Saturday, October 10, 2009

Alex Rodriguez Finally Showing Up In October

Who would've thought, when the steroids story broke this spring, that it was all Alex Rodriguez needed to learn how to play baseball the right way?

A season of clutch performances later, highlighted by A-Rod's game-tying two-run homer off Minnesota's impressive closer Joe Nathan last night in game 2 of the American League Division Series, there is little doubt that this is a new man that Yankees fans are seeing.

For years, maybe for his whole career, though it undoubtedly worsened as his career numbers swelled, Rodriguez was caught in the creation of his own superhero ego. With it destroyed, he has played this year like he has nothing to lose but a baseball game, which he suddenly values more highly than anything else.

Though it is hard to forgive him for his errors in judgment, and for the role those errors will likely play in his placement atop the career home run list, A-Rod has taken the steps necessary to give himself a chance to be remembered for a different reason.

The impact that Rodriguez has had on the Yankees since his return this season is measurable. They were 13-15 through their first 28 games. After his return, they went 90-44 and established themselves as the best team in baseball this season. His 30 home runs and 100 RBI this season amount to another great statistical season. Mark Teixeira's resurgence after his return was certainly aided by Rodriguez hitting behind him.

But now, A-Rod seems to be locked in and has a chance to create a new identity. His very clutch home run and five RBIs through the first two games of the playoffs have carried the club. And if he keeps it up, and the Yanks win the World Series this year, he will be a hero. And he will be the kind of hero he has never been before. The two home runs and seven RBIs in the sixth inning of the final game of the season are looking more and more like a warning call to the postseason teams than a last-minute grab for statistics. Watch out baseball, A-Rod showed up to play this October.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chapman Worth a Hard Look From Yankees This Offseason

Most of the baseball world has become familiar with the name of the newest Cuban defector, Aroldis Chapman. The 21-year-old left-hander has a fastball that surpasses 100 MPH on occasion, which has led some people to call him the left-handed Stephen Strasburg.

Baseball Prospectus thinks that Chapman likely doesn't have the goods to be a top-line starter in the Major Leagues, however, because of some control problems. In their evaluation of similar starters from the minor leagues, the one favorable comparison that emerges is Oliver Perez. There are several successful relievers on their list, including Scott Linebrink, Brian Fuentes and Mike Gonzalez. But in this one case, I don't buy their evaluation.

Simply put, not that many lefties have raw stuff like Chapman has. While this is certainly no guarantee of immediate Major League success, it stacks the deck in his favor if his control improves at all. Secondly, the Prospectus has ranked the talent level in Cuba as equivalent to that of Low-A ball, which may be true, but I'm not sold. Cuba has performed exceptionally well in the World Baseball Classic, against premier Major League talent. Granted, those players are the All-Stars, but it leaves me wondering whether the level there may not be slightly higher. And then there is the added factor of pressure in the Cuban league. During my visit to Cuba early this decade, it was abundantly clear that the island is completely baseball-crazy and pays extraordinarily close attention to its players. Chapman, therefore, has pitched in much higher profile games than your average A-baller, and has had success.

International scouts are also very confident that Chapman is in fact 21. This is a major issue with Latin American prospects. And if he is in fact 21, he has pitched successfully at A-ball before he would have even graduated college. Do I think that Chapman can translate his experience immediately into the Major Leagues? Probably not. But plugging him in at AA to start next season isn't a bad idea.

The Yankees are right in the middle of establishing a rotation of the future. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes both appear to be a part of their long-term solution. A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia will both be around for a while yet. Chapman could spend two years developing in their system with no problems. If the Yankees keep Chien-Ming Wang, they can really explore whether he can regain that form while Chapman develops in the minors. And if he proves he cannot pitch like he used to, Chapman would give them a high-upside arm to eventually slot in in the five hole.

And for argument's sake, let's say that Prospectus is right, and Chapman ultimately is more effective as a reliever. A left-hander out of the 'pen throwing over 100 MPH is a really dangerous weapon. Even though Mariano Rivera could probably pitch relatively effectively in the Majors until his mid-fifties with the shape he is in and his pitching know-how, my gut tells me he will not linger. After he leaves, the Yankees are going to need a closer, and the fireballing lefty might provide an intriguing option.

So, let me pass along a word of advice to Brian Cashman: sign Aroldis Chapman. Talents like him simply don't come around that often, and when they do, they are usually subject to the draft. Top teams like the Yankees don't get the first bite at domestic players with skills like Chapman's, and infusing a talent like that into your organization is always a good idea, even if they end up trade bait down the line.

Then there is the final motivating factor. The Red Sox seem interested in the kid as well. And the Yankees lefty-heavy lineup is already going to have to cope with a maturing David Price in their division. If Chapman lives up to his ability, he could become a dangerous Yankee-killer lefty that beats them three or four times every year.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Midpoint grades

Well, the All-Star game has come and gone. Derek Jeter has scored two more runs in the Midsummer Classic, and Mariano Rivera has picked up his record fourth save in eight scoreless All-Star innings. But with the schedule ready to resume tomorrow, I'm going to look at the Yankees production thus far and rank their performance.

This is a little harsh considering the fact that they are 2.5 games up in the Wild Card race, 3 games back of the Red Sox and have the third best record in baseball overall. But fans have to be concerned about the streaky tendency that this team has shown so far this year. The inability of this team to beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Boston Red Sox also has to cause fans to chew off some cuticles. And with the massive free agent additions the Yankees made this offseason, the Wild Card simply isn't enough (but I'll take it) for an A. Let's not forget a B+ is a very good grade.

A.J. Burnett: A (8-4, 3.77 ERA, 101 Ks in 107.1 IP, 1.38 WHIP)
My concerns about A.J. Burnett coming into this season were centered around his 4.07 ERA last season. It didn't seem right to me that a guy with an ERA that high could be expected to win 16-18 games regularly. Despite some rough streaks, Burnett has been downright dominant over the last month or so, and has lowered his ERA this season to an impressive 3.77 in the Bandbox in the Bronx. Outperforming your contract year in a tougher ballpark always earns you a nod in my book.

CC Sabathia: A- (8-6, 3.86 ERA, 95 Ks in 128.1 IP, 1.15 WHIP)
I was tempted to drop Sabathia to a B+ even though he has been the obvious ace of the staff so far this year strictly because his ERA is higher than Burnett's at 3.86. Also, if you told me Sabathia would be two games over .500 but the Yankees would be 14 over at the break I would have called you crazy. Sabathia's saving grace is his stellar WHIP. It is pretty clear he has been pitching better than his results so far, so hold out hope that he will dominate the way he usually does down the stretch run.

Andy Pettitte: B- (8-5, 4.85 ERA, 70 Ks in 107.2 IP, 1.53 WHIP)
Ouch! That WHIP is ugly! And the ERA is, too! But he has pitched 0.1 more innings than Burnett, lost one less game than Sabathia and won as many as both of them. You can't be mad at the record, but the peripherals tell me that his second half will not be as positive. And when Pettitte stinks these days, he really stinks.

Joba Chamberlain: D+ (4-2, 4.25 ERA, 78 Ks in 89 IP, 1.56 WHIP)
Chamberlain has lost steam on his fastball with the move to the rotation, taking him from unhittable to just slightly better than average. His location is horrible, and he struggles to make it out of the fifth inning of most of his starts. He walks everyone he doesn't strike out. Worse yet, he has such a big ego that he spends 2/3 of his time on the mound shaking off Jorge Posada's pitch selection. This kid has some serious maturing to do before he can handle starting in the major leagues at the level he is capable of.

Chien-Ming Wang: F (Wish I could go lower) (1-6, 9.64 ERA, 29 Ks in 42 IP, 2.02 WHIP)
What is there to say about Wang's season that hasn't already been said about the Titanic. A repeat 19-game winner has turned into baseball's worst pitcher. He started giving up fly balls to soar over the shorter fences in New Yankee Stadium. He can't locate, he looks alternately scared and lost, his sinker has left him and the Yankees feel he is more valuable on the Disabled List than on the mound. I guess Wang is a lot like most products made in Taiwan: he looks pretty good for a couple of years and then falls apart completely.

BULLPEN: C+ Overall
Alfredo Aceves: A+ (100 percent) (5-1, 2.49 ERA, 36 Ks in 43.1 IP, 0.97 WHIP)
This guy is a pitcher. Plain and simple. He can pitch late in ballgames. He can serve as mop-up. He's lights out as a spot starter. Think Ramiro Mendoza, but somehow better with less stuff. The Yankees should hold onto him for a long time.

Mariano Rivera: A+ (1-2, 2.43 ERA, 23 out of 24 saves, 43 Ks in 37 IP, 0.89 WHIP)
After some early season struggles that had the league saying "Mariano's losing it" for the 50th time, Rivera is back. You get the feeling he could be dominant with his cutter at 57 years old. It is effortless for him. 500 saves only begins to tell his greatness. And he is way better than Trevor Hoffman.

Phil Coke: A (3.99 ERA, 31 Ks in 38.1 IP, 9 Holds, 3 BSV, 1.04 WHIP)
Coke blew up in his last appearance before the break, or that ERA would have been about a run lower. Still, he has been the steady presence in a bullpen in flux all season. The Yankees have found themselves a formidable lefty in the absence of Damaso Marte.

Phil Hughes: A- (3-2, 3.91 ERA, 50 Ks in 53 IP, 1.21 WHIP)
Hughes has had the opposite of Chamberlain's season: he moved to the bullpen and his velocity went from average to plus. His early season struggles in the rotation hide his midseason dominance in the ERA department. Since moving to the setup role, Hughes has been nothing short of electric. I wonder if he can sustain the velocity in the rotation. It might be time to switch him and Joba.

Brian Bruney: C- (3-0, 4.86 ERA, 18 Ks in 16.2 IP, 7 Holds, 1.32 WHIP)
Bruney continues to have injury and control problems and the Yankees continue to see him as a setup man. Blows my mind.

David Robertson: D+ (1-0, 3.57 ERA, 34 Ks in 22.2 IP, 16 BB, 1.41 WHIP)
Robertson strikes out a lot of batters, and that has impressed people. His stuff is undeniably nasty, but he cannot hit the broad side of a barn with it. His numbers will swell as the league gets used to him and as they realize they will get on base if they do not swing. It has already started to happen. Get this kid to an optometrist. He reminds me of Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn from Major League.

Brett Tomko: F (1-2, 5.23 ERA, 11 Ks in 20.2 IP, 1.26 WHIP)
Don't let the good WHIP and only mildly bad ERA fool you. Whenever he is facing a decent team, or the Yankees put him in a close game, he blows up like the Fourth of July. Only should be pitched down ten or more runs.

CATCHER: B+ Overall
Jorge Posada: A- (.285 BA, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 29 R, .369 OBP, .877 OPS)
Posada has compiled nice power and production totals in only 193 AB. The Yankees had to wonder what they would get from him after his injury last year, and what they have gotten is a solid Posada season. His arm isn't what it used to be, and he has had some trouble gelling with some of the new faces in the rotation, but he is still one of the best in the business.

Francisco Cervelli: B (.269 BA, 1 (important) HR, 9 RBI, .284 OBP, .630 OPS)
In Jose Molina and Jorge Posada's absence, Cervelli stepped up big time. For a catcher with no real hitting skills, the guy seemed to get a lot of clutch hits. And his defense, pitch calling and arm are all above league average. His speed is also impressive for his position. His is the feel-good story of the year for the Yankees, and he managed to hold his weight at a time the Yankees were desperate for someone to step up. Too bad Molina's back, this kid's energy is fantastic.

INFIELD: A- Overall
Derek Jeter: A+ (.321 BA, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 56 R, 110 H, 17/20 SB, .396 OBP, .857 OPS)
Derek Jeter found a time machine, and it brought him all the way to starting at shortstop in the All-Star game. In a season where the outfield has been less productive, A-Rod stunk for a portion of the year, and the pitching has had its ups and downs, the captain has had to pick up a lot of the slack. He is in the top-10 in the league in batting average. He is stealing bases and hitting home runs like it was 1999, and he has been more patient in the leadoff spot. Add to that the fact that he is playing some of the best shortstop of his career, and the writers should seriously consider him for MVP if the Yankees overtake the Red Sox this season. What more do you want from a guy?

Mark Teixeira: A (.275 BA, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 56 R, 23 2B, .378 OBP, .913 OPS)
Teixeira has had a great all-around offensive season. He has emerged as the best hitter on A-Rod's team so far this year. His defense at first base has won the Yankees several games this season. He also definitely deserved to start at first in the All-Star game. This is looking like one of the best signings the Yankees have ever made, from an all-around perspective. He would have had an A+ with a slightly better batting average and a little less streakiness.

Alex Rodriguez: B (.256 BA, 17 HR, 50 RBI, 35 R, .411 OBP, .959 OPS)
Rodriguez's production this year is absurd considering he has only had 199 at-bats. He would be on pace for 51-55 home runs if he had not missed time. But what is even crazier about his numbers is that he amassed them while clearly struggling with his timing after returning from injury. He was searing hot entering the break. Expect a monster second half if his hip doesn't collapse under the pressure of proving he can hit without steroids or a mirror to kiss.

Robinson Cano: C+ (.308 BA, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 61 R, .341 OBP, .831 OPS)
I hate it when a good batting average masks a player's bad hitting. Cano only had 17 walks in the first half. He also struck out only 27 times. He gets a lot of hits, but swings at terrible pitches almost every at bat. His strikeout total is less a result of skill than a sheer inability to let a pitch he can reach go by. He could be hitting .340 or .350 if he just learned the strike zone.

OUTFIELD: C+ Overall
Johnny Damon: A- (.276 BA, 16 HR, 50 RBI, 62 R, 19 2B, 3 3B, 8/8 SB, .362 OBP, .872 OPS)
Damon loves that rightfield fence in the New House. His production has been out of this world this year, but his batting average has suffered a little bit. The Yankees needed him to play this way, though, in Alex Rodriguez's absence. I'm rooting for him to hit 30 home runs this year, and in the new park, it's a real possibility.

Nick Swisher: B (.237 BA, 14 HR, 47 RBI, 43 R, 18 2B, .360 OBP, .824 OPS)
As my blog shows, before the year started I was a big proponent of Xavier Nady's. Forget him. The way Swisher works the count has made Bobby Abreu's departure irrelevant. He is a tough out almost every single time, and he has more than a little pop left in his bat even though he is undeniably streaky. Unfortunately, his rightfield defense also reminds me of Abreu, minus the arm. His average is unsightly, but that .360 OBP is stellar for a guy in his position. He gets everything out of his skill set.

Melky Cabrera: B- (.285 BA, 8 HR, 34 RBI, .347 OBP, .786 OPS)
Melky once again looks like a nice little player in this league. His average and on-base percentage have rebounded, and his range and arm in the outfield are nothing to be sneezed at. He is by no means a star, but he's a tough little player and he's hard not to root for. Especially when he seems to be a big piece in every other late inning rally like he did in the first half.

Brett Gardner: C+ (.282 BA, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 36 R, 5 3B, 18/22 SB, .352 OBP, .757 OPS)
Gardner has definitely hit the ball better this year than last year, and his stolen base numbers are very solid considering he only has 188 at-bats. But then there's the issue of on-base percentage. He needs to get it up over .400 if he is going to use his one major league tool to the fullest of its potential. His range in the outfield is very good. His arm is not. He will not stop Austin Jackson from eventually taking this position.

Hideki Matsui: C (.265 BA, 14 HR, 40 RBI, 29 R, .367 OBP, .884 OPS)
This is the one time (besides Cervelli, who succeeded in my book for his guts) in this grading system that OPS has not been a fantastic gauge of the grade a player ends up with. Matsui's power and production have been much better than I anticipated this year. But I attribute all of it to his left-handed pull swing and the short porch. He cannot run anymore. He has to DH because his body is shot. The Yankees would be crazy to bring him back next year. He simply is not the same ballplayer. Someone will overpay him next year, and unless its a small ballpark, they will pay for that in every way except for international merchandising revenue.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Wang Down...Where's the Hughes Love?

I hate being right. Remember when I said Phil Hughes or Alfredo Aceves would probably have to step out of bullpen roles to fill in as starters this year? Brace yourself. Chien-Ming Wang (and his glorious, barely single-digit ERA) has gone down with a strained right shoulder. His MRI also revealed bursitis. Manager Joe Girardi and the organization haven't had much to say about the Yankees' plans to fill the gap in the rotation, but Girardi did mention that he didn't expect Wang to start throwing at least until after the All-Star break.

In response to Wang's injury, the Yankees have recalled Jonathan Albaladejo and his 6.00 ERA through 21 IP.

Now, one thing is for certain. Albaladejo will not be making any starts in Wang's place. ESPN seems to think that the logical move for the Yankees is to call up Sergio Mitre from AAA to fill the hole in the rotation. The New York Daily News says that Phil Hughes has become too valuable to move out of the bullpen. Girardi seems to be fighting with the idea himself. He said Hughes had become "really, really important" in the setup role. With Brian Bruney's recent struggles, it's hard to argue.

I love Sergio Mitre. He has had flashes of brilliance at the Major League level. Two things, however, must be considered before he is called up to fill in for Wang. First, the Yankees also have Alfredo Aceves with the big club right now. He has pitched very well for the second consecutive year, and he showed promise last year as a starter. He has earned a shot with the Yankees, and he could be a starter in the longterm. The thing he has proven is that he is a versatile and talented arm, and the Yankees should consider taking this opportunity to see where he seems to fit best.

Secondly, Phil Hughes' development is more important than the 2009 season. That sentence may be unthinkable to most Yankees' fans. But the reality is that it is true. Hughes has finally begun to pitch with confidence at the big league level. It took years for him to truly command the game. And now he is looking virtually untouchable. The team needs to figure out if the extra velocity on his fastball that has been showing up in relief (it has recently climbed from 91-92 MPH to 95-96 MPH) is a result of the different nature of the workload or if he has simply physically matured at age 23. He does look more solid this season, for what its worth, so that isn't entirely out of the question.

But Hughes is supposed to be our go-to guy of the future. Joba Chamberlain has flashy stuff, and he strikes people out, but he isn't a pitcher yet. He is a thrower with really good stuff that overcompensates for his arrogant attitude on the mound and his lack of command. He is constantly pitching for the swing and miss. That is why he was effective late in games when he came up. He suffers from pre-Roy Halladay A.J. Burnett syndrome. Outs don't matter. Just strikeouts.

Chamberlain will most likely be a very good #2 starter at the Major League level someday, and if he becomes a control pitcher, he will be Roger Clemens (without steroids...and also without pitching into his 60's). But he doesn't have the combination of command and stuff that Hughes does. Hughes can be a #1 starter. He should get this chance to see if he can parlay his new confidence into succesful starts in the bigs. That confidence could be the thing that shows the kid he can be dominant with the big club as a starter. He needs the chance to develop his mentality on the mound.

In an ironic twist, the act of telling Hughes he has earned your confidence in the bullpen may have hurt his feelings. If he (who has probably been working with the hope of sticking with the club and filling in if anyone got hurt) gets rejected because of his success, it may mess with his psyche. Give the kid a big vote of confidence and hand him the ball. He is the future of your franchise. Even if it means that the team loses two more games this year because the bullpen is in flux, we need Hughes to feel important and feel like the Yankees are giving him the chances he so obviously deserves.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jerry Crasnick Answers My Bullpen Questions from Yesterday

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick had some interesting comments about the Yankees' bullpen today in the rumor section of their website. I'll run it as a whole quote:

"The Yankees bullpen has logged 225 innings, fourth most in the American League, so I can see Brian Cashman trolling around for a veteran reliever. David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke and Brian Bruney all have solid numbers, but that's a pretty inexperienced group. Depending on what happens with Chien-Ming Wang, you never know when Phil Hughes might have to slide back into the rotation. The Yankees also aren't sure when or if Damaso Marte will return from shoulder problems this season. So I can see the Yanks being interested if Jose Valverde, Huston Street or someone of that ilk becomes available."

Crasnick goes on to say that the Yankees don't need a bat, because they are first in the league in OPS and second in runs scored even with A-Rod scuffling and Xavier Nady rehabbing. The site also made note of Cashman opting to attend yesterday's Braves/Yankees game. It is significant. When Cashman does this, it often means (in the words of Sam Cooke) that a change is gonna come.

Michael Kay said during last night's broadcast that Cashman had planned to attend Sergio Mitre's start in Scranton until he jettisoned to Atlanta. Mitre could enter the equation soon. He almost certainly has to be better than Brett Tomko.

But, Cashman's presence at the game yesterday has to have a similar feel to Vladimir Putin showing up at a Russian newspaper. Somebody's going to go, but who will it be? Jose Veras was the first bullpen casualty. We'll see who Cashman axes next.

On another note, Valverde and Street are both solid relievers, but trading a lot for them may not be a great idea. It seems like whenever the Yankees acquire a big name reliever (especially from the National League, where both of these guys currently pitch) midseason they implode on arrival. The bandbox in the Bronx can't help. I'd rather see them get an AL arm if possible. Preferrably someone with good numbers in a small ballpark.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Veras Trade Makes Little Sense

The Yankees have had difficulties with their bullpen all season. The problems have been somewhat mitigated of late with the simultaneous emergence of Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves, David Robertson and Phil Hughes. So, with the troubles apparently gone, and Brian Bruney back in the mix, the Yanks did the logical thing and dealt away their depth, Jose Veras. Wrong.

I will keep Phil Coke out of the discussion. He is a lefty with a 3.64 ERA in an overwhelmingly right-handed bullpen. His numbers are all good, if not dominant. He deserves to be in the bullpen, even if Damaso Marte comes back effectively at any point this season.

Robertson has been good. But the sample size doesn't convince me that he is a top-line reliever. He has allowed 19 men on base (including an inexcusable 10 walks) in 15.2 innings, which smells to me like a formula for trouble. His 2.30 ERA and 24 strikeouts are both very impressive, but until he stops walking too many men (about 5.75 per nine innings) there is a real possibility that his numbers will dip substantially.

As for Bruney, his injuries continue to be an issue. He seems to spend about half of his time on the disabled list or battling with his control. The remainder of the time, he is very effective, but he is hard to count upon as a late-inning gun because of the persistent issues mentioned above.

Alfredo Aceves is a bulldog. I'm not going to deny his prowess. His WHIP is 1.00 in 31 innings, and his strikeout to walk ratio is 27-to-6. Fantastic stuff. So fantastic, in fact, that I feel like his future may be in the starting rotation given the difficulties of Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain.

The same argument applies to the emergent Phil Hughes. His ERA has quietly dropped to 4.57 during his stint in the bullpen, and he has looked downright dominant in several recent appearances. His season whip is a respectable 1.30. His BB/9 is just below 3.4, which is acceptable if not fantastic. It puts him closer to CC Sabathia than A.J. Burnett in terms of control this season.

So to recap, the Yankees have Phil Coke and Mariano Rivera locked into a seven-man bullpen. David Robertson has been effective so far, but his command is an issue. Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney are frequently hurt. Alfredo Aceves and Phil Hughes could be pushed into the rotation depending on how Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain's control develop. Edwar Ramirez is a backup plan who has proven to be a one-trick pony with his changeup, and Brett Tomko is a human batting tee with an affinity for turning over leads.

So why on Earth would the Yankees trade Jose Veras to the Cleveland Indians for (wait for it) CASH? Veras was the Yankees' best reliever last season, when he had a 3.59 ERA in 57.2 innings. This year, his control has been seriously questioned, because he walked 14 men in 25.2 innings. This translates to a 4.91 BB/9 rate, or lower than Robertson's. And last year, he walked 29 in his 57.2, or 4.53 BB/9. The number didn't go up as significantly as announcers and columnists seem to think. And they are still considerably better than Robertson's 5.75 this season. True, Veras' ERA was 5.96 so far, but slightly better control could have returned him much closer to his performance last season. I am definitely not sure Robertson is any better control-wise, and the Yankees are now without one of their highest-upside relievers.

I could understand trading him for a different reliever. I cannot understand giving him away. Nice trade, Indians' GM Mark Shapiro. You may have just added a very good piece to your bullpen for years, if you can help him with his control a little bit. And the Yankees may well miss him when they realize that their bullpen still isn't set in stone.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Teixeira Taking Heat off A-Rod

Can anyone imagine where the Yankees would be right now without Mark Teixeira?

Alex Rodriguez is hitting just a shade over .230 with eight home runs in mid-June. Granted he is coming off of an injury that cost him roughly half of the season so far, but without Teixeira's obscene production (he just hit his 20th home run of the season off Livan Hernandez) it is hard to imagine Rodriguez struggling this quietly.

Given the steroids questions, the unflattering mirror-kissing imagery and the nasty Selena Roberts book, the New York media has been relatively forgiving of Rodriguez's sub-par play thus far.

A-Rod's production hasn't been terrible so far. The home runs and RBI's have been coming, but the perennial All-Star has yet to look comfortable at the plate. It is obvious that his pitch recognition isn't where it usually is at this point in the season. It is also clear that he is not yet comfortable enough at the plate to hit the ball to the opposite field. But short of the Yankees' inexplicable inability to beat the Boston Red Sox so far this year, the team has looked dominant without their marquee player.

It is scary to think what this offense will look like once Rodriguez really gets cranking, assuming he does because of his flat-out historical greatness. The Hall of Fame debate is to be held at a later date, but it is hard to argue the supremacy of the enigmatic #13. Hopefully Rodriguez can get his balance in the box before Teixeira slows down and exposes his struggles.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jeter, Yankees fit new park

Don't look now, but Derek Jeter is on pace for 20-25 home runs and 30+ steals. The new Yankee Stadium and Jeter's obsessive new preparation techniques have proven to be a time machine for the Captain, who is playing like it's a decade earlier.

Six of Jeter's eight home runs have come at home so far this year. Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira are all loving hitting lefty at the new park. Their power numbers are all up. Alex Rodriguez and Jeter both have a substantial amount of power to right, which means that nearly every Yankee starter can expect to produce more this year. This team is 18-11 at home so far, and it is perfectly constructed for the new bandbox. Future Yankees' general managers take note. Even an injury-diminished Hideki Matsui has shown some pop thanks to the friendly confines.

But for Jeter, this power surge has extra meaning. After his eighth home run of the season against Tampa Bay last night, Jeter sits at 214 career dingers. He is a couple of 20-home run seasons away from a real chance at 300 career home runs. Now, I didn't think that was anywhere near possible coming into this season, but with the new park, who knows? And if Jeter gets to 300 home runs, his already very good chances of reaching the Hall of Fame become great chances.

Also, Jeter's contract expires at the end of next season, and there have been rumblings for a couple of years now about what the Yankees could do with him in light of his diminished shortstop defense. One of the big concerns was that Jeter's power production was dropping, meaning he could not be a factor at designated hitter or in left field. If Jeter can hit around 20 home runs each of the next two seasons, to go with his usual .300+ batting average, the odds increase that Jeter remains valuable to the team. And like many Yankees fans, it would kill part of my soul to see the Yankees push Jeter out the door the way they did Bernie Williams.

So thanks to the architects, or Babe Ruth's ghost, or wind currents or inexplicable air density anomaly. Your penchant to take balls out to right field at the New House may mean that I get to see Derek Jeter retire as a Yankee, when he's good and ready.

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Yankee Stadium, The National Anthem and Sarah Palin

I had the privilege of attending my first Yankee game at the new stadium on Sunday, and I walked into the ballpark with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was depressed about the death of the old cathedral and the gentrification of baseball in New York. On the other hand, it's where the Yankees play now, it is state of the art and it kept a lot of the feel of the old stadium.

I was overwhelmed by the Great Hall (second image) when I arrived.

I tried to go to the Yankees museum. The line was too long, but the sense of respect for the team's history helped me breathe easier.

But then, before the game, the humongous JumboTron in center field displayed an image of good old Sarah "Barracuda" Palin with her husband Todd, the secessionist, and the Giulianis (first image). The crowd was largely silent at first, but an audible round of boos soon followed. I was upset by her presence, but the stadium always shows the famous people in the audience. But what followed was totally unacceptable to me.

A smiling Palin was shown on the JumboTron a second time during the National Anthem. Now, don't get me wrong. I know how Republican the Yankees' ownership is. John Sterling practically drools every time Rudy shows up at a game. But showing her during the National Anthem rubbed me entirely the wrong way.

Sarah Palin inferred that New Yorkers weren't real Americans during the election. She was in our city and the people in charge of the Yankees saw fit to show her up there, as if to say she is a great American? The woman is, quite frankly, a moron, and she hates anyone who isn't extremely right wing and born-again Christian. She probably would like to see New York wiped off the map. And there are questions about how involved she and her husband were in a secessionist group in Alaska. How is she a great American?

Showing her during that song was such a partisan move that it honestly made me a little sick for the first couple innings of the game. It made me look a little bit closer at the luxury boxes and it reminded me of the negatives about the new home. It's still very impressive, but why, whenever something good appears in New York, do we have to kick out the poor?

My mother booed Palin during the National Anthem, and I was temporarily worried for our safety, but no one complained or looked sideways at her.

In other news, the Yankees won the game 4-3, behind an eighth inning rally/Tampa Bay collapse. The Rays were up 3-1 and proceeded to give up two hits and four walks. They also made an error, and played their way out of an inning-ending double play when Reid Brignac decided to try to tag the lead runner, which allowed Hideki Matsui's gimpy knee to beat the throw to first and let the winning run score.

The stadium was rocking from the first hit of the inning. You get the sense that Yankees fans are starting to expect late-inning drama from this team. There is an undeniable swagger about them right now. Granted, the Yankees didn't come up with a huge hit. Tampa handed the game away. They just don't look like the same team they were last year so far, which is a huge shock considering how young, deep and talented they are.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cringing at Sabathia's attempted barehand plays

The Yankees need to talk to C.C. Sabathia about barehanding balls hit back at the mound. He was extraordinarily good again tonight in Cleveland, allowing three runs in seven innings while striking out eight. But twice during the game, he reached for batted balls hit at him with his pitching hand. The last thing the newly-gelled Yankees need is a silly injury to their ace.

Sabathia is pitching like himself now, though. Over his last five starts Sabathia is 4-0, bringing his record to 5-3. Over that stretch, he has gone 39 innings, allowing nine runs (2.08 ERA) while striking out 32. He has allowed 26 hits and nine walks in those starts for a WHIP of 0.90. His ERA for the season now stands at 3.46, and he has 56 strikeouts in 78 innings pitched. He has started to appear in the top-10 of many of the American League pitching categories.

That is why it is so alarming to see C.C. trying to grab the ball with those valuable fingers. The first time he went for the ball, he was 4.1 innings into no-hitting his old team, so I understand the impulse to preserve the game. But the second time, it appeared that he was simply frustrated because he had run into a little trouble. Joe Girardi needs to tell him that it is best for the team if Sabathia uses his glove or lets his infielders go for the ball.

Besides that snipe, the Yanks are looking pretty solid at 29-20. They sit 1.5 games up on the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays atop the AL East leader board. They are two games up in the loss column on Boston, and three games up on Toronto.

GAME NOTES 5/31...Jorge Posada homered in the Yankees 10-5 victory over Cleveland, and looked comfortable at the plate for the second straight day since he came off the disabled list...Nick Swisher also hit a long home run to center field, putting his season total at 10...Jose Veras gave up two runs in an inning of relief, pushing his season ERA to 6.97. He threw 14 strikes out of his 23 pitches and gave up a home run to Shin-Soo Choo. Veras continues not to look like the confident late inning reliever he was last year. The Yankees have to hope that Alfredo Aceves is truly an answer for them at setup man...Michael Kay said that the Yankees were unlikely to keep three catchers when Jose Molina returns to the club shortly. That spells an end to Francisco Cervelli's productive stint with the club. The kid definitely earned a closer look in the coming seasons.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wieters' arrival a date to mark on your calendar

We saw last season what an influx of young talent can do to a solid team. Evan Longoria's arrival in Tampa Bay turned a solid team into a great one. David Price didn't hurt either, en route to the American League pennant. While the expectations should be slightly lower for the Baltimore Orioles this year, Matt Wieters' debut tonight is no less important for the future of the AL East.

The Joe Mauer comparisons are inevitable. The kid is a four-tool player (minus speed) who plays one of the most critical (and talent weak) positions in the sport. Expect Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts to cause headaches as the pennant race heats up. The Orioles may not yet be in position to challenge for the title, but once the crop of young pitchers the O's are training in the minor leagues hit, the AL East will be completely up for grabs.

At no point in my baseball viewing career have I seen a division as stocked with talent as the East has the potential to be in two years. If the Rays can hold onto their players, and the Jays add a reliable power bat and an arm or two around Roy Halladay that they can truly rely on, the division could end up with any team that plays there for years. The competition promises tons of drama, and a lot of hurt feelings. Buckle your seatbelts. One Oriole jokingly called him the "switch-hitting Jesus."

But the first step towards this supreme East will occur tonight, when the 23-year-old switch-hitter steps in against Detroit for his first Major League at-bat. We'll all get to see what he can do over the next chunk of time. He hit .400 in spring training, but his competition is certainly going to raise a level here in the regular season.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Yankees Starting to Click

The Yankees currently find themselves in the middle of a five-game winning streak, and the last three against the Minnesota Twins have been worthy of writing home about.

Friday night: Melky Cabrera hits a two-run single to tie the game and then walk off with a victory in the ninth.

Saturday night: Alex Rodriguez hits a two-run shot to win the game in extra innings.

Sunday night: Johnny Damon takes one to right to win the game 3-2 in the 10th.

The Yankees finally seem to be clicking. The pitching has been solid, the offense timely, and the team is starting to rally around one another. The mobs at home plate have been predictably boisterous, and A.J. Burnett has started a trend of hitting the walk-off hero in the face with a whipped cream pie.

This is looking promising. I wonder what they have in store for tomorrow. But the most important part of all of this dramatic baseball is that you get the sense that the Yanks are starting to feel like they are never out of a ballgame. It is that kind of swagger that wins divisions, and yes, wins championships.

A-Rod also went deep again today, and although Paul O'Neill pointed out that his upper and lower body aren't really in full sync yet, you have to feel like he is getting there. Once he gets going, we can expect Mark Teixeira to wake up a bit, and that's when the real fun begins.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Steroids, Manny and A-Rod

This whole situation stinks. A lot.

As a child at Little League camp in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, I used to collect baseball cards to trade with the other kids and place in card books. The time: the mid to late 1990s.

I believe that the cards we used to buy at the camp shop were Upper Deck cards, and one of the various special inserts that happened to show up regularly were stickers of the game's best.

My favorite players ended up on a white Ikea cubby that sat next to my bed. Scrawled in pencil next to the faces of Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and others were Derek Jeter's career home runs, year by year, and the running count of the Yankees' World Championships.

I ran into that cubby in storage a few months ago, and I stopped and looked at the faces, next to the stickers with their names and their team banners. Almost all of the players that I grew up idolizing will never be in the Hall of Fame. Adding Manny and A-Rod to this list is painful, so my first reaction was to give both guys the benefit of the doubt.

But Jayson Stark gave me the information I didn't seek out on my own about Manny's claim that he had a health issue and a doctor gave him a banned medication.

"It wasn't as if he had a toothache here, and he needed a prescription for a painkiller. It wasn't as if he had a sinus infection, and he needed a prescription for an antibiotic.

He was taking a -- what? -- a female fertility drug? Why? Maybe he just wanted to marry the octo-mom. Ya got me.

I've read through all the prescribed uses I could find online for human chorionic gonadotropin (similar to Clomid), which is reporting is the drug in question. And let me tell you -- I'm almost 100 percent certain that Manny wasn't suffering from an inability to ovulate. Or polycystic ovarian syndrome. And if he was, there's a lot more he hasn't been telling us than what really went on in those bizarre final days in Boston.

If you read more extensively about this drug, though, you'll learn that it IS occasionally used to address male infertility. Except if you read the small print, you'll also learn that, according to

"The FDA has not approved the use of Clomid in men, nor has it been found to be especially effective."

Great. So why would a doctor be prescribing it for a guy like Manny, then?

Good question, huh?

A truly upstanding male-fertility doctor wouldn't be likely to do that, right? And a truly upstanding doctor treating a professional athlete would also be likely to know it could cause him to set off a major drug-testing alarm, right?

So where's the logical explanation here? That's a question all rational Americans should be asking right now."

You can read the rest of that article here, and it is a very good one.

The point is, Manny's claim that he had a personal health issue is ludicrous. This is a medicine associated with female fertility issues that is virtually off-limits to men. Manny cheated. On purpose.

The guy I grew up in awe of (because I was a right-handed hitter), the Ted Williams of my childhood will never be in the Hall of Fame. I will never be able to take my son there to look at his plaque and tell him stories about Manny's feats against my Yankees. I will never be able to talk about his magnificent plate vision, easy stroke and flare for the dramatic. Or about the quirky personality of the enigmatic kid from New York. My kid won't be able to look at him as an example of a guy from his area that made it big. Because from here on out, Manny Ramirez is a baseball ghost like Shoeless Joe Jackson. And so are the rest of the baseball stories that I witnessed as a child.

Meanwhile, Jason Whitlock is giving me pause about the Alex Rodriguez book's claims:

"Not long ago, sports writer Selena Roberts compared the Duke lacrosse players to gang members and career criminals.

She claimed that the players’ unwillingness to confess to or snitch about a rape (that did not happen) was the equivalent of drug dealers and gang members promoting antisnitching campaigns.

When since-disgraced district attorney Mike Nifong whipped up a media posse to rain justice on the drunken, male college students, Roberts jumped on the fastest, most influential horse, using her New York Times column to convict the players and the culture of privilege that created them.

Proven inaccurate, Roberts never wrote a retraction for the columns that contributed to the public lynching of Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty and David Evans.

Instead, she moved on to Sports Illustrated, a seat on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” and a new target, baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez.

Last week, the New York Daily News and The New York Times acquired “leaked” copies of Roberts’ soon-to-be-released biography, “A-Rod.” In it, according to the two New York newspapers, Roberts paints a highly unflattering picture of Rodriguez as a human being and, among other things, speculates that Rodriguez used steroids in high school.

Roberts’ speculative opinions are deemed as so credible by ESPN and others that the Worldwide Leader ran all-day updates stating that Selena Roberts believes that it’s “irrefutable” that Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs while a teenager.

At no point did ESPN’s TV anchors or radio broadcasters mention that Roberts was the same person who led the media charge against the Duke lacrosse players. I listened to Roberts’ interview on Dan Patrick’s radio show. Patrick never asked her about Duke lacrosse or why we should trust her reporting.

In its news story about her book, The New York Times failed to allude to her position on the Duke lacrosse case. I’ll give the Times credit for including one sentence of clarification in its news story:

“Some of the accusations in the book are based on anonymous sources, and others are simply presented as knowledge the author has without an explanation of how the information was obtained.”

Translation: the majority of the stuff written in her book is information the National Enquirer might reject."

That article can be read here. It is also very good.

The bottom line is that Roberts is a crusader. Whitlock basically claimed she had a chip on her shoulder and would say anything to further her perspective, which is apparently that athletes encourage chauvinism. Both Whitlock and myself agree with her stance. But we don't agree with her methods.

Anyone who is using news to push an agenda should make 100 percent certain that any claims they are printing are backed up by credible people. Moral backruptcy plus an agenda leads to Fox News. The people on that channel are so intent on getting people on their side that they feel comfortable fabricating, exaggerating and using questionable sources in their quest. The worst part is that these extrapolations are also presented as pure fact frequently. Roberts sounds like she is cut from the same cloth, but coming from a more liberal, feminist framework. Shoddy journalism is shoddy journalism, no matter what political views they are espousing.

Roberts' anonymous sources could be knowledgeable. Or they could be her next door neighbor's grandfather with Alzheimer's. She doesn't strike me as trustworthy.

For Rodriguez's legacy, it really doesn't matter whether the allegations are true. He is already out of the Hall of Fame, and he is already viewed as a cheater. Most fans probably already see him as a lifelong steroid user. His plaque has been burned. I hope he helps the Yankees win another World Series or two. My cubby could use a couple more notches on it.

And in my mind's eye, my view shifts from the glut of dirty players to the final two untarnished stickers. Ken Griffey Jr., as a Seattle Mariner, poses after a home run. Derek Jeter dives across home plate and hits a ball to the opposite field. The rest of the cluster seems to be beckoning to them, but the last centimeter of youthful hope refuses to let me see them as part of the overall picture. As long as these two remain clean, there will be plenty for me to tell my children.

I check to see where Derek Jeter stands on his current home run total. He is currently at 210. As a child, I desperately wanted to see him reach 300. He almost certainly never will. And if in fact he is as clean as I believe he is (and I wouldn't be too surprised if he took amphetamines. I think almost everyone since Joe DiMaggio has, and hey, it's a really long season) I really, really respect that he will barely miss that important milestone. In the steroids era, he didn't have to. But he may just have had the integrity to present his case to the voters fairly.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Final Chimp Rodeo Count...And I'm back to Suicide Squeeze

Hey there loyal non-readers!
I have officially finished my stint with the Chimpanzee Rodeo blog for Kevin Blackistone's sports journalism class at the University of Maryland. This blog now has my undivided attention again. Here are some links with recent work of mine.

1) On Nick Swisher's hot here.

2) On the new Yankee here.

3) On Xavier Nady's here.

4) On Johnny Damon's choice words for Chien-Ming here.

5) On Jed Lowrie's injury and the Boston shortstop here.

6) On Wang's demotion to the minors and Phil Hughes' here.

7) On Carlos Pena's here.

8) On Hughes' here.

9) On Robinson Cano's here.

Hope you enjoy the last of my blogs from that wonderful experience. I look forward to devoting my time to this site once again.
All the best,
Nick Ruggia

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rookie Pitcher Adenhart's Death a Tragedy

Right before the Orioles/Yankees game started this afternoon, I was perplexed to see Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart receive a moment of silence. A large image of his face and name, and his birth and death years, filled the screen. I got to and sure enough, the 22-year old stud was killed in a car crash. My sincerest condolences go out to his friends, family and fans, and I am outraged.

Check out my plea for common courtesy on Chimpanzee Rodeo. And America, drive safely. Not just for yourself, but for the sake of everyone else on the road.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Around the AL East--Chimpanzee Style

I did a summary of today's studs and duds in the AL East for Chimpanzee Rodeo. Thought I'd share the link with you guys as is quickly becoming my custom.

Read it here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Yankees Lose on Opening Day...and I See Reasons to Smile

Hey folks...
I know it's obnoxious that my posts are currently appearing on a different site, but I wrote a pretty good analysis of the Yankees' Opening Day loss to the Orioles over at Chimpanzee Rodeo, so I'm going to link over. Oh, and don't be fooled. There aren't two writers on this blog. I just added my GMail account because blogger is lunching out about non-Google accounts...

Check out the piece here

Friday, April 3, 2009

Chimpanzee's been a wild ride!

Hey there loyal fans...sike!

I've been on a hiatus from this account because of issues with my account. But in the meanwhile, I have been keeping an AL East blog for a class I am taking with Kevin Blackistone at the University of Maryland. Some of the topics I've covered recently:

1) The Yankees third base battle (read here)

2) Appreciating the World Baseball Classic (here)

3) Curt Schilling's retirement (here)

4) David Price being sent to the minors (here)

5) Boston's depth (here)

and my most recent one:

6) Jeter and Damon being switched in the batting order for the Yankees (here)

Hope you guys enjoy and I will keep linking to Chimpanzee Rodeo while I am writing there...

All the best,

Friday, February 27, 2009

Posada Crushes the Ball in Home Debut

Jorge Posada looked sharp yesterday in the Yankees home debut, which they won 5-1 over Tampa Bay to improve to 2-0 this spring. In the third inning, the temporary designated hitter mashed a monster shot off Chad Orvella to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. His swing looked fantastic. He followed that with an RBI ground-rule double in the fifth, finishing 2-2 with a pair of RBI.

Mark Teixeira hit a single in two trips in his debut, and Xavier Nady had a ground-rule double of his own prior to Posada's second hit. The other starters didn't fare as well. Johnny Damon, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Jose Molina were all 0-2, and Derek Jeter was 0-3. Rodriguez struck out and grounded into a double play.

Shelley Duncan provided the rest of the Yankee offense with a 3-run home run in the seventh.

On the mound, Phil Hughes pitched two innings of shutout, no-hit ball with two strikeouts. He was wild, however, walking one and hitting two batters. Phil Coke got the win, pitching two scoreless innings while allowing one hit and fanning one batter. Brian Bruney, Mark Melancon, and Jonathan Albaladejo all pitched perfect innings, and Bruney and Melancon each struck out a batter. Damaso Marte allowed one hit in his inning, but didn't surrender any runs, and J. Brent Cox gave up a run on three hits in his inning of work.

The World Baseball Classic is fast approaching...and I hope this year's MLB games have a Classic mode...

Back From Catatonic State

Hey Yankees fans,
I have been on a bit of a vacation from posting here ever since Alex Rodriguez and PEDs hit the news cycle. I apologize for that, but I simply didn't know what side to come down on. On one hand, I felt like I should keep supporting him, because he is my second favorite player and the greatest player I have ever seen. On the other hand, with the steroid situation, I feel like he deceived us all and will likely earn the career home run title via dishonesty. I still don't have an answer, but I considered not watching the Yanks this year. I considered shutting down this blog. I can't do either. Spring Training has officially begun, and Alex Rodriguez hit his first home run in his first official at-bat, and that allows me the opportunity to do what I love, analyze baseball, and not the moral fiber of the people who play it. Welcome to 2009.

The final thing I will say about steroids is that if Derek Jeter ever tests positive, or is credibly linked to them, I don't think I will ever root for the Yankees again.

PS- I just bought MLB.TV Premium package and it is looking considerably better than last stinks being out of New York, but at least I can watch the games!