Results tagged ‘ Derek Jeter ’

The Opportunistic Genius Of The Bryce Harper Call-Up

In my pre-season notebook, where I scribble all the useless data and hot tips for the year ahead (and occasionally jot something down like what I did in 2007: “Manto sez watch Bautista. Could hit 40″) I made this little note on my Washington Nationals page:

It was not the most outlandish forecast of all time. Predicting in March that Bryce Harper would be called up on April 25 was a less than even-money wager (and it was wrong, by two days). But when Harper looked ordinary in the spring, and anything but dominant in AAA this month, I nearly crossed out the note in order to write “September” instead.

In short, all of us who thought Harper would have played so well that he’d be “up” by April 25 were wrong.

Upcoming 2012 Topps Harper "Rookie" Card

That’s why the move to bring Harper up because of the injury to Ryan Zimmerman is, as the title of this post suggests, opportunistic genius. It’s a controlled experiment with a time limit, and that’s the variable none of us (maybe not even GM Mike Rizzo foresaw). Let me quote from my post here early last month:

…the most amazing question of the spring isn’t about whether or not Harper is going to open the season with the Nationals, nor the one that goes “are the Nats seriously considering it?” The answer is: what happens if it doesn’t work?

(19-year old Mickey) Mantle was sent down to AAA Kansas City after the game of July 13 (1951)…American League pitchers had begun to deny him fastballs late in May, and in his last six weeks before the demotion Mantle had hit just .211…

But Mantle’s demotion came 61 years ago. There was no internet, no cable, no tv sports news to think of, no radio call-ins, no blogs. The Yankees who didn’t get sent to the minors that season included Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat, coach Bill Dickey, and manager Casey Stengel. They were the two-time defending World Champions and, frankly, it is possible that a lot of Yankee fans had no idea for days or weeks that Mantle had even been sent back to the minors.

That will most assuredly not happen if Bryce Harper struggles in the majors – if he bats .211 over 100 agonizing at bats and Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson decide they have to send him to AAA. The coverage would be intense, uninterrupted, and brutal, and it would not stop the day Harper went to Syracuse or Harrisburg. It would be relentless.

Except now, it wouldn’t. If Harper hits .211 over 100 agonizing at bats (or just 50), and the Nats get healthy – gee, he showed flashes of brilliance and we know exactly what the later Harper will look like, but, gosh, Ryan Zimmerman is indeed coming off the disabled list on time on May 6 – the Nats can send him back to Syracuse and tell him and the world that this was the plan all along, see you real soon.

He would not have failed. The message would be: He did exactly what we needed him to do, on a short-term basis – and now having given him a taste of the real thing, we’re going to put him back in the oven because he isn’t going to play here every day and blah, blah blah, blah blah…

Of course, if he’s hitting .290 when Zimmerman comes off the DL, they can abandon the “plan” and stick him in the line-up for good.

And that is opportunistic genius.

It’s not new – the Yankees did the same thing with Derek Jeter for a long weekend in 1995 when they came up short in the infield – and it’s a mid-season cousin to the standard procedure with standout rookies: bring them up in September and stick them in the line-up. If they succeed, great. If they fail, the season is ending in three weeks, nobody will consider them as having flamed out. Heck, in 1977 the Tigers brought up Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker over an eight-week span (the latter two debuted in the same game). Same idea, and it works nicely.

Of course, with Jayson Werth scratched, Michael Morse lost in some kind of injury ozone, and centerfield a mess, take the odds and wager on Harper overstaying his visit. Heck, he may have to overstay it in centerfield, and the other farmhand just promoted today Tyler Moore (is he a fun guy? Is he a merry Tyler Moore?) in a platoon of some kind in left.

Dee Is For Dodgers And Other Notes

The Dodgers have enough to worry about, but the construction in which Rafael Furcal is healthy, Dee Gordon has the makings of a lighter-hitting Jose Reyes, and Jamey Carroll actually has trade value – and they send Gordon back to Albuquerque - is nuts…you trade Carroll before he turns back into a pumpkin, shift the willing Furcal to second and thus reduce some of the wear and tear on his body, and let Gordon run wild and free at the major league level. Anything else suggests the Dodgers are operating under a delusion bigger than any of Frank McCourt’s – that the team is competitive this year….

A lot of leeway has to be given to All-Star managers about selecting pitching staffs, especially members from their own team, but the only man I’ve ever met with a bigger head than my own, Bruce Bochy, swung and missed, twice. One could stretch a point and say Tim Lincecum deserved a trip to Phoenix based on his Cy Young yields and post-season work last year and goofy popularity, but it’s still stretching a point. But Ryan Vogelsong? Helluva story, but not an All-Star. Not even close. Desperate homerism, pathetic, embarrassing. He was an All-Star, and you guys sent him back to AAA in the spring?

Just amazing to see that my Derek Jeter Injury Conspiracy Theory has played out almost exactly as I had written it. As I compose this we are still a few hours away from seeing the line-ups for the last game of the Yankees’ series in Cleveland, but Joe Girardi had already set up Part 2 of the theory by saying Jeter might not play all the games against the Indians. The true test of the theory is if Jeter does not cross the 3,000 hit plateau at home against Tampa Bay, and suddenly has a relapse that takes him out of the team’s subsequent road trip after the All-Star Break.

It may be academic since they may not have any more save situations this year, but if Mark Melancon keeps giving up runs in carload lots, the next youngster to get an audition as Astros’ closer could easily be young David Carpenter. He’s the ex-catcher they got last year from St. Louis for Pedro Feliz. His scoreless streak and minor league domination is obviated a little bit by the fact that he did it in A-ball at ages 24 and 25, but there is some leeway given to the fact that he only moved to the mound full-time in 2009. His demeanor and the strength of his fastball and top breaking pitch seem to make him an ideal candidate, or, at minimum, a suitable set-up man.

Jeter’s Chances Of 3000th Hit At CitiField Wane

So I was sitting there beating myself up: of course nobody gets an MRI the same night they sustain an ordinary injury, every doctor wants to wait for the swelling to go down on anything and everything. But you cannot posit this, even with the caveat that it’s a conspiracy theory and you don’t necessarily believe it.

Besides which, I told myself, the math just didn’t work. The stint on the disabled list was long, but it wasn’t long enough. They couldn’t possibly be deliberately putting him on the shelf for a minor or non-existent injury just to delay his milestone to make sure it happened at home and not on the road, because the day after he was eligible to be activated they’d be playing in New York all right – but in the wrong ballpark.

The Yankees were not faking or exaggerating Derek Jeter’s injury just to make sure he got his 3,000th base hit in Yankee Stadium and that they could sell to a memorabilia-addicted public everything up to and including a commemorative Mason Jar full of air from the ballpark during the moment he got it.

They couldn’t be; Jeter was eligible to return from his strained right calf on Thursday, June 30, and he could resume play that day against Milwaukee, and then move into  CitiField needing only six hits or less with three games to play against the Mets, and the Yankees would rather return the franchise to the league than to let Jeter achieve his milestone in Queens and not the Bronx. Of course it wasn’t a conspiracy! They’d have to come up with some additional story that Jeter might not be ready to be activated on June 30.

Well, looky here: tonight an additional story that Jeter might not be ready to be activated on June 30.

Frankly, if he’s late by six games in coming off the DL, he misses the last game of the Yankees’ Milwaukee game, and the entirety of the Mets’ series, and the first two games of the subsequent series in Cleveland. Bring him back on July 6 and maybe he gets a knock or two or three (but not six) there, and he walks back into the Stadium with four games against Tampa Bay and still needing six hits or fewer.

Obviously, they do conduct MRIs on injuries in the hours after they occur. Even at night. But to my mind those tend to be for serious head or spinal injuries. Just a year ago, when Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies strained his calf on Opening Day (in the early afternoon no less), the Phillies waited until the next day to get his MRI done. But Jeter had his the same night as the injury and before sunrise it was evident he was going on the DL and missing the long road trip and golly if he couldn’t come back right on time he couldn’t possibly set the record at CitiField, and if he couldn’t come back within six or seven days, he couldn’t possibly set the record in Cleveland but would have a damn good chance of doing it at Yankee Stadium.

For the record, these are other important Derek Jeter dates: Sunday, he turns 37 years old. And if this is a really serious strain, and he misses three weeks more than originally expected, he’d be back on Friday, July 22, when the Yankees begin a 10-game homestand.

The truth is out there.

Yankees-Mets Notes And Photo Day

The Yankees are seemingly focused on Derek Jeter’s pursuit of 3,000 hits. Not getting as much play: his slugging percentage is worse than all but one other Yankee hitter. Not all but one other Yankee regular – all but one of the other 14 guys who have come to bat for the team all year. Jeter is being “outslugged” by 71 points by Brett Gardner and by 33 by Jorge Posada, who is being treated in the Bronx as if he is a ghost…

The only one behind Jeter? Nick Swisher (.303 SA). And yet the manager says “we know Swisher will hit.” We know no such thing. Until last year he had never put together consecutive good seasons in the majors. And incidentally he still has more extra-base hits than Jeter. So does Justin Turner of the Mets – in one-third the plate appearances…

We haven’t even gotten to On Base Percentage. Simply put there is no excuse for Jeter to be leading off. None. He’s at .316. That’s tied for 242nd in the big leagues (that’s a wildly inflated number – it includes everybody in the majors. Nevertheless, among those in his neighborhood are Angel Sanchez of the Astros, Ronny Cedeno of the Pirates, and Jason Bartlett of the Padres. Nobody is trying to pretend they haven’t been offensive disasters. People read stuff like this from me about Jeter and wonder what I have against him. The answer is nothing. He’s a hall of famer and I’ve been stunned by his consistency and clutch play since I was at ESPN – that’s how long he’s been doing what he’s been doing. But they should’ve made him manager or general manager or team president last year – or at least should be planning to do so the day he gets his 3,000th hit.

Remember…this is the franchise that once released Babe Ruth…

The Mets have very quietly built a bullpen out of other teams’ spare parts. Jason Isringhausen has been lights out since coming back, Rule V draftee Pedro Beato’s scoreless streak wasn’t interrupted by his DL stint, and so far, Nationals refugee lefty Mike O’Connor has been untouchable. The secret to the Mets’ disastrous collapses of 2007 and 2008, and the miserable seasons since, has been the startling truth that the relief corps has never been as good as it is right now…

The Yankees appear to be dealing with the resurfacing of an old problem. First it was Ruben Sierra showing the kid a great time, late at night, after night games. Exit Mr. Sierra. Then his running-mate was Melky Cabrera. He was a late-inning game-winning machine in 2009. Nevertheless, exit Mr. Cabrera. Now it is a spare outfielder supposedly escorting the should-be MVP to see the bright lights of big league cities. The should-be MVP is hitting .275. There are rumblings that it may soon be Exit Mr. Spare Outfielder…

Speaking of exits, it may be hard to believe this, but my understanding is that Sandy Alderson, doing all due diligence to try to revive the team from Queens, has asked almost every club what they might give him for every one of his key players. You can forget the Jose Reyes talk: the Mets and the MLB caretakers working unobtrusively with them know they must re-sign Reyes. There are intriguing answers when the Mets say “Ike Davis” and, surprisingly, “Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran.” The answers offered when they say “David Wright” are stunningly low. The rap is simple: perfect public face of a franchise. Wonderful teammate. Great guy. Productive hitter and deft fielder. Durable. And not to be relied upon in the clutch. The yield for David Wright might be less than the yield for Carlos Beltran (FYI absolutely none of this comes from Sandy Alderson or anybody in the Met front office)…

Not to re-stir an old pot but Alex Rodriguez still looks to Yankee coaching assistant Brett Weber’s third-row seat from the on-deck circle. You remember Brett, right?But Brett isn’t always in his seat. He was, Friday. He wasn’t, last night. And it’s possible I’ve missed it, but I have not seen him throw a signal at A-Rod or any other Yankee, or wiggled any fingers, or held up a sign, or even as much as looked back. He may have taken an order for fries in that headset for all I know, but from what I’ve seen, he has not violated communications rule C4…

“WE TALKED ABOUT FEET”

LoMo. Talking Feet

As we look at the rogues’ gallery of baseball friends with whom I’ve posed this season, the touching saga of how Twitter brought together an underrated Marlins’ outfielder and a guy with a similar foot injury (me) is in the papers today, right here. LoMo portrays a certain raunchiness in his Twitter feed. I don’t want to hurt his street cred, but he’s also a polite and thoughtful guy. As is Andy Samberg from SNL, with whom I had the pleasure of sitting through the last of the Yankees-Red Sox games. Delightful sequence of pitches during a Swisher at bat. The first of them is lined straight back and bounces off the screen right in front of me. Mr. Samberg laughs appropriately. The next one is lined straight back and bounces off the screen right in front of him. His laugh is delayed by only about a second. He shouts “Swish! What the heck? I was an A’s fan!”You know this fella. Interviewed Harold Reynolds in, I think, 1987 or 1988. Worked with him at ESPN in 1996 and 1997, most memorably at the Jackie Robinson Game. Continues to anchor – in the more literal sense – the studio work at MLB Network, although Mitch Williams, Dan Plesac, Joe Magrane, all the other analysts and all the hosts have helped create the best TV start-up I’ve ever seen.

Studio lights make Daron Sutton and Luis Gonzalez look odd. Me? I always look odd

I was a photographer when I met Mr. Yost. We believe this was circa 1872.

Tim Wakefield and I are 19 years removed from the interview in which he called me "Mr. Olbermann."

Adam Lind of Anderson, Indiana

Mr. Thome and I are 92 between us

Mr. Myers says this was only his third baseball game

The Creepiest Stat I’ve Ever Researched

Even as the Minnesota Twins continued to succumb to their weird allergy here at Yankee Stadium (they’ve now lost 31 of their last 37 here, counting playoffs), Derek Jeter went 0-for-4 and the creepiest stat of all time just got a little worse.

I will state at the outset that those who interpret what’s being done as tribute have my full respect when they so claim. But, personally, I flinch every time I hear the voice of the late Bob Sheppard introduce Jeter, and my reaction is not unlike that of the late comedian Bill Hicks when he first saw a posthumous public service announcement featuring actor Yul Brynner: “What the heck is this guy selling?”

I thought the world of Mr. Sheppard, who extended kindness and support to me from the day I finally screwed up the courage to introduce myself to him. He did not undervalue his place in sports, but he had fun with it. When in 2004 I was researching the then-unknown identity of his predecessor (it was Yankees’ public relations director Arthur “Red” Patterson) I asked him if he had any earthy clue who it might have been, he said without batting an eyelash, “Methuselah!” Merely because I asked him, Bob spent fifteen minutes before the first game of the 1998 World Series with Tony Gwynn. Tony had said that one of the highlights of being in the Series again was the chance to hear Bob introduce him. I got Bob to record that introduction on a disk for me to present to Tony as a gift. Nobody who asked Bob for a favor – or the inevitable voicemail/answering machine message – was denied. I know one of Bob’s sons and have found him to be just as much a gentleman as his father, and I was privileged to get frequent updates on Bob’s health from Chris. I hosted the 2000 Subway World Series on Fox, and the thing became real to me when I wrapped up the pre-game show that it was my greatest honor to introduce him on the PA. When I would get to work the PA at Old Timers’ Day each July I was fully aware at every moment that I was on Bob’s PA.

I get it. I revered Bob Sheppard and I revere his memory daily. But the post-mortem introductions of Jeter have, I think, become disturbing.

And now there’s this to consider: Since Bob Sheppard died last July 11 and the tribute to the absent and beloved Public Address Voice of Yankee Stadium became instead a memorial, Derek Jeter is hitting just .263 here with one homer, 10 RBI, a .338 On Base Percentage and a .349 Slugging Percentage in 43 games. There are various dates and causes to assign to Jeter’s midseason eclipse last year but Mr. Sheppard’s passing is not exactly a random one – which makes the stat all the creepier. As of that sad day, Jeter had had 161 home at bats. Thereafter he had…exactly the same number: 161 home at bats. But in the first half of his home 2010 season Jeter was batting .316, with six homers, an On Base of .380 and a Slugging of .472.

Would it all turn around if Jeter had Sheppard’s successor Paul Olden announce his name, too? No, of course not. It would just be a little less…creepy.

Phils And Yankees: Not Their Year

CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.

Bryce Harper: “I Want To Kick The Crap Out Of You”

IMG_3042.jpg“Gonna remember that first RBI for a long time?,” a reporter asked Bryce Harper.

“‘Scuse me?” Harper deadpanned up from his seat in front of a locker in the visiting clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The reporter tried again: “Are you going to remember that first RBI?”

“Did I get an RBI?” Harper’s act had reached its end and he smiled broadly. “Just kidding! Yeah.”

It had come in the 8th inning of a sloppy 10-8 Washington victory over the Yankees, off the prototypical AAA pitcher, Romulo Sanchez. But the single to right made the loudest sound of any ball connecting with any bat all day, and it was probably not coincidental that rightfielder Colin Curtis then bobbled it.

It’s not as if they’re going to put a plaque up to indicate it happened, although it was noteworthy that when Harper went into the game in the bottom of the 5th, as he jogged out to right, the other team’s crowd applauded loudly, as they did for his two plate appearances, as they did when he first emerged on the on-deck circle.

The first ribby also inspired remarkable perspective on comparative quickness. We will each have our own perspective on October 16, 1992. It was the day of the book party for Madonna’s $50 book of naked pictures of herself. The next day, Tom Glavine would four-hit Toronto to open the World Series. It was three weeks until Bill Clinton’s first presidential election. I had already been working at ESPN for ten months, Derek Jeter had already played 58 games in the minor leagues, and one of Harper’s current Washington teammates, Matt Stairs, had already played 13 games in the major leagues.

IMG_3038.jpgHarper said, with full sincerity: “It takes awhile.”

He was referring, of course, to the “30 to 40 at bats to get yourself ready,” during spring training – and not the seemingly lightning route that has put him in a major league camp at the age of 18 years and not even five months.

That route seems to challenge the expectation that Harper will have seen three Spring Trainings before he appears in a big league game that counts. It is noted that at this time in 2013 he will still be a young 20 year-old and that’s quick enough. Except the ball explodes off his bat and his adjustment to the outfield has already been such that he was as proud of starting a relay that nailed the Yankees’ Austin Romine at third base as he was of the RBI hit (shown to the left in what you’d say is a crappy photo, until you realize it was taken from the distant press box with an unaided iPhone).

Many newly-official men have looked like star big leaguers at 18. To go back to placing Harper’s birth in perspective, the ill-fated Yankee phenom Brien Taylor had already struck out 187 guys in his first 161 innings of pro pitching the day Harper was born. But it is hard to believe the Nats would arbitrarily slow down his pace through the minors to stick to an artificial deadline of 2013, because it isn’t just Harper’s physical game that’s so impressive.

His attitude is also already pretty well developed. Harper was asked by the small crowd of reporters around his cubicle what he thought of playing in a packed stadium festooned with Yankee self-promotion, and he admitted it was “awesome” to have shared a field with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia and all the rest. He said “awesome” twice and added Nick Swisher to the pantheon of impressiveness, which should make Swisher say funny things later on.

But then Harper was asked if he’d said hello to any of these Yankees (even Swisher, who was almost 12 when Harper was born). “No. I don’t really care to say hi to anybody over there. I stick over here.” I wondered if that was humility or competitiveness. “You try to beat ‘em. That’s what I am. If we’re off the field? Hey, I’ll go and say hello. You can be my best friend off the field and I’ll hate you on the baseball field. That’s how I am…on the field, I want to kick the crap out of you.” (By the way, here’s Dave Sheinin’s version of this in The Washington Post, including the very relevant detail that Harper grew up around Las Vegas as a Yankee fan).

One game, one portentous spring training, one killer instinct, and one exhibition game RBI do not mean you should step directly into the majors at 18. But they do tend to support the idea that suggesting it is theoretically possible at 19 is not at all crazy.

A LITTLE PHOTO TOUR OF (MY) SPRING TRAINING OPENER:
Take a nice deep breath:

IMG_3005.jpg 
An almost-forgotten pre-game ritual: The visiting team taking infield (and outfield) practice. The catchers are Derek Norris and Jesus Flores, the coaches Jim Lett and John McLaren. When I asked Washington manager Jim Riggleman about this, he said there was nothing better for a team before a game. “But on the road, the groundskeepers look at you like you’re crazy! ‘Get off our field!’” It looked to both of us like none of the Tampa groundskeepers had been alive the last time a big league team taking infield on the road, which may have gone out with Earl Weaver:
IMG_2994.JPG

Just follow the big white line to spring:
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And best of all, the scorebook comes out of hibernation:
IMG_2996.JPG
 

Ask Not For Whom The BP Tolls, It Tolls For Thee (Revised)

The good BP that is – Baseball Prospectus - the annual forecasting bible aptly blurbed on the back page: “If you’re a baseball fan and you don’t know what BP is, you’re working in a mine without one of those helmets with the light on it” (yes, I’m egotistically quoting my egotistical self).

sc0009881d.jpgIt’s basically 573 pages of the sports almanac Biff Tannen finds in “Back To The Future II” so the material to mine is practically endless, and you will find it as useful on September 30th as you will today. But the aficionado often goes first to find the collapses that time, tide, and the theories of statistical reduction insist will afflict players you are counting on for your team, real-life or fantasy.

In short: BP does not like Josh Hamilton’s chances this year. In the list of the biggest falloffs in WARP (“Wins Above Replacement Player” – basically a measurement of how much
better or worse a player is than the absolute average Schmoe you could
stick out there at his position), it sees Hamilton dropping from 6.9 last year to 2.7 this. Mind you, this does not envision Hamilton winding up as a player-coach at Round Rock; 2.7 still makes him the fifth most all-around useful leftfielder in the majors. The computers still suggest he’ll drop from 32-100-.359/.410/.633 to 22-77-.294/.356/.509.

While similar plummets are predicted for Aubrey Huff, Adrian Beltre, Carl Crawford, and Jose Bautista (try 25 homers, because “if teams are smart, it could be May before he sees an inside fastball”), the most intriguing of them belongs to Austin Jackson of Detroit. As BP’s write-up notes, Jackson led all of baseball with a .393 BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play – in other words, what you hit when you actually hit it). Jackson struck out 170 times last year and had a mediocre on-base percentage of .344, and unless those numbers alter positively and profoundly, if his “BABIP” just drops back from Ted Williamsy to kinda great, they see his WARP collapsing from 3.6 to 0.2.

The BP formulae always tend to under-promise for pitchers. Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, and CC Sabathia are the only guys forecast to win as many as 15 games this year, and that’s obviously an absurdly conservative prediction. Nevertheless it is chilling to see the computer spit out the following seasons for some of the game’s “name” twirlers:

Chris Carpenter: 9-5, 94 SO, 3.21 ERA
Phil Hughes: 8-6, 109 SO, 3.74 ERA
Zack Greinke: 11-7, 166 SO, 3.52 ERA
David Price: 12-8, 147 SO, 3.46 ERA
Tim Lincecum: 12-6, 190 SO, 2.74 ERA

It also doesn’t look so hot for some of the game’s closers, listed by predicted saves: Jose Valverde, 20; Carlos Marmol, 17; David Aardsma, 17; Brandon Lyon, 15; Brad Lidge, 15.

Last year’s biggest predicted collapse was Derek Jeter, and in fact the BP boys and girls turned out to have been optimistic. This year, the accompanying biography makes me look like Jeter’s most hopeful fan:

“Jeter pushed for a contract of four years and up, which suggests at least one of the following: (A) while Jeter may be the closest thing the modern Yankees have to Joe DiMaggio, he lacks DiMaggio’s sense of dignity; (B) never mind winning, it’s money that matters; (C) the emperor has no clothes but doesn’t know; (D) the emperor has no clothes but doesn’t care.”

Ouch.

Still, the PECOTA equations don’t see Jeter getting appreciably worse than last year (9-66-.281-.348-.377 compared to 2010′s 10-67-.270/.340/,370) but does see the once mighty warrior’s WARP sinking to 1.0. For contrast, Jeter’s great 2009 season had a WARP of 4.2, the top two shortstop numbers for 2011 belong to Hanley Ramirez at 4.8 and Tulowitzki at 4.7, and J.J. Hardy is a 1.9.

Having pilfered so much of their hard work, I feel it’s imperative to throw out some teasers to get you to buy this essential tome. Granted, at the BP website, the computers refine and refine these numbers even as the season progresses, but right now they somehow see Ryan Rohlinger absolutely tearing up the pea patch for the Giants this year, adore Javy Vazquez in Florida and Lance Berkman in St. Louis, and see potential breakout years for Sam LeCure, Brad Emaus, and Robinson Chirinos that even those players probably don’t.

And I’ll confess right now I had no idea who Robinson Chirinos was. Another reason to secure Baseball Prospectus 2011. However much you think you know about baseball, they know more than you do.

False Spring In New York

Pitchers and Catchers report, New York temperatures clear 40 degrees, and somebody issues a forecast that references “55″ by the end of the week and it’s not the age of the latest pitcher the Yankees invited to camp.

These should all be good signs for baseball here in Big Town, and once again optimism balloons like CC Sabathia before his gallant off-season knee-saving conditioning program. And I’m not buying a word of it. In fact, 2011 is shaping up as one of those rare seasons in which neither of the local teams seriously contend, perhaps a year like 1967.
That was my first true season of baseball awareness, inspired by the events of a birthday party for a neighbor named Wolfgang (Wolf wasn’t originally from around here) at which each of us was given a pack of baseball cards and everybody else’s contained the bonus “miniature poster” and mine didn’t and I vowed to get one and I was hooked. This minor childhood trauma is recounted because my vague memory is that Wolf’s birthday was May 10th, which the record books will show you was the last 1967 day in which either the Mets or the Yankees were at .500 or better. Between them the ’67 New York clubs lost 191 games and had the 17th and 20th worst records in all of baseball in a time when all of baseball consisted of 20 teams.
I didn’t see it at the time. I was eight. But clearly, the missing “miniature poster” was a sign of things to come during that awful season.
It’s not going to be that bad, but I continue to get the impression that not one correspondent or fan or executive of either of the teams has any idea exactly how bad it is going to be. The telltale sign is the Mets and Yankees both ended 2010 in decided spirals, yet if the Yankees had not spent gaudy money on the largely unnecessary Rafael Soriano, identifying this city’s biggest off-season acquisition would require an argument over the relative merits of Russell Martin, Ronny Paulino, and Brad Emaus.
The Mets are bleeding at second base, dependent in the outfield on the comebacks of two mega-contract free agents who might not have been good ideas when they were healthy, and absolutely without hope if their closer doesn’t put both his problems with the law and his fastball behind him. The Yankees are facing a superstar’s existential crisis at shortstop, and a far greater drama behind the plate than anybody’s letting on. And barring the kind of luck you only find in Fantasy Leagues, neither team has the starting pitching to expect to compete in their divisions.
I don’t have to fully regurgitate my stance on Derek Jeter. I am as sentimental as any baseball fan, ever. But I get far more choked up about a team making the post-season every year than I do about whether one player performed for 17 seasons with one team or “only” 15. As near as I can figure it, instead of cutting the cord now (or at least keeping their obligations to a minimum), the Yankees have designed some sort of plan by which Jeter will be permitted to deteriorate further at shortstop this year and next, and then be moved to the outfield where he will squeeze out Nick Swisher while producing a quarter of Swisher’s offensive value. 
I get it. Everybody loves Jeter. I’d like to point out the Yankees released Babe Ruth, fired Yogi Berra, trashed Tino Martinez, demoted Bernie Williams, and traded Elston Howard to the Red Sox. Not every great player stays that way until he’s 40 and gets to go out on his own terms. The Yankees’ decision on Jeter will not only cost them playoff appearances, but it will still end in tears, and an even messier conclusion in which Jeter hits .217 and is benched or released or put on waivers or all of the above.
Something also has to give in this odd mish-mosh at Catcher. Jesus Montero is supposedly ready, despite wildly varying reports on his ability to hit or catch anything that isn’t straight down the middle. If there wasn’t already uncertainty about the youngster, it would have been supplied by the acquisition of Russell Martin, who clearly still has the capacity in him for a strong comeback. And then there is Jorge Posada, supposedly still a vibrant presence at bat if not behind the plate, and ready to slide in to the DH role much of the time. Where ever the truth lies here, there are still three guys going into two positions, along with some thought that the DH spot will be used as a parking place for Alex Rodriguez and an At Bats opportunity for Andruw Jones, Ronnie Belliard, and Eric Chavez.
By the by, did you know that Chavez – the new utility cornerman and presumptive emergency middle infielder – has played twelve years in the major leagues and has spent exactly 28 and two-thirds innings playing anywhere except third base? Not games – innings. 

I am also probably belaboring a point I’ve made here before about the Yankees’ starting rotation: They don’t have one. While Sabathia is, simply, one of the best free agent signings in the history of the sport, the questions that follow him do not begin with “who replaces Andy Pettitte?” or “what about A.J. Burnett?” They start with the presumed number two, Phil Hughes, who was a flaccid 7-6, 4.90 after the All-Star Break and was eviscerated twice in the ALCS by Texas. Assuming Hughes enters 2011 as an established front-line major league starter is itself a leap. Then comes the nightmarish implications of the Burnett mystery. Then come the Ivan Novas, Sergio Mitres, and the veritable Old-Timers’ Day grouping that greets new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Freddy Garcia? Mark Prior? Bartolo Colon? No wonder Kevin Millwood is generating enthusiasm by comparison. Why not Scott Sanderson? Dave LaPoint? Kevin Mmahat?
This team is going to compete with the Red Sox and Rays? This team is going to compete with the Blue Jays who off-loaded the Vernon Wells contract. This team is going to compete with the Orioles in their Buck Showalter Honeymoon Year.
And still the Yankees are in better shape than the Mets. From the middle of last summer onwards, what passed for buzz inside CitiField was some sort of vague sense of doom. It had to do with the jailed Ponzi Schemer Bernie Madoff, but no other details emerged. It didn’t seem to make much sense; the Wilpon family had insisted it had not suffered greatly at the hands of the ultimate financial snake oil salesman, and all evidence backed up their assertion. Now it becomes clear that the owners were in trouble not because Madoff had stolen their money, but because he hadn’t. They are the defendants in an extraordinary billion-dollar suit that claims they knowingly pocketed the profits from a kind of privatized Enron disaster. While the action is headed to mediation by former New York Governor (and former Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand) Mario Cuomo, it has already paralyzed the team’s finances and threatens to continue to do so for an indefinite period.
Which explains why the Mets, when still vaguely competitive last June and July, added no payroll. Which explains why the bullets were not bitten on the statues that replaced Luis Castillo and Ollie Perez. Which explains why, when another bat was needed, the Mets could reach only for Mike Hessman. Which explains why men named Wilpon did not take the fall in October.
Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran are enigmas. Jose Reyes is at the critical step, forwards to greatness or backwards towards underachievement. Ike Davis and Josh Thole are dedicated and gifted players who may not bring enough power to their respective positions. The second baseman could be a Rule V draftee. There isn’t one starting pitcher who isn’t weighed down with a huge question mark (Mike Pelfrey’s head, Jon Niese’s endurance, Johan Santana’s shoulder, Dillon Gee’s inexperience, the overall health of Chri
sses Young and Capuano, and the likelihood that R.A. Dickey actually found himself last season at the age of 35). And the bullpen? You don’t want to know about the bullpen.
So as winter today loosened its grip just slightly after a mean-spirited winter, I am thinking not about the warm spring breezes in the Bronx and Queens. I am thinking again about Wolfgang’s birthday party and the prospect that this year, every New York fan’s pack of cards will be missing something he was counting on getting.

A Modest (Moot) Proposal

So Adrian Beltre is going to cost the Texas Rangers $16 million a year for six years, and Derek Jeter is going to cost the New York Yankees $17 million a year for three years (maybe more).

Did the Yankees ever consider the financial madness, or the lack of quality control, that represents? Or, to phrase it more correctly, how many times will they be forced to think about it in the next three years, as Jeter continues his descent from impact player to easily-jammed to liability to living statue?
If it seems asinine to consider asking Alex Rodriguez to move back to shortstop after seven years at third base, it certainly isn’t much more so than is expecting Jeter to suddenly regain the range that deteriorated so noticeably last year, or to do that and be a productive shortstop on his 40th birthday.
All greatness comes to an end, and usually a year or two later, so does all sentimentality. The Yankees released Babe Ruth in 1934. They forced Yogi Berra into the manager’s office in 1963 and fired him in 1964. They dumped Casey Stengel days after his 10th World Series in a dozen years in the uniform. They let Reggie walk. They cut The Scooter on Old Timers’ Day. They marginalized and then released Bernie Williams in 2006. They cashiered Joe Torre.
If you are horrified by the thought of the Yankees simply throwing away Jeter, how horrified are you by the image of seeing him benched for Ramiro Pena or Cesar Izturis or somebody while the 2012 Yankees are chasing Toronto for third place behind the Sox and Rays, and you’re sitting there thinking “they could’ve had Adrian Beltre for a million less?”
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