Saturday, October 31, 2009

World Series Machinations

  • Joe Blanton to start game 4 for the Phillies:

I'm not quite sure what the debate here is. Never before in his big league career has Cliff Lee pitched on three days rest; the guy's been borderline unhittable in the post-season; he threw 122 pitches in his game 1 masterpiece and the Phillies have the depth and power to deal with anything that happens with Joe Blanton.

Blanton pitched very well in last year's World Series against a Rays lineup that was tough in its own right and even hit a home run. If it were a team that couldn't score to mitigate a bad start by Blanton, then fine, consider going with Lee on short rest, but the Phillies are never out of any game with their power and the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park. Why run the risk of ruining the rest of the series with a panicky decision to start Lee without his full complement of rest?

The opposing pitcher shouldn't be a factor either. As great as C.C. Sabathia's been, the Phillies proved last year and in game 1 that they're not all that impressed with him. Sabathia pitched well enough to win in game 1, but Lee outdid him; the Phillies rocked him last year in the NLDS while he was with the Brewers.

The safe and smart choice is to start Blanton in game 4 and save Lee for game 5. As for all this silliness that Lee will be "unavailable" for game 7 since he's not starting game 4?


Everyone's available for game 7's and if Lee's needed to pitch a few innings, I guarantee he'll be the first one to volunteer and get out there. The Phillies are making the right move.

  • Hideki Matsui should play right field, if....

The one question I would have regarding Matsui possibly playing the outfield for the first time all year is whether or not he can make the routine plays. No one's asking him to be Nick Markakis out there, but would he be a liability that could cost the club a game? His knees are said to be in rotten shape, but he's a gutty, smart player and with proper positioning, it shouldn't be a problem. Hitters tend to hit Andy Pettitte back up the middle anyway, so how many balls would reasonably head Matsui's way?

The Yankees have to decide which is more important. Do they want to have the better ability to move of Nick Swisher/Jerry Hairston Jr/Eric Hinske? Or do they want Matsui's clutch bat and worry about the defense later?

I have no intention of trying to get into Joe Girardi's head on this matter (it's dark, cold and scary in there), but if Matsui proves in the workouts that he can move just well enough and not injure himself playing the outfield, I'd start Matsui.

  • Unraveling the mystery of the "sombrero":

I knew I was right about having heard a different set of rules for the "sombrero/golden sombrero" reference to a four-strikeout night.

Keith Hernandez is old-school. He grew up with a father who'd played minor league baseball and has an affinity for terms from years past in describing various aspects of the game. In his underrated book, If At First, chronicling the 1985 season of the Mets...*

*Time for Paul to be maudlin: Where was the Wild Card during the 80's? Its absence cost the Mets three World Series wins.

...Hernandez imparts the following on pages 23-24:

(Darryl) Strawberry caps off our lackluster batting by posting the team's first sombrero of the year. That's 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. Five strikeouts is the rare and not coveted golden sombrero. A mere three is the hat trick.

Hitters clearly recall their sombreros. I've had four in the big leagues. The first one off Tom Seaver in 1975, a year I started with the Cards before being sent down. Two of the strikeouts were with the bases loaded. I almost cried.

(John) Candelaria did it to me in 1979, when I was hot and winning the batting championship. I was overmatched that day.

The two I can still taste were late in the following season. After a collision with Bill Buckner at first base, a mild concussion kept me out of three games. I tried to come back too soon and my first game was a sombrero against Bert Blyleven. I went 3 for 24 for the week.

A few weeks later we faced Bill Gullickson in Montreal. It was 28 degrees in late September and the wind chill factor was 5. I was trailing the same Buckner by two points for the batting title, and I wanted my second crown in a row. The Cards were out of the race, so I had nothing to do but hit.

I was frozen at the plate; four times Gullickson sent me back to the dugout to thaw.

I still get angry recalling that collision. It cost me the title.

I think I trust Hernandez's recollection and use of such terms than the new age people who grasped something and ran with it inaccurately.

  • Viewer Mail 10.31.2009 (It's Halloween. BOO!):

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Charlie Manuel:

I agree about Manuel not leaving Pedro in too long. I would have left him in too. He was pitching great.

I have no problem with second-guessing (I do it all the time), but when it's stupid second-guessing, it's post-game nitpicking. And if he'd yanked Pedro and brought in one of the bipolar arsonists he's got in his bullpen and they'd given up four runs, then what? The conversation would consist of: "Why'd Manuel take Pedro out?" It's ridiculous.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes:

Will Pavano EVER live that legacy (or general lack thereof) down? *signs point to NO*

It's one thing to come to New York and not be able to handle everything inherent with the city, the pressure and the media scrutiny; but Carl Pavano came to New York and showed no interest whatsoever in trying----that's what's unforgivable. Once he got his money and he started to get an idea of what it was going to be like for him over the four years, he did everything he could to self-sabotage from questionable injuries and behaviors; to the skirt-chasing; to the lies and losing attitude.

In fact, I don't think it was New York at all that transformed Pavano into the butt of jokes he's become. Had he signed with the Red Sox, Tigers or Mariners he would've degenerated into the same thing. He got his money and lost his desire. He wouldn't be the first, but he was such a colossal waste of time as a Yankee, that he's never going to be forgotten. And that ain't in a good way either.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Burnett Delivers The Goods

  • Yankees 3-Phillies 1:

The good Burnett shows up:

There's never been a question of A.J. Burnett's stuff. His abilities are among the best in baseball. The questions surrounding him have always been about his durability; his mental approach; and his command. No matter what anyone says about Burnett, he was up-and-down this year. Such has been the hallmark of his entire career.

Whether it was the continuous injuries; the apparent "click" that went off in his brain whenever the carrot of big money at the end of certain seasons was dangled in front of his face; or his maddening inability to ever put it all together for an extended period and dominate consistently as he's shown the intermittent talent to do. Observers were rightfully paranoid if Burnett would deliver in what amounted to a game the Yankees needed to win to have a chance to win this series. In response to the realists and concerned loyalists, Burnett spun a gem.

I'm still dubious about the big money the Yankees doled out on Burnett. His injury history and the fact that he's been predominately healthy over the past two seasons makes him a ticking time bomb for something to go haywire over the next year or two with his health; but if his start last night keeps the Yankees in this series and gives them a chance to win when it was starting to appear as if they were in deep trouble against a Phillies team that can match them almost pitch-for-pitch, player-for-player, I'm sure the Yankees will accept whatever happens over the next four years. Burnett's already done more for his money than Carl Pavano did in his four years as a part of the roster (I won't call Pavano a member of the team).

Last night showed the Burnett's good enough he might justify the big contract because of his wicked, almost unhittable, power fastball and devastating curve. He delivered the goods.

Charlie Manuel did not go too far with Pedro:

There's endless debate on whether Phillies manager Charlie Manuel pushed Pedro Martinez too far in letting him start the seventh inning.

It's crap.

Pedro was masterful last night not as the Pedro Martinez from his Red Sox days in which he could overpower, intimidate and trick with a superlative combination of fastballs, breaking pitches, changing speeds, control and out-and-out meanness, but as a crafty, wily veteran who can still rise to the big occasion and do his job with little more than his brain.

What would've been the justification of yanking him after the sixth inning? His pitch count was reasonable; he'd rolled along until then (the Hideki Matsui homer the previous inning was on a pitch that Matsui went down and nailed----it wasn't a fat pitch); and the bottom of the Yankees lineup was due to hit. Why wouldn't Manuel try to squeeze another inning from a grooving Pedro?

It would be another thing if the Phillies bullpen was trustworthy, but they're still walking the fine line of getting the job done or torching the place; Pedro was the best option to get through the seventh and it didn't work. Ripping Manuel for that isn't just second-guessing, it's stupid second-guessing.

The umpiring:

Part of the reason the mistakes the umpires are making have become so magnified and such a cause célèbre is that people are looking for them now. For every 100 calls an umpire makes, he's going to screw up a couple of them. It's not an easy job and for the most part, they do pretty well at it.

As for this talk that MLB has to take control of the training and selecting of umpires, has anyone been watching the way MLB goes about it's business in recent years? What makes you think that MLB itself is going to be any more competent at training the umps than the private schools run by veteran umpires are? Given the ineptitude and cluelessness that's been a hallmark of the Bud Selig-run MLB and how they repeatedly miss opportunities to better the game, the results of an umpiring program would probably make things worse, not better. That's history at work.

Benching Swisher:

The stat zombies are in lust with Nick Swisher because of his batting eye and power, but he's been horrific this post-season so to me, benching him wasn't an issue. Jerry Hairston Jr's numbers against Pedro were the proffered reason for him being in the lineup, but as I said yesterday, those numbers were accrued while Pedro was at the height of his powers----he's not the same pitcher, so the stats are again taken out of context. If it were me and I made the decision to bench Swisher, I would've stuck Eric Hinkse in right field and hoped he ran into a pitch to take deep.

Girardi's smart moves:

While there were moments of terror for Yankee fans (why was Alfredo Aceves warming up behind Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning?), manager Joe Girardi had a good game. He rode his starter, Burnett, deep into the game and handed it right off to Rivera in the eighth inning; and the fake bunt from Melky Cabrera, followed by a hit-and-run single was a great move. This led to the removal of Pedro Martinez and an important insurance run. In a shaky post-season, it was a winning night for Girardi.

  • Orioles decline option on Melvin Mora:

Mora was a Bobby Valentine favorite. Valentine insisted that Mora was one of the best defensive outfielders in the game when he arrived with the Mets and had Steve Phillips not felt the need to replace the injured Rey Ordonez with a more defensively-inclined shortstop in Mike Bordick, Mora would've blossomed with the Mets.

Mora's a very sound fundamental player; is versatile; is a good guy in the clubhouse and would be a perfect addition to the Mets as a roving utility player to get 400 at bats playing a variety of different positions. He had a bad year with the Orioles in 2009, but I think that was more of a byproduct of being concerned about his contract and the way he felt he was being mistreated in Baltimore. Even at age 38, Mora has a great deal to offer a club as veteran presence and an example of how to comport oneself on and off the field.

  • The saddest part of the Steve Phillips mess in a baseball sense:
The broadcasting of the post-season has been about as horrible as the umpiring. Because of that when good broadcasters who add something to the telecasts with their intelligent analysis and breadth of experience are ousted because of personal issues and/or stupidity, it only makes things worse. Steve Phillips was a rising star as a broadcaster because of his talent at the job, and he ruined it all because he couldn't control himself----again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


  • Phillies 6-Yankees 1:

Cliff Lee looked ready for a nap:

It was a few years ago after he'd had a couple of useful years in the innings and wins department that Mets GM Omar Minaya was avidly pursuing Cliff Lee, then of the Indians.

I was ambivalent.

Thinking that Lee was little more than a cog in a machine who would win a double-digit number of games; give up a lot of hits and homers; and wasn't a difference-maker, he wasn't worth the price tag even though he'd had an 18-win season under his belt. In 2007, my assessment appeared to be right as he was horrible; pitching so terribly that he wound up back in the minor leagues, was left off the Indians post-season roster and wasn't traded only because they wouldn't get enough back for him to justify any deal.

Needless to say, I was wrong.

Even after he turned his career around by getting into fantastic shape before the 2008 season and honing his mental approach to win the AL Cy Young Award, there still wasn't an easy understanding of how good this guy is. The world is learning now.

Lee continued his post-season domination last night by handcuffing the Yankees with a classic performance. The line----9 innings; 6 hits; 1 run; no walks; and 10 strikeouts----doesn't tell the whole story. Lee was in such a groove that he looked like he was ready for a rocking chair. His control was impeccable; his motion flawless; and his demeanor eerily composed. The Yankee hitters looked completely clueless as Lee changed speeds; mixed pitches; and pounded the strike zone, keeping the hitters off balance and mowing down the fearsome Yankee lineup like it was nothing.

The thing that makes Lee so tough isn't just the above-mentioned attributes, but that his motion is so clean and easy that he repeats it again and again. It's so simple that one has to wonder why other pitchers don't take a similar approach. 1. Step back; 2. Lift leg; 3. Deliver ball.

Pitchers with long, complicated windups have so many more things that can go wrong; Lee doesn't have that issue. And with that simplicity comes the easy repair job when something does get out-of-whack.

The Yankees should tip their hats rather than lament the game because they were overmatched last night. Bottom line.

The difference in managers:

Charlie Manuel does some bizarre things sometimes as manager, but he doesn't adhere to the paranoid book designed to shield himself from criticism that so many other managers (especially the one in the other dugout) do. He does what he does and couldn't care less what anyone says about him.

How many managers would've hit the panic button and yanked Lee after Derek Jeter singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth----six run lead or not? It would've been ignored that the hit was a flare that could just as easily have landed in Chase Utley's glove; the pitch count would've been the reference point to take the ball from Lee's hand and put the opening game in jeopardy by calling in members of the Phillies shaky bullpen.

No doubt the bullpen issues have something to do with Manuel's reluctance to trust them until it's absolutely necessary, but he stayed with his starter; let him thrown 122 pitches; and Lee rewarded him. Would Joe Girardi have done the same thing? No way.

Does Chase Utley aim for the short walls?

I'd think it was impossible for a hitter to intentionally try and hit the ball into a certain spot----especially against a sublime star in C.C. Sabathia----but I swear Chase Utley looked like he intended to pop the ball into the right field corner because it was the shortest spot to get it out of the park. He did the same thing at cavernous Citi Field earlier this year against the Mets when he went deep by continually poking balls into the right-field corner and out. Is it possible that he has that kind of bat control?

Utley's short swing reminds me of George Brett's. I'm not advocating this because his power is such an asset, but if he wanted to and started spraying the ball instead of hitting it out of the park, he could make a run at batting .400. That's what a great hitter he is.

  • The McCourts divorce court:

This looks like it'll get far worse before it gets better.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, having fired his wife Jamie as club CEO as they're divorcing, has accused her of having an affair with her bodyguard. Jamie is protesting her firing and wants her job back----ESPN Story.

Normally, I wouldn't comment on this stuff, but it's going to affect the team. If the owners are publicly wrestling for control of the team, obviously it's going to permeate the organization. The players are presumably either oblivious to the situation or are shaking their heads at it. Turmoil like this can sabotage the on-field product by osmosis. I've seen it happen before.

  • Astros hire Brad Mills as manager:

I'm becoming aware that a solid resume has nothing to do with how a guy's going to function as a big league manager----being a babysitter and massaging egos is sometimes more important than strategy----but at the very least, new Astros manager Brad Mills has the qualifications to have a chance to be pretty good.

He managed in the minors for eleven years, giving him valuable experience; and he worked on the Red Sox staff for Terry Francona for six years. Working on winning teams is another asset for a new manager and Mills has two championship rings as a coach. It's a good start.

  • Viewer Mail 10.29.2009:

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes:

You should've seen the front page of the Tribune's Sports Section today dude. Huge ugly picture of Girardi -- hailed as "one of our own" 'cuz he's from Peoria and played for the Cubs. Well, while they touted him as a local hero they also forgot to mention that he wasn't good enough for the Cubs managerial job... or that his job with the Yanks has been suspect at best. I hope the Phillies win as you say... and that Girardi's gaffes are-a-plenty.

As much as he denies it, Girardi was lurking for the Yankees job. I can't say I blame him. As you so often repeat, Jesus hates the Cubs. What better way to guarantee perceived success as a manager than to go to the club with the highest payroll and a roster full of stars----and he's still doing his best to screw it up.

The intervening time between his Manager of the Year season with the Marlins and his time with the Yankees has exposed his flaws. They were evident with the Marlins----strategic screw-ups; scraps with his bosses; battles with the media----but no one much noticed. He'll have the number of wins the Yankees accumulated this year on his record, along with the pennant, but knowledgeable observers know the truth, that he's a disaster waiting to happen at any given moment because of his odd decisions based on whatever pops into his head or on the stat sheet.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World Series: Philadelphia Phillies vs New York Yankees

Philadelphia Phillies (93-69; 1st place, National League East; defeated Colorado Rockies 3 games to 1 in NLDS; defeated Los Angeles Dodgers 4 games to 1 in NLCS) vs New York Yankees (103-59; 1st place, American League East; defeated Minnesota Twins 3 games to 0 in ALDS; defeated Los Angeles Angels 4 games to 2 in ALCS):

Keys for the Phillies: The bullpen; getting solid starting pitching behind Cliff Lee; score, score, score; wait for Joe Girardi to make a mistake (of two, three or four).

The entire post-season for the Phillies was going to be determined by how their bullpen performed. If Brad Lidge and company were able to get the big outs when necessary, they were going to advance; if not, they were going to get bounced early. After the year he had, I didn't think Lidge would be able to right himself sufficiently and get the job done----but he has. Because of that, the Phillies find themselves going for a second straight World Series win. Now, Lidge will face his toughest test yet in the nightmare commonly known as the Yankees lineup.

Lidge is so streaky and so mentally fragile that one great outing can send him onto a similar streak as he enjoyed in the magical year of 2008; or one pitch can send him into a tailspin as with the Albert Pujols homer in the 2005 NLCS. He's been pitching well although he's still dancing through the raindrops with walks and line drives hit right at people. The Yankees are not the Rockies or the Dodgers. If Lidge gets an opportunity to close a game early in the series and comes through, the Phillies are in great shape; if not, they're going to have to piece it together or ride their starters and hope for the best.

The rest of the Phillies bullpen has been up-and-down as well. Ryan Madson was wobbly in the Rockies series; Scott Eyre and Chad Durbin have proven themselves to be money pitchers; I don't trust J.A. Happ out of the bullpen at all----he's looked petrified so far, which should be motivation for the Phillies to start him rather than use him out of the pen (which they're apparently not doing).

I was totally and completely wrong about Pedro Martinez against the Dodgers. Having thought it was a massive mistake to start him, Pedro went out and spun a masterpiece using guile and craftsmanship instead of his formerly fearsome array of power, meanness and control. That said, pitching him at Yankee Stadium against that patient and powerful Yankee lineup could be a recipe for disaster. The Phillies trusted Pedro's intelligence in the NLCS and it paid off. If he can repeat that trick against his longtime sparring partners from his Red Sox days----the Yankees at the new Stadium----it improves the Phillies chances markedly. Pedro lives for this stuff, but he simply might not have the reserves to physically execute what his brain is telling his body to do.

Cole Hamels's struggles are being attributed to tipping his pitches. We'll know quickly whether that's the case in game 3. The Yankees have routinely abused Joe Blanton in the times they've faced him to the tune of an ERA over 8 in four career starts. Cliff Lee has been so masterful in the playoffs that he can got toe-to-toe with C.C. Sabathia.

The Phillies must score; they must take advantage of the Yankees lack of starting rotation depth by pushing the pitch counts up; and they must get into the Yankees bullpen.

One aspect that cannot be discounted is the Phillies ability to lie in wait for the inevitable Joe Girardi strategic gaffe(s) and capitalize. Charlie Manuel does some strange things as manager, but he has respect in the clubhouse and his style's worked for the past three years. He's pushed the right buttons even when they appeared wrong; the same cannot be said for Girardi.

Keys for the Yankees: Starting pitching behind Sabathia; the bullpen in front of Mariano Rivera; scoring early and often; Girardi.

Sabathia has been the horse the Yankees were expecting when they aggressively pursued him and lavished that $160 million contract on the big lefty. He's facing an old friend from their Indians days in Cliff Lee and whichever comes out on top in the games they're opposing one another will go a long way in determining who wins this series. Don't discount the importance of Sabathia's bat in the games of Citizens Bank Park----he can really hit, and for power.

A.J. Burnett is facing a tough task in the patient and powerful Phillies lineup. They're not going to help him with overaggressive swings; and they don't miss fat pitches. If Burnett is on his game, he can blow any team away; if not...

Andy Pettitte has gotten by on his playoff experience, his guts, his fierce competitiveness, and his remaining stuff. The veteran has shown himself to be a cash money playoff performer since he was a fresh-faced rookie. Left-handed bats have handled Pettitte better than righties this year, and the Phillies lineup is lefty-heavy.

Joba Chamberlain has been hideous out of the bullpen; his fastball has diminished in velocity and the JOBA RUINATION has begotten what he is now----a second-tier reliever who should be behind the ballsy David Robertson on the depth chart. Girardi has been using Damaso Marte in important situations; he got away with it against the Angels and Twins; against the Phillies, I don't know if it's a good idea. Phil Hughes has been misused by Girardi as well and his pitch selection has been wanting. The way the Phillies lineup punishes pitchers, the Yankees bullpen in front of Rivera is imperative.

The Yankees lineup doesn't give a break to the opposing pitchers and after Lee, the Phillies starters are very hittable. With their patience and power, the Yankees are never out of any game. Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter have always been clutch and the newly relaxed Alex Rodriguez is a one-man-gang. Mark Teixeira has slumped horribly this post-season with a few big hits sprinkled in here and there and is due to really bust out; Robinson Cano's laziness should make him a candidate for strangulation, but too is a major threat.

I shudder to think what kind of strategic shenanigans Girardi is going to pull, especially in the National League games; and I'm sure the Yankees front office and veterans are thinking the same thing. His over/under-managing cost his club two games in the ALCS and could very well have cost them the series had the Angels played their normal game. His lack of experience as a manager and bizarre implementation of out-of-context stats is a major issue against the Phillies.

What will happen:

Lee has been so masterful that he and Sabathia are more than likely going to cancel each other out with the games in which they're matched up as the result comes down to who pitches deeper into the game and which club gets a big hit.

The second game will come down to a battle of bullpens because I doubt that either Pedro or Burnett is going to last very long. Pedro got away with his vast array of junk against the Dodgers, but he's doing it with a bag of tricks and you can't trick the Yankees more than one time through the lineup; they're not going to swing at his floating offerings as the Dodgers did. Plus, the weather promises to be chilly enough that it could take Pedro a couple of innings to get loose----by then there might be five runs on the board. If I were Manuel, I'd have a very quick hook on Pedro. The advantage for the Phillies in game 2 is that Burnett is just as likely as Pedro to get ravaged. The Phillies are going to massacre Burnett and get him out of the game early in both of his potential starts.

There's been so much discussion about Ryan Howard's atrocious splits against lefties that it's an invitation to a gigantic hit (or two) by Howard in the series----and he will bust at least one and probably two games open with big hits against the Yankees lefty relievers. If Girardi brings in Marte to pitch to Chase Utley and Howard? Everybody duck.

As the series wears on, the battering the Yankees starting pitchers have had to endure due to their lack of depth will come to the forefront as the relentless Phillies lineup puts up crooked numbers. The Phillies pitching behind Lee isn't great, but Hamels has shown himself to rise to occasions in the past.

Lidge and the rest of the Phillies bullpen (for the most part) put their horrendous regular season behind them and regained some semblance of form for the playoffs. The Yankees lineup is no picnic, but I feel better about the Phillies set-up crew than I do about the Yankees. Chamberlain and Hughes are in for a rough time.

The Girardi factor cannot be discounted. Never before in my life have I seen a manager single handedly cost his team not one, but two playoff games and have them survive. His horrific bouts of over/undermanaging are going to cost his club at least one game in this series. Manuel isn't a great manager, but he's not going to do something ridiculous and have it explode in his face.

The Phillies can match the Yankees power; their bullpen is good and battle-tested enough to hold onto late leads; and the starting pitching is going to be a wash. The shortness of their starting pitching; the rickety bullpen; and their manager will doom the Yankees as the Phillies take their second consecutive World Series.



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Moral Code

  • Kick a guy in the balls after he's out the door----classy:

I find myself in an extremely odd position when I have to defend people whose baseball knowledge and skills I see as wanting; or those that I don't particularly agree with; or find mean-spirited and agenda-driven just for the sake of irrational self-interest. But here we are again.

The San Diego Padres introduced Jed Hoyer as their new GM yesterday amid all the usual crap that comes with a new architect of an organization being hired. Hoyer's resume, his experience, his intelligence, his plans----all were discussed during the press conference as is the nature of such things. That wasn't the most interesting part of the storyline detailed for the Padres new GM. What I found simultaneously fascinating and disturbing was the way the former GM, Kevin Towers saw his tenure stealthily slammed as if he was the genesis of all the problems that have befallen the Padres in the past three years. And it's ridiculous.

The quote that got my attention from the AP story was the following:

After firing Towers, Moorad said he wanted a more "strategic approach" from his GM. Towers was known more as a seat-of-the-pants GM who built four NL West winners and had his 1998 club reach the World Series, where it was swept by the Yankees.

I am no fan of Kevin Towers as a GM. In his time running the Padres, he made some brilliant maneuvers, some horrible decisions and for the most part was an empty suit who can function doing the job even as his effectiveness was hindered by ever-changing circumstances that were no fault of his own. It's hard to judge someone who has to juggle the act of doing his job with ownership mandates and interference.

How is an executives supposed to have a "strategic approach" when he's forced to oversee repeated financially motivated teardowns? When he has his drafting preferences sabotaged? As he deals with overbearing and meddling bosses who attach Clousseau-like spies to his neck like giant warts?

Was it Towers's fault that former owner John Moores demanded the club be dismantled after their pennant-winning year of 1998? That Sandy Alderson was hired and set about trying get rid of Towers, then stuck Paul DePodesta in the middle of the organization as a jack-of-all-trades nuisance? That his longtime cohort, manager Bruce Bochy, was forced out in the interests of a more palatable (meaning cheaper and pliable) replacement in the overmatched Bud Black?

It's one thing to fire one man to bring in another who's more to the liking of the new owner. Jeff Moorad has every right----even the duty----to do what he feels is in the best interests of his organization and if he thinks Hoyer is the guy to oversee the Padres through their retooling, then fine. But why was it necessary for this implication that Towers "flew by the seat of his pants" to be put out there as if he was functioning that way by design? It seems to me that he "flew by the seat of his pants" because that was the way the Padres forced him to operate.

No one knows how Hoyer is going to do. Much like the backup quarterback who has the best job in the world while his name is being chanted and the starter is running for his life under siege from all sides, it's not that hard to look smart when no one's focusing on the mistakes. Being an assistant GM and emerging as the "hot" name to rebuild a club lasts only until he does something stupid. The Padres don't have the safety net----money----that Hoyer's former employers, the Red Sox, do. He could be another Theo Epstein or he could be another DePodesta. We won't know until we know.

The job as GM is so transitory that one break here or there can mean the difference between keeping and losing his job. And this is all the more reason to give Towers a break for what he had to deal with. To denigrate him as someone who didn't have a plan is ignoring reality as some form of self-justification.

The Padres fired him; he's gone; they've hired someone else. There was no need to kick him in the balls a month after he was ousted for the sake of propping up the new guy.

  • The Don Mattingly managerial speculation:

I really believe that Don Mattingly has the smarts, the cachet and the unassuming personality to be a great manager. The one thing he lacks is experience in the job and if I were the Dodgers as they discuss whom the heir apparent to Joe Torre, I'd strongly suggest that Mattingly manage in winter ball to gain some experience before jumping into the ring. Aside from that, Mattingly inspires such loyalty and reverence and his players would love him so much that they wouldn't let him fail as long as he makes the right moves most of the time and handles the clubhouse.

I'm sure he can do it, but the job is hard enough as it is and I would not feel comfortable handing the reins to someone who's never done it before at any level no matter how well they interview or the respect they generate.

  • Viewer Mail 10.27.2009:

Gabriel writes RE Moneyball:

If Joe says that you are still not answering his question, then I'll assume he does not read your posts, he just looks at "Moneyball hasn't wooooooooooooorked!!!!!" and comments something that disagrees.

It's hard to get into a discussion about it because I'm not quite sure what kind of answer Joe's looking for and he won't tell me.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Moneyball; and the Cardinals:

Again, I see the answer you've provided for the question(s); and being that I am in the upper echelon of the intelligence scale, I say you can consider the task done -- a long time ago.

Why you try to plant nightmares for the Cardinals faithful though, I'll never know. It hurts. It hurts bad. I still believe Tony will be back and if for some reason he doesn't return, then Mozeliak will have no choice but to placate Albert's desires. Albert IS the Cardinals. Believe that.

As long as McGwire doesn't start doling out Andro+, I think things will be okay. And with Tony back at the helm, 2010 is already getting off to a good start.

You don't know the POWER of the Dark Side...

I'm curious as to whether La Russa got any concessions from upper management about the construction of the team; Dave Duncan; and how much money they're going to spend. With Pujols, they must've realized the gravity of the situation that he wasn't going to tolerate playing for some nondescript minor league manager or brainless coach with marionette strings embedded in his back. It would behoove them to get him signed long term sometime next season while La Russa's still there.

With McGwire, he's got to stop with the cringe-inducing attempts to change the subject as he kinda, sorta tries to do a semblance of what he considers the "right" thing by refusing to lie about his PED usage. Not lying is not the same thing as telling the truth. People would forgive and forget if he came out and confessed. It's not like he killed someone.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes:

Yay, I finally agree with you about something. Well, two things. Yes, the Angels played very un-Angels-like baseball. And yes, McGwire should come clean at his press conference.

Reason number 11,492 to worship Jane Heller: she's a gracious winner.

I sat there and took the beating alone after the Yankees beat the Angels.

Just me.

I hold no grudges towards my subordinates and it doesn't cast them in a negative light for letting me, as head of my Family to take the beating----it's part of the job. Isaac was the only member of my crew who was around providing baseline protection, reflecting positively on him.

The tolerance for abuse is now ended. Everyone had their free shot in the immediate aftermath of the game; now if they come at me, I'm returning fire without mercy.

Jane didn't join the chorus; nor did she get arrogant, abusive or cross lines in her giddiness. That's why she's Jane.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Well, Calrissian? Did He Survive?

  • The Yankees win the pennant:

Surviving in spite of their manager:

Talent and a gaffe-laden opponent carried the Yankees through.

I don't remember seeing a playoff series in any sport in which a coach or manager made massive tactical errors so hideous that they cost his club not one, but two games and they were still able to win. But that's exactly what happened with the Yankees.

Manager Joe Girardi's inexperience and shoddy, haphazard attempts at strategy with over-and-undermanaging very nearly blew up in his face so completely that he could've cost his team an entire series when, by all possible metrics, this series should've ended in a four-game sweep for the Yankees.

The afterglow of the first pennant for the club since 2003 will cloud these sins, but won't erase them. There have to be deep concerns of what he's going to pull when the doesn't have the security of the DH to protect him from other, more complicated decisions during the games played in the National League park.

Was that really the Angels?

The series was exemplified for the Angels by the bottom of the eighth inning when Howie Kendrick pulled a clank and had a simple bunt play in which all he had to do was be a first baseman for one play and the ball bounced off his glove; then, on another bunt, Scott Kazmir lollypopped a throw over everyone and allowed an insurance run to score.

From beginning to end, the Angels didn't look right. They made horrendous baserunning maneuvers; didn't advance runners, steal bases or play the game correctly. Their pitchers continually walked Yankee hitters and put runners on base for the middle of their lineup----something you cannot do if you want to beat them. They fell into carefully set traps by Alex Rodriguez and essentially let the Yankees off the hook. If they'd played the game the way they normally do----the way they played to get them to the ALCS in the first place despite all the injuries, obstacles and tragedy they endured----they would've won.

They were beaten by the relentless Yankees lineup; the Yankees old warhorses (Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter especially) coming through; and their own poor fundamentals and lack of execution.

  • ESPN fires Steve Phillips;

In a similar vein to Hollywood and sports celebrities looking for sympathy as some way to curry favor with an all-too-forgiving and gullible public, Steve Phillips is entering an in-patient treatment facility to "address his personal issues".

What that means is anyone's guess. Walking into the same trap over-and-over again isn't a "personal issue" that can be treated if that is indeed the main problem. Was it arrogance that caused Phillips to destroy his career and family life? Or was it a pure self-destructive tendency? Does he have some genuine issue with something? Or is this the old publicist's trick of subterfuge to make it look like he's going to be a changed man when he gets out of treatment?

His personal life is his business; he's a good broadcaster and a knowledgeable baseball man, so he can rehabilitate himself professionally; he'll get another job somewhere in baseball I would think; but who's to say he's not going to turn around and do this again after the mess he's made of a blossoming career resurgence?

I can laugh at anything, but I don't think this is funny. I don't like seeing people waste their talent and that's exactly what Phillips has done repeatedly. It's a shame.

  • "Cool man, a media circus!"

The above quote is culled from one Bartholomew J. Simpson.

Sanity has prevailed with the Cardinals as they've signed manager Tony La Russa to a multi-year contract.*

*I had a bad day with my predictions yesterday as hours after I said that I thought La Russa was going to leave St. Louis, it trickled out that he was staying. Then there was my prediction of ANGELS IN SEVEN that obviously didn't end as I expected. I stood up for my Family as a leader should and took the beating. Everyone has to take a beating sometimes. Life goes on.

La Russa's decision to stay in St. Louis has become the secondary story as hitting coach Hal McRae was fired and will be replaced by Mark McGwire.

Now this will be interesting.

The one thing I'm curious about is how McGwire is going to answer the questions that he refused to answer in front of congress. Is he going to stay on the "I'm not gonna talk about the past" script? Will he confess to his steroid use? Or will he shy away from the media entirely and say that he's there to talk about his job as batting coach and make the whole situation worse?

My advice to McGwire would be to answer any and all questions at the introductory press conference on every subject and be done with it. Admitting his past steroid use will put this to rest because there won't be anywhere else for the media to go. Just say, "I did it," go into details about why he made the same choice that a massive chunk of athletes have made and end the story once and for all.

The attempts at vacillation through non-answers will only stoke the desire for the truth and if he gives it up voluntarily, he'll be able to get on with his life and do his job effectively.

I think he has the potential to be a good hitting coach because regardless of the way he's been disgraced, the players still like and respect him and he's helped numerous hitters with their swing and mental approach independently and in spring training. The first press conference will tell the story of how he's going to move forward. Being honest is the first step.

  • Indians hire Manny Acta as manager:

This was one prediction I got right. The day wasn't a total loss.

Acta is a solid guy and a good manager. He dealt with a situation in Washington where he didn't have much talent, was babysitting a group of juvenile delinquents and a controversial and overbearing GM in Jim Bowden----and did well. Anything after that mess will look like paradise----even Cleveland----and the Indians situation isn't all that bad. There's enough talent to compete and more fairly quickly. Acta's young enough to relate to the players while still maintaining respect and is a very good choice.

Where this leaves Bobby Valentine is a question.

There's no job for him in the big leagues now, so he has the choice of staying with ESPN and waiting for a big league job to open, or going back to Japan. I doubt Valentine's going to go back to Japan now. He wants to manage in MLB and there will likely be several opportunities early in 2010 for a manager with Valentine's credentials.

That he didn't get the Indians job shouldn't come as a shock. While I'm sure the Indians wanted him for his baseball savvy and interesting personality, the price tag was going to be too high as would the power demands. Indians GM Mark Shapiro doesn't seem the type to want to deal with a load of aggravation and along with all his obvious skills, aggravation just comes along with the Bobby V package.

The one situation to watch with Valentine is Tampa. There isn't a better spot in baseball for Valentine than the Rays----a young team that needs a strategically oriented manager who has the cachet and fearlessness to lay down the law to a club that is floundering under soft manager Joe Maddon. The Rays have been reluctant to make drastic decisions until backed into a corner, but a bad start next year could spur them to pull the trigger and do what must be done for the greater good.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Lightning 10.25.2009

  • The beneficiaries of the game 6 rainout:

The Angels benefit from the rainout of game 6 more than the Yankees do.

What the postponement does is allow the Angels to use the depth of starting pitching to remain flexible with whom they're going to use in both games 6 and 7. One would assume that in game 6, scheduled starter Joe Saunders (who pitched well in game 2), Jared Weaver and Scott Kazmir will all be available with John Lackey ready to go in game 7 on three days rest. The Angels are in no position to be messing around if Saunders gets off to a rocky start and the ability to use the entire pitching staff will give them an advantage over the Yankees.

The Yankees have the opportunity to start C.C. Sabathia in game 6 and move Andy Pettitte to game 7; they've said that everything will remain the same and Pettitte is going to start game 6 as scheduled. In truth, there's an argument on both sides and neither is indisputable. The "get it over with" theory suggests that Sabathia----who would be pitching on full rest----should be the choice. He's the ace; he's been brilliant in the playoffs; and he gives the Yankees the best chance to win. Pettitte pitched well in his game 3 start and his veteran cachet makes him a solid choice as well.

For the record, if it were me, I'd move Sabathia up and start him in game 6 to try and get the thing over with. The last thing I'd want to do if I were the Yankees would be to let the entire season boil down to one game and run the risk of another hideous gaffe by manager Joe Girardi cost the club a trip to the World Series. Even if they lost game 6 with Sabathia (and I don't think they would), Pettitte's no playoff slouch and the entire staff, even maybe Sabathia for a batter or two, would be available for game 7.

I'm saying right now that if this series gets to a seventh game and they have to face John Lackey and an Angels team that can smell a trip to the World Series, the Yankees will lose. They must get this over with tonight to win the series.

What the rainout also does is place a greater spotlight on Girardi. The best thing for a manager under fire over a failed decision is to get right back into the dugout and in the heat of the battle to start the next game. With this extra day off, Girardi will have to answer the questions regarding his bizarre decisions again tomorrow (and he was getting testy before game 6 was called). More time to think leads to more vacillation and the last thing Girardi needs is extra stuff bouncing around in his head. Inadvertently, he might do something to stave off criticism rather than make the right move and this is worse than the insipid errors he's made in the entire post-season up to now.

There have been calls to bench the slumping Nick Swisher. If Eric Hinske was on the roster, then I'd say yes, bench Swisher in favor of Hinske; but he's not. Why, I don't know. Hinske has had 2 at bats vs Saunders (1 for 2); but he's 4 for 11 career vs Jered Weaver with a homer; and he's pummelled Darren Oliver at a 4 for 9 clip with a homer. Choosing Freddy Guzman over Hinske was a mistake that can't be put on Girardi; it sounds like a front office decision to me and a bad one.

They don't have anyone to stick in the lineup who'd provide anything over Swisher. Even as he's slumping, Swisher still works the count and draws walks and is a power threat. Benching him would be an overreaction which, according to the game 6 lineup originally posted on Saturday, they weren't making. Any move with Girardi is subject to change at a moment's notice----and that's not good.

  • Do the Cardinals realize what a potential disaster they'll be without Tony La Russa?

Tony La Russa is worth at least ten wins a year for his club. Simply by maximizing the players he has on his roster and strategic sleight-of-hand, he takes teams that, on paper, would win 75 games, and coaxes 85. This has been the hallmark of his career. It's not the two World Series wins; the accumulation of records, accolades, Manager of the Year awards and respect----it's been his and pitching coach Dave Duncan's skills to make something out of nothing. If he leaves, the Cardinals are in deep trouble.

Not only is their club in almost complete flux with free agents Mark De Rosa, Matt Holliday and Joel Piniero; but they have an even bigger problem confronting them: Albert Pujols's contract is up after 2011 and it's hard to imagine him being interested in re-upping long-term under a new manager for a club that's not going to spend the cash that he could get on the open market.

Pujols does not want to leave St. Louis and his reluctance to be a money-whore in his dealings with the club has kept his salary at a relatively paltry $16 million per when he easily could've rivaled Alex Rodriguez in a long term deal with the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, Red Sox or Angels. Now, if La Russa leaves, what motivation would he have to be benevolent? Pujols is subtle in his steering the club through sheer force of greatness; but he does do it quietly as is his right. The give-and-take of a historic player taking short money gives him that leverage to let the team know that if La Russa leaves, he's not even discussing a long-term extension unless he gives the nod to the new manager. How that would go is a giant question.

The Cardinals embracing of stats in recent years and only spending or being aggressive in pursuing big names when they felt that had little choice but to placate the Hall of Fame manager and first baseman has created a chasm in how to run the club. Owner Bill DeWitt isn't stupid, but he was the one who started the ball rolling with the warring factions in the front office between Jeff Luhnow and Walt Jocketty; the eventual firing of Jocketty and hiring of a conciliatory choice as GM in John Mozeliak who dances between the raindrops of the manager's displeasure while seemingly following orders has been an issue with La Russa for years.

What if La Russa leaves?

Are the Cardinals going to find a "name" manager to replace him? Who would the pitching coach be? Would they give Pujols some say-so in who the manager is?

It would seem that they'd have little choice but to hire a Bobby Valentine or a Jim Fregosi----veteran managers who wouldn't be seen as puppets of the front office and had known experience at handling a clubhouse or game at crunch time. No pitching coach would be able to get the results from the likes of Kyle Lohse as Duncan did; and with Chris Carpenter always a candidate for an extended stay on the disabled list, the starting rotation could be short next year.

There's also the possibility that the Cardinals would go for a younger, cheaper manager who follows orders; they'll then run the risk of Pujols not wanting to leave the only baseball home he's ever known and wait him out----a dangerous game----as they move forward with cheaper and younger players to their current free agents. No matter who they hire, this current club would be no better than an 83-win team without La Russa/Duncan; and if it's a puppet-manager with little experience? They'll fall further than that.

The easiest and smartest thing to do is to keep La Russa, but this time it doesn't sound like a negotiating ploy by the manager to extract as much money and power as possible from the club; he truly sounds tired of everything that's gone on over the past few years after Jocketty's firing. At his age, with his accomplishments, does Tony La Russa need to beg the front office for veteran help? Does he need to see his longtime aide-de-camp, Duncan, angered by his recommendations being dismissed and seeing his son banished from the organization?

Whether the Cardinals realize it or not, they're in a precarious position with their manager. They need him more than he needs them and it really looks like he might leave this time. The Cardinals aren't going to have a small problem of replacing him; they're going to have a lot of big problems in assuaging their fans, media and most importantly, their first baseman and finding a new manager.

It could get messy.

Very messy.

And I think La Russa's going to leave.

  • Viewer Mail 10.25.2009:

Joe writes RE Moneyball:

You say "Moneyball hasn't wooooooooooooorked!!!!!" When you refer to "Moneyball" what do you refer to? It is unclear.

I go back to my earlier questions from a few weeks back. Is a high OBP bad? Is identifying market inefficiencies a bad thing?

I enjoyed the whole spectral/Halloween kinda thing you did there on "woooorked." Quite entertaining.

Did you read Moneyball, Joe? Did you think it was based in reality? Or was it a twisted, agenda-driven bit of creative non-fiction, skillfully cultivated by a talented writer in such things who found a story he could craft in such a way that it would appear as if a "revolution" was starting when in reality, it was a strategy utilized to mitigate a lack of financial resources and failures of the prior administration?

Was there or was there not an "us against them" mentality with every scout, coach, manager or opposing front office exec who didn't fit into the template of 20-something Ivy Leaguer or Bill James acolyte treated as if they were, at best antiquated and at worst imbeciles?

Did you think it was fair the way Art Howe----who had had more success as a manager than Joe Torre ever did before getting to the Yankees----was portrayed as a brain dead moron along for the ride? How Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta's approach in the draft was meant to remake the way every team approached the procurement of players? Has anyone taken a look at the results of the A's "stat/result" oriented approach has fared in the intervening years? I have and they're not any better than most and are in fact worse than many.

What about the young, fresh-eyed GMs who were handed the keys to franchises in the aftermath of the book? What happened in Los Angeles when DePodesta took over? What happened in Toronto under J.P. Ricciardi? What happened in San Diego under Sandy Alderson? And even in Oakland under Beane? The Red Sox are pointed to as a club who used numbers to formulate the two-time World Series winner they've been under Theo Epstein, but it's conveniently glossed over that they've made some ghastly mistakes and used their financial might to throw money at the problems as their feted for their acumen with numbers.

I do not believe OBP is bad.

I do not think clubs shouldn't expose market inefficiencies.

I believe that those who take the numbers as a literal interpretation of how teams should be constructed are as dogmatic and idiotic as those that ignored numbers as they gained more prominence and validity.

I believe teams should use every available aspect of finding players at their disposal. That does not include having some numbers cruncher walking up to veteran baseball man Bruce Bochy and for some inexplicable reason suggesting he bat pitcher Woody Williams second; it doesn't include decrying the brilliance of a true baseball genius like Tony La Russa; it doesn't include disregarding a multiple-MVP talent like Jeff Francoeur because he's painfully impatient.

I still don't know what answer you're looking for in your continued question about OBP and refusal to accept what I'm saying. This is the way I feel. Take it or leave it.

I'd like to take credit for some Halloween-creativity with the "wooooooooooorked" thing, but I've said that over-and-over again as a way of yelling at people who don't listen rather than as shtick. Thanks for the compliment and I'd like a little give-and-take about the OBP instead of just hearing, "no, you're not answering the question".

On the bright side, I must provide something in my work that appeals to you and am glad you're still reading even if we agree to disagree.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Stat Zombie Militia

  • Clinging to a "revolution" choked into lifelessness by reality:

Rather than going for a GM with the breadth of experience to be both a scout and to utilize stats, Padres owner Jeff Moorad is staying the course set by his predecessor John Moores and is hiring Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer as his new GM. Hoyer is respected and well-liked, but there's no way of knowing whether he'll be able to handle the big job on his own except in retrospect. It's hard to criticize the move beforehand. That said, the stat zombies are using this decision as another specious validation of their faulty, dogmatic and sectarian beliefs.

Much like the Michigan militia; the "birther" movement; and any other bizarre and misinterpreted attempt to adhere too directly to what amounts to a floating series of tenets or put forth an agenda, the zombies are referring to the Hoyer hiring as another step in the "revolution".

Quote from Rob Neyer's Sweet Spot on ESPN yesterday regarding Hoyer:

And so the revolution continues. Hoyer's not an Ivy Leaguer, but he did pitch (and pitch well) at Wesleyan University. Oh, and he's not afraid of on-base average or Ultimate Zone Rating. On the one hand, it's hard to know exactly what Hoyer brings to the table, given that Paul DePodesta and Sandy Alderson -- who still work for the Padres -- are perfectly well-versed in roster-building, contract negotiations, and sabermetric analysis.

The Michigan Militia portrays itself as a defender of freedom against government encroachment on dissenting citizens; the "birthers" call President Barack Obama's citizenship into question; the stat zombies suggest a revolution between old-school scouting techniques and sabermetrics is still being waged.

It's not.

The fall of the house of Moneyball has continued unabated as the years have passed. With the proponents of the system using stats, stats and more stats under fire (Billy Beane); fired outright (J.P. Ricciardi, Paul DePodesta); and altering their team construction for convenience and survival (Theo Epstein), this so-called revolution doesn't exist because Moneyball hasn't wooooooooooooorked!!!!!

The holdouts remain. Like a lunatic fringe on the outskirts of society and clinging to an ideology despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary and reality kicking them in the teeth at every turn, they refuse to go quietly into the night. It's past the point of someone fervently believing in their point-of-view; it's relegated to the few who have so much personally invested in being "right" that they can't adjust their views for fear of alienating their base.

I can't even get into the Alderson and DePodesta references as competent executives anymore. I've repeated it so many times that you can find my statements on such matters using any search engine. That the Padres are staying on that road signifies that the holdouts of this so-called "revolution"----which is being effectively strangled not just by the non-believers such as myself, but by objective reality----aren't going to stop; and those that buy into it are going to learn the lesson the hard way if Hoyer follows the DePodesta blueprint for destroying a club in 20 easy months; and the Alderson recipe for creating a front office full of backbiting, bickering, paranoid spies.

Then again, the Padres have been so inept in recent years that they couldn't possibly get much worse regardless of whom they hire as GM and what strategies they implement----or could they? The spiral of Michael Lewis's hackneyed creative non-fiction continues, but there are still teams and individuals who believe it and assert a "revolution" of Ivy League educated "geniuses" still exists and will replace every last old-school baseball guy even if it's never going to happen.

My admiration for the audacity is dwindling. If I were capable, I might feel pity for them. But I don't have that ability, so I'll let nature take its course and watch them self destruct with my characteristic indifference.

  • Viewer Mail 10.24.2009:

Michael writes RE Joe Girardi:

a delicious skewering! - well it would have been more delicious if I wasn't a yankee fan...

let be known i am not a band wagon girardi critic--i've thought he's been awful for two years.

I'll repeat what i said over at jane's :

a rollercoaster from hell. i have a few thoughts. one could make an argument either to leave AJ in after only 80 pitches or take him out as he had sat there for a half an hour. with a day off and ALL hands on deck i was shocked when he came back out. but so be it. the minute he gave up the hit to Mauer - ooops sorry, Mathis there should have been joba or in my opinion robertson and a lefty ready to come in instantly. no excuse to leave hum in to walk that little creep aybar after having down 0-2. furious that hughes shook off posada who was no doubt calling for another curve... lesson learned? we'll see. but YES--taking alex out for a pinch runner who didnt run was absolutely idiotic --i understand you do it with matsui but then he had alex AND matsui out of the game with no one with pop off the bench. now he's counting on scoring not only the tying run but the winning run. in the end it was all for naught but he's a terrible manger who has a team that usually wins despite his bungles. i sincerely hope that last night proved the AJ/ Molina project has stopped being funded by the Girardi foundation.

Leaving Burnett in the game wasn't simply a mistaken decision based on pitch counts or that he'd settled in and pitched quite well after that first inning; it was a failure to properly assess the situation. The first inning was so hideous that to get as much as they got from Burnett and to take the lead while he was still on the mound should've been enough. To let him sit in the dugout; to cool off; and evidently lose the groove he'd established and then send him back out for the bottom of the seventh showed a remarkable hard-headedness and lack of judgment on the part of the manager. It would've been one thing if they didn't have the relievers to get the outs, but they did.

Managers have to think in terms of the worst possible scenario. If this, if that, if then. Was Girardi sitting there and seriously thinking that if the first two Angels batters got on that he'd bring in Damaso Marte? And then go to Hughes after that? If that was the case, why wasn't Hughes warming up alongside Marte? If you remember, Joba Chamberlain was warming up before Hughes ran and started rapidly getting loose.

There appeared to be no pre-planning; no preparation----just panic. And the Yankees organization from the front office all the way through to the players must be sitting in anticipation and terror as to what's going to happen if games 6 and/or 7 come down to a Girardi decision because, so far, he's thrown things at the wall and had them bounce back and hit him right in the face. The lack of managerial experience is killing them and it could signal the end in ways that had not been anticipated, but should've.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes:

At least Michael Myers had the good sense to wear a mask, take bullets without falling down, and, y'know, kill anyone who got in his way. Giardi doesn't have that "killer instinct"... unless you consider "baseball suicide" to count for that.

McCourt, Steve Phillips... hey, isn't it about time Harold Reynolds got himself involved in some type of sex scandal again?! 'Tis the season!

Michael Myers worked on instinct; Girardi works on...I dunno what. And I'm not sure I'd like to know. It could be catching.

A week ago, I'd have said that Reynolds wouldn't be that stupid, but I also would've said the same thing about Lumbergh/Phillips. My innate judgments should probably stick to baseball because I have no idea what drives humans (myself included) to self-destruct as they inevitably do. I'm not sure I'd like to know that either.

Peter at Outside the Phillies Looking In writes:

Leaving AJ in was somewhat of a surprise... maybe Girardi should invest in a scary mask then he could use a stand-in for bad decisions... or did he just want to get the win at home for celebratory purposes...

If the Yankees blow this series, he'll need a mask to get out of town. And if he wants to be part of the celebration, I'm quite sure the Angels will be more than happy to let him join theirs----he'll have been a major part of their accomplishment in winning the pennant!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Just In Time For Halloween...

  • Angels 7-Yankees 6; Joe Girardi is scarier than Michael Myers:

Nothing should petrify the hearts of Yankee fans more than the fact that their manager's overall work has been so horrific that he's almost single-handedly kept the Angels in this series and could put the Yankees' humongous talent, expectations and payroll of 2009 in serious jeopardy of being bounced from the playoffs at home in a series that, by all rights, could've ended in a four-game sweep.

There are absolutely no excuses for the way Girardi has sabotaged the Yankees in this series. The gaffe on Tuesday was bad enough as he inexplicably pulled David Robertson in favor of Alfredo Aceves and watched haplessly as the Angels won the game immediately thereafter; but last night was worse. Here are the (main) inexcusable Girardi screw-ups:

Letting A.J. Burnett start the seventh inning:

Considering the rockets the Angels were hitting off of Burnett in the first inning, the Yankees were lucky to get out of the first inning only down four runs. That Burnett was able to right himself to pitch as well as he did the rest of the way should've been enough for them to accept what he provided for six innings in keeping them close enough to stage a comeback and pull him for the deep and rested bullpen. If the job Burnett did in righting his ship wasn't enough to spur a pitching change, then the long inning sitting on the bench as the Yankees rallied alone was a viable reason to pull him.

Instead Girardi----managing as if he didn't have any trustworthy relievers----left Burnett in and the pitcher promptly allowed the first two runners to reach base before he was pulled. The disarray didn't stop there. Instead of bringing in Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes or Phil Coke, he chose Damaso Marte; Marte, who's been so terrible this year that he's only on the roster because he has a (semi) functioning left arm, emerged relatively unscathed; then Girardi brought Hughes into the game (after apparent confusion in the Yankees bullpen had Chamberlain warming up, then Hughes warming up in barely disguised panic). Hughes allowed a walk and two singles to cough up the lead.

Why wouldn't he start the seventh with Chamberlain? And if he didn't trust Chamberlain because he's struggled this post-season, why not let Hughes start the inning? As well as Hughes has pitched as the set-up man this year, he's still only 23 and not an experienced reliever; why not give him some margin for error by starting the inning instead of dropping him into the middle of a raging fire? Does anyone really believe the Hughes couldn't have gotten through the seventh and eighth and handed the game off to Mariano Rivera had he started the seventh? What's the point of having three devastating arms in the bullpen in Chamberlain, Hughes and Rivera if you're not going to use them?

The only thing more useless than an unloaded gun is a loaded gun that's not used when necessary. Girardi had ammunition at his disposal and waited until it was too late to deploy it and saw it misfire right in his face.

Pulling Alex Rodriguez for a pinch runner in the ninth inning:


Let's say hypothetically the Yankees tied the game and it went to 12, 13, 14 innings. Then let's say ARod's spot in the order came up two or three more times against the Angels second tier of relievers and, rather than seeing the blazing hot ARod, they were looking at Jerry Hairston Jr. How would it look if Hairston repeatedly left runners on base because he's, well, because he's not ARod?

Is Freddy Guzman that much faster than ARod? And even if he is, is he as baseball savvy as ARod? It's not as if ARod is hobbled by his hip or hindered from running at close to full speed in any way, plus there was a great chance that they'd need his bat, the threat of his bat and his glove.

Girardi has been clueless in this series. His strategies are based on nothing. For a man who was portrayed as younger and more up-to-date than his "manage from the gut" predecessor Joe Torre, willing to accept the "new age" and embrace the numbers that have permeated the game while having the personality to handle a star-studded club, Girardi has failed miserably. The only reason the Yankees have gotten this far with him as manager is because of talent. With each glaring mistake; every instance of utter cluelessness, he inches closer and closer to being the one reason his team loses a series that, by all rights, should've ended on Tuesday in a four-game sweep.

He overmanages.

He undermanages.

His explanations are circular, generic and nonsensical.

And now his club, their fans and the media are beginning to show their terror at the prospect of a loss with the obvious caveats and bluster. "We still lead 3-2"; "We're heading home"; "The advantage is still ours"; "We can't lose, we're the Yankees"; and the paranoid and disaster inducing: "We've still got C.C. Sabathia for Sunday."

If they're already thinking about Sunday----with a Sabathia who will be pitching for the third time within nine days----then they're already dead.

You read it here first: they'd better wrap this up in game 6, because if it gets to game 7, they're going to lose, they're going to lose big and there'll be one person to blame----the manager.

Don't let anyone tell you anything different.

  • Does this qualify as "getting ugly"?

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie are divorcing. This circumstance led McCourt to fire his wife as CEO of the club.


No more comment on this story. Just yikes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Torre's Big Blunder

  • The Phillies overwhelm the Dodgers:

Would things have been different had the Dodgers won game 1?

It's a classic second guess of Dodgers manager Joe Torre to question his decision to start 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw in the opening game. There are arguments on both sides of the equation.

On the positive side, Kershaw has wicked stuff; his numbers this season (aside from his won-lost record) were fantastic; and he seems to have the personality to handle such a pressure-packed assignment.

On the negative side, he's 21; he's very inexperienced; and the Dodgers had a multitude of veteran options to use in his stead.

Torre has been managing for a very, very, very long time, and while his strategy has always been slightly above average to good, his main strength is psychologically understanding his players. An intelligent, astute and empathetic man, Torre more than any other manager in baseball understands the mentality of each and every one of his players from the stars (Torre was one himself) to the journeymen hoping to hang on and wring every last ounce out of big league life (see Mientkiewicz, Doug). Obviously, he accounted for every aspect the decision to start Kershaw entailed, but in the end it turned out to be a gaffe.

A game 1 start was far too much to lay on the shoulders of such a young pitcher. Trusting him as the tone-setter looked smart as Kershaw rolled through the first four innings before one falling domino led to another as walks, wild pitches and a homer tore the wheels off. That more than anything else----the Phillies power; their bullpen coming through----set this series up for how it evolved. (Of course, we might not be talking about this had Jonathan Broxton gotten one more out in game 4, but such is the nature of the playoffs.)

If it were me----and I should've said this beforehand----I would've started one of my veterans. It takes a special type of young pitcher who's got the breadth of experience and results to warrant a game 1 start. I'm talking about Dwight Gooden, who at Kershaw's age already had a Rookie of the Year award, a Cy Young Award and had posted one of the most dominating seasons (1985) of a pitcher in the history of baseball at any age; I'm talking Gary Nolan, who was so cocksure of himself that he responded to the statement on reaching the big leagues, "wait 'til you see Tom Seaver pitch" with "wait 'til Tom Seaver sees me pitch." I'm talking Steve Avery, who early in his career, attacked hitters like they'd keyed his car and kicked his dog.

As great as Kershaw promises to be----he'll contend for the Cy Young Award as early as next year----he wasn't ready for that prime assignment. It was a mistake by Torre in an area of the game where he's usually impeccable, judging the mental makeup of his players. It could very well have cost his club a trip to the World Series.

  • Yes, I picked Dodgers in 6 and I was wrong:

This series came down to the Phillies offensive relentlessness, that their bullpen got the big outs when it counted and the Dodgers bullpen didn't. If you combine the Phillies regular set of bashers with the players like Carlos Ruiz who rise to the occasion in the playoffs, and they're hard to stop. Even when they get shaky pitching performances, they're never out of a game because they don't quit and have that devastating power from the lineup, top-to-bottom.

On another note, despite my having been wrong about the NLCS; and even though depending on whom you talk to I inspire two emotions, love and hate and will get a variety of opinions regarding things I've said and done (I have no regrets), there's one thing that can be said about me from now to the end of time. It's the following:

At least I never slept with Lumbergh.

  • Steve Phillips----the Bill Lumbergh of the baseball world:

Without sounding condescending, for those of you unfamiliar with the famous Bill Lumbergh, I suggest you rent the film Office Space of click here to learn all you want (or don't want) to know about Lumbergh.

And I thought I was self-destructive.

I'm not getting into the gossipy stuff; nor the abuse being heaped on this clearly unstable young woman who has far bigger issues than this current controversy to deal with----no, my question to Steve Phillips is why he did this. After the way he almost lost his job as GM of the Mets with a similar dalliance involving a club employee in Port St. Lucie in which the team was sued and he was allowed to remain in his job, did he not learn his lesson?

ESPN has granted Phillips a leave-of-absence to deal with his problems at home similarly to the way the Mets did. I've long repeated that had I been Fred Wilpon, I would've given Phillips a leave-of-absence as Mets GM too----a permanent leave-of-absence. But the Mets let him come back and he did a reasonably good job in building what turned out to be the second best team in the National League for the late 90s and in 2000.

After the Mets fired him in 2003, Phillips's reputation as a GM was toxic in part because of a series of moves----acquiring Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn; firing Bobby Valentine to name three----that were mistakes. His portrayal as a foil/buffoon to be preyed upon by the Ivy League educated "geniuses" and Billy Beane in Moneyball also contributed to this idea that he was an inept executive. Like most of Moneyball, it was agenda-driven, out-of-context and inaccurate.

Rather than seek another job inside baseball as an assistant GM, the well-spoken, handsome and telegenic Phillips ventured into broadcasting----and was very good. His profile increased at the ESPN as he gradually rebuilt his reputation as a smart baseball guy and he found himself as the third man in the booth on Sunday Night Baseball to counteract the insipid Joe Morgan with actual thought-driven analysis. In addition to that, he'd even replenished his reputation inside baseball to be mentioned as a GM candidate again. His star was rising----and he demolished it again with his inability to control himself around any and all women regardless of their age, instability or whatever.

People give second and third chances regularly in this country especially for sex scandals. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is in the process of re-creating himself and doing a fairly reasonable job of it considering the laughingstock he was after his involvement with prostitutes. Phillips may not be that lucky because he clearly doesn't get it.

He's done this to himself and he's going to have a hard time coming back again even if ESPN lets him keep his job. This is what's commonly classified as a train wreck.

  • Viewer Mail 10.22.2009:

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes:

Listening to the reports, it seems like Torii Hunter was mixed up in second guessing his own teammates (Brian Fuentes especially) and calling them out on it, which caused some in-house bickering (rare for an Angel club I admit). Surely seeing the Yankees arrogant pre-sale of World Series tickets prior to clinching the pennant will make all that go away and get these guys fired up.

That was strange coming from an Angels clubhouse that handles their issues in-house and without leaks. It was mostly due to frustration that they let the Yankees get off the deck and put the team in a hole. I'm sure Mike Scioscia squashed it almost immediately and the team is back on the same page.

There are defensive reactions everywhere regarding the Yankees blatant arrogance in announcing the sale of World Series tickets while they still have something of an important factor remaining in winning the pannant. We're getting "the Angels are selling World Series tickets too, blah, blah, blah." But there's an aura of "we've got it won" around the Yankees even as you can hear the concern amid the bluster; concern that's left unsaid with the inaudible, "don't we?"

I'll say this, the palpable worry will begin to build into barely concealed panic if the Angels get the series back to New York; and if it gets to game 7? Hold on tight because their paranoia will manifest itself in ways that we cannot begin to fathom. When things spiral, they'll eat each other. Watch.

Michael writes two comments RE the Yankees:

we're not going down despite all of your hopes and dreams--but your comments on GI joe have been spot on--all along...

yeah you're right those angels need to be motivated. those world series ticket sales will be just "the ticket" to get them going !!! you can punch their ticket to a world series parade in disneyland baby-- heck yeah!

The Yankees may or may not close it out, but there was similar laughter in 2004; in 2006; in 2007. I'd be ready for anything if I were a Yankee fan especially with A.J, Burnett starting game 5. The Angels have shown an unmatched instinct for survival in this trying year on and off the field.

Disneyland might be too expensive even for people with big league paychecks.

I think there's a misconception here. On some level, I'd like to see the Angels win because of the aforementioned issues, but the main reason I'm rooting for them is because I picked them. If I'd picked the Yankees, I'd be rooting for them. I'm almost completely indifferent to most results at this point including those involving the Mets because as sick as I am, I'd rather be right than most anything else.

With Girardi, I don't think anyone who's watched him manage can debate that his lack of experience as a manager has hindered him in all aspects of the job despite his intelligence.

In his year with the Marlins, it was dealing with bosses; with the Yankees it was the media and player relations in 2008, and in 2009 his tweaking based on obtuse numbers in making decisions that aren't just bizarre, but are blatantly stupid. The Yankees players must know this and will try to put up another crooked number to mitigate the manager. If John Lackey doesn't do them the favors that Scott Kazmir did with the walks, they could start to press in the later innings for fear of losing and having to come back home with the Angels still alive. Girardi's overmanaging will creep up again in a close game. You have reason to be concerned about that.