Monday, July 27, 2009

Yankees, Girardi Ensure that Their Bullpen Gets Plenty of “Relief”

The Yankees have surged to first place in the American League standings, and currently have a two game advantage for the best record in the American League.

The names that are most responsible are not quite the first that would roll off of fans’ tongues when asked to highlight impact players.

High-priced free agent acquisitions Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett have provided exactly the spark New York had hoped for upon signing some of the largest checks in MLB history.

Some of the smallest contracts on the Yankee roster, however, are paving the road to consistent success.

Bullpen staples like Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, and the newly “armed” and dangerous Phil Hughes have transformed a lamb into a lion.

The Yankee bullpen has as low an ERA as any in the league since June 1, and their 2.52 ERA since the All-Star break has helped to preserve victories in nine of ten games played.

This stellar ERA is bloated by the first shaky outing of Aceves’ bullpen tenure on Saturday, and he and his mates have been otherwise dominant.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been under the microscope since missing the playoffs for the franchise’s first time in a full season since 1993, and has taken heat for any mistake worth criticizing.

Girardi also deserves credit where credit is due, and his handling of the bullpen’s innings and appearances has been fantastic.

Under the Joe Torre era, the Yankees would annually have three relievers in the top-5 or top-10 of MLB in appearances.

Pitchers like Scott Proctor, Tom Gordon, Luis Vizcaino, and Paul Quantrill were overused and abused—leading to dead-arm periods, injuries, and a downturn in performance over the stretch run.

The 2009 Yankees, however, do not have even one relief pitcher in the top-10 in appearances or innings pitched.

The first name found on the list is Phil Coke, who is tied for 14th with 47 trots out of the bullpen. There are 20 relievers with the same or more appearances than Coke, and he currently sits 24th out of the top-40 appearance leaders in innings pitched at 42.2.

Who is next on the Yankee list? One would have to scroll all the way down to a tie at 49th in MLB with Mariano Rivera’s 42 games. An amazing 60 relievers have the same or more IP than Rivera.

Injuries and inconsistencies have helped to force Girardi’s hand, as formerly reliable pitchers like Jose Veras, Damaso Marte, Edwar Ramirez, and Brian Bruney have been sent to Triple-A, the waiver wire, or a doctor multiple times in 2009.

Either way, Girardi’s Yankees have had a more consistent and rested bullpen than in previous years.

He has been known to leave veteran starters in games at times when everyone knows they have nothing left, but he has handled the bullpen very well considering the sweeping turnover in personnel.

New York is about to embark on a very difficult stretch of games in which it plays 19 of its next 26 on the road, as well as currently being in the midst of playing 33 games in 34 days.

The next month will be a true test of the bullpen’s freshness and durability, and Girardi will have to find a way to find enough arms to give quality innings in relief.

The easy road to this point should help to push them though, but it is up to Girardi to ensure that his bullpen does not suffer a September setback typical of the Torre years.

He will not be able to rest easy that his job is safe until the “Sandman” and his bullpen mates prove that the consistency will continue even in the face of extreme adversity.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Yankees Should Turn to Former Red Sox Hurler for Rotation Depth

Reports out of New York have been anything but positive in regards to the health and comeback status of former ace Chien-Ming Wang.

Wang himself appears openly troubled and pessimistic about toeing a rubber before the 2010 season, and the Yankees should not be leaving the lights on in anticipation of his return.

While the front end of the rotation has been nothing short of electric over the last month, the back end has a fray in its stitching that could eventually lead to a gaping hole.

The old adage states that a “stitch in time saves nine,” implying that an early fix always prevents problems from escalating into an unstoppable avalanche.

Much like the threat of Global Warming, the Yankees rotation is experiencing some setbacks and changes, but the issues have not yet begun sounding the alarms.

Contingency plans should already be in effect, but the recent surge of success in the Bronx has clouded the eventual need for rotation depth.

Whether or not you are a devoted fan and supporter of Joba Chamberlain’s position as the fourth starter, the impending issue is one for you to be concerned with.

Chamberlain’s unwavering innings limit has once again come under discussion within the Yankees organization, and GM Brian Cashman has admitted it is a concern moving forward.

Once Chamberlain reaches 130-140 innings pitched, he will be forced to vacate his spot in the starting rotation in favor of the bullpen—as he is capped at around 150 innings.

Cashman made it clear that this philosophy has not changed whatsoever since the preseason, and that “no new wrinkle” has been added into the dreaded “Joba Rules.”

With the uncertainties surrounding Wang, Chamberlain, and Sergio Mitre’s statuses, manager Joe Girardi has expressed his own valid worries about the back end of the rotation.

This of course does not even include any resurfacing of the arm injuries that derailed the second half of Andy Pettitte’s 2008 season—almost forcing him into an early retirement.

So the burning question remains…what is the ultimate solution? Cashman offered the possibility of Alfredo Aceves permanently thrust into the rotation, as well as one other startling conclusion.

After hearing the words, “Kei Igawa has been pitching very well in Triple-A, so I can’t say you won’t be seeing him this year,” my ears inevitably began to emit a stream of blood reminiscent of Niagara Falls.

While Aceves would likely perform admirably in a permanent role as a starter, he has been far too valuable to the resurrected Yankee bullpen. The ‘pen has been as reliable and important as any facet of the team, and this option should be of the “last resort” variety.

The more prudent solution lies in a pitcher New York is rather familiar with—a pitcher who once stood on the other side of baseball’s most storied and passionate rivalry.

The Yankees should look to acquire Cincinnati Reds hurler Bronson Arroyo.

Arroyo has pitched well in the AL East, is an innings eater (even when he is beaten up early), has playoff experience out of the bullpen, and already has 10 wins on a bad team in 2009.

Do not let his bloated ERA fool you, as he allowed 18 earned runs over 6.2 IP in two deplorable starts. When removing these performances from the equation, Arroyo is an impressive 10-7 with a 4.13 ERA.

The Yankees need a dependable veteran presence in the fifth starter role, and someone they know can provide length.

Arroyo is on pace for his fifth straight 200 plus inning season, and he has pitched seven or more innings in 45 percent of his starts (9-for-20). He is exactly the kind of pitcher New York needs, and can be had for a package of mid-level prospects.

The Reds would be happy to get his salary off of the payroll and open the spot to another talented young arm, and Arroyo is the kind of pitcher that misses throwing meaningful games.

The move will not cost Cashman and the Yankees the likes of Austin Jackson, Jesus Montero, Phil Hughes, Chamberlain, Austin Romine, or Zach McAllister.

It is a proposition that creates a win-win scenario, and provides Cashman with a “nothing to lose” opportunity.

While other teams battle for the services of Erik Bedard, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Jarrod Washburn, it is time for New York to fly under the radar and snatch up Arroyo.

The Yankees cannot wait until Chamberlain’s limit is reached and Mitre hits a rough patch before analyzing their pitching status, and Arroyo is just the man to ease their concerns.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What If the Yankees & Red Sox Took a Year Off from the Rivalry in 2009?

After a century of bean balls, fist fights, blood, sweat, tears, and captivating theater, the Yankees and Red Sox have cemented themselves as the best rivalry in MLB.

Even the most dedicated and hardest workers need a vacation, however, and perhaps the rivalry could use a temporary hiatus for rest and convalescence.

The question must be asked: what if the 2009 baseball season had been chosen for Yanks-Sox prohibition?

What if Bud Selig had arisen before Opening Day and awkwardly waved his hands in confusion like the 2002 All-Star game—effectively putting the east coast conflict into hibernation until 2010?

Anyone who has even casually followed the American League over the last four months is well-educated in New York’s embarrassing effort when confronted by Red Sox Nation.

The Yankees are 0-for-8 in those games—a stat line normally reserved for Robinson Cano’s RISP skills as opposed to an interdivisional record.

Regardless of their rivalry no-show, New York somehow still sits atop the American League East standings at 56-37, while Boston stands one game back at 55-38.

If Commissioner Selig had forbidden the two from squaring off in 2009, the Yankees would currently have a record of 56-29. Boston, meanwhile, would fall to just 47-38.

Though a seemingly irrelevant concept, it is very intriguing to look at each team’s performance against the rest of the league.

The Yankees have a winning percentage of .659 against anyone not named Boston, which is on pace to collect an amazing 107 wins over a full 162 game season.

The Red Sox are playing .550 baseball against the rest of the league, which accounts for just 89 wins over a full season.

Normally these records should be thrown out without much afterthought, but they are of importance to Yankee fans across the globe.

A betting man would not put his paycheck down on New York finishing 0-for-18 in the rivalry. A reasonable expectation would be for the teams to split down the stretch, with each grabbing five of the 10 remaining games.

What this means is Boston has likely cashed out its winnings for 2009, unable to make up more ground in head-to-head competition.

Even while crushing the Yankees into a bloody and dejected pulp, the Red Sox can still be seen from New York’s rearview mirror.

If both teams played equal baseball against the rest of the league down the stretch, the Yankees would still win the AL East title even if Boston finished the season series 13-5.

With neither team looking to make game-changing moves at the July 31 trading deadline, it appears as though no one will have the luxury of taking their foot off the pedal for the final weeks of the season.

Expect the Tampa Bay Rays to play a major role in the final months of the divisional race, as the Yankees and Red Sox have 18 combined games remaining with them (NY 10, BOS 8)

New York is 4-4 against the Rays thus far in 2008, while Boston is 4-6. Whichever team performs better against them down the stretch will have a big advantage—provided that they do come close to splitting the remaining 10 head-to-head games.

Yankees Universe may wish in the back of their heads that the rivalry was postponed for the duration of 2009, but they still rest atop the American League on July 22.

All things considered, New York and its formerly frustrated fan base have to feel very fortunate and blessed to be in this position.

Now it is time to step up and at least split a four game series from August 6-9 at Yankee Stadium against their hated rival.

The baseball gods have given them a gift, and it is time to send out a thank you card.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yankees Hero Hideki Matsui Has Moment Reminiscent of the Big Screen

Yankees starter Andy Pettitte had just left his heart in the middle of the pitching rubber in Yankee Stadium, and his defense was about to use up all of its weekly miracles in a matter of mere seconds.

Somehow scurrying across a bed of hot coals, Yankees reliever Phil Coke pitched just poorly enough to transform a devastating wild pitch into inning-ending magic—blowing the nonexistent roof off of “The House that Steinbrenner Built.”

The Yankees now desperately wanted to hear the loud crack of a wooden bat. It was the 40th anniversary of the moon landing in 1969, and the Bronx longed for someone to put a baseball where Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong once boldly stepped.

They needed anything that could be confused with an offensive pulse, as the Orioles had held New York hitless since allowing a solo home run to lead off the second inning.

The likes of David Hernandez, Mark Hendrickson, and Jim Johnson had recorded 22 outs without allowing a broken-bat single, an infield hit, a blooper over shortstop, or anything resembling an “H” by official scorer standards.

The leadoff hitter for the bottom of the ninth was Alex Rodriguez. The hopes of him sending fans skipping to the motionless lines of Bronx parking garages ended even before a “let’s go A-Rod” chant could get organized.

Suddenly, an unfamiliar sound then began to travel over the stadium’s speakers.

It was the tune to Billy Joel’s “Big Shot,” which of course meant the arrival of Hideki Matsui to the batter’s box?

“The Sayonara Kid” was certainly a sight for sore eyes, though his unmistakable limp implied that his chronically injured knees were equally as sore.

It was a poor man’s Kirk Gibson moment. A very poor man’s…we are talking homeless holding an old Styrofoam coffee cup with “I need change” written across the front of it.

What happened shortly thereafter would have made Roy Hobbs of the legendary baseball film The Natural send a smile and wink in his direction.

Matsui took a healthy cut at a 2-0 pitch from Johnson, and was somehow left holding nothing more than a toothpick.

He wasn’t jammed. He didn’t hit the ball off the end of the bat. His trusty Mizuno simply fell apart in his hands.

“Godzilla” returned to the dugout for a spare, and delivered a blast that Hobbs’ famous “Wonderboy” had produced so many times before.

It was yet another walk-off for the Yankees, and an elated roster was awaiting their newest hero at home plate.

Matsui launched his helmet into the air, as per A-Rod’s request, and the Yankees battled for the catch like a group of bloodthirsty women seeking the bouquet at a wedding ceremony.

It was another magical moment in the new stadium; further enticing fans to believe the ghosts of Yankee past have not yet abandoned their “beyond the grave” duties.

AJ Burnett got one step closer to receiving a sponsorship deal with Reddi-wip, and the Yankees pulled even with Boston for first place in the AL East.

There is a long way to go in the 2009 MLB season, but it was comforting to Yankee fans to see their walk-off lightning strike for already the ninth time of the year.

Monday, July 20, 2009

MLB’s All-Catholic Team: Where Mystique May Come From a Higher Power

There has always been a connection between religion and sports, and Major League Baseball has certainly not been the exception to the rule.

Shawn Green was once wooed by the Yankees in order to attract a wide range of Jewish New Yorkers into Yankee Stadium.

Sandy Koufax once missed an expected World Series start to participate in a Jewish holiday, leaving teammate Don Drysdale to be slaughtered on short rest.

The Pope has spoken multiple times in famous sports venues, which of course included “The House that Ruth Built” in the Bronx.

Countless pitchers are seen tucking cross necklaces into their jerseys before toeing the rubber, or simply squatting for a quick prayer behind the mound.

This phenomenon got me thinking of the best Catholic names in baseball history—especially considering the names New York has employed in the last 12 months alone.

Feel free to offer additions and omissions, and I hope you enjoy the list.

For your viewing pleasure, here is the MLB All-Catholic lineup:

C - Jesus Montero:

Signed at just 16 years old by the Yankees, Montero recently played in the Futures Game for the second straight season.

He has a .328 AVG, 14 HR, 58 RBI, and .386 OBP in 2009 at a combination of Single-A and Double-A—certainly earning him that honor.

1B - Abel Lizotte:

Abel had a very short career with the 1896 Pittsburgh Pirates at 1B. He played in just seven games, "able" to hit just .103 in 29 total at bats.

You may be wondering why his career was so abrupt--especially considering the potential he flashed as a young boy.

Unfortunately for Abel, his envious brother Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants made sure his major league career was nothing more than a cup of tea.

Things have worked out well for Cain, as he is currently a budding superstar with an 11-2 record and 2.32 ERA in 2009.

2B - Angel Berroa:

A former Rookie of the Year in 2003, Berroa has bounced around the majors since--recently signing with the Mets after an abysmal effort in the Bronx.

In 2009, Berroa is hitting just .120 with a .154 OBP in 24 games played with the Mets and Yankees.

SS - Nate Samson:

Samson is a 21 year old Chicago Cubs farmhand currently playing in Double-A playing for the Tennessee Smokies.

He is currently hitting .254 with 0 HR, 28 RBI, and 37 R in 74 combined minor league games at SS in 2009.

It appears as though Samson’s girlfriend Delilah may have given him an untimely haircut after high school, as he has been unable to muster the power necessary to hit a home run.

3B - Matt Moses:

Moses is a 24 year old Minnesota farmhand, originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2003 draft.

He is currently hitting .224 with 6 HR and 40 RBI at Double-A New Britain in the Eastern League. He has split time between the OF and 3B during his many years in the minor leagues.

OF - Justin Christian:
Christian was a temporary call-up for the 2008 Yankees. He played OF and was a pinch-runner extraordinaire (before the permanent arrival of Brett Gardner cast him aside).

In 24 games during that season, Christian batted .250 with 6 RBI, as well as collecting 7 stolen bases in 8 attempts.

OF - Dave Pope:

Pope was an outfielder from 1952-1956 in the American League. He split his five ML seasons between the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians.

He proved to be a solid complimentary player, as he hit .265 with 12 HR and 73 RBI in 230 career games.

OF - St. Louis Cardinals:
With Hall of Fame outfielders like Stan Musial and Lou Brock in their history, the Cardinals seemed like the perfect candidate to fill out the All-Catholic OF.

This illustrious and well-respected major league franchise was founded in 1882 as the St. Louis Brown Stockings.

They have since won 10 World Series and 17 National League pennants, and are currently in first place in the NL Central at 51-43.

P - Eddie Priest:

Priest was originally drafted in the 9th round of the 1994 draft out of Southern Union Junior College.

He broke in briefly with the Cincinnati Reds in 1998, and compiled a 10.50 ERA in 6 innings pitched (2 games).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Yankees Go Bargain Hunting: The Best Team A-Rod’s Salary Could Buy

The calendar reads July 17, 2009, and lumps are beginning to form in the throats of baseball fans nationwide.

We are now just two weeks away from the much-anticipated July 31 trading deadline.

Countless Yankee fans are begging and pleading for either the services of Roy Halladay or to cling to the newly cultivated prospects littered throughout the farm system.
In the wake of inevitable water cooler discussions in offices across the country, it is time to once again discuss player salaries and payrolls.

This time, however, we are going to shake things up by playing a hypothetical game of General Manager budgeting.

What if you had to construct an entire team using only the league’s largest salary as a budget? What if your only asset was Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez?

The goal is the create the best roster of players whose 2009 salaries are as close to A-Rod’s as possible ($33 million), but without going over. This challenge is a perfect blend of fantasy baseball and The Price is Right.

Due to the fact that there are so many talented young stars making salaries near the rookie minimum, no roster is allowed to include more than five players with a salary less than $1,000,000.

The roster must include a C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, RF, CF, DH, five SPs, a RP, and a CL.

Feel free to offer your own rosters, any changes you would make to this list, and any feedback or opinionated responses.

Here we go!

C Pablo Sandoval - $401,750
1B Prince Fielder - $7,000,000
2B Aaron Hill - $2,590,000
SS Hanley Ramirez - $5,500,000
3B Evan Longoria - $550,000
LF Ryan Braun - $1,032,500
RF Justin Upton - $412,000
CF Adam Jones - $435,000
DH Kendry Morales - $1,100,000

SP Tim Lincecum - $650,000
SP Zack Greinke - $3,750,000
SP Matt Cain - $2,900,000
SP Josh Johnson - $1,400,000
SP Jon Lester - $1,000,000
RP Heath Bell - $1,255,000
CL Ryan Franklin - $2,500,000

TOTAL 2009 Team Payroll: $32,476,250

Alex Rodriguez’s 2009 Salary: $33,000,000

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We’re Going Streaking! The 5 Great Streaks in Yankees History

The American League won yet another All-Star game last night in St. Louis, which stretched their current unbeaten streak to 14 seasons.

They are 13-0-1 over that span, with the only blemish being the absurd 7-7 tie witnessed in the 2002 game.

That mockery eventually created the current system in which most fans despise—regardless of what Commissioner Selig would like to believe.

The winning streak of the American League All-Stars made me begin to ponder the greatest streaks in New York Yankees history.

As a result, I have created a list of the five most profound examples of “going streaking” in the illustrious history of the franchise, and would love to hear your additions, subtractions, feelings, and critiques.

I will see you all at the end, and remember to cover up if you see any police officers approaching!

5. Don Mattingly’s Consecutive Game Home Run Streak

Over a span of eight magical games in 1987, Don Mattingly did not lace up his cleats without hitting one into the stands.

Blasting 10 home runs over the eight consecutive games, Mattingly further lodged himself into the hearts of the Yankees faithful—after already becoming the apple of their eye following an MVP trophy in 1985.

Making his achievement all the more incredible, Mattingly was forced to contend with the All-Star break falling in the middle of his power surge.

Any hitter will explain how much a change in rhythm can affect a hitter’s timing and groove, and a three-day layoff was sure to throw a wrench in Donnie Baseball’s plans.

Mattingly somehow maintained his stroke, launching two more home runs on the first day after the break on July 16—carrying the streak to its final day on July 18.

Though a man known more for his sweet swing and unmatchable defensive prowess, Mattingly once again proved that he had power to all fields and could not be underestimated.

4. Yankees Reach Postseason 13 Straight Seasons

Beginning with a momentum-building campaign cut short by a MLB strike in 1994, the Yankees made 13 straight playoff appearances from 1995-2007.

The Yankees reached six World Series during that time period under the command of Joe Torre and a still feisty George M. Steinbrenner III—winning four titles in five years from 1996-2000.

Former GM Gene Michael and Manager Buck Showalter constructed the championship roster from the ground up, and no man but Torre was better equipped to lead them to the Promised Land.

Lead by a blend of home-grown talent (Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Ramiro Mendoza, and Mariano Rivera) and fearless veterans (Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, and Tino Martinez), the Yankees became the personification of greatness.

The 1998 championship team, which won 125 total games, is still often considered the best in baseball history.

3. World Series Individual Game Win Streak

In a miraculous winning streak that eventually spanned four series, the Yankees won 14 consecutive World Series games from 1996-2000.

After originally falling behind 2-0 to the Atlanta Braves, New York won four straight games to capture their first World Series in 18 years.

Next came convincing sweeps in both 1998 and 1999 over the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves respectively—which stretched the improbable winning streak to 12.

Finally, on their way to capturing their third consecutive World Series title in the “Subway Series” of 2000, the Yankees won the series’ first two games before the Mets stole Game Three.
The streak may have ended at 14 consecutive games in 2000, but the accomplishment will live on for many more decades.

2. Consecutive World Series Titles Streak

From 1949-1953, the Yankees captured five straight World Series championships. They defeated the cross-city rival Brooklyn Dodgers three times, the New York Giants once, and the Philadelphia Phillies.

With Casey Stengel controlling the bench, the Yankees had the stability, professionalism, and complimentary talent later resurfacing with the Torre dynasty from 1996-2003.

No team before or after Stengel’s was able to win as many titles consecutively, and no time likely ever will. The Yankees were a special team lead by Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford, and free agency and lack of loyalty prevents teams from maintaining an edge.

Fun Streaking Fact: Did you know that one of the original three New York teams (Dodgers, Giants, Yankees) made the World Series for 18 straight years from 1949-1966?

1. Joe DiMaggio’s 56 Consecutive Game Hitting Streak

As if the list could end in any other way?

Yankees CF legend Joe DiMaggio went without a hitless game from May 15 to July 16 during the 1941 season. It all began with one fateful swing off of White Sox pitcher Eddie Smith.

DiMaggio has yet to have another player approach within 12 games of his streak, and it is often debated if that day will ever come.

The number ‘56’ has become a symbol for all that was once right in the game that has since taken so many wrong turns.

It is one of the few records that is unaffected by the immense changes the game has undertaken over the last century—as opposed to those like Cy Young’s 511 wins.

Also “immune” to performance-enhancing drugs, DiMaggio’s streak is the perfect goal for any pure hitter to try to crack.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Yankees Provide Insufficient Power Source: Homers Pile Up Without Impact

Much has been made of the somewhat secretive process of decreasing fencing distance heading from the right field foul pole toward the bleacher seats in the new Yankee Stadium.

Many more whispers have carried through the Bronx on the same wind currents helping to transform doubles into home runs and lazy fly balls into heart-stopping warning track peril.

The Yankees, who have subsequently launched 132 home runs into the stands, have actually failed to take advantage of the offensive opportunity in front of them.

On the eve of tonight’s MLB Home Run Derby, it was important to take a closer look at the record-setting souvenirs delivered by Yankee sluggers.

While power stats have accumulated in rather impressive fashion, the impact of the pinstriped muscle-flexing has left much to be desired. In many cases, they have provided less “bang for their buck” than a seeing-eye single by Brett Gardner.

Yankee home runs have generally been as “solo” as a socially awkward teenager at the middle school winter formal. They are often quietly sitting alone in the corner watching a halfhearted edition of The Electric Slide—wondering if anyone is noticing their presence.

To illustrate this with a little statistical analysis, not even one member of the Yankee double-digit power contingent has hit more than half their home runs with a teammate manning the basepaths.

This list includes Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, and Derek Jeter.

They have accounted for 116 of New York’s 132 home runs (88 percent), but have produced “socially awkward teenagers” 70 times. This means that three out of every five homers that they hit is no more damaging a result than a sacrifice fly.

To put this into perspective, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay of the Boston Red Sox have hit just 36 percent of their round-trippers with nobody on base. Bay in particular has “gone solo” just five times out of 20 opportunities.

The Red Sox are so dangerous because they can truly change the game with one swing—always one hanging curveball away from a three-run homer. Their longballs provide damage, and help to shrivel opponent morale like a slug battling a salt shaker.

New York may be on an alarming power pace, but it needs to find a way to reserve its blasts for more destructive game situations.

Solo home runs can be quite dramatic when timed correctly, such as Johnny Damon’s walk-off in the 11th inning against Minnesota on May 17. The majority of the time, however, they are a minor bump in the road for an opposing starting pitcher.

In fact, many of the game’s great hurlers prided themselves on limiting teams to solo home runs, as they will nine times out of 10 not be the reason a team wins or loses a game.

Hitting well in key situations has been a problem for the Yankees, and even their home runs have been timed poorly during the flow of ball games.

They are currently sitting on a goldmine of power potential, and could soon be dishing out as many “grand slams” as Roger Federer and Denny’s Restaurants.

Yankee home runs need to stop acting like a socially awkward teenager, and much more like the captain of the football team.

After all, nobody likes to be left home alone on Saturday night.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Real “Bronx Zoo”: What If the Yankees Were Reincarnated as Animals?

Once coined to describe the unrelenting turmoil that swirled around the 1977 Yankees, the “Bronx Zoo” moniker has been much discussed over the last three plus decades.

The conflicting personalities of former manager Billy Martin, outfielder Reggie Jackson, and team captain Thurman Munson, the Yankees became as much a soap opera as a title-contending baseball team.

Screaming matches in the dugout, fist fights and shoving bouts behind closed doors, questionable quotes leaking into the media; the 1977 Yankees had it all.

All of this drama was exacerbated by Mr. George M. Steinbrenner III—the powerful and headstrong proprietor of the ball club and Yankee Stadium.

The 1977 season and subsequent hit television series The Bronx is Burning inspired a piece linking the actual Bronx Zoo and the seemingly uncontrollable roster of years past.

This list will identify the animal that the Yankee players would be reincarnated as in a second life, and a brief description as to how each decision was arrived at.

I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to come up with you own renditions of players mentioned or those not included in the list.

Brett Gardner – Cheetah

Often discussed as the fastest land animal on Earth, the cheetah can reach speed of up to 70-75 MPH—including a zero-to-sixty time of less than three seconds.

Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner had been clocked anywhere from 95-190 MPH from home to first, so I believe the comparison is more than warranted.

The cheetah can only maintain these speeds for a short period of time, which has been estimated at about 1500 feet. Luckily for this pinstriped cheetah, a trip around the bases spans just 360 ft, and he appeared very capable of sustaining pace during an inside-the-park home run on May 15.

Johnny Damon – Fish out of Water/Beaver

Johnny Damon’s reincarnation would have to be split into two separate species, due to the differences in his offensive and defensive games at the age of 35.

On defense, Damon represents a fish out of water, often struggling to regain his composure and sense of direction. He appears to flop around hopelessly throughout the left field grass, praying that the fly ball will somehow find its way into his glove.

After struggling for quite some time, a fish out of water will finally succumb to the realization that things will likely not end well. As the fish is released back into the pond or Damon’s glove finds itself wrapped around a pearly-white baseball, both are left with an awkward yet relieved smile.

On offense, however, Damon could return as no other animal than a beaver. Though it may surprise you at first glance, one must first think about what a beaver actually does.

Damon chews through more wood than any player in the major leagues—personally responsible for the destruction of the South American rainforests. He has shattered, cracked, exploded, and splintered more bats than even Rivera’s razorblade cutter.

Nick Swisher – Hyena/Chimpanzee

Nick Swisher is as much a performer as he is a baseball player, and a blend of the hyena and chimpanzee would seem to do him (and his actions) justice.

Hyenas are known for the laughing sound they produce, and have been featured in many movies as sarcastic, teasing, and joking characters. Swisher is rarely seen without a smile on his face, and always seems primed and ready to play a prank at a moment’s notice.

Chimpanzees are as playful as any animal on Earth, and are known to wrestle, tickle, chase, and show signs of something similar to human laughter.

They are often used in stage shows, circuses, movies, and other forms of entertainment, as a chimp is seemingly always ready to perform. Swisher is no different, and his “bleacher creature” companions wouldn’t have it any other way.

Derek Jeter – Lion

The captain of the Yankees is essentially the figurehead of Major League Baseball, as they represent the most recognizable baseball “brand” in the world.

The lion, on the other hand, is the much heralded “king of the jungle.” He is both respected and feared, while representing the symbol of confidence and power for the entire animal kingdom.

When I think of Jeter in lion’s fur, the first image that comes to mind is Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia (I don’t want to hear it…it’s a great book). He is an “elder statesman” full of wisdom, strength, and bravery—never backing down from a battle with a worthy cause.

Author C.S. Lewis often describes Aslan as a symbol of Christ, and you would be hard-pressed to find any Yankee die-hard that considers Jeter anything less than half god.

Mariano Rivera - Bald Eagle

The bald eagle is the proud symbol of the United States of America, and Mariano Rivera is much the symbol of the most recent Yankee dynasty as anyone not named Jeter.

Often perching calmly and alertly until the opportune time to attack, Rivera’s bullpen activity is quite reminiscent of our nation’s favorite taloned predator.

Like Rivera, the bald eagle has many times been considered on its last legs—with widespread fear of extinction placing them on the endangered species list. Similar to many bald eagles currently protected in captivity, Rivera had to “mend a broken wing” in the offseason by agreeing to an offseason should procedure.

Both have responded beautifully, as Rivera is as dominant as he has ever been, and the bald eagle has officially been removed from any endangered or threatened species list.

Ramiro Pena/Francisco Cervelli – Drone Bee

A drone bee’s life expectancy is anywhere from 40-50 days—very similar to the 2009 major league journeys of Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli.

They may not be the biggest, fastest, strongest, or most equipped of the bunch, but the drone bees work very hard to contribute—fitting perfectly into the bigger community that is the “hive” or clubhouse.

Their work does not go unnoticed, but it does go somewhat underappreciated. Once they’re gone, the rest of the group truly realizes the benefits of having them around. This is especially the case when a less productive, deserving, or mentally prepared bee (Cody Ransom) takes their place.

Andy Pettitte – Camel

The camel is slow, workmanlike, and methodical, but does what’s expected of him in the roughest of conditions. Even when times are hard and hope seems lost, he always has a little water on reserve in his hump to get the big outs when he really needs them.

Camels are known to be stubborn at times, but their seniority and importance generally allow them to get their way. The camel will generally say something along the lines of: “Joe, I have trekked through 100s of miles of scorching hot desert…don’t you think I can retire the seven-hitter with the bases loaded? Go back to the dugout.”

They may not be as flashy and eye-catching as other animals, but the camel is more than ready to carry a team on its back (literally) to the Promised Land.

Alex Rodriguez – Rattlesnake

The rattlesnake uses a literal “rattle” in its tail to warn predators when feeling threatened, and can also be used by horrified humans to determine which path not to walk on.

Always letting you know when he is entering a room with his own figurative “rattle,” A-Rod craves bright lights and attention to be thrust in his direction. He wants to look cool yet intimidating, and he always hunts alone.

Stay far enough away from him, whether on the plate or in the streets, and you should be safe. If you get too close (I’m talking to you pitchers and media personnel), however, he will make you pay big time.

He is also never opposed to putting things into your bloodstream to alter body chemistry—whether venom in this case, or, well…you know.

Melky Cabrera – Cow

Do I really need to explain this one?

Mark Teixeira/CC Sabathia – Griffon

Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia are making a combined $341 in pinstripes over the next eight seasons.

They are worth so much cash that they will likely outlive the inconveniencies and setbacks of old age. Living long enough to see medical technologies that we have yet to even fantasize about, Sabathia and Teixeira will live until somewhere between 500 and 1000 years old.

Who knows what kind of evolutionary or cultural changes will have occurred by then—especially with the added factors of Global Warming and space travel?

That being said, what other animal could these two men be reincarnated as aside from one of the most extravagant and spectacular creates to bless the pages of mythology.

Jorge Posada – Bull

One of the more stubborn and aggressive members of the animal kingdom, the bull even has a phrase coined after him: bull-headed.

Known to get feisty at the sight of the color red (see: old Boston-New York footage), the bull is tough, strong, and ready to rumble. The same qualities that make the bull as successful as he is also create problems dealing with others.

Jorge Posada’s bull-like confidence, stick-to-itiveness, and aggressiveness cause many pitchers to “butt horns” with him. Pitch selection, location, and sequence often create a proverbial “pissing contest” amongst the Yankee battery—eventually leading to some hurlers requesting “personal catchers.”

*NOTE: Joba Chamberlain will likely reincarnate as a matador instead of an animal, as Posada will finally have his chance to skewer the most frustrating pitcher on the Yankee staff.*

Robinson Cano – House Cat

This feline comparison is not at all meant to be a compliment, regardless of the fact that I have been a cat owner for 18 years.

Sure, they can jump high, run fast, and quickly change direction. They are also blessed with breathtaking agility and the potential to do great things—when they want to. Cats, however, would prefer to just lie there and take in a few rays of sun.

Unlike dogs, which will run to your side whenever you call, cats will never be there for you in times of need. They may be as smooth and clean as they come, but you will be left cleaning up their messes—whether in the litter box or the batter’s box.

A.J. Burnett – Wild Mustang

One of the most majestic, incredible creatures in all of the animal kingdom, mustangs are big, powerful, fast, and agile. They possess virtually every quality to be exactly what every other animal aspires to become. Regardless of how hard you try, however, they cannot ever truly be controlled.

You can tame it for short periods of time, but you never know what you are going to get from day to day. Burnett currently leads MLB in wild pitches with 13, leads the AL in walks with 53, and is not far behind the league leaders in hit batsman.

That being said, on those days when the mustang allows you to saddle up and ride, it is as magical and unparalleled as any performance the animal kingdom can offer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yankees Slugger of the Future Profile: Double-A Catcher Jesus Montero

The New York Yankees have had a much-maligned minor league talent pool for quite some time—and rightfully so.

General Manager Brian Cashman ignored the development of talented young prospects in favor of aging and overly priced veterans—which subsequently transformed an “Amazon River” into a “Sahara Desert.”

Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Alfonso Soriano, and Ted Lilly suddenly became Andy Phillips, Colter Bean, Jorge De Paula, Sean Henn, and Kevin Thompson.

Position player prospects have been even harder to come by—forcing fans to latch onto the prized arms of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain for hopes of a farm system resurrection.

Luckily for New York, there is finally a prototypical slugger waiting in to wings of the Yankee minor league system. He’s big, strong, patient at the plate, hits for average, hits for power, and is a doubles machine.

Fans can officially raise the volume level on the buzz already circulating around hitting prospect Jesus Montero of the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

*It was important to highlight the potential of Montero in the wake of the public outcry of Yankee fans to acquire Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Montero began the season at Single-A Tampa, but has quickly risen to the Double-A ranks. In a combined 74 minor leagues games in 2009, he is hitting .336 with 13 HR, 52 RBI, 20 doubles, and a .391 OBP.

When these statistics are calculated over a full 162-game season, Montero would produce 28-29 HR, 114 RBI, and 44 doubles. To put this into perspective, Kevin Youkilis had 29 HR, 115 RBI, a .390 OBP, 43 doubles, and a .312 BA in 2008.

Before an unruly mob carrying torches approaches my front door, I am not at all comparing minor league success to an MVP-caliber season in MLB’s toughest division.

The numbers are so strikingly similar, however, that they could help to project what kind of hitter Montero has the potential to become.

What’s the best part about Montero? He was born in November 1989, which makes him a teenager at just 19 years old.

After a slow start in Double-A, Montero has been adjusting quite nicely. He launched five home runs in a four-game span last week, and is hitting .333 over his last 10 games.

The only problem with the slugger’s game occurs when he is squatting behind home plate—as opposed to standing next to it while wielding a bat.

Montero is an average catcher at best, and is likely to be forced out from behind the plate in order to appear at the major league level. The Yankees would also prefer being able to utilize his bat in the lineup more than 120-130 games per season.

This would not be an issue, aside from the fact that New York is set at most of the reasonable replacement positions.

The corner infield is secure for the better part of a decade with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and Jorge Posada will likely be a permanent clog of the DH role by the time Montero is ready to contribute in the Bronx.

Corner outfield becomes the only conceivable option remaining, and Montero’s 6’4” 230+ pound frame does not exactly scream “range.”

A name that jumps into mind when picturing Montero as a corner outfielder is Houston’s LF Carlos Lee. While he might not produce as many tape-measure shots as Lee, he could play LF and DH whenever Posada is able to catch.

This is clearly a bridge the Yankees will worry about crossing when they arrive at it, but it is a wonderful “problem” to have. For the first time in nearly a decade, New York will have to determine a way to plug a young star in the making into its lineup.

After all, wouldn’t it be ironic that a man named “Jesus” may be responsible for the resurrection of the Yankee position player prospects?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Yankee Bullpen: When a Glaring Weakness Becomes a Reliable Strength

The 2009 season began with promise and high expectations for a young but talented Yankee bullpen cast.

Damaso Marte was re-signed in the offseason, and would team with Mariano Rivera, Jose Veras, Phil Coke, Edwar Ramirez, and Brian Bruney to create a formidable fireman’s squad—ready to put out flames during the final third of games.

Not far off into the horizon waited Mark Melancon, a much-advertised minor league clone of Joba Chamberlain, who was expected to contribute nothing but swings and misses by the All-Star break.

Some fans remained skeptic regardless of their stellar 2008 campaigns, but most were at worst “cautiously optimistic” that the bridge to Rivera would hold up against the freely flowing winds of the new Yankee Stadium.

Weeks into the season, however, hope rapidly began shifting toward fear and uncertainty.

Marte had injured his throwing shoulder, and Bruney would soon follow with elbow pain. Veras and Ramirez would require a GPS system to get within miles of home plate.

Coke was offering up souvenir balls to fans in right field like it was pregame batting practice. Melancon looked as overmatched as a tadpole wrestling an alligator, and went running back to Triple-A like he had just hopped the fence near the Mexico-US border.

Even the immortalized Rivera had struggled over the early months of the season, appearing oddly human like a werewolf staring at a crescent moon.

Fans rightly attacked Brian Cashman’s $423.5 million offseason expenditure—not a dollar of which was spent acquiring a reliever outside of the Yankee organization.

Suddenly, Queens had the unflappable bullpen—a team torn down like the Berlin Wall the past two seasons by a bullpen as heartless as a storefront manikin.

The currents then began to change direction without warning, and the Yankees were now free from attempting to swim upstream toward the ninth inning.

Alfredo Aceves arrived initially in long-relief duty, but was soon molded into Ramiro Mendoza circa 1998. Phil Coke re-emerged as the dominant lefthander of the final months of 2008, and Rivera became…well, Rivera.

A serviceable bullpen became a trustworthy one with the addition of David Robertson and Phil Hughes—unlikely late-inning heroes now counted on for some of the game’s biggest outs.

A crew that was once the butt of jokes across Major League Baseball now sports five relievers with an ERA under 3.00—including Hughes’ 1.23 ERA, 0.61 WHIP, and remarkable .120 BAA.

Hughes represents one of four Yankee relievers with a WHIP below 1.00—which could continue if the starting rotation stops putting them in so many precarious situations.

If New York is able to acquire a birth into the 2009 postseason, even more help will be on its way to the bullpen mix.

Due to innings limits and subsequently not needing a five-man rotation in October, Joba Chamberlain will be returning to short-relief.

There are concerns as to whether or not he can once again dominate like years past, but he will undoubtedly add a different dynamic and energy level than he displays in the starting rotation.

A postseason bullpen of Robertson, Aceves, Coke, Chamberlain, Hughes, Rivera, and a possibly resurrected Bruney would rival the best bullpens in MLB.

A bullpen nightmare has become a dream come true for Yankees Universe, and they will need every successful inning of relief they can get their hands on—considering only two of five starters are offering consistency every five days.

The bullpen crew has been eating plenty of spinach as part of the Popeye diet—let’s just hope none of their inventory has been stricken with E. coli.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Top Five Reasons the MLB Most Valuable Player Award is a Farce

Many fans, writers, players, and analysts argue what being the “Most Valuable Player” truly means. Some argue it requires being the “best player on the best team,” while others suggest it belongs to “the season’s best player.”

I personally fall somewhere in between—choosing to fully recognize the “valuable” component, while not disqualifying a player who fell just short in a pennant race.

In many seasons, such as the 1998 Yankees, the best team is just that—a “team.” They are a unit comprised of multiple high quality players that represent something far greater than the simple sum of its parts.

A “Most Valuable Player” many times cannot be chosen from the game’s best team, as no player distinguishes himself as more important than the men standing next to him.

In other cases, a player has a season immortalized in baseball lore, and his accomplishments can/should sometimes outweigh a great season by a pennant winner—so long as they occur as part of a competitive ball club.

As a result of my slightly modified criteria, I have created a list of five controversial MVP decisions that particularly irritated me. Each personifies my frustration and disappointment with the MVP voting process, and shows why things need to change.

5. Andre Dawson (1987)

The 1987 vote represents most people’s underlying issue and concern with the MVP process—being “most valuable” on one of the league’s worst teams. Everyone loves “The Hawk,” but 1987 in no way represented an MVP-caliber season.

Not only did his Cubs finish dead last in the National League East (a staggering 18.5 games back of first place St. Louis), but Dawson’s stats were one-dimensional.

Dawson sported just a .287 BA and .328 OBP—just the 6th best batting average and 8th best on-base percentage of his career. As a result of his anemic OBP, Dawson scored just 90 runs that season even though he nearly hit 50 home runs.

To put an icing on the “undeserving cake,” Dawson’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was worse than at any point of his career from 1980 to his final year as a starter in 1993.

4. Alex Rodriguez (2003)

Another prime example of an MVP rising from the ashes of a last place team, Alex Rodriguez undeservedly won the award in 2003 with the Texas Rangers.

A-Rod’s Rangers finished 71-91, and were so far in Oakland’s rearview mirror that they stopped keeping track by the All-Star break. The eventual deficit stood at 25 games on the season’s final day.

Exactly how “valuable” can a player be for a last place team? Texas was nearly closer to capturing the worst record in MLB history than they were to catching the AL West Champion Athletics.

Though A-Rod’s numbers were very impressive, they left much to be desired for an eventual MVP winner. He produced 47 HR, 118 RBI, 124 R, and a .298 BA, but the bottom-line stats don’t tell the whole story.

Aside from being buried in last place, A-Rod hit just .276 with runners in scoring position, .260 in late-and-close situations (though I dislike the stat), and drove in just 47 of his 118 runs (39.8 percent) on the road.

A-Rod was no more than a product of a little league park in Arlington on a last place team. The Rangers finished last with him, and they would have finished last without him. There is nothing inherently “valuable” about a season like A-Rod’s in 2003.

3. Dennis Eckersley (1992)

Though this vote may be the one that raises my blood pressure to the most alarming of heights, it cannot possibly rise higher than No. 3 on the list.

This voting process does credit a solid season on a division-winning team, but it opens up a whole new can of worms. There have been players ignored in MVP discussions who had far better seasons than those Eckersley beat out, but this vote makes as little sense as any other.

The 1992 season didn’t represent Eckersley’s best season as a pitcher. It didn’t even represent his best season as a relief pitcher.

Yet this is the year a reliever wins the league’s Most Valuable Player Award?!

Eckersley was 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA while pitching 80 innings, recording 51 saves, and sporting a WHIP of 0.913. A very solid season, but nothing out of the ordinary for any season’s best closer.

To put things into perspective, “Eck” was 4-2 with a 0.61 ERA and 0.614 WHIP in 73.1 IP in 1990. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was an absurd 73:4, and he added an equally impressive 48 saves.

Not only did Eck not win the Cy Young in 1990 (finishing 5th), but he finished just 6th in the AL MVP voting process. His numbers were drastically better in 1990 than 1992, and help to illustrate how unimpressive his 1992 MVP season truly was in comparison.

2. Lou Gehrig (1934)

Lou Gehrig was a player underrated and underappreciated from the day he replaced Wally Pipp as the New York Yankees first baseman. He was overshadowed for much of his career by Babe Ruth—though he may have been just as responsible for Ruth’s breath-taking offensive performances.

Gehrig’s greatness was never ignored more starkly than during the 1934 major league season.

“The Iron Horse” captured the Triple Crown during that campaign—hitting .363 with 49 HR and 165 RBI. He also added 128 R and a .465 OBP—all without the benefit of a dangerous and productive Ruth.

Not only did Gehrig lose the MVP voting in 1934, but he finished fifth. Fifth? How can a Triple Crown winner be determined to have the fifth best season in the American League?

To make matters worse, the 1934 MVP vote went to the Detroit Tigers’ Mickey Cochrane. Gehrig lost out to a man who hit .320 with just 2 HR, 76 RBI, and 74 runs scored.

Cochrane only played in 129 games that season (Gehrig played all 154), and collected just 140 hits in comparison to Gehrig’s 210. Gehrig even stole more bases than Cochrane in 1934 (nine vs. eight).

A player who hit .43 points lower, scored 54 fewer runs, drove in 89 fewer runs, hit 47 fewer home runs, and collected 70 fewer hits was more valuable than Gehrig?

For those of you assuming the Yankees had a poor season, New York was 94-60 in 1934—winning 61 percent of their games.

* Mickey Cochrane was a player-manager and played a more important defensive position at catcher, but this alone cannot overshadow Gehrig’s godlike offensive season.

1. Ted Williams (1941, 1947)

The only thing that could possibly upstage Gehrig’s disappointment is a Hall of Fame player who was robbed of the MVP twice by division rival Joe DiMaggio.

Remember when I explained that some seasons are immortalized in baseball lore, and that these efforts should sometimes overcome a solid season by a pennant winner?

Ted Williams was ignored for epic achievements in both 1941 and 1947.

In 1941, Williams generated one of the most magical numbers in major league history when he hit .406. Never duplicated and rarely even approached since 1941, Williams’ “.406” is still recognized as one of the few statistical anomalies that may never be broken.

Unfortunately for Williams, he was put up against an equally immortalized baseball feat by a man on a pennant-winning club—DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

Even if voters chose to deem the two epic accomplishments as “equal,” Williams lead the league in walks, runs scored, home runs, slugging, on-base percentage (.553), and OPS.

Although a strong DiMaggio proponent, it is impossible for me to justify his MVP selection over a season like Williams’.

To further prolong the “head-scratching” phenomenon, Williams joined Gehrig in “Triple Crown but no MVP” purgatory in 1947.

Again losing the vote to “Joltin’ Joe,” Williams hit .343 with 32 HR, and 114 RBI—also leading the league in runs, walks, OBP, OPS, slugging, and total bases.

DiMaggio received the award even though he did not lead the league is any offensive category. He also played in 15 fewer games than Williams, hitting just .315 with 20 HR 97 RBI, and 97 R.

It can be argued that 1947 represented the worst full season of DiMaggio’s career, and it is rather difficult to argue against that notion. To hand him the MVP award is rather laughable, and an indictment on the voting process in general.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mariano Rivera and the Tale of the Wandering Remote Control

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has been deservedly credited with being the greatest relief pitcher of his generation.

On Tuesday night, I believe he also became the first pitcher to ever throw out the ceremonial first pitch and throw the final pitch of a game. The honor of course stemmed from the achievement of Rivera’s 500th career save.

During last night’s contest against the Seattle Mariners, however, I was reminded of yet another luxury of employing Rivera for ninth inning duties.

It is a phenomenon that cannot be utilized when following the New York Giants, New York Knicks, Michigan Wolverines, or any other of my beloved sports franchises.

Normally a man whose day is constructed around the three-to-four hours of baseball sanctuary that the Yankees provide, it is not uncommon that I will watch every single pitch or batted ball.

As Alex Rodriguez’s “Ruthian” blast held up until the end of the eighth inning, I found myself flipping channels with a normally quarantined remote control. It seemed like a good time to catch up on other entertainment I might have been neglecting on weeknights from 7-10 PM.

My mind was calm, secure, and untroubled, as “Enter Sandman” was inevitably blasting through the stadium’s many speakers.

Rivera had arrived to perform the task he’d completed 535 times before (including postseason) to that point, and the night’s victory had become as certain as the sun rising the next morning.

Distracted by the nonsensical conflicts of The Real World and a few cheap laughs courtesy of Family Guy, I had actually forgotten about my YES Network obsession.

By the time I had retrieved the remote to return from my digital excursion, the inning and game had already ended. Fifteen pitches of effortlessness, and the Yankee win streak had stretched to seven.

Dissenters annually claim that Rivera has “lost it” after a few poor performances—crying out for an immediate replacement. One such “solution” included Rivera sliding into the seventh inning role while Brian Bruney and Joba Chamberlain manned the eighth and ninth respectively.

Rivera has not “lost” much of anything, and in fact continues to gain more as years go on. He adds milestones, accolades, saves, victories, and birthday candles—all while continuing to dominate the rest of the league at age 39.

In the last season and a half, Rivera has 103.1 IP while giving up just 69 hits. His ERA over this period stands at 1.83, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a laughable 117:9—video games cannot produce numbers like this.

When taking into account a 97 percent save conversion percentage over this span (59-for-61), it is difficult to argue that Rivera has suddenly disappeared into the shadows of closer royalty.

Armed with just one major league pitch, and one that has decreased in velocity over the years, Rivera continues to allow channel surfing during most ninth innings.

It has been proven rather simple to embarrass professional hitters so long as your control is as pristine as Whitney Houston’s vocal tones—before being introduced to the lovely world of cocaine addiction.

Rivera admittedly does not have many years of automatic success left in his career, but all discussions of a deterioration need to be rapidly dissolved.

The Yankees already have their “closer of the future,” because as we all know, the future is now in the Bronx.

He may be nearing the end of the road, but I am not looking forward to a time when I will be consuming as many nitrates for chest pain as chips and salsa during ninth innings of Yankee games.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

He’s Baaaaaaacccck: The Five Reasons A-Rod is Turning a Corner

1. Rest Will Do a Body Good

Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees brass continued to ignore Dr. Mark Philippon’s post-surgical rehabilitation guidelines through the first six weeks of his faster-than-anticipated return.

Though initially instructed to rest once a week during this time period, A-Rod instead played on a daily basis—barely permitting Joe Girardi to put him at designated hitter for a “half day of rest.”

In order to avoid the inevitable fatigue A-Rod experienced in his hip, the team will adhere to Dr. Philippon’s regimen for at least the next month.

This will allow him to continue pool rehabilitation that may in fact prevent an expected offseason procedure, according to his surgeon.

2. The Numbers Speak For Themselves

Since the first of the aforementioned “rest periods,” A-Rod is 9-for-27 (.333) with 3 HR and 13 RBI in just eight games played.

This trio of home runs included a 400-plus foot opposite field blast in Citi Field—a place where long balls are usually sent to die like former NFL stars in Oakland. Mets announcer Keith Hernandez admitted he “had never seen anyone hit a ball that far” in the ballpark.

Similar to the gradual turnaround of David Ortiz in Boston, A-Rod has put together a humble six-game hitting streak. Not coincidentally, New York has won all six of these games—again sprinting within striking distance of their biggest divisional rival.

3. Confidence, Confidence, Confidence

Any struggling hitter will tell you that self-assurance makes up half the battle in the trenches of a major league batter’s box. The confidence in knowing that the pitcher has no chance against you makes all the difference in a 3-for-5 night as opposed to a 0-for-5.

Philosophers and theorists feel that “the failure to plan is planning to fail,” and confidence allows hitters to formulate and execute a plan at the plate—as opposed to hoping and wishing for positive results.

Listening to A-Rod answer media questions following Tuesday night’s game spoke volumes about how he is currently feeling. He stated that he feels refreshed, has heightened agility, and can reach pitches he couldn’t in past weeks.

Whether or not all of these things will continue to hold true is anyone’s guess, but he believes it, and that’s all that matters.

4. Pitchers Believe That He Is

Opposing pitchers believing that A-Rod is a dangerous hitter is almost more important than him believing it about himself.

Rodriguez has collected 10 walks in the last six games alone, which helps to portray the level of respect he has regained from a handful of hard hit balls. The combination of careful pitching and better pitch recognition has given A-Rod a .620 OBP over the last six games, as well as a .514 OBP since his rest period in Miami.

A-Rod is once again receiving sliders and changeups on 2-0 counts, and is proving to be enough of a threat to alter a pitcher’s game plan. He is soon to become an automatic intentional walk in big spots, as his successes coupled with Robinson Cano’s repeated failures will force a manager’s hand.

5. Up & In: The Black Hole of a Compromised Slugger

From David Ortiz to Ken Griffey Jr. to Hideki Matsui, the first pitch to expose an injured or deteriorating slugger is the high and inside fastball.

It requires the most hand and bat speed of any pitch in baseball, and causes embarrassing swings on outside off-speed pitches for those who need to cheat to catch up inside. This results in a hitter’s hip opening far too soon, and this “bailout” makes it virtually impossible to protect the outside corner.

A-Rod was particularly affected by this as a result of preseason hip surgery—causing him to compensate inside more than the average case. Pitchers were able to toy with him for the early part of June, and it stripped him of most of his confidence.

Last night, however, A-Rod took a fastball up and in and launched it into the night sky. It was a warning sign to anyone who planned on challenging him in the weeks to come, and will help to restore the fear he once put in the minds of anyone standing on a mound.

6. Bonus: Did You Know?

Regardless of A-Rod’s stint on the disabled list and embarrassing start to June, he is still on pace for 34 HR, 110 RBI, and a nearly .400 OBP.

When putting these numbers in the context of a 162-game average, A-Rod would be able to produce 41 HR and 134 RBI. Though his batting average stands at just .233, his power numbers are rather remarkable considering the 2009 circumstances.

He may not be the A-Rod Yankee fans know and try not to love, but all they need is for him to be a legitimate threat—something he is steadily transforming back into.
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