Trouble In Paradise

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:33
Apr 262017

Hi friends,

No, this doesn’t refer to further setbacks in the Yankeeverse, though those exist as well (more in a minute).

I am getting reports of malicious invasion of this site; the suggested remedy is one we have already taken. My son, who arranged for the hosting of this site and did the layout, is not available until late next week at the earliest, and the host is threatening to shut the site down. Since I have been a little frustrated at my inconsistent blogging and the limited feedback, and since I have lately waxed nostalgic for the “good old days” of a simple email group, I may go back to that. For the moment, I ask anyone who has a login to change the password, and make sure your email address is accurate there, if you would like to be on an email list. Then, IF I decide to revert, I will send an invitation to everyone whose email address I have, requiring a response if you want to be on the list.

Meanwhile, the Yankees appear to be doing well, but it is an odd illusion. Gardner, Bird and Holliday are all in the vicinity of 1 for their last 20, while Ellsbury, Hicks  and Headley are on fire. Yankee fans yearn for the return of Sanchez and Gregorius, but they are unlikely to give MUCH more than Romine and Torreyes (playing over their heads to be sure) have given. The most promising early developments for NY are none of these, but rather the apparent steps forward by Judge, Severino and Montgomery.

Last night’s rainout with Boston hurts the Yankees, in my opinion: they will miss Pomeranz, who I expected to light up. Instead, we get only Sale and Porcello. Oh, well.

Life is good. Maybe more later.

 

Random Observations

Posted by Baseball Bob at 08:55
Apr 242017

I’m back, sort of. After a week of full-time babysitting (not really babies, they range from 3 to 14) I now have two weeks of part-time child care, as my wife is traveling and I take her place 3 times a week at our daughter’s home. So I should have more time to post, but not THAT much more time.

The Yankees lost 2 of 3 to the Pirates, and are officially no longer tracking the 1998 Yankees. Apparently they never were, but were just showing an exaggerated home/road split: that 9-4 record was 2-4 on the road, 7-0 at home. They have now played 9 games each way, and their records are 8-1 home, 3-6 away. This translates into 99-63 so I’ll take it, but 1998 Yankees it is not. They lost yesterday 2-1, wasting a gutty performance by surprise rookie Jordan Montgomery, who allowed 7 hits and 2 ER in 6 IP despite not having his best stuff. But the Yankee bats did very little. And Girardi pushed so many buttons, unsuccessfully, that when they loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, their last 9 position players were already in the lineup, and so the last two outs were made by Austin Romine (surprisingly good with the bat so far, but a career near-zero) and Pete Kozma (offensive zero by any measure). They didn’t get the job done.

Meanwhile, Manny Machado made a slide into second that spiked Dustin Pedroia – for what it’s worth I think it was marginal, but not a clear violation of the new rule. The slide went right toward the base, clearly legal, but the spike was probably a bit high, and it could have been called a DP which would likely have avoided any controversy at all. But it wasn’t called a DP, Pedroia left the game and hasn’t yet returned (though he is not badly hurt) and yesterday Matt Barnes threw a fastball BEHIND Machado’s head, the best way by far for a pitcher to intentionally injure a batter, as the instinct is to duck INTO the pitch. Machado avoided that (the ball hit his bat, making it the weirdest strike of the season) but it obviously fanned the flames. The Red Sox pitcher and manager claim it was an inside pitch that just got away, but the catcher’s target was low outside. The likely “penalty” for Barnes is 4-5 day suspension, which could push his start back by 1 day. Some penalty! I think that, like the home-plate block/collision rule, this one needs to be seriously looked at. And because this incident involves Pedroia and Machado, it may get a treatment similar to Buster Posey, whose injury almost single-handedly changed the catcher rule, or Chase Utley, whose slide almost single-handedly changed the second-base slide rule AND the neighborhood play.

If the playoffs were held today, the three division leaders in the AL would be Baltimore, Cleveland and Houston, and the wild-card game would be New York and Boston. This is not truly an implausible list of playoff teams, though the order is shuffled (most would have Boston winning, with Baltimore and NY or Toronto as wild card. The NL would feature Washington, Chicago and Colorado, with Arizona hosting Miami in the WC game. THAT would be a shock, with neither LA nor SF involved at all, even with TWO west teams in the postseason. Of course, a few days ago neither Nats nor Cubs were there, and so baseball is resuming its normal shape. Within a few weeks you can expect a return to more or less normality (note: normalcy is NOT a word, no matter what the spell checker says).

Early in the season there are always some startling stat lines, as non-entities happen to have their unreal hot streak just as the season begins, and so have no “normal” stats dragging it down: case in point is Chase Headley of the Yankees who was batting .409 with OBP and SLG well over .500 until a few days ago. But what do we make of Bryce Harper, who is NOT a non-entity having a hot start, but rather a very young superstar having an unbelievable start: the Nats star in 18 games has 6 doubles, 7 HRs, 17 (!) walks, and a slash line of .400/.524/.815 OPS 1340. Since 18 games is conveniently 1/9 of a season, this projects to 54 doubles, 63 HRs, 234 hits and 153 walks. He probably won’t keep THAT up, but all indications are for a pretty historic season. And he’ll be a 26-year-old free agent after next season . . . hmmm.

Chris Sale is 1-1 with an 0.91 ERA. Can you spell poor run support? Amazingly, that 0.91 ERA is THIRD in the AL behind KC’s Jason Vargas (3-0, 0.44) and MIN’s Ervin Santana (3-0, 0.64). Speaking of non-entities.

On to Boston! Of course, the Yankees have not been good on the road, and the Red Sox are on the rise (only 1/2 back of NY as play begins today). New York will start Severino, Tanaka and Sabathia while Boston counters with Porcello, Sale and Pomeranz. That third game should be a bloodbath: neither Pomeranz nor Sabathia has the stuff to pitch as a lefty in Fenway. Sale of course does, but at Fenway is the Yanks’ best chance to get to him (see: Aaron Judge). I wish Gary Sanchez were back.

I love this game!

Apr 192017

I am still here, and have not even backslid: it is vacation week and I have 4 grandchildren here 24/7: baseball has taken a back seat. I may not post again until next week.

BUT: the 1998 Yankees started 1-4, then won 8 straight, then lost to go to 9-5. The 2017 Yankees have done exactly the same thing. Tough team to channel though, they now went on another 6-gamer, to bring them to 15-5. Their SECOND twenty went 16-4, so they got to 31-9 (.775) after 40 games. Let’s do it!

Yankees getting good starting pitching game after game, 9 straight acceptable starts – some of them not really showing in the box scores. In last night’s loss, Severino retired 18 of 19 through 6 innings, the lone exception a home run, but trailed 1-0. In the seventh he gave up a clean single, then got a double-play ball which was booted, putting two on with no outs. After an out, he gave up a HR. Officially this is 3 R, 2 ER. Unofficially, though, this is single, DP, out and he is done after 7. His actual game score is 70. His GS after 6 IP was 79. He pitched very well.

I love this game.

Apr 162017

With a 3-2 win over the Cardinals, the Yankees continue to track the great 1998 team, winning their sixth straight after the 1-4 start. they still trail the Orioles by 1/2 game – the 1998 Yankees did not take first place until their 21st game. Those Yankees, in case you were wondering, ran the streak to 8 before losing, then reeled off another 6-game streak to go to 15-5. So the comparison is just a bit premature.

But THIS Yankee team is winning with pitching – only once in the 6-game streak did they allow 4 runs, and their game scores have been 49, 82, 49, 69, 54, 63. By contrast, the 1998 Yankees were doing it mostly with hitting, their corresponding 6-game win streak starting with a 13-7 win followed two days later with a 17-13 affair. In those 6 games they scored 50 (!) runs and allowed 32, while these Yankees scored 33 and allowed 15. And when you add in that 1998 Yankee Stadium was a noted PITCHER’S park, while 2017 Yankee Stadium is a pretty fair HITTER’S park, and that 5 of the 6 wins have been at home (4 of 6 in 1998) it is even more remarkable.

Yesterday’s game, which I watched  the start of, was certainly one of the strangest games I’ve seen. The Yankees did not put a ball in play until the third inning – every out was a strikeout, and no hits or errors. BUT they led 1-0 because Martinez, while allowing NO balls in play, had walked SIX (four in the first) – the Yankees put a ball in play for the first time on the SIXTY-THIRD pitch that they saw. The 1-0 lead held up until Torreyes put a pop fly into the sun which fell untouched (the analysts say that the centerfielder catches that ball 99% of the time, and the leftfielder 94% – their chances of NEITHER catching it were 6 in 10,000 (!!!). Torreyes moved to third on a ground out, and tried to score on another grounder, which was thrown away by the pitcher, Hicks taking second, where he scored the second unearned run of the inning for a 3-0 Yankee lead. The Cards got two late home runs, but lost 3-2.

Further curious facts:

The Yankees struck out 17 (!) times in the game. How often does a team win while striking out 17 times and hitting no home runs?

The Yankees are 1 for 30 (!!!) with runners in scoring position in their last three games – all wins. (3-2, 4-3, 3-2) Thank goodness for home runs.

Adam Warren has faced 20 batters this season, and retired them all. He was in contention for a starting spot, but was felt to be too valuable in the bullpen, especially since (obviously) he can go multiple innings. So he came in with one out in the eighth, retired the two batters he faced to preserve a 3-1 lead, and was replaced by Clippard who gave up a home run and had two runners on base when he got the final out for a “save”. Also, in the parlance of baseball Bob, a yikes. Does this make sense to you?

So, the 1998 Yankees these are not. Near-rookie first baseman Greg Bird has exactly one hit this season, an opposite-field bloop double that might have been caught by a fleet left fielder. He has achieved the near-impossible feat of an OPS+ of -27, -0.6 WAR in only 7 games played, on pace for -150 for the year. Girardi says he is not worried.

Michael Pineda takes the mound tonight for the finale of the Cardinals series. Last time out he retired the first 20 he faced, the time before that he was shelled. Go Big Mike!

Isn’t this fun?

 

Here Comes the Judge

Posted by Baseball Bob at 11:18
Apr 132017

Yesterday the Yanks continued to track the 1998 Yanks, as their 3rd straight win evened their record at 4-4. Jordan Montgomery started and showed enough promise to get another start, rather than being sent down so Chad Green or Luis Cessa could start in 5 days. that’s good, and he looked pretty good, even though he gave up 2 runs (technically 3, but the last was a) unearned and b) after he had left the game. On the downside, he reached his pitch count before the 5th inning ended. Still, he looked, at least for one day, like a keeper.

More fun, though, was Aaron Judge, who homered for the third time in three games. And WHAT a homer. I was watching, and I swear I thought it was an infield fly! The pitch was up and in and he kind of inside-outed it a la Jeter, and it rose at an insane angle, just like a fly that the second baseman competes with the right fielder for. I wondered if it was a bloop, but then I realized that he is so strong that it would stay up a long time, and be caught wherever on the field it came down. But where it ACTUALLY came down was 437 feet away in the right-centerfield seats. Wow. Now THAT’S strong. And Judge also hit the season’s hardest ball of the year to date, a single up-the-middle that was by Jumbo Diaz so fast that he ducked AFTER it went past (at 118 MPH). It would have taken the head off his shoulders if it were on a line with it, because he had NO time at all to react.

Two of the three baby bombers (Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird) are hurt, and also off to poor starts. the third and iffiest (is that a word?) of the three is Judge, and his .308/.369/.692/1061 line can play just fine, thank you. After striking out in HALF (!!) of his at bats last fall, Judge has whiffed 6 times in 8 games. And played an excellent right field. He batted 8th to start the season, and moved up to seventh with Austin Romine replacing Gary Sanchez. If he keeps this up, even a little, his journey to 4 or 5 will not be far off.

Meanwhile, Girardi decided Montgomery would benefit from a familiar face, and allowed Kyle Higoshikawa to make his first MLB start. He is 26, and has been in the minors for TEN years. Do you think the kid was a little anxious? He was 0 for 4 and saw FIVE total pitches! For the second straight game the Yankees scored 8 runs, which is amazing when the catcher hole is now completely unproductive and the first base hole (manned by Chris Carter) hardly more so. Still, i’ll take it.

Keep it coming!

Apr 122017

Moral victory for the Yankees yesterday: they did not play. They made up 25% of their deficit toward first place, way to go!

Meanwhile the Angels pulled off a feat that I believe to be a first in ML history: they won back-to-back games in which they trailed by 5+ runs going into the bottom-of-the-ninth. They scored 7 runs (and counting, sort of) to turn a 9-3 deficit into a 10-9 walk-off win, and then turned a 5-0 deficit into a 5-5 tie which they won in 10. Elias reports that no one had trailed by 5 or more in the seventh inning of back-to-back games and come back to win for some 20 years, but the seventh is MUCH easier than the ninth. Cool, huh?

The Mets, in their entire history, have only hit 7 home runs in a single game three times, the last being yesterday in Philadelphia. The other two were ALSO in Philadelphia. I guess the ballpark and the team are direct factors!

Today the Yankees are bringing up Jordan Montgomery to start against Tampa Bay at home. This is a deviation from the plan that had no 5th starter until the 16th, and will be the major league debut for Montgomery. The change is due in part to the two pitchers coming up: Tanaka has labored in both starts, and was lights out last year on 5 days rest, and Sabathia was much sharper in his first outing than in his second (though he won both) and might also benefit from an extra day. I assume this means that Chad Green gets the April 16 start (Montgomery and Green were both lined up to pitch that day) and that Montgomery will likely return to Scranton regardless of how well he pitches. But perhaps not – with this delay I think Severino may line up to pitch on the 16th, and so Montgomery/Green would get the 17th, so Jordan could just stay up and pitch that day.

In the aforementioned 6-5 Angels win, Mike Trout drove in the tying run in the ninth, giving him 8 on the season and enabling him to catch noted RBI-specialist Ronald Torreyes, the Yankees’ utility infielder and 9th batter (with Didi injured). Of course Trout has played an extra game, so Torreyes RBI/game are still better!

Historical note: the Yankees all-time best regular season came in 1998, when they won 114 games. In THAT season, they also started out on the road, and they were an identical 1-4 after 5 games, and won their next two to be 3-4. So this team is almost exactly tracking the 1998 team (that team was actually 0-3, while this one was 1-2). Of course, this team better keep winning if they want to keep up the parallel: the 1998 team may have been 1-4, but they were also 15-5!

Every team in baseball now has at least two losses, and every division except the NL East has a division leader with 2 losses (the AL Central has two, tied for the lead).

Most improbable start: the Arizona Diamondbacks are 7-2 and +17 in runs. Perhaps even more improbable is the Cincinnati Reds at 6-2 and +18. Enjoy it while you can!

I love this game!

Does Not Bode Well

Posted by Baseball Bob at 12:01
Apr 102017

Early season stats are so much fun! For example, Matt Holliday currently projects to draw 216 walks (and to think Barry Bonds actually DID that one season!). But perusing the Yankee early stats, things do not bode well for the team:

Current RBI leader is utility infielder and 9th place hitter Ronald Torreyes with 7. No one else has more than 4. He is also the triples leader and tied for the HR lead (both with 1).

They haven’t won a game all year not started by CC Sabathia – so this projects them to be 32-130 (unless he gets hurt!)

The Yankees have a RELIEF PITCHER who qualifies for the ERA title – this can’t be good. Of course he (Adam Warren) is tied for the LEAD in the ERA race (0.00) so that isn’t ALL bad.

Sanchez (OPS+ 39) and Bird (OPS+ -14) are both hurt – as low as their current numbers are, this can only help! The third Baby Bomber, Judge, had a big day Sunday to raise his BA to .211, though he is now league average (OPS+ 101) and made a great catch for the 27th out so maybe he is on the way.

They play the Rays Today, Wednesday and Thursday. Tampa is off to its best start ever (5-2) – never before have they won 5 of their first 7 games! TB won 2 of 3 from NY to start the year, and this series Sabathia will not pitch, so this could be trouble! Today’s lineup will include Chris Carter (OPS+ 9!) and Austin Romine (OPS+ 72) in place of Bird and Sanchez.

Of course, there are upsides: Matt Holliday (with his 8 walks, FIVE of them yesterday) has an OBP of .538 and an OPS+ of 217. If he can do THAT we may be all right.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in baseball, my long-time favorite LDS player, Jeremy Guthrie, making what may well be his final ML start on Saturday, gave up 10 runs in 2/3 of an inning and was designated for assignment. This move is presumably to get him off the 40-man roster, but it may also be to give him his release, as he doesn’t appear to have it anymore.

The Diamondbacks overcame a 9-3 Giants lead in the bottom of the ninth, scoring 7 runs for the win. And if it were the TOP of the ninth, they could still be batting . . .

The best records in baseball belong to the Diamondbacks (6-1), the Twins (5-1) and the Orioles (4-1). Everyone who predicted that, please raise your hand. I thought so.

I love this game! I’d love it more if the Yankees could win some games, though.

Big Losers

Posted by Baseball Bob at 11:33
Apr 092017

After a week of play, the Yankees are 1-4 and both Sanchez and Bird are hurt – what a great start! The only decent start by a starting pitcher is by Sabathia, which is not likely to be a repeatable phenomenon, and Tanaka, by far the most reliable starter, has looked bad twice (though the second start looks great compared to the first one!). It looks like the prognosticators were right and I was wrong. Of course, it is only 5 games, so I am not quite ready to throw in the towel on the season just yet. Still, when your RBI leader is your #9 hitter, who is only playing at all because of an injury, well, you could be in some trouble.

So I am not going to talk about that. I was thinking to myself “now that the Cubs won the World Series, which team’s fans have the claim to be the most long-suffering. THEN I remembered an article by Bill James from 2010 which attempted to quantify this (I can’t figure out how to do hyperlinks, but if you want to read the article search “Bill James misery index”. The article is lots of fun, mostly detailing the most miserable fans through the years, and the Cubs don’t actually qualify, by his measure.

But I thought I would calculate it for all current teams, and see what it gives us. The number measures how big a loser the team is, the bigger the number the more loser the team.

287 Pirates

202 Rockies

163 Brewers

158 Astros, Padres

155 Marlins

143 Reds

131 Twins

128 Diamondbacks

124 Mariners

98 Phillies

95 Orioles

78 White Sox

63 Braves

53 A’s

46 Rays

41 Tigers

16 Mets

15 Angels, Nationals

5 Red Sox

2 Indians

0 Yankees, Blue Jays, Royals, Rangers, Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants

This doesn’t FIT with our concept of the most disappointing teams, which of course it isn’t trying to calculate. It ONLY figures wins and losses and losing or winning seasons, and thus is trying to measure “tradition of losing”. The Pirates had a LONG tradition of losing, and their score cleared 600 after 20 consecutive losing seasons, so their recent success has whittled away at that mountain but has not yet obliterated it. A World Series win automatically resets your score to zero, but the Cubs were NOT at the top of the list before winning: If they had LOST the WS their loser score would have been 90 (and the Indians would have been zero).

I would like to rework this formula to include adding score for missing the playoffs (even with a winning record) and reductions for making the postseason, and also for postseason series wins. I may not do it, though: it is perhaps more work than it is worth.

C’mon Yankees. Make me proud. Or at least less cringing.

 

First Win

Posted by Baseball Bob at 13:58
Apr 052017

Well, the Yankees won their first game today, so 0-162 is now off the table. After Tanaka was unhittable (ONE earned run all spring) he was bombed in the opener. After CC Sabathia was bombed all spring, he pitched 5 scoreless innings (only 3 hits, two of them infield dribblers). After Bird, Judge and Sanchez lit up the skies with home runs all spring, the first Yankee HR went to Ronald Torreyes, their number 9 hitter only playing due to Gregorius’ injury. Halladay got an RBI on a double which is an out IN EVERY OTHER MAJOR LEAGUE PARK: it hit the dome and bounced crazily (the dome, oddly, is in play but doesn’t count as a wall or the grass; catch it and it’s an out. Headly, who didn’t hit a HR until May 15 or drive in a run in April last season, also homered. The bullpen turned in another 4 IP of scoreless baseball, now 9.1 in two games. Go Yankees!

Other fun stuff happened, too, but I really don’t have time; I just wanted to keep up posting every day. I hope to have more time tomorrow.

I have a theory that the 2017 Red Sox are not going to be as good as everyone thinks that they are. Full disclosure: as a Yankee fan, I truly WANT this to be true, so it is altogether possible that I am just whistling in the wind. Still, I have my reasons, and I wanted to get them down before the Red Sox play too many games.

My thinking is this: the Red Sox have too much left-handed pitching. Yes, I know that it is mostly REALLY GOOD left-handed pitching: David Price and Christ Sale are two of the best. But Fenway Park is not a good place for left-handed pitchers to ply their craft.

How to quantify this? Well, it isn’t easy, at least from the sources available to me. Fenway is a hitter’s paradise, especially for right-handed power hitters and left-handed high-average hitters. The Green Monster is unique, so Fenway is unique. Most teams play better at home than on the road, as the home team wins 55% of all MLB games. The Red Sox through their history tend to do better than that, at least the good teams do (I didn’t look up the Home-Road splits of 70 win teams).

So the home-field advantage (most teams hit AND pitch better at home than away) is mostly off-set, for pitchers, by the ballpark. Looking at a number of Home/Road pitching splits for the Red Sox, the ERA tends to be up-and-down – I think it is on average about the same. But, of course, the HITTING stats go off the charts at home, and the Sox win at Fenway A LOT.

What I DON’T have is Home/Road stats for left-handed pitchers separately. I can get them for individual pitchers, but adding that all up for multiple seasons is just too much work. What I devised is a VERY skimpy short cut – I will give you the NUMBER of starts by left-handed pitchers and the home/road splits in record and ERA for those seasons. This may give us some idea of whether or not it hurts you to have a lot of left-handed starting pitchers when you are the Red Sox. The seasons I chose were those in the past 50 years in which the Red Sox won 95 games. As mentioned above, I am not wondering whether a mediocre Sox team with mediocre pitching should avoid lefties (though I think they should!) but rather a team that aspires to greatness might be held back by too many games started by lefties.

Here is the list, columns are year, number of starts by lefties, W-L at home, ERA at home, W-L on the road, ERA on the road (source: Baseball-Reference.com

2016 74 47-34 4.30  46-36 3.69

2013 61 53-28 3.57  44-37 4.03

2009 32 56-25 4.07  39-42 4.64

2008 33 56-25 3.78  39-42 4.26

2007 19 51-30 4.13  45-36 3.59

2005 32 54-27 4.46  41-40 5.04

2004  1  55-26 4.09  43-38 4.30

2003 16 53-28 4.29  42-39 4.70

1986 26 51-30 3.98  44-36 3.89

1978 28 59-23 3.49  40-41 3.80

1975 59 47-34 4.52  48-31 3.44

1967 22 49-32 3.86  43-38 2.87

What does this chart tell me? Well, first, that the recent Sox with a lot of left-handed starting pitching is very unusual for them. Their good teams in somewhat recent history just haven’t had that many games started by lefties. The 1975 team that got to the seventh game of the WS had a bunch, though not as much as recent teams. And NO good Red Sox team ever had 3 lefties in a 5-man rotation. And, though it is a small sample size, the seasons with the most left-handed pitching are also the seasons with the smallest home-field advantage.

Perhaps this just means that the Red Sox will win more on the road – I can’t say it doesn’t. What I DO say is that the Sox lefties will likely be less-effective at home that and equally talented righty, and that perhaps they would have been better off to target right-handed starters.

One other exercise which I thought I might try is to identify (by bWAR) the best pitcher in each of the years since 2000 for the Red Sox, and see if he was a lefty or a righty. From 2010-2014 the Sox had a superb left-handed starter in Jon Lester, and an up-and-down righty in Clay Buchholz. Buchholz  earned more bWAR than Lester 4 times, and Lester was the top pitcher only once. He was the top in 2008-2009. But back to 2000 NO OTHER LEFTY WAS THE SOX BEST PITCHER. This, of course, was by design: the management knew that lefties struggle in Fenway. To complete this exercise I did the same for 1990, 1980, 1970 and 1960. Righties all. As far as I can tell, the last truly great lefty to pitch for Boston was Lefty Grove, and before that Babe Ruth. Ouch.

So my optimistic prediction is that pitching so much in Fenway Park, Price, Sale, Rodriguez and Pomeranz will struggle, the Sox will win fewer games than they are predicted to win, and there will be a pennant race in the AL East. My optimistic HOPE is that the Yankees are a part of that race.

If the over-under for the Red Sox (as reported in Las Vegas) is 94.5 games, I’m taking the UNDER.

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