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Would you pitch to Aaron Judge with first base open during a late-inning tie?

Most of the time, you can only laugh when a Joe Fan screams that they could do a better job than their favorite team’s head coach or manager. It’s an irrational stance.

Most of the time. Because there are those moments when a manager does something which leaves everyone watching convinced that, yep, any Joe could do better.

One of those moments occurred Monday night when Angels manager Mike Scioscia had to consider the title question. Tie game. Eighth inning. Man on second. First base open. Aaron Judge up.

Well, would you?

Scioscia said “Sure” and Judge said “Thanks.”

The Yankees would go on to win by the margin provided by Judge’s blast, 5-3.

After spending a few minutes repeating “Why?” to myself, I tried to look at things from Scioscia’s point of view. He must be aware that Judge is hitting baseballs harder and farther than anyone this season. With Mike Trout on the shelf, Judge is the game’s best (healthy) batter right now. Of course, Scioscia is aware. And he intentionally walked Didi Gregorius a few innings earlier — a decision that backfired when Chase Headley followed with a two-out RBI single that scored Judge from second — so it’s not like he is against the practice. 

But after Aaron Hicks’ one-out double, you knew something strange was afoot as Scioscia went to his closer, Bud Norris, to face Judge. Why bring in a new pitcher if you’re just going to inten–wait.

They’re gonna pitch to him?!

It seemed like my bewilderment was overblown after the first two pitches from Norris: a couple of cutters that were in the left-handed batter’s box.

Norris’ third pitch, another cutter, was, uh, not located well. Something like that.

Judge AB

Give credit to Judge for actually smashing that pitch — I wouldn’t be writing here and many Angels fans wouldn’t be calling for Scioscia’s job if the mammoth rookie simply popped out. But this was an easily avoidable result.

After the game, Scioscia admitted that the pitch was not in the right location. The fact that it was even in the home plate circle was an oversight, really. However, Scioscia continued his postgame presser with this response when asked if he gave any thought to walking the MVP candidate.

“Yeah, definitely there is, yeah. But I think with a base open and with Bud being able to move the ball and spin it, you hope that you can get him to expand a little bit, and he never really, never got there and left the one pitch over the plate.”

With a base open, we thought we could get him to expand his zone? My brain needs to be rebooted.

By the way, Judge has swung at 24.8 percent of pitches outside the zone this season, a very respectable rate for a slugger who was swinging at more than a third of all such pitches just last year. But given that Scioscia is still a big proponent of the bunt, I know he’s not aware of those numbers.

Walk Judge, take your chances with Matt Holliday. He is having a better-than-expected season, but Judge is having a better-than-everybody-else season. Heck, Holliday even has a higher O-swing percentage (26.0). 

Alas, Scioscia decided to chance it and hope that his pitcher wouldn’t make a mistake pitch. He did. But it’s not Norris’ mistake that decided Monday’s game. It was made possible only because of a greater mistake from his manager, one that I don’t think Joe Fan out there would have committed. For one moment, anyone could have been a better manager for the L.A. Angels than Mike Scioscia.

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The Yankees left runners on base in every way imaginable Friday

April 15, 2016 Leave a comment

The Yankees’ loss on Friday night was an especially frustrating one for the home fans, which saw the local nine go 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and leave 12 runners on base. 

But it’s how they left those runners on base that is kind of neat. It doesn’t take away the sting of a loss for a fan, but it’s April 15; what’s the use of getting all glum with 153 games remaining anyway? Now is not the time for fear. That comes later.

Anyway, here is how the Yankees stranded their baserunners. Stay with me …

First inning: Carlos Beltran left on first, Mark Teixeira left on second.

Second inning: Chase Headley left on second.

Third inning: Brian McCann left on first.

Fourth inning: Dustin Ackley left on third, Starlin Castro left on second. 

Fifth inning: Brett Gardner left on third, Teixeira left on first.

Sixth inning: Didi Gregorius left on third, Headley left on second, Gardner left on first.

Ninth inning: Gardner left on third.

The Yankees lost this game, 7-1. But stranding Gardner on third — and only him specifically on third — to end the game was significant in that it filled out the Yankees’ stranded baserunners bingo card. They left runners on base in every way possible. Moreover, each combination occurred only once. The Yankees left the bases empty in the seventh and eighth innings.

I don’t know how often this happens, but I want to know. I really, really want to know. You have no idea.

I’m still asking around. I will update this post if I receive a response. I’m sure you are all awaiting the answer as eagerly as I am.

Recapping some of baseball’s weird, wild (and slightly testy) opening week

April 11, 2016 Leave a comment

The 2016 MLB season is eight days old, and take a gander at just some of the crazy things that have happened so far:

— The player of the week was Trevor Story, a rookie barely included inside Baseball America’s or Baseball Prospectus’ preseason top 10 rankings of Rockies prospects who leads the world in home runs. I’m not sure which is the greater: the number of rookie, team, league and start-of-season records Story set this past week or the number of “Story” puns used by headline writers across the nation.

— Two games ended due to a violation by a runner coming into second base. One incident had everything to do with the new “Chase Utley rule.” One incident had nothing to do with Chase Utley and everything to do with a previously unenforced rule.

— Those replay reviews led to some understandably upset ballplayers and managers. But it seemed like an inordinate number of people were feeling crusty during the opening week. John Gibbons, in response to the Blue Jays’ loss following Jose Bautista’s interference, suggested that his team would wear dresses for their next game. Mariners manager Scott Servais and Rangers manager Jeff Banister exchanged some heated words. Thom Brennaman didn’t hide his disdain for Odubel Herrera’s home plate routine. If people are this ornery in April, what are we going to have when the summer heat starts aggravating everyone?

— The Dodgers didn’t allow a run in their season-opening series against the Padres. In a related story, the Padres didn’t score a run in their season-opening series against the Dodgers. It was the first three-game shutout series to begin a season since 1963.  The Dodgers then allowed 12 runs in their next game, and the Padres scored 29 run in their next two games.

— It was a big week for pitchers hitting homers, because chicks dig the long ball. Madison Bumgarner homered off of Clayton Kershaw for the second time in his career. Kenta Maeda sent one deep in his first MLB game. And none of Trevor Story’s seven home runs traveled as far as this 440-foot shot from Jake Arrieta.

— More fun with pitchers batting: Francisco Liriano picked up the season’s first RBI.

Read more…

Best-case/worst-case scenarios for every MLB team in 2016

March 28, 2016 Leave a comment

question-marks-300x300You know the adage that is hammered into every team preview column at this time of year: Hope springs eternal. That hope is then extinguished pretty early for some teams. Really, really early for others. But we should all be optimists in March.  So, here’s what I consider to be the best-case scenario for each team on the field this season.

However, I’m also a realist. “Winning the World Series” isn’t a down-to-earth possibility for everyone. Conversely, there is no chance that the Cubs — even the Cubs — will lose 100-plus games. Consider this list a sensible results spectrum for each team. “Sensible results spectrum” just doesn’t sound catchy as a title.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Best Case: All that action in December pays off as Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller head a staff with a good amount of complementary talent. Patrick Corbin more closely resembles his 2013 form. The offense remains potent, and 36-year-old Brad Ziegler follows up a solid 2015 by continuing to make hitters pound the ball into the dirt. A division crown is very possible, and a trip to the NLCS isn’t out of the question.

Worst Case: This is basically a repeat of the 2015 Padres: Winning the offseason doesn’t promise success over the summer. Miller has an understandable regression, turning the rotation into Greinke followed by a bunch of guys. The offense will still be productive, but the likes of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas don’t do enough to support Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Who knows if this will all mesh? If it doesn’t, third place is where they will land

Atlanta Braves

Best Case: For some teams, winning right now isn’t really what’s best for the club. The Braves are one such team. What’s best for them is seeing some of their young players (Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, etc.) provide hope for the future, a healthy Freddie Freeman, and a lot of losses so they can maximize their draft pool and couple Dansby Swanson with another No. 1 overall pick.

Worst Case: Freeman battles more injuries. Atlanta’s green pitchers get thoroughly battered around the league. Coming out to Turner Field only serves to remind fans how the Braves are technically deserting Atlanta and a relatively young ballpark to get their hands on some more sweet, sweet public money where a lot of rich white folks live. No hope.

Baltimore Orioles

Best Case: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Weiters, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez. This team should lead the sport in home runs, so that’s cool. If the starting rotation can be league average collectively, the O’s can slide their way into a Wild Card spot.

Worst Case: The starting rotation is as much of a tire fire as many expect. That unit lost Wei-Yin Chen and basically replaced him with a Yovani Gallardo who is becoming more hittable. Weiters still can’t shake the injury bug. In the game’s deepest division and bereft of an arm they can depend on to stop a losing streak when the strikeout-happy bats are slumping, Baltimore could find itself in last place comfortably

Boston Red Sox

Best Case: What was supposed to be in 2015 comes to fruition in 2016. All of the vets are able to stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez endear themselves to Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz gets one more shot at October magic. The duo of David Price and Clay Buchholz dominate, and the back end of the bullpen with Craig Kimbrel is no longer a point of great consternation for the Sawx. This squad has World Series potential

Worst Case: Another huge letdown. Price remains great, but the rotation otherwise is a mess. Buchholz hardly makes it past 100 innings again. Carson Smith’s elbow injury subtracts a critical late-inning weapon. First base becomes Ramirez’s latest comical defensive venture. With Sandoval, people talk more about his fat than his bat. Father Time continues to wear on Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Fourth place and another finish behind the Yankees.

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Aroldis Chapman’s suspension seems like a reasonable start for MLB’s domestic violence policy

547973With not much to go on other than police reports, some conversations, a gut feel and conscience, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred ruled on Aroldis Chapman’s domestic violence case Tuesday.

And it feels like he ruled justly. It’s difficult to say unequivocally that the suspension’s length of 30 games is completely fair because there is so much that we (and Manfred for that matter) don’t know and will never know about what occurred between Chapman and his girlfriend on Oct. 30. She said he pushed her against a wall and choked her. He said he poked her on the shoulder with two fingers and she fell down.

But again, this feels proper for what we do know. If you think Manfred was weak in this instance, take a look at what he had to work with in this first case under the league’s new domestic violence policy:

Chapman was not arrested. He was not charged with a crime. The witnesses present gave inconsistent accounts of what occurred. There was no video or any other smoking gun to corroborate the victim’s claims.

But it still resulted in Chapman losing nearly $2 million in pay and being banned for almost one-fifth of his team’s season.

By comparison, in 2014, the NFL suspended running back Ray Rice for two games — one-eighth of a player’s season — after he had already been arrested and charged with simple assault and after he was later indicted by a grand jury for aggravated assault. One month after handing down the suspension, commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he was too lenient. 

Manfred didn’t want to make a similar admission.

Maybe you think instead that 30 games for Chapman is too harsh. We know some sort of physical altercation occurred, but there’s no way of knowing the truth there. Even in his statement on the suspension, Manfred singled out Chapman’s use of a gun inside of his house rather than any sort of physical violence as the main reason for the ban.

 

Thirty games for firing a gun at a wall in his house and some unclear assertions of physical violence? How does the crime fit the time? I’ve seen people take that stance on Twitter to argue that Manfred brought the hammer down too hard on Chapman. If you think so, I’m sorry, but I’d much rather have a commissioner who takes a harder line against domestic abuse than one who follows in the missteps of his professional equals.

Those in positions of power in sports have a long history of overlooking domestic abuse. It’s time for a change. Call this an overcorrection or making up for the errors of previous regimes if you are so inclined, but it’s better late than never. This issue needs to be addressed and handled in sports with the gravity and sensitivity it deserves. Firing a gun in a house with children present, even if there is no intent to cause physical injury, can be cited as intimidation and domestic abuse. Honestly, with the lack of hard evidence against Chapman, Tuesday’s announcement feels like the floor for anyone found in violation of MLB’s broad policy against domestic abuse, sexual assault and child abuse. If Chapman’s actions garnered him this type of punishment, what lies ahead for those in baseball who are arrested and charged with such a crime? That will be a huge precedent-setter.

I would have been OK with a longer suspension. Conversely, I don’t think 20-25 games would have led to much more outrage. But it’s pretty evident that the parties involved reached the number 30 following some long negotiations. Manfred, in his first attempt at levying such a penalty, put forth a judgement with some meat and consequence on it. Chapman, as a reward of sorts for accepting the 30-game ban and not filing an appeal (something that once seemed inevitable), he stays on track to become a free agent following the 2016 season, given that he’s not suspended again.

For the New York Yankees, they still have Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the bullpen, and they knew this decision was coming. Now that it’s here, I think a pro sports league commissioner, after dealing with a player accused of domestic abuse, deserves something rather rare: a decent amount of commendation.

Yankees find their solution at second base in Starlin Castro

December 9, 2015 Leave a comment

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Yankees fans won’t have Stephen Drew to kick around any more.

The Cubs’ acquisition of Ben Zobrist on Tuesday night necessitated a trade as Chicago had to address its excess at second base with Zobrist and Starlin Castro. The Yankees, with more of an abscess at second base, made for the perfect partner. Thus, an interesting swap of young, affordable, team-controlled and possible undervalued players was born.

To get Castro, the Yankees had to part with jack-of-all-trades pitcher Adam Warren. He was the Band-Aid for their staff in 2015. When they needed him to start during the first half of the year, he posted a 3.59 ERA through 14 turns. As the rotation got healthier in the second half (and as Luis Severino cemented his starting role), Warren was moved back to the bullpen, a place where he had thrived in 2014. His K per 9 rate shot back over 9.0 and, for the year, he limited hitters to a .208/.271/.333 slash line.* He’s got a four-pitch mix and is under team control through 2018. Warren, 28, was a unheralded luxury, and the Yankees will miss him once some part of their fragile starting rotation inevitably breaks again.

*And along with the trade of Justin Wilson on Wednesday, New York now has to answer the question of who is going to fill those sixth and seventh innings out of the pen.

But everyone knew the Yankees had to fix their handicap at second base someway, somehow. That group finished 2015 with a -1.1 WAR and the sixth-lowest wOBA (.286) among all teams at 2B.

That latter stat would have been worse if not for the 24 homers supplied by the combination of Drew, Rob Refsnyder, Dustin Ackley and Jose Pirela. Seventeen of those HRs came off of Drew’s bat, but those hits provided little pause to the vitriol and blame J.D.’s younger brother took from the Bronx faithful last year. Of course, the rest of Drew’s numbers weren’t going to win him many fans no matter where he played. His .274 on-base percentage was fifth-worst among hitters who saw at least 400 plate appearances. When you combine his 2014 and 2015 campaigns, his OPS+ of 66 put him ahead of only such luminaries as Alexi Amarista, Eric Sogard and Omar Infante (min. 600 PAs).

Drew, who turns 33 in March, is a free agent, so his days with the team were done well before Tuesday’s trade was completed. But now it is official: Starlin Castro is the Yankees’ new everyday second baseman.

Now, do you wanna see something scary if you’re a supporter of the Pinstripes?

2015 slash lines through Aug. 11:
Castro: .235/.271/.303
Drew: .192/.259/.384

That’s not what the Yankees are paying for. They traded a valuable, versatile pitcher (and Brendan Ryan) and decided to take on Castro’s four-year, $38 million contract for what he did after AFTER Aug. 11, the first day of Castro’s transition from shortstop to full-time second baseman.

Castro slashed .353/.374/.594 through his final 44 games of the regular season. He was one of 13 players to record an OPS better than 1.000 in September and October (min. 80 ABs). Who were the 12 other players?

David Ortiz, Edwin Encarnacion, Kendrys Morales, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Jose Bautista, Chris Davis, Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Carpenter, Shin-Soo Choo and Nolan Arenado. OK.

Castro’s power during this time was most likely a fluke; he hit five home runs during that span but has yet to clear 15 homers in any of his six MLB seasons. And no one’s expecting him to be that much of a stud at the plate with the Yankees. However, there are reasons to expect him to be significantly better than that guy who was hitting in the mid-.230s during the season’s dog days.

Although Castro is only 25 years old, he’s a three-time All-Star with a 200-hit season on his resume. He already has nearly 1,000 career base hits. His total output has been up and down for the past few years, but if his BAbip normalizes (.298 last year; .321 career average) in connection with some of his batted-ball rates (career-high 54.1 percent ground ball and career-low 17 percent line drive rates last year), Castro should be a league-average player if not a bit better in terms of OPS+. That doesn’t sound very enticing, but it’s a hell of a lot better than someone putting up a 66 OPS+. Furthermore, Castro’s defense improved once he was moved to the right side of the diamond last year.

This deal isn’t a franchise-changer, and Castro’s persistent lack of plate discipline makes it hard to watch him at times. Yet, he also possesses many of the attributes that Brian Cashman and the Yankees are looking for in players while they do their Christmas shopping:

Young? Check. Under team control? Check. Provides defensive flexibility? Check. Provides some athleticism? Check. Relatively inexpensive? The Yankees will pay Castro $19 million less than the Cubs will pay 34-year-old Ben Zobrist over the same four-year period. So … check.

And probably most crucial for Yankees fans: Not Stephen Drew? Check.

Jeter, Mantle, Berra, Cano … Bird. This is a thing.

September 23, 2015 Leave a comment

If you go through the archives of this blog, you’ll see that a large chunk of the posts are short bits that deal with basic baseball stats and random endpoints.

So here’s another one.

The Yankees currently sit just 2 1/2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East with significant kudos belonging to rookie first baseman Greg Bird. The 22-year-old delivered the deciding blow on Tuesday night with a three-run homer in the 10th inning, but the team has much more for which to thank him than last night.

Six of BIrd’s 10 home runs have given the Yankees a lead and three of them can be at least loosely described as game-winners.

Aug. 19: Trailing 3-2 in the sixth inning, Bird cracks a two-run shot in his fifth MLB game. New York’s bullpen holds that margin, and the Yankees finish off a sweep of the Twins.

Sept. 7: Bird’s three-run home run off of lefty Brian Matusz breaks a 5-5 tie in the seventh inning. Yanks go on to win 8-6.

Then you have what happened Tuesday in a baseball game that had it all, in front of a raucous crowd.

The 10 home runs stick out because those Yankees rookies who have reached double-digit HRs at age 22 or younger are quite a group

Since 1940, five Yankees meet that criteria: Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter. Robinson Cano. And after last night Greg Bird.

Moving further back in time, that list also includes Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, Lou Gehrig. And after last night, Greg Bird.

When the Yankees lost Mark Teixiera for the rest of the season on Aug. 17 for all intents and purposes (he played in a couple of games later that month but saw just three plate appearances and is now officially done for the year), they also lost their then-leader in home runs and RBIs, not to mention Teixeira’s sure-handed work in the field. He is still the team’s leader in b-WAR (3.8; Brett Gardner is at 3.4).

Chris Towers of CBSSports.com called Bird a “more K-y” version of John Olerud. I kind of like that. Bird has struck out in about one-third of his at bats. However, he certainly has the strike zone management and the defensive chops. Bird most likely won’t be as good of a hitter, but he should produce better power numbers.

I really can’t think of a better comparison at this time, but here’s some low-hanging fruit: For now, Greg Bird is 35-year-old Mark Teixeira, just without the switch-hitting ability. Look at how those two have stacked up at the plate this year.

Teixeira: 255/.347/.548, 31 home runs in 392 at bats, .381 wOBA
Bird: .256/.336/.562, 10 home runs in 121 at bats, .380 wOBA

I’m sure someone out there has another good player comp for Bird. But at the moment, he looks like the guy he replaced. And that’s just fine with the Yankees. He’s got some time before he’s expected to develop into the next Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig … .

Boy, we might be getting ahead of ourselves.