back up Teixeira from time to time.  The fourth outfielder will be Randy Winn, who is not much offensively anymore but remains a good outfielder.  If he has to play a lot, that would be a problem, though.

The net change of this group, however, I think will be positive.  I like them to score about 10 runs more than last year, and save 10 runs defensively.

Bench:

Last year’s DH was Hideki Matsui, who gets to ply his trade as an Angel in 2010.  In his place will be Nick Johnson, who has a fantastic OBP, sneaks a little power in there, and is a threat to get injured.

After that, I don’t see much of a bench.  Just Pena in the infield, and just Winn in the outfield.

Prospects:

AAA Scranton manager Butch Wynagar’s best pitching prospect is probably reliever Mark Melancon, who got a shot with the big club in 2009.  With Scranton, Melancon was 4 – 0 wiht a 2.89 ERA, fanning 54 and walking 11 in 53 innings.  Nobody else impresses me…  The best hitter was Austin Jackson, a speed demon who was traded to Detroit for Granderson.  Jackson hit .300 with nine triples and 24 steals.  Kevin Russo is an infielder with some skills, hitting .326 but without much power and with Cano and Jeter around isn’t going to get a shot without someone going down with an injury.  He’s probably as good as Ramiro Pena, but with better on base skills.  If you haven’t heard of Russo, it’s because he was a 20th round pick in 2006 and has surprised a lot of people working his way up through the ranks.  I think the kid can play, though.

The Trenton Thunder (AA) features the Yankee’s best prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, who hit .317 in AA after being moved up from Tampa (where, in a tough park, he hit .356).  He looks like the new Jorge Posada and will get Posada’s job in 2012 or so.  He’s just 20.  Eduardo Nunez has some hitting skills, but little patience.  He hit .322 in Trenton with nine homers.  It was the first time that the undrafted Dominican shorstop looked like a hitter.

If you are looking for pitching prospects, though, Trenton might have a few.  Michael Dunn fanned 76 in 53.1 innings, earning a trip to Scranton and eventually New York.  Starter Zach McAllister had a 2.23 ERA with good control in 22 starts.  Josh Schmidt has taken a while to get going but had a 1.61 ERA for Trenton last year – he has great K/9 stats and seems very hard to hit.  He’s just getting a bit old for a prospect.

At Tampa, David Phelps – a Notre Dame arm – looks to be making nice progress, and starter Lance Pendleton or D.J. Mitchell might get a chance to move up to Trenton after solid enough seasons in A+ ball.  Each could stand to work on their control, though.  And Austin Romine is a kid with a little power and speed that might work his way up the Yankee ladder in time, but as a catcher might be blocked by Montero.  2008 third round pick David Adams hit .281 with some power and patience – I like his chances to get to the Yankees (or get traded) by 2013.

Forecast:

Barring catastrophic injuries, the Yankees will be good in 2010.  They won’t win 110 games, I don’t think.  Healthy, the Yankees win 93 games and make the playoffs again.  Part of me thinks that it will be more likely 95 wins, but if the system says 93, I’ll go with that.