Sunday, December 20, 2009

Very Bad News

Not unexpectedly, Senator Ben Nelson (D-Ne.), the 60th and last vote needed by the Democratic Senate leadership to move ahead with its version of the Universal Health Care bill, was literally bought off by language that ensured any additional Medicaid costs for the state of Nebraska ONLY would be paid federally and special treatment for physician owned hospitals in Nebraska ONLY. For that Senator Nelson gave up the moral concerns he had regarding abortion.

The fight isn't over but it is going into the later rounds now and Democrats are up on all the judges' cards. The Senate actually has to vote and if they get cloture early in January a conference committee with have to hammer out a compromise bill that will need to pass both houses again, functionally, cloture again in the Senate and then it's done.

Mark Steyn makes the key point -- it is a surpassing strategic triumph for the Democrats if they can pass ANY sweeping bill even if its watered down. This legislation will force the Republic down a road from which it will not be able to come back:

As I wrote back in the summer, "Put not your trust in Blue Dog Democrats." It was folly to bet the Republic on the likes of Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln and other "moderates" who are, by definition, trimmers and accommodationists.

By contrast, Barney Frank and the more ambitious Dems are thinking long-term. And, if it's a choice between getting government health care or keeping Ben Nelson, it's no contest. Not to keep quoting myself ad nauseam, but as I said to Hugh Hewitt a couple of months back:

I think the administration is willing to take the hit. In other words, to get health care, they would be willing to reduce their majority, and perhaps even lose their majority in the House and the Senate, because they know it’s a game changer. [emphasis mine] Now to sell that to individual Senators and Congressmen, you’ve got to have something up your sleeve for them... There are strange elements in play here. But they’ve factored into the whole business a potential, I think, a potential significant loss in the year 2010, in next year’s elections.

I've been saying for a year now, in NR and NRO, that the object for savvy Dems is to get this thing passed in whatever form because, once you do, there's no going back. Kim Strassel in yesterday's Journal gets it:

So why the stubborn insistence on passing health reform? Think big. The liberal wing of the party—the Barney Franks, the David Obeys—are focused beyond November 2010, to the long-term political prize. They want a health-care program that inevitably leads to a value-added tax and a permanent welfare state. Big government then becomes fact, and another Ronald Reagan becomes impossible. See Continental Europe. [emphasis mine]

Just so. And that's worth whatever hit they have to take in 2010. Every time I make the point, someone says, oh, Jim Webb this or Byron Dorgan that, or have you see Harry Reid's numbers in Nevada? Oh, please. We've just seen what happens when you make Ben Nelson your Maginot Line. The Dems are thinking strategically; the Republicans are all tactics.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Obama, Churchill, Tigger and Eeyore

The reviews of Obama's West Point speech announcing the surge-and-draw down strategy for Afghanistan are basically consistent -- he's on Jimmy Carter's level of inspiring the troops and the American people.

The Monk agrees with the surge strategy and likes the accelerated timetable Obama called for (but dislikes the predetermined withdrawal date). The Monk also agrees with every commentator who criticized Obama for dithering for months about implementing it. The speech, before the Army Corps of Cadets, was far from the "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" Churchill promised as he also vowed that

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . .

As former WSJ writer Tunku Varadarajan noted (link in title), Obama's speech was more than a cut or two below Churchill's in stridency and determination. Instead, it reminded him of the dismal donkey from A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh:

What has struck me most about Obama's Afghan enterprise--and his speech did not cause me to alter my view--is how obvious it is that he doesn't really want to do it. He wants to do health care. Obama has tried every delaying trick in the book--waiting for three months after Gen. McChrystal's request for more troops, having meeting after meeting after meeting, sending Gen. Jones to tell McChrystal not to ask for more troops, having his economic team say it will cost too much, framing the venture in terms of "exit strategies" rather than victory, etc. His ambivalence was on naked display [last night]. Can you imagine Churchill delivering a speech like this, one so full of a sense of the limitation of national possibilities? No wonder Hillary [Clinton]--when the camera panned to her--looked like she needed a drink. No wonder the cadets all looked so depressed. Would you want Eeyore for commander in chief?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Looking back

A short note here on Buster Olney's key matchups from the World Series and how they worked out. These are the factors Olney identified as most important in the Series (and which The Monk discussed on 10-28).

(1) The Yankees' hitters against Cliff Lee's frantic pace. Lee wins. The Yanks solved this in the 7th inning of Game 5, but Lee had a 6-1 lead then. He was the only Phils pitcher the Yanks struggled against.

(2) The Phillies' hitters versus Mariano Rivera's cutter. Rivera wins. No answer for the Phils -- Mo pitched 5.1 scoreless innings against them, with two saves, in the Series.

(3) The Phillies' pitchers versus the patience of the Yankees' hitters. The Phils actually walked more than the Yanks (26-18) and had a higher OPS, but the Yanks made their hits count -- after the split in games 1 and 2, the Yanks hit .352 with RISP (12-34) and the Phils hit .207 (6-29), and the most patient at bat of the Series -- Damon v. Lidge -- went for the Yanks.

(4) Jayson Werth and Jorge Posada versus opportunity. Push. Neither set the world aflame: Werth banged two homers in Game 3 but finished with just two homers and 3 RBI. Posada had 5 RBI. Both were 5-19.

(5)The Yankees' power pitchers against the Phillies Who Mash Fastballs. Rollins, Victorino and Werth were kept in check; Howard received a steady diet of breaking balls and set a record for whiffs in the World Series (13 in 25 AB). Utley crushed the ball. The Yanks' power pitchers (Sabathia and Burnett) were 1-2. Pettitte was 2-0.

(6) Derek Jeter versus Jimmy Rollins. Not close -- Jeter in a landslide (.407 AVG/.519 SLG/.947 OPS, 5 runs to .217/.217/.562, 3 runs). Better to walk it than talk it.

(7) Cole Hamels versus his recent past. The recent past won -- Hamels melted down in the fifth inning of game 3, the Yanks took the lead and never looked back.

(8) Damaso Marte versus the Phillies' left-handed hitters (that's you,Chase Utley and Ryan Howard). Marte wins -- he faced eight batters and retired them all, with five strikeouts. Whatever adjustment he made with Billy Connors in September on his slider was golden.

(9) The umpires versus the action. Only one umpire had a bad night (first base, game 2, two blown calls) and the rest of the Series was well-officiated.

The newest Obama disgrace

Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall fell. Ronald Reagan's moral clarity resonated in the four words he spoke in West Berlin in 1987: "TEAR DOWN THIS WALL."

But Obama did not deem the 20th anniversary of the fall of the preeminent symbol of Communist evil significant enough as the president of the country that fought such evil for 44 years to fly to Berlin to commemorate its fall, signifying the practical end of the Soviet Union. That's a disgrace.

Or is it? The Washington Times makes the cogent case that Obama's absence is entirely appropriate:

Some have criticized President Obama for not visiting Berlin to commemorate this historic moment, but he made the right choice . . . Mr. Obama was on the other side of the policy divide during the Reagan years, and if his party had remained in power, we have no doubt the Soviet Union would have lasted longer as a going concern. Mr. Obama should not attempt to associate himself with that historic moment, when a man with vision had the ability to see the future and the courage to realize it.

From Mark Steyn's obituary of Reagan (from his book Mark Steyn's Passing Parade and currently on his website), a distillation of what matters:

. . . politics attracts its share of optimistic, likeable men, and most of them leave no trace – like Britain’s “Sunny Jim” Callaghan, a perfect example of the defeatism of western leadership in the 1970s. It was the era of “détente”, a word barely remembered now, which is just as well, as it reflects poorly on us: the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the free world had decided that the unfree world was not a prison ruled by a murderous ideology that had to be defeated but merely an alternative lifestyle that had to be accommodated. Under cover of “détente”, the Soviets gobbled up more and more real estate across the planet, from Ethiopia to Grenada. Nonetheless, it wasn’t just the usual suspects who subscribed to this feeble evasion – Helmut Schmidt, Pierre Trudeau, François Mitterand – but most of the so-called “conservatives”, too – Ted Heath, Giscard d’Estaing, Gerald Ford.

Unlike these men, unlike most other senior Republicans, Ronald Reagan saw Soviet Communism for what it was: a great evil. Millions of Europeans across half a continent from Poland to Bulgaria, Slovenia to Latvia live in freedom today because he acknowledged that simple truth when the rest of the political class was tying itself in knots trying to pretend otherwise. That’s what counts. He brought down the “evil empire”, and all the rest is details.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

VICTORY = Yankees win #27

The greatest franchise in American sports history is again the champion of baseball. The Yankees are the champions of baseball after knocking off the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, 4 games to 2. Considering the youth of the Phils' core, their ability to retain their top prospects, and the way they've manhandled their principle rival for NL supremacy in the past two years, the likelihood that they will win the NL pennant a third-straight time is pretty good. If they do, the Phils will be the first team to win three-straight NL crowns since the 1942-44 Cardinals, and the first to do so in the NL since the start of divisional play (the '69-71 Orioles, '72-74 A's, '76-78 Yanks, '88-90 A's, and '98-01 Yanks all won at least three-straight AL titles since 1969).

Notes in abundance:

(1) Kudos to Godzilla (Hideki Matsui) whose 6 RBI performance in what is likely his swansong as a Yankee keyed last night's 7-3 win. Like another Yankee who had one fantastic game that defined his World Series (Reggie Jackson, 1977), Matsui won the WS MVP award on the strength of his one great game. Monkette and I loved Japan when we went and I'm happy that so many Japanese will take joy from Matsui's performance and award.

(2) The Phils are the 11th team to repeat as NL champs after winning the World Series. Eight of those teams have faced the Yankees in the World Series: '22 Giants, '23 Giants, '43 Cards, '56 Dodgers, '58 Braves, '76 Reds, '96 Braves, '09 Phils. Only two beat the Yanks: the '22 Giants and '76 Reds. Five of those Series were rematches from the previous year (1922, 1923, 1943, 1956, 1958). There have been only two World Series in history that were rematches of the previous year's contest and did not include the Yankees -- 1908 and 1931.

The other three times the NL champ was the defending World Series champ were 1908 (Cubs), 1966 (Dodgers) and 1968 (Cards). Only the Cubs won; the Dodgers were throttled by the Orioles and the Cards bonked a 3-1 lead against the Tigers.

(3) Based on his post-game remarks yesterday, Charlie Manuel is a very gracious man. Phils' shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who is still insisting the better team lost, is not. Seriously: from the time A-Rod returned from his hip injury, the Yanks were 101-48, including playoffs -- over the course of a full season that's 109-53, which is the same record as the 1961 Yankees

(4) The Yanks' starting pitching in the postseason was generally very good: three quality starts in three games against the Twins, five in six games against the Angels, three (and 1/3 inning from a fourth) against the Phils. Considering that the Yanks had rolled up four quality starts from 2005-07 in losing consecutive ALDS, the difference between winning and losing is clear.

(5) For all the opprobrium he'll get for losing game 5 of the WS, AJ Burnett deserves a hand for winning the biggest game of the Yankees' postseason -- game 2 of the Series. Burnett's lockdown start reversed any momentum from the opener and changed the dynamic of the Series. Yeah, he sucked in game 5, but he was fantastic in game 2 when the Yanks faced a possible 0-2 Series hole and the big ones you win count more.

(6) If the Phils fail to extend Cliff Lee, they're fools. But that front office is not foolish because the pitchers who started eight of their 15 postseason games were not with the Phils at the start of the year -- the Phils traded for Lee without giving up any top prospects and obtained Pedro off the scrap heap for a pittance. Manuel did well to scratch together a 93-win team with an ailing Hamels, horrible Lidge, and no starter who won more than 12 games

(7) If Cole Hamels is fully healthy next year, the Phils can threaten the 100-win mark. Of course, winning 100 means little -- the '97-99 Braves did it, lost two NLCS and were swept in the '99 WS; the '02-04 Yanks did it and suffered two playoff humiliations and a World Series bonk. There have been about 12 teams that won 100 or more games since 1995 and only the '98 and '09 Yankees won the World Series. This season is an oddity because for only the third time in the 15 three-round postseasons since 1995, the team with the best record in the regular season won the World Series.

More later, perhaps, but I need to get Yankees 2009 World Champs gear for myself, my son and my impending infant . . . it's called good parenting.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ignominy or victory

That's the fork in the road the Yanks have reached tonight and, potentially, tomorrow. Either they'll win the World Series or fall into the same abyss of ignominy as the 1979 Orioles -- a 102-57 team that dominated the American League, ran 8 games ahead of the field and 13.5 games ahead of the three-time defending AL champion Yankees, waltzed through the ALCS and batted their way to a 3-1 lead over the Pirates in the World Series. The Bucs won game 5 in Pittsburgh and allowed only one run in Baltimore in games 6 and 7 in storming back for the World Series victory. [One day someone will examine the failed dynasty of the Orioles, who were the best overall team in baseball from 1969-1974, ran up three-straight 100+ win seasons from 1969-71 but lost two World Series to underdogs and two ALCS to the A's before falling into perennial not-good-enough status from '75-'78.]

Since 1979, six teams have come home with a 3-2 lead in the World Series and all six have won, with only one of those Series going to game 7 (1997). Nine other teams have returned home trailing 3-2 and seven of the nine have won the Series (exceptions: '92 Braves, '03 Yankees who both lost game 6). Sounds good, right? That's 15 Series, and the team coming home in game 6, whether up 3-2 or down 3-2, is 12-3.

Then again, since the ALCS and NLCS has expanded to seven games, four teams came home with 3-2 series leads and lost: '85 Jays, '91 Pirates, '03 Cubs, and '04 Yankees. Twelve others came home with 3-2 leads and won (including the '98, '00, '03 and '09 Yanks) but four of those went to a game 7 and two of the winners ('92 Braves, '03 Yanks) needed unlikely rallies to win (remember: if the '92 Pirates had a decent closer, they would have won the NL). The key fact in those four series where the leader lost -- only the '03 Cubs ever led at any point in game 6 or 7 (the Royals never trailed the Jays, the Braves blanked the Pirates twice, the Blosax never trailed the '04 Skanks). Total tally: 16 LCS where the team leading 3-2 came home for game 6 and (possibly) 7, home teams are just 8-8 in game 6, 4-4 in game 7. Crapshoot.

Hoo boy.

Baseball conventional wisdom = still just half accurate

In 1965, Sandy Koufax started game 7 of the World Series. He had pitched in Game 2, not Game 1, because the opener fell on Yom Kippur and as a Jew he felt it would send a bad message to pitch on the Day of Atonement of his religion. He lost in Game 2, pitching six innings, allowing one earned run and striking out 9, then pitched a complete game shutout (4 H, 10 K) in Game 5 on three days' rest. Although Don Drysdale was on turn for game 7, Koufax was given the start on TWO days' rest. The result? Complete game, three-hit, 10 K, 132-pitch shutout on the road where the Twins' hitters swung and missed at 27 pitches(!). And Koufax did it with essentially one pitch -- his fastball, because his curve didn't work that day.

Jim "Mudcat" Grant -- one of the 13 African-American pitchers to win 20 games in a season or "Black Aces" as he calls his group on his website -- pitched game 6 of that same series. Grant started and won game 1, started and lost game 4, and then started game 6 on two days of rest. He pitched a complete game victory.

Fast forward to modern baseball where the complete game is a rarity. In 2001, Curt Schilling started games 4 and 7 of the World Series on three days' rest. His line for two no-decisions: 14.1 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 18 K. In 2004, Derek Lowe started game 7 of the ALCS on two days' rest and pitched six innings of one-run ball for the win. Anyone remember what Pedro did in 1999? Six innings of shutout relief in an ALDS game 5 do-or-die game against the Indians

The point is simple: pitching on three days' rest is not a life-altering occurrence for a competent starting pitcher.

The belief that Joe Girardi fouled up or may foul up the Yankees' World Series by starting Burnett and Pettitte on three days' rest is flat-out stupid. You put out your best players to beat the other team in a winner-take-all series and Girardi is doing the exact right thing. Burnett didn't lose Monday because of short rest, he lost because he pitched the same way in game 5 as he did in game 2 and the Phils stopped taking the first pitch. Burnett failed to adjust, the Phils didn't, and he got whacked. His career record on short rest was outstanding before that game. Pettitte should be ready to embrace the assignment, not worry about it. If he wins tonight, his legacy grows even greater than just being the winningest pitcher in postseason history.

In other words, this is no time for whining: it's time to man up and get the f---ing ring.

Pettitte is a man, unlike the whiny and fussy baseball press that thinks a guy who can throw a ball 90+ mph on 3,500-4,000 occasions each year will be decimated by the potential of having to do that same task on one occasion without the usual rest. I'd take him over Chad Gaudin in game 5 and a flaky Burnett in game 6.

On another topic, who's the MVP? If the Phils come back to win, unless Lee plays a major role in the game 7 win, the Phils' MVP would be Utley in a walk. Remember, in '77 Jackson won the MVP even though Mike Torrez pitched two complete game victories with a 2.50 ERA -- better numbers than Lee this year.

Utley's slugging percentage in this Series is currently seventh all-time for any World Series. He has tied Jackson for most home runs (5) and has the same RBI total Jackson had (8) when Reggie won the MVP in '77 (the record is 12) and has matched Reggie's six-game totals in five games. Utley has 22 total bases, which is three off the record by Jackson ('77, six games) and Stargell ('79, seven games). Even if the Phils lose, Utley has a credible case for being the second player on a losing team to win the World Series MVP (Bobby Richardson, 1960) -- in addition to his ridiculous OPS (1.651), homers, RBI and runs scored (6), Utley hit four of his five homers in the two games the Phils have won and has hit THREE off Sabathia, who was the best AL starting pitcher to play postseason baseball.

If the Yanks win and a Yankee gets the MVP, the race is closer -- Rivera has two saves and 3.2 scoreless innings; Damon is hitting .391 with 5 runs, 4 RBI and that crucial play in game 4; A-Rod is only 4-18, but he was 4-10 in Philly and has 6 RBI, all on the road. If the Yanks bonk, Utley wins.

Ultimately, The Monk would have no problem with either of these two scenarios: (1) a Yankee wins the World Series MVP award; (2) Utley becomes the second player on a losing team to win the award.

Against the policies, not the man

Last night Democrats Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds, the incumbent governor of New Jersey and candidate for Virginia governorship, lost last night. Republican Bob McDonnell trounced Deeds, a pro-labor, pro-Keynesian, pro-Obamanomics candidate by 18 points in a state Obama won last year and in which Obama campaigned for Deeds this year.

Chris Christie beat Corzine in New Jersey despite being outspent 3-1 and running in a state that Obama carried by 15 points last year. Even with the loss of an upstate New York congressional district due primarily to its own stupidity, last night was a good one for the GOP.

Corzine is an a*s. He's a poor man's George Soros -- wealthy beyond description after a successful career on Wall Street, Corzine turned to politics as a tax-tax-tax-tax-tax-and-spend-spend-spend liberal in one of the highest tax states in the country. He's a redistributionist, pure and simple, which is fine for him now that he has more money than Croesus, but is harmful to the small businesses that form the backbone of New Jersey's economy. And he's nearly as corrupt as Tony Soprano. Christie won because he's moderate, affable and made his reputation as a corruption fighter as the United States Attorney for New Jersey.

Peter Wehner says McDonnell "ran what will become a model campaign for many other Republicans. Virginia’s governor-elect came across as conservative and practical, substantive and solution-based, disciplined and focused, calm and reassuring. He tapped into the fears and concerns of voters and seemed able to channel them in all the right ways. For Republicans to continue the restoration of public trust in their party, they must stand against Obamaism, in all its particulars, and offer compelling answers to pressing public needs."

Most importantly, McDonnell ran against Obamism, not Obama. And that's what the GOP must learn from. The American people generally like Obama personally. Running against the man is a fruitless endeavor. Running against his policies, now that we know them and can define them (unlike in the 2008 campaign), is a winning strategy because his policies are dreadfully unpopular. Lump in running against Nancy Pelosi and Congress with that strategy and the GOP has the ingredients for success. Now, it needs the candidates.

Friday, October 30, 2009

That's why they get the big bucks

Kudos to AJ Burnett on his excellent performance last night -- 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K. Burnett has had three very good or better starts in his four performances in the Yanks' postseason and last night's brilliance came in a crucial situation -- team down 1-0, Phillies striking first last night, first-ever WS start.

Some notes from the Yanks win:

(1) Kudos to Joey G. First, he went to Rivera for a six-out save. This should be a no-brainer, but Torre failed to do it five years ago when Francona was managing every game like it was game 7. Second, Girardi stuck with his Burnett-Molina battery even though the Yanks needed Posada's offense. Molina made the defensive play of the game picking off Jayson Werth at first after blocking a ball in the dirt. Thereafter, Burnett mowed down 11 of the final 12 hitters he faced, the crowd gained a little life and Tex banged the Yanks back into the game. Third, his intuition to play Jerry Hairston against Pedro (Hairston was 10-27 in his career against Pedro) paid off. Hairston went to the video tape in between at bats to figure out if the pitches he wasn't swinging at were actually strikes, determined they were, fought off a bunch of pitches in at bat #3 and plopped the single into right that started the Yanks' final scoring opportunity.

(2) Bad night for Charlie Manuel on a couple of questionable calls (retaining Pedro in the 7th, not sending the runners in the 8th). But Pedro's performance (6 IP, 8 H, 3 ER) was more than good enough to justify Manuel's decision to start him, especially considering that Matsui's homer in the 6th was a case of good hitting, not bad pitching.

(3) A-Rod sucks again. His swings are akin to the '05-'07 playoff A-Rod, not the '09 ALCS A-Rod. Verducci has more on this at The approach by the Yankees as a whole was wrong -- they know to look for the offspeed stuff and sit on the changeup up in the zone but largely hacked away at change-ups out of the strike zone. When they looked for the change, they did better -- like Tex's homer and Matsui's single (Matsui's homer was a good swing on a tough pitch).

(4) Welcome back Hideki Matsui. He was basically out to lunch from Game 2 of the ALDS through Wednesday, but came back last night to play a key role in the Yanks' win.

(5) Here's all you need to know about Phil Hughes right now. In the 7th, with a rested Rivera unquestionably set to pitch the 8th and 9th, Joey G. warmed up Joba in case he needed to pull Burnett.

(6) If I'm a pitcher, I don't throw Melky Cabrera anything above the knee. He's a dead high-ball hitter and quick enough to pull high outside heat. But he's clueless down in the zone.

(7) The umpires are just awful. Brian Gorman made two bad calls. One that very likely cost the Yankees, another that could have cost the Phillies. In the 7th, he ruled Damon lined out to Ryan Howard, even though Howard clearly short-hopped the ball. After Howard threw wide to second, the Yanks should have had bases loaded and one out for Tex. Instead, Damon was out and Posada was tagged out for leaving the base on a fly ball. Worse yet, the umps checked the replays after the game and still think they made the right call even though the Fox cameras show otherwise! Where was Gorman positioned? Behind Howard (who is quite large). How can Gorman make the out call like that when he can't even see the non-catch? Howard's first reaction upon getting the ball was to throw to second for a force out -- that's a dead giveaway that Howard himself didn't think he made the catch.

In the 8th, Gorman bonked the play at first on Utley's double play grounder. He was safe. This had a big impact for the Phils (it would have been first and third, two out, Howard up) but a less likely scoring chance considering that there would have been two out for Howard, as opposed to one out for Tex. Gorman later said the replays showed him a "little bit" of the ball was out of Tex's glove when Utley hit the bag. Yeah, that "little bit" would be basically the whole ball. Gorman is justifying his honks. According to this article, Gorman is "very good" on the bases, his ball/strike calls are a bit hinky and he gives make up calls. Guess who is behind the plate Saturday.

P.S. -- I like Buster Olney's insights and analysis a lot, but that Patience Index is pretty worthless. The mere fact that Brett Gardner saw six pitches in his only plate appearance is not a sign of effectiveness. The fact that he whiffed is what mattered. Ryan Howard saw 18 pitches in four at bats (4.5 per, a high total) and struck out four times. If the pitches faced can correlate to pitcher effectiveness, that's one thing (e.g., if Rivera had given up the lead in the 8th, Olney could point back to Rollins' 11-pitch walk), but just pointing out how many pitches someone faced is not particularly useful.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Empirical evidence?

OK, here's something that doesn't work: playing the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back during pre-game introductions for the Phillies last night and the processional theme at the end of Star Wars (during the heroism medal ceremony) for the Yanks.


The YANKEES are the EMPIRE in baseball, the Phils are the rebels, and the Yanks should glory in it. Not only did the Yanks win 20 World Series in 42 seasons from 1923-64, since the advent of divisional play in 1969 only one franchise has even been to as many World Series (A's) as the Yanks have won (six). Why shy away from that? The Yanks should be the big, dark, intimidating bad a**es of baseball and embrace it, not the scrappy little rebels -- that's beneath them. And it's tone-deaf too. The Yanks should be telling the baseball world "we're back, now commence to trembling." (Of course, sucking demonstratively less against Cliff Lee would aid in projecting such aura.)

RedSax president Larry Lucchino dubbed the Yanks the "Evil Empire" and you know what? F--- him and his team. The Yanks, win or lose, are the only reason that Fox pulled NFL-level ratings for the World Series last night and they make the television rights worth the immense lucre that the Murdochs pay . . . and that pile of gold is split between the teams.

The Yanks draw, period. No matter how much ESPN and it's New Englander tilt (Bill Simmons, Peter Gammons) likes to prattle on about RedSawx Nation and shill for the sport's historically most racist franchise, which is centered in a backwater provincial city that reached the zenith of its global relevance 234 years ago, the fact is clear -- the Yankees are the top team in all of American sports.

So whine and cry as much as you want, the Yanks are the Empire, and it's a good thing too.

The disgusting president

At some point, Charles Krauthammer will be incorrect in his assessment of Obama.

This is not that point.

Click the link and watch the video.

Turned into Philets

That was the Yanks last night -- turned into witnesses to their own execution by Cliff Lee. I said the Phils have a starting staff comprised of Tom Glavines and Lee looked like either the 1995 WS Game 6 version, the 1991 Cy Young Award winner, the 1998 CYA winner or the 1992 version who led the NL in shutouts. Lee neutered everyone in the Yankees' lineup not named Jeter -- 10 Ks, three of A-Rod and two of Tex (who had hit Lee well in the past). I watched the whole game in about 45 minutes on DVR -- once I saw how Lee mowed down the Yanks in the first, I said to myself: "Self, this is going to be a long game for the Yanks."

By contrast, CC looked awful -- he struggled with location all night, walked three and rolled up a stack of 3-ball counts. It's actually a testament to his skills and pitching prowess that he only allowed two runs over seven innings -- a short homer by Utley and a bomb by Utley. But Lee made 1-0 and 2-0 leads look more like the 6-1 final than the narrow margins they were. Overall, a Yanks' loss in Game 1 of the WS that is half as bad as the beating they took from the Braves in '96 (6-1, no ER against Lee compared to 12-1, one ER off Smoltz).

Some notes:

(1) The physics conundrum of what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object is easily solved in sports: the immovable object ALWAYS wins. John Smoltz told the Great Verducci that the Phils should consider just throwing waves of pitchers at the Yanks because the Yanks work over starters so well that by the third time through the lineup, the Yanks will crush the ball off the weakened pitcher. Nice theory. But the fact remains that good pitching ALWAYS tops good hitting. The Angels were the second-highest scoring team in baseball and Sabathia turned them into AA players. The Rox are one of two NL teams with an AL-quality lineup, and Lee made them into a collection of 35th round draft picks. Remember the 2006 playoffs when the Yanks were supposed to shell the Tigers and bang their way to a title? I try not to. Remember the '95 Indians who won 100 of 144 games that season? After the Braves' pitchers throttled them in the Series, no one else does either.

This works in every major sport except basketball, which is the only sport where good offense beats good defense because, ultimately, the defender cannot prevent a shot where the ball is about to fall in the basket from scoring. In hockey, middling teams frequently make deep playoff runs thanks to a hot goaltender (Giguere for the Ducks, Brodeur for the '95 Devils). In football, there are legends told about defenses like the '85 Bears, '00 Ravens and '08 Steelers. In baseball, one man has more control over the outcome of the game than any other player -- the starting pitcher. Even in soccer, this rule works -- just ask the Italian World Cup champions who allowed NO goals by an opponent in the run of play (the team allowed two goals in the tournament -- an own goal credited to the US, and a penalty kick scored by the French).

(2) The Yanks' bullpen is awful. They have two pitchers not named Rivera who don't suck right now: Marte and Robertson. The former has set down the last six hitters he's faced (all lefties) and the latter is a rally-killer with men on base. Robertson had an outlandish strikeout rate (63 in 43 IP) and seems to thrive in dire situations; Hughes, Bruney and Aceves have only created dire situations. The key to the series for the Yanks is to preserve a lead through seven innings and have Rivera pitch two, period. The only exception -- none or one out in the eighth and Howard up, then Joey G. can use Marte.

(3) I'm already sick of hearing about the Phillies' dynasty. They won ONE f**king World Series last year and are three wins away. Until and unless they get those three wins, they're not even a burgeoning dynasty (a dynasty really requires more than just back-to-back wins -- discuss the concept when the team wins three in a row or at least three in four years, otherwise it's just defining dynasty down).

This morning, Colin Cowherd was prattling on about how the Phils are 19-5 in the last two years in the playoffs. BFD. Through game 2 of the '96 World Series, the Braves were 20-6 in the '95 and '96 playoffs and had won their last five games by a combined score of 48-2 against the next-best team in the NL and the AL champs! Four days later, the Braves were 20-10 and watching Wade Boggs ride a police horse around a celebrating Yankee Stadium. In 1998-99, the Yanks were 22-3 in the playoffs with two World Series sweeps in a row. Even with the 2000 championship run, the Yanks were 33-8 over those three years -- that's a whole lot better than 19-5. Oh yeah, the Phils won't have Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Denny Neagle (before he sucked) on the mound in the next three games like the 1996 Braves did.

(4) If momentum is only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher, I'd feel better about the Yanks' momentum today with Pettitte than with Burnett. In 2003, the Yanks lost game 1 of each series and put Pettitte on the bump in game 2 each time. Results for Pettitte: 3-0, 22.1 IP, 3 ER, 22K in the Yanks' 4-1, 6-2 and 6-1 wins. The Phils banged around Burnett in May, but that was before AJ started pitching well in June and July. He's been on another upswing from late September to present.

From the past performance does not necessarily predict future results file: In '99, the Braves crushed Clemens and El Duque in the Bronx during the regular season (Duque gave up 4 homers in 4.1 innings!) and caused Mo's fourth blown save of the season (he then saved 28 of his next 28 opportunities, including six-for-six in the playoffs, and dropped his ERA from 3.22 to 1.83 [and 0.00 in the playoffs]); in the WS, Clemens and Duque allowed 2 ER and 5 hits combined in 14.1 IP, and Mo cut through the Braves' lineup like little leaguers in winning the MVP.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fall Classic notes

Check it out: Buster Olney eschewed the trite position by position matchup analysis for the World Series. Must be because he's one of the best baseball reporters working today.

Here are his main points (headers only, for his explanations go to the link in the title of this post):
  1. The Yankees' hitters against Cliff Lee's frantic pace. Olney says Lee works fast -- The Monk thinks the Yanks have more trouble with Lee's ability than his pace because they've been mediocre against him recently, but the Yanks kill Mark Buerhle, who is probably the fastest working pitcher in baseball.
  2. The Phillies' hitters versus Mariano Rivera's cutter. The only NL team to actually hit Rivera hard in the WS, ever, is the '00 Mess. And they faced the Yanks six times that year.
  3. The Phillies' pitchers versus the patience of the Yankees' hitters. The Monk discussed this one below. This was a huge factor in the Yanks' '99 win over the Braves
  4. Jayson Werth and Jorge Posada versus opportunity. Werth has not sucked, Posada has. Even a decent game from Posada would have meant a cakewalk win in game 6 of the ALCS.
  5. The Yankees' power pitchers against the Phillies Who Mash Fastballs. That's most of the Phils. The Phils didn't hit Sabathia well and only hit Pettitte a little back in May, but they smacked Burnett around.
  6. Derek Jeter versus Jimmy Rollins.
  7. Cole Hamels versus his recent past. Hamels worked in and out of trouble against the Yanks in May in a 6 IP no-decision. He's been slightly sharper than the average bowling ball in the playoffs this year.
  8. Damaso Marte versus the Phillies' left-handed hitters (that's you, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard). Good info from Olney here as he discusses how Marte has changed his slider grip and how that has improved the pitch. Marte is a momentum guy -- he pitches better when he has confidence that arises from his results. Howard's 2009 splits are amazing: .319 BA, .691 SLG, 1.086 OPS against righties, and just .207/.356/.653 against lefties. Utley's splits are quite different, good against righties and slightly better against lefties. For their careers, Howard's left-right splits are not far off from his 2009 numbers (BA dropoff is 81 points, SLG dropoff is 217 points, OPS dropoff is 316), Utley is slightly better against righties than lefties.
  9. The umpires versus the action. There will be no instant replay for this World Series. Hoo boy.
Other notes: the fact that the Game 1 winner has won 11 of the last 12 Series (Verducci cited this, I think) is of minimal value. After all, most "analysts" are predicting a 6-7 game series and only four of the 12 in that selection went more than five games. Of the four, the loser BLEW each one: the '97 Indians lost a lead in the bottom of the 9th in game 7, the '01 Yanks lost games 6 and 7 in Arizona, the '02 Giants completely collapsed with a 3-2 Series lead and a 5-0 lead in game 6 just nine outs away from the ring, and the '03 Yanks bonked a 2-1 Series lead when Torre let Jeff Weaver off his leash.

Only in the '03 Series did game 1 have ramifications for the rest of the contests because the Marlins broke the Yanks' record-long 10-game home winning streak in the Series that dated back to 1996 -- a crack in the Yanks' invincibility at the Stadium -- and the Fishes clinched the Series in the Bronx, which was just the third time since 1979 that a team won a World Series on the road in a game 6 (compared to the seven teams that came from 3-2 down to win in seven at home).

I also don't understand the prediction of Phils in 7 that some have made. If you think the Phils will win a close series, then it's Phils in 6, period. That's your ONLY logical pick. If you think the Yanks will win a close series, then it's Yanks in 6 or 7. Why? Because the last time a team won a game 7 on the road in the WS was 1979 (Pirates), and the roadies are 0-8 since, no matter how agonizingly close they've come ('91 Braves, '97 Indians, '01 Yanks). Then again, the '03 Yanks were the first team to come home for game 6 and lose the series since the '92 Braves (the previous six teams had won in either six or seven games), and just the second since '81 (against 10 teams that had won in six or seven games), so this team could be the one to bear the ignominy of first one to lose a WS game 7 at home in 30 years. After all, it may have four holdovers from the '96 team that beat the Braves, but it also has five holdovers from the '04 team . . .

A Classic Fall Classic?

The baseball press is almost desperate for a long and hard-fought World Series. The past five have been sweep, sweep, 4-1, sweep and 4-1. And eight of the 11 World Series since 1998 have been either sweeps (5) or over in five (3). (Those 4-1 wins for the Cards in '06 and Phils in '08 are the NL equivalent of a sweep -- no NL team has swept a World Series since 1990 and no NL team not from Cincinnati has swept a World Series since 1963.)

From Jimmy Rollins' perspective, his Phils in 5 prediction is a bit optimistic, to say the least (Benny Agbayani of the Mess made a Mess in 5 prediction in 2000 and was half right). After all, no Jeter-Rivera Yankee team has won fewer than two games in a best-of-seven. And The Monk is hoping that the Yanks double up that two win minimum in the next week or so.

So how does the Series really break down?

The Monk disdains the position-by-position analysis that so many writers use. Johnny Damon is not playing head-to-head against Raul Ibanez nor will Jimmy Rollins go toe-to-toe with Derek Jeter. It's the wrong frame of reference because it's not like Derek Jeter needs to make a play against Jimmy Rollins for his team to score. A position by position comparison of the '98 Yanks with the '86 Mets looks good for the Mets (they'd "win" the corner outfield spots, catcher and get at least a push at 3b and 1b) and that team couldn't hold the '98 Yanks collection of protective cups.

The relevant questions are entirely different.

How will the Phils fare against four starts minimum from Yankee lefties in the Series and how will the Yanks fare against the Phils' precision starters who don't have blow-by fastballs but just PITCH well? The Phils' staff is a collection of Tom Glavines, the question is what era -- Lee is the HOF-quality Glavine from the 90s and early 00s, Hamels is capable of doing the same, Blanton is a righty equivalent who has gone from innings-eating midlevel starter in the AL to a #2-3 quality starter in the NL. And Pedro will junkball the Yanks for as many pitches as he can -- he's not the 1990s-early 2000s pitcher who dominated opponents with the 96 mph fastball and the 77 mph changeup. Can the Phils make the quality pitches necessary to get the Yanks out against a team that led the AL in walks? Will the Yanks actually have some decent hitting by players who do not play on the left side of their infield? Will the Phils patchwork starting staff (Lee excepted) resemble the parade of horribles that the '04 Yanks and '09 Dudgers put out, or will it resemble the '96 Yanks, which had 5 quality starts in 15 postseason games but won the World Series?

Can the Yanks' staff, which led the AL in strikeouts, confound the Phils and their free swingers (Howard cut his strikeouts down to 186 from 199(!), Werth had 156, Ibanez 119 in 134 games, Feliz doesn't walk)? The Phils led the NL in homers and have four players who hit at least 31. Can the Yanks keep the Phils in the park in two of the most homer-friendly stadiums?

Will the starting pitching even be the key to the Series? Look at how the Braves pitched in the 1996 WS -- five good to great starts in six games but they lost three of the five and unearned runs were the difference in two of the three losses that their starters suffered.

Whose bullpen will come to the fore? Last year, the Phils won two games against the Rays' 'pen. This year they won two games against the Rockies' 'pen in the NLDS and another against the Dudgers'. The Yanks won twice against the opposing bullpens in the playoffs and their supposedly superior bullpen took both losses in the ALCS. Lidge was awful in the regular season, solid in the playoffs while Madsen has been shaky in the postseason and top-notch in the regular season; Hughes, Chamberlain and the lefties are a question mark for the Yanks after Hughes' lights-out performance as a set-up man in the regular season, but Mo is still Mo.

And one more: which manager will foul up a key situation? Manuel survived his only bad call in the NLCS because the Dudgers sucked; he survived a bad decision in game 4 of the NLDS because Huston Street imploded. The joke after five games of the ALCS was that the series stood at Yankees 3, Girardi 2. Even Mike Scioscia, who would win best manager in baseball by acclaim just about every year from the press, made a colossal bonk by yanking Lackey in game 5. No need to discuss Torre -- his pitching decisions just failed, failed and failed again in the NLCS.

These are the relevant questions. I just want the answers to add up to Yankee title #27.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Restoring partial order to the universe: the Yankees' 40th Pennant

Five years after TheChokeHeardRoundTheWorld and the TorreFiringThatShouldHaveHappened, the Yankees are back in the World Series.

About time.

The why is easy to determine: (1) the Yanks had 5 quality starts in six games, including two top-notch starts from ALCS MVP CC Sabathia; (2) Jeter and A-Rod scored 11 of the team's 33 runs and A-Rod hit .429 with 3 HR and 6 RBI in the series; (3) Mark Teixeira, for all his high suck level at the plate, made about a run-saving play per game; (4) Chone Figgins (13-39, 1.025 OPS), Bobby Abreu (11-35, 8 RBI in 9 games), and Kendry Morales (12-32, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 1.147 OPS), who killed the Yanks in the regular season were 7-48 with 1 HR, 7 RBI and 5 runs combined in the ALCS, (5) the Yanks have Mariano and the Angels don't. The absence of a top-end closer in the postseason has been deadly to the Dodgers, Cards, Angels and Rockies. The presence of top-end closer who fails to pitch up to his ability killed the Twins and eliminated the RedSux (Nathan and Papelbon are two of the three best closers in the AL, the third is in the World Series).

The Monk will have some more World Series information tomorrow and Wednesday. But here are some observations from the ALCS and NFL.

(1) The Yanks need better protection for A-Rod. If I'm Charlie Manuel, I seriously think about giving him the 2002 Barry Bonds treatment. Matsui has been poor in the postseason, Cano's inability to hit with RISP is almost legendary in scope (.320 average, .520 slugging, .872 OPS overall; but .207 AVG, .332 SLG and .574 OPS with RISP), and Swish still can't hit a lick in the postseason. And Posada was absolutely AWFUL last night. Jorge made the last out of three innings. He hit into two double plays. He left 10 men on base. He was 0-5 but accounted for 7 outs. He bounced into an inning-ending DP in the fourth with bases loaded, one out and the Yanks one hit away from blowing the game open up 3-1. Posada's horrendous night came batting right behind A-Rod, who had two hits and three walks and was on base every time Posada was at bat. Matsui wasn't better (0-4), but because Posada was so bad, Matsui only had one at bat with A-Rod on base even though Matsui batted right after Posada.

(2) The relievers need to suck less. Kudos to Joba, who had been atrocious, for getting two weak grounders to end the seventh and set the stage for Rivera in the 8th.

(3) AJ needs to toughen up. The Yanks need someone other than Sabathia to be able to finish the 7th. Pettitte had his super-glare last night and pitched a fine game. I don't blame Joey G for giving Andy the hook with one out and one on in the 7th because Pettitte had a tough sixth inning and dodged trouble and rough innings cost the pitcher more energy than just a high pitch count does.

(4) Give credit to Swisher on defense last night -- he made a good running catch and throw to first to pick off Vlady (who stupidly wandered halfway to second on a short fly to right) and he made a nice sliding catch. For a guy who plays the outfield because he hits his way into the lineup, Swish has made three nice defensive plays in the last 9 innings he's been in the field.

(5) Kudos to Pettitte for setting the record for most playoff wins by a pitcher. He has 16, John Smoltz had 15. Pettitte also has more wins in the LCS and World Series (10) than Smoltz (8). And Pettitte also set the record for most playoff wins by a pitcher starting games where his team could close out the opponent. The others: '96 ALCS game 5, '98 WS game 4, '01 ALCS game 5, '09 ALDS game 3.

And on another topic -- the NFL.

First, The Monk cannot remember a year in the salary cap era where there were so many blowouts and so many suck teams. The Raiders are awful, the Browns are horrid, the Bucs are terrible, the Rams are horrendous. They lost 38-0, 31-3, 35-7 and 42-6 yesterday, respectively. But the blowouts between seemingly evenly matched teams (Bengals 45, Bears 10) are also surprising.

Second, Cris Collinsworth showed last night why he earned his post as Madden's successor. He sussed out one of Eli Manning's snap count tricks (calling "Omaha" at the line changed the snap count) and pointed out why the Giants' receivers were failing in their route-running through bad technique. Listen to the Sunday night football broadcasts and you'll learn more about the game.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Disaster or delay -- the ALCS game 5 honk

The Yanks failed last night, and Joel Sherman makes the best possible case that Girardi blew yet another game in the ALCS: nine outs away from their 40th pennant with a rested bullpen and a clean slate to start the bottom of the 7th, Girardi could have gone to Hughes and Rivera for nine outs with no problem and did not. On further review, although I said last night that I thought Girardi was right to give Burnett the ball in the 7th after only 80 pitches or so, I see Sherman's point -- it was lockdown time and the Yanks failed to lock down the Angels.

Or did they? Buster Olney's blog entry on the game (behind a subscription wall) makes a credible case regarding how good Burnett was in innings 2-6 -- 20 batters, 17 retired (one DP), 70% first-pitch strikes (59% is average), and 80% of batters with two strikes made outs (72% average). Why not think he could continue that?

And Hughes has been erratic, at best, in the postseason (see below). Maybe he gives up two bloops and a blast and we're at 7-6 anyway. The only sure thing in the Yankees' 'pen is Rivera. Contrast that with the previously erratic Phillies, who have Madsen, Happ, Eyre and Park pitching well in getting 6-7 outs before the rejuvenated Lidge.

This is how teams lose pennants. Tom Verducci makes the point that of the last 12 times the Yanks have been nine outs or fewer from victory in the playoffs, they've lost four games including THREE in which they could have closed out a pennant. Not good. And if the team loses game 6, winning game 7 may prove pyrrhic. The Yanks' postseason rotation is built upon the NEED for Sabathia to pitch three times in a seven-game series and do so on short rest. If the Yanks win in 7, they start the Series in New York Wednesday. If tomorrow's game is rained out and the Yanks win in 6 or 7, they start the Series Wednesday. That means Sabathia in game 2 on short rest or Pettitte, and possibly a four-man rotation for the Series. If Pettitte pitches well in the close-out game and the Yanks win tomorrow, it's the all-Indians reunion of Lee-Sabathia on Wednesday.

Then again, as important as the rotation is to the Yanks, the matchups are not that crucial -- Lee is the Phillies' ace right now, but the other three starters (Hamels, Pedro, Blanton) are essentially interchangeable because Hamels is not his 2008 self.

Some other failures from yesterday:

(1) Nick Swisher is terrible at the plate now. He has no clue. Credit him for a great play on a potential sac fly in the 8th -- he charged the fly ball and immediately threw home with accuracy, keeping the speedy Reggie Willets at third and the game a 7-6 deficit.

(2) The first batter to face Joba in his relief appearances has doubled more often than made an out. This is relief? Joba has allowed 7 hits in 2.2 IP -- that's about 25 per 9 IP. Hughes has allowed 9 hits and 2 walks in 4.2 IP for a 2.36 WHIP. These are Tom Gordon 2004 numbers. They're also Exhibit 1 as to why Rivera must pitch the 8th AND the 9th for any saves in the rest of the playoffs. The only relievers not named Rivera doing their jobs are (shock) Damaso Marte and Dave Robertson.

(3) Mike Scioscia had a bad game. First, he yanked his ace with bases loaded and two outs and a 4-0 lead. Lackey is the best pitcher the Angels have, keep him in. First pitch from Darren Oliver to Teixeira = three-run double. A walk, single, triple followed and it's 6-4 Yankees. Second, he bunted with Figgins against Marte with runners at first and second and none out in the 7th. Figgins is too fast to get doubled up on a grounder, even as a righty. He makes decent contact. He walks alot. Why give up the out? The tactic only worked because Hughes failed.

(4) Whoever made the call to throw Vlady Guerrero a fastball in the 7th owns the loss. Hughes threw five pitches to Torii Hunter when he came into the game -- four fastballs for balls and a slider for a 3-0 strike. Hughes missed on his first pitch (fastball) to Guerrero and got strikes on a slider and curve. With Guerrero set up at 1-2 and two on, Hughes shook off two signs and Posada set up for a high fastball. WHY? Hughes couldn't hit the target with his fastball all night, if he misses up, Guerrero could create a three-run souvenir. Hughes could spot the slider and curve and Guerrero will swing at anything. Sure enough, Hughes misses the target low, Guerrero smacks a single, tie game. And a 2-0 fastball to Morales = Angels 7-6.

And now, two more days of hearing all the 2004 ALCS nightmares revisited and the press wondering if the disaster will hit again. It's possible. In '04, Jon Leiber pitched very well except for a fluky opposite-foul-line homer by Bellhorn in game 6, and the Yanks lost. And as cliche as it seems, anything can happen in a game 7.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Monk: an NLCS prophet

Did I say five-game sweep or what?

Honestly, this year's Dudgers put on a worse performance in the NLCS than last year's Dudgers. Other than a freakishly good outing by Padilla last Friday, the Phils whacked the Duds starters and knocked the whole Western Blue pitching staff around -- a 35-16 aggregate run total in the Phils' favor after just a 25-20 total win last year.

Unlike the '08 NLCS, the Duds' lone win came from fortuity -- last year they smacked the Phils around in game 3 and were doing the same in game 4 before Torre stupidly lifted Derek Lowe, the Artfuls' bullpen crumbled and the team faced a 3-1 hole from which Cole Hamels would not let them dig out. This year, the Duds were whomped twice.

How exactly did the Duds lead the NL in wins and the majors in run differential? This is more Torre smoke and mirrors, for which he is well-known and rightly lauded and can work wonders with over the course of a long season in which each pitch and each at bat means far less than it does in the playoffs. Remember, this is the manager who coaxed a combined 25-8 record out of Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon and rookie Chien-Ming Wang in 2005.

The Duds lacked a starter with more than 12 wins and had only two pitchers with 10. They relied on scrap heap pickup Padilla to fortify the rotation at the end of the year (and stave off the Rockies). Their two best postseason starts were from Padilla -- only once in six other starts did the Duds' starter pitch into the 7th inning. These are the types of pitchers that the '05 Yankees relied upon. But if your team lacks pitchers with pure stuff and top-end ability (Kershaw has the former, not the latter), postseason success is difficult. The Phils' pitchers not named Lee were far from spectacular and the Dodgers couldn't even put a small roadblock in their season. Instead, Colorado-Philly was the de facto NLCS.

The LA of LA's biggest problem is development. The team is young, and its best pitchers are kids (Kershaw, Billingsley). Torre often has problems with pitchers -- look at how much better Jeff Weaver, Ted Lilly, Javy Vazquez, Kenny Rogers and Jose Contreras have done after they left the Bronx. Billingsley imploded this year, even though he has top of the rotation ability. Kuroda completely biffed in his NLCS cameo.

And the Phils look tough. This team failed to win 98-100 because the bullpen sucked during the year. In the playoffs, it's been a team strength. They have an AL quality lineup with four players who whacked 30+ homers and another with more than 20 (with an AL capable DH for the World Series in Matt Stairs). And they're a lot more intense than the Dudgers. Just ask Jonathan Broxton . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reporters can't count

Here's a classic. Can you find the problem?

Winning back-to-back pennants in the National League is a feat not easily accomplished. The last team to do so was the Atlanta Braves in 1995-96; they also did it in 1991-92. In the last half-century since the Milwaukee Braves won back-to-backers in 1957 and ’58, NL teams have reached the World Series in consecutive seasons only four times: Los Angeles (1965-66 and 1977-78), St. Louis (1967-68) and Cincinnati (1975-76). Winning the World Series twice in a row is even more rare: No NL team since the Big Red Machine in the mid-’70s has done it.

So Gordon Edes says NL teams have won consecutive pennants four times since 1958: the '65-66 Dodgers [that's 1], '67-68 Cards [that's 2], '75-76 Reds [that's 3], '77-78 Dodgers [that's four], '91-92 Braves [that's four again?] and '95-96 Braves [that's four a third time???].

OK, maybe that's 6 repeat winners of the NL pennant since the '58 Braves.

In the AL, there have not only been repeaters but multiple repeat pennant winners: six multiple repeaters -- '60-64 Yanks, '69-71 Orioles (yes, the Orioles were once a good team), the '72-74 A's, the '76-78 Yanks, the '88-90 A's and the '98-'01 Yanks all were multiple repeat pennant winners, and the '92-93 BluJs were single repeat AL champs. Unlike the NL, where only the '75-76 Reds won back-to-back titles, the AL has had five repeat World Series champs since the '58 season: '61-62 Yanks, '72-74 A's, '77-78 Yanks, '92-93 Js and '98-00 Yanks. And that seems a bit odd that the AL would have so many more repeat champions, considering that the AL edge is just 26-23 in the World Series since 1958. The NL has pulled off far more upsets in the Fall Classic ('60 Pirates, '63 Dodgers, '64 Cards, '69 Mets, '71 Pirates, '79 Pirates, '88 Dodgers, '90 Reds, '95 Braves, '03 Marlins, '06 Cards) than the AL ('66 Orioles, '85 Royals, '87 Twins, '96 Yanks).

Good thing I'm not a reporter, my ability to count would be completely shot.

Umpirical evidence of awful

The umpires this year have given umpirical evidence of awful officiating. The baseball playoff officiating has been so bad, with so many obvious blown calls, that the NBA's title of worst-officiated American sport (no sport is more poorly officiated than soccer) is in serious jeopardy. Even Big T(elev)en football and basketball officiating is not this bad.

Phil Cuzzi's failure in game 2 of the ALDS will be the paradigm failure. But C.B. Bucknor's calls in the Sawx/Angels ALDS were bad and last night was just horrendous.

The Yanks-Angels game had 3 major gaffes and a minor one (Fieldin Culbreth called Juan Rivera safe on a bang-bang play at first, but Rivera was out). Worse yet, two of the three were by Tim McClellan, reputedly one of the best umpires in the game.

In the 4th inning, with one out, two on, Yanks with three runs in, Scott Kazmir thisclose to getting ripped up and the Yanks going into cruise control, and Jeter up, Nick Swisher was picked off second base. Not close -- his lead hand was more than a foot away from the bag when Erick Aybar tagged Swish ON THAT HAND. Second base ump Dale Scott was four feet away from the play and looking directly at the tag . . . and called Swish safe.

After Jeter walked, Damon whacked a fly ball to centerfield. Swisher tagged up at third base, left AFTER Hunter had caught the ball, and trotted home with a 4-0 lead . . . or not. The Angels appealed to McClellan that Swisher left early and McClellan called Swish out. Replays showed clearly that Swish left after Hunter made the catch. More importantly: McClellan was looking at Hunter catching the ball, and was positioned so that Swisher was BEHIND McClellan when Swisher left the base. McClellan had no clue when Swish left and still called him out. Swish was called out on an appeal play last month, in a similarly spurious call, so this is pure reputation.

Finally, in the 5th, after he failed to score on Cano's double, Posada was at third and Cano at second with one out. Swish hit a bouncer to the pitcher. Posada was running on contact and the Angels caught him in a rundown. In that situation, the burned runner must play for time and the trail runner must take the next base. Thus, if the burned runner cannot score, both should end up ON third base, the fielder with the ball tags both and the ump calls the lead runner out. Here, Cano stopped short of third and Posada overran the base. Angels catcher Mike Napoli tagged the both and BOTH idiots should have been out. McClellan called Cano safe and Posada out.

Awful umpiring.

Except home plate ump Jerry Layne. He's the ump who did NOT give Aybar the "area play" on a double play attempt in game two (the shortstop or secondbaseman gets credit for the out at second just by being in the area of the base). On all previous double plays, Aybar had clearly stepped on the base (the Yanks bounced into three). And we saw why Layne made the calls he did.

FOX, to its great credit, showed Layne talking with Angels manager Mike Scioscia between innings and discussing how his view of the balls and strikes was not as clear when the Yanks were batting because Mike Napoli's stance impeded his view. Layne said he didn't ask Napoli to get lower, but if he wanted to that would be up to Napoli. Scioscia told Napoli what to do, and the Angels adjusted. With a clearer view of the low strike for Layne, the Angels seemed happier with the zone. Then again, Layne's zone was so consistent that the FOX Box strike zone graphic looked like it was designed by Layne's calls.

One other note: I think Tim McCarver has cut down on the cornpone and bad punnery this year. That's good. He's easily the best color commentator in the game when he's not being a buffoon and he was sharp last night in describing why Posada failed to score on the Cano double and why McClellan so badly whiffed on the Swisher sac fly run.

Pennant #40 is just one win away . . .

Even Girardi couldn't screw this up. As CC Sabathia made a mockery of the "three-days' rest" concerns and the Yankees FINALLY got some hits with runners in scoring position, the only decision Girardi had to make was whether to let CC pitch a complete game. He made the right choice, giving Chad Gaudin a taste of the playoffs and live game action, which may be beneficial in the near future. (And The Monk wonders if the Yanks will have Gaudin back next year as a fifth starter candidate -- he's earned the chance.)

For the rest of the night, the Yanks were a lineup that looked like the one that led baseball in scoring. The problems were minor: Matsui was a black hole (0-5, 3K, two bonks with RISP), Swisher hasn't had a hit since sometime in August. The biggest of the big hitters, A-Rod, was 3-4, 3 runs, 2 RBI, a stolen base and caused an Angels' error. Melky Cabrera expiated some of his previous failures with a two-run single that gave the Yanks a 3-0 early lead and two hits with RISP. Damon banged the two-run homer that iced the game.

A good night all around for the Yanks except for THREE baserunning idiocies: (1) Swisher getting picked off second in the 4th; (2) Posada getting suckered by a half-hearted decoy by Torii Hunter and failing to score on a double in the gap; (3) Cano failing to stand on third base after Posada got his own dumb a** caught in a rundown. None of this is rocket science or even advanced baseball strategy. Posada is a catcher, so he's slow. But he's been in the majors for 12+ years. There's no excuse for his horrible baserunning skills. Contrast him with Teixeira, who won't compete with Usain Bolt any time soon, but certainly runs the bases with intelligence, which means extra bases, more runs, fewer outs.

For now, the Yanks are one win away from the World Series and a date with the Phillies (who will likely win the NL pennant tonight). Hopefully Girardi won't overmanage this into a seven-game series . . .

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Girardi tactics leading to Yankees' tee time

That's the Yankees' situation in a nutshell. Girardi's overmanaging in the playoffs is going to lead this team, which is the best in baseball, to a failure. Girardi's attention to detail is impressive and if the Yanks do win World Series #27 this year it will be legendary. But yesterday, it helped cause a failure that pushed the Yankees from the brink of a 3-0 series lead to a 2-1 with Sabathia on three days' rest (which should not be that big of a problem) and Angel ace John Lackey looming in game 5.

Here's where the Yankees failed as a team: 0-8 with runners in scoring position, three failures by Melky Cabrera, two failures by Nick Swisher to score the runner from third base with less than two outs, Jeter 0-5 after his leadoff homer, team was 0-6 in extra innings. They were 0-8 with RISP on Saturday too. That's ok if the team hits 5 sac flies and 3 solo homers in one game, not if six of the team's last eight runs over two games have come on solo homers. Right now, the Yankees' offense has a governor on it holding the team to four runs (in five straight games). Not good.

Here are Girardi's questionable moves, in game order, and whether they were right or wrong AT THE TIME.

(1) Mound conference with Pettitte and Posada with a 2-2 count on Vlady Guerrero and a runner on base. WHY NOW? Pettitte and Posada have 27 years of Major League experience and have worked together for NINE seasons. If Joey G wanted to have a chat to reinforce the game plan, he should have done it before Vlady stepped in the batters' box. First pitch after Girardi departed = homerun, tie game. The pitch didn't seem that bad, but the result bit.

(2) Overuse of Chamberlain. Joba has been erratic at best this year. Now he's in a different pitching role as the "7th inning guy" and his stuff is off. Tim McCarver noted on Saturday that his slider was hanging up in the strike zone (that's called batting practice) and yesterday he got whacked around. Chamberlain's unwarranted ascension to 7th inning guy has pushed Aceves, the regular season's 7th inning guy, into extra inning duty only, where he has struggled. Chamberlain's only clean (no hits, walks, HBP) outing in the postseason came in game 1 against the Twins, when the Yanks had a big lead and Girardi was emptying his bullpen to give the young guys a taste of the playoffs. Yesterday, Chamberlain gave up the go-ahead run in about 5 pitches and got hammered so badly that Girardi had to yank him early for Marte.

(3) The abysmal 8th inning substitution. Girardi has two speed guys on his bench: Freddy Guzman and Brett Gardner. Guzman has one purpose -- pinch run and run fast. Gardner is a late inning defensive replacement for Damon or Swisher. So when designated hitter Matsui (who runs like a Molina brother) walked in the eighth inning, Girardi did the right thing in replacing him for a pinch runner. But HE USED THE WRONG MAN. Girardi should have used Guzman, but he used Gardner in a close game where the Yanks could need a defensive replacement in the outfield. If Girardi substituted Gardner for a fielder, the Yanks would lose the DH.

(4) Sending Gardner on an 0-1 count to Posada. With Gardner in the game, he had to steal, so that's the right call. On Saturday, Gardy did not steal and the hitter bounced into a double play on pitch number 4 or 5. But Scioscia likes to pitch out on 0-1 counts. McCarver said this on Saturday, and Girardi has to know this because the Yankees' scouts are very good and Girardi is such a stat geek he makes me look slipshod. Result, 0-1 pitchout, Gardner out at second. Two pitches later, Posada banged a homer to tie the game.

(5) Substituting Marte with Coke. The Monk is no fan of Damaso Marte, but he can often get lefties out and can terrorize switchhitters who are weak righties. He retired Chone Figgins to end the 7th and had Abreu (lefty hitter) to start the eighth . . . but Girardi replaced Marte with Coke. Coke is prone to give up homers, and his stuff is not as deceptive to lefties as Marte's. And the conventional wisdom is don't replace a lefty with another lefty. The move worked ONLY because Abreu made a baserunning mistake after whacking a double off Coke, but it needlessly burned the remaining lefty in the Yankees' 'pen.

(6) Sticking with Hughes, and yanking him. Girardi was right to both stick with Hughes through the 9th and yank him in the 10th after he allowed the leadoff double to Mathis. I'd prefer Rivera to hold the line in a playoff game, which he did thanks to Teixeira.

(7) Replacing Gardner with Hairston at DH. Girardi did this instead of having Gardy face Brian Fuentes. This had little purpose because if Girardi was going to end up blowing the DH, he should have done so with his best outfielder, not Hairston, and Hairston was not a threat to take Fuentes deep or to the gap -- the only ways the Yanks would have scored with two out and A-Rod on first.

(8) Replacing Damon with Hairston in LF in the bottom of the 10th with a runner at third and none out. This meant the Yanks lost the DH position, had a pitcher's spot after Jeter, and two light-hitting catchers on their bench (Molina, Cervelli) and the throwing arm upgrade from Damon to Hairston is far less than the upgrade from Damon to Cabrera or Gardner (Gardner usually goes to CF and pushes Melky to right or left, depending on who Girardi replaced).

(9) Replacing Robertson with Aceves. This made no sense at the time and is worse in hindsight. Robertson had cakewalked through the first two hitters in the bottom of the 11th. He's been excellent since the All-Star break (Aceves has been mediocre) and pitched out of HUGE trouble (bases loaded, none out) in game 2 against the Twins. He has better pure stuff. He can go more than one inning. Both are righties and so were the next and on-deck batters for the Angels. But Girardi liked the matchup of Aceves v. Howie Kendrick. Kendrick hit a seeing eye single, but the light-hitting Mathis whomped Aceves' offering into the gap, game over. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

If CC dominates and the Yanks win game 4, this matters less. If CC struggles or sucks and the Yanks lose, this matters a lot. And if CC pitches well but doesn't get through the 7th inning, then we go to the bullpen merry-go-round all over again. That's not good.

The Monk's call is that if the Yanks have a narrow lead and CC is running out of gas with 8 or fewer outs left for the Angels to tie it, use Hughes for four outs and Mo for four. Other than Robertson, the rest of the 'pen is not dependable or not good.

There's not much difference between these teams right now. The composite score is 12-9 Yanks. The starting pitchers are 1-0, 20.1 IP, 6 ER for the Yanks and 0-1, 17.2 IP, 7 ER for the Angels. The vaunted Yankee 'pen has allowed more earned runs (3-2) than the supposed Achilles' heel bullpen of the Angels. So managerial decisions have large consequences. To a large degree, Girardi is managing from fear, not strength. If he has the superior team, he should act like it and use its strengths effectively, not just manipulate matchups for their own sake.

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P.S. -- I wonder how much Joe Torre misses Mo. For the second straight year, Torre's Dodgers were thisclose to winning game 4 of the NLCS and tying the series, and for the second straight year Jonathan Broxton lost the game. Last year, he failed to preserve an 8th inning tie by allowing Matt Stairs' bomb that went halfway to Bakersfield. Last night, he got the last out of the eighth inning and then completely bonked the ninth, giving up two runs with two out after putting one of the runners on by hitting the batter.