Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Sox are Doomed

Well, that's the end of that. Tom Verducci is predicting that the Sox will win 100 games and win the World Series. Therefore, they will win 82 and miss the post season. Double check, but I don't think he has another team in the majors winning even 95 in this prediction. That doesn't make sense.

Yankee Season Preview

I was planning on responding to a comment on my previous post, but decided to just write another post because the answer was simply too long and I haven't really previewed the upcoming Yankee season as a whole.

The Rotation
We'll start with the rotation and off the bat I think we can all agree that it's not good, but this is far from the worst rotation they have trotted out there in the past five years... Anyone recall 2008? That's the year that Darrell Rasner, Sidney Ponson and Carl Pavano started a combined 42 games while posting an ERA of 5.61. That Yankee team still won 89 games and I would say this team has a better rotation and a better defense. That will help cover some of the pitching deficiencies, something the '08 team and no ability to do.

The Yankees still have a bona fide ace in CC Sabathia. The big lefty is unlikely to slow down right now, especially when he has an opt-out for the end of the season which could earn another $60 million. A.J. Burnett will again fellow Sabathia. Now that is a big question mark. It's hard to speak with optimism about Burnett's upcoming season, but Burnett debuted new mechanics this spring and the results showed. He didn't walk a batter and struck out 11 in 13 innings. Yea those numbers don't really mean anything, but it's better than him blowing up. He could be better this year and it's unlikely he'll be worse.

Beyond Burnett there are even more question marks with Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova. Both are young pitchers with potential to be solid or, in Phil Hughes's case, better than average. Of course both could also regress and be league average or worse. Hughes is more likely to take a step forward than Nova who might not be long for the rotation if he doesn't start well.

Now we come to the fifth starter. There isn't much to say about these guys. All three are retreads and would be better suited in a 2003 old-timers game. Still New York will be able to get about 100 league average innings out of Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Kevin Millwood. They won't be good or pretty, but the job will get done.

The rotation isn't a finished product either. The Yankees have the monetary ability (obviously) and prospects to acquire a top end pitcher before July 31st. I think its safe to say that these five starters will not be the same five starters who pitch in September.

The Lineup
Here is the Yankee bread and butter. The lineup is as good as it has been for the past ten years. They will score runs and lots of them. They will be in the top three for runs scored and will also be at the top of the leader board for OBP too. This is probably as close to a complete lineup you can create in a non-video game world. Every bat can hurt you in some shape or form. The toughest choice for Joe Girardi will be whether or not to have Brett Gardner lead off or Derek Jeter. Other than that this offense can just be set on cruise control for most of the season and you can sit back and enjoy the ride.

The Bullpen
On paper this is by far the best bullpen New York has put together in years. This will help to cover some of the rotation blemishes that the Yankees will have early on.

Mariano Rivera is Mariano Rivera and backing him up with Rafael Soriano is filthy if Soriano can stay healthy. Beyond that Joba Chamberlain looked good this spring and if he keeps up the pace he set in the second half of last year, the Yankees won't loss many games when they have the lead beyond the sixth inning.

The back end is just the beginning of the depth that Cashman has assembled in the pen. Dave Robertson will return to the middle innings where his 10.4 K/9 will be very useful. Boone Logan will be fine for use against lefties, and if Pedro Feliciano heals up, Girardi will have two quality lefties to deploy in the late innings.

Bartolo Colon will be fine as a long reliever, although his past injury troubles don't seem to bode well for the physical demands placed on relievers who's use is as sporadic as a long reliever's.

It's fun to hate on the Yankees and this off-season made it easy when two players rejected the Yankees money for the preferences of their families. Many will be looking for New York to falter and slip beyond a Red Sox team that improved over the winter.

While the Sox have plenty of weapons on offense, I don't trust their bullpen at all and I think everyone is overlooking Boston's rotation question marks. The neutral baseball analyst in me would choose the Red Sox to win the division, just slipping by New York for the best record in baseball. But the homer in me will choose the Yankees. I have faith in Cashman to add another pitcher and I think the Yankee lineup is still better than Boston's and the Yankee bullpen has a solid advantage. The slight advantage that the Sox have in the rotation won't be enough to edge the Yankees over a full season.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rotation is Set - Yankee Style

Which to me means with little intelligence applied. The Yankees announced how the rotation will begin the season. Well really they have announced how the way the last two spots will shake out since they named CC as the Opening Day starter (obviously) and Burnett the number two starter with Phil Hughes the number three.

Girardi has made the obvious choice of inserting Ivan Nova into the four spot in the rotation. Its hard to argue with that since Nova has pitched exceptionally well this spring and is the one candidate of the group who can still become a decent starter in the near future. Not only that, but unlike the last few Yankee starting prospects, he is actually stretched out to pitch an entire big league season.

The last spot was a little tougher to decide. The Yankees were running out two retreads in Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Colon hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009 and hadn't pitched a full season since 2005, but he was exceptionally strong this spring. The rotund right-hander had good velocity and movement all spring and it seemed like he would come out of left field and surprise everyone to grab that fifth spot.

His competition was Fraddy Garcia and while it had been a long time since Garcia was an above-average pitcher, it wasn't absurd to think of him lasting most of the year in the rotation and providing serviceable production. Hell, he had just thrown 160 innings last season with the White Sox with decent numbers.

The Yankee logic seems to be that Colon would be more versatile than Garcia. It's something that doesn't seem to mesh with either players history or physical profile. Based on their recent injury history it would seem wiser to have Colon in the rotation. Being overweight with a history of shoulder issues doesn't scream flexibility.

Either way the addition of Kevin Millwood will make Garcia or Colon expendable if they fail within their first three or four starts.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Rotation is Set

Some people may have been surprised when Terry Francona announced the 2011 Red Sox starting rotation. I case you missed it: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, and the corpse of Dice-K. (AKA Daisuke Matsuzaka). Some were surprised that Beckett was dropped into the 4 spot. Frankly, it really doesn’t matter. Hopefully, Beckett and Lackey and be effective and make solid contributions every 5th day.( I don’t expect any Cy Young type performances) I don’t think Dice-K will last the year. He may turn into an innings eater in the bullpen or just fake an “injury” all season. Either way you will definitely see Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves make a more to be the 5th starter.

Though the Sox haven’t been playing great lately, everything in Florida seems to have gone well. There haven’t been any major injuries and Adrian Gonzalez should be fit for opening day. (He will also be signed, sealed , and delivered with a fat contract extension.) Questions still remain in the bullpen, but I think Francona will sort out each pitcher’s role by June. Jonathan Papelbon has struggled, but if he wants to get paid next year (the Red Sox have all but said they will let him walk after 2011) he will have to perform. There is also the added incentive that Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks are breathing down his neck for the closer job. The offensive should carry the team (I mean JD Drew is batting 7th) and hopefully the pitching will be good enough to get them to the World Series, if not everyone will call all of Theo’s moves a failure. So without further ado, Play Ball!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Yanks v. Sox 2004: Game 4

I am watching MLB network revisit this classic match up on my new HD service. I remember that night well. My brother Pete and I went to a 10pm movie that evening thinking that the game would be over by then. (This was pre-kid for me. I will never see a 10pm movie again.) Also, keep in mind, no one knew or expected the Sox to come back down 0-3. At the time, I felt like the Sox were just taking the piss. They made the Yanks play another game, burn some more pitchers and maybe fail in the series again as a result. Pete, what was your recollection? I don't suppose you remember the movie we watched.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Insights into Strasburg Injury

Here's an interesting article on the Stephen Strasburg injury written by Tom Verducci. Seems there's a hitch in his giddy up that portended his current elbow issues. It's a very technical article and some of the descriptions are hard to envision without video of Strasburg's delivery, but it's interesting nevertheless. It helps to illustrate the reasons for other pitchers' arm problems as well. You'll recognize the names, Mark Prior, Joe Nathan and others.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lackey Looking Good

John Lackey has now looked sharp in two straight starts this spring. Everyone knows that the Sox line up looks formidable heading into April, but the key this year will be for starters Josh Beckett and John Lackey to bounce back from bad seasons. Dice-K needs to bounce back too, but I think you have to actually have been something to bounce back. (Can we just call Dice-K a bust already? I don't think I'm jumping the gun here.)

Having a healthy productive Dice-K would be nice, but really Lackey and Beckett need to be their old selves for the Sox to get back in the post season. Both were inconsistent and got banged around a lot last year. With Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester becoming the underpaid aces of the staff, they don't need to do much. I would take 14-8 with a 3.80 ERA from each of them. I don't think Beckett needs to get back to 2007 form. He just needs to stay healthy and learn to pitch with less velocity. Lackey needs to get back his confidence and be the gamer he's always been.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Yanks Fall to Sox; Banuelos Impresses

Yesterday the Yankees took on the Red Sox for the first time this year. Well they didn't actually take on the Red Sox since the only real Boston player to make the trip was starter Clay Buchholz, still they fell 5-3 on the strength of a Boone Logan seventh inning implosion.

Despite that, the Yankees did see some stellar pitching. Bartolo Colon threw three scoreless innings while striking out five Red Sox scrubs. More on him in a minute.

To me the real stellar pitching came from 19-year-old Manny Banuelos. Banuelos was impressive. Not just because he threw his second scoreless appearance this spring but becaus eof how he did it. Unlike Colon, ManBan hit his spots with a crisp 93-96 MPH fastball, and had exception movement on his breaking pitches, which he also threw for quality strikes. Russell Martin even raved about how polished the youngster is, comparing him to another hard throwing young lefty.

The young lefty's mechanics were also something to marvel at. He possesses a very easy delivery and it surprises you how hard his fastball comes out of his small frame. Banuelos didn't pitch the last time Trenton was in New Britain, but you better believe I am eyeing their return in mid-June. Though, I wont count on ManBan still being there come June. The way he pitches, he may force a promotion before then.

Colon is a bit of a different story. While the numbers looked good, Colon was all over the place, especially in his third inning of work. He was bailed out by some bad swings from the Red Sox. Colon may be pitching better than the Yankees expected, but Girardi and Cashman will take note of his lack of command within the strike zone. The big guy always seemed to be trailing in the race for the fifth starter spot and he hasn't done enough to change that perception yet.

Some the pitching has been decent, but the bats have continued to struggle. The only hitter who has looked ready for the start of the season is Alex Rodriguez. He hit the ball hard again on Friday night. A bullet single through the right side and then a double off the wall in left-center. A-Rod looks like he may still have some elite level production left in his bones. I'm always an optomist at this point in the season, but I really think he's going to put himself back in the discussion as one of the best hitters in baseball.

Today's action features CC Sabathia on the mound and Jesus Montero behind the plate. Unfortunately the game isn't on YES today, so we'll have to wait till next week to see the Yanks in action again.


I know it's a little late, but leave it to Joe Posnanski to write an insightful post on the passing of Duke Snider. There's also one on the 1955 season, when he barely missed out on the MVP. Also Tom Verducci echos the sentiments that have been on this blog since it's inception. As Peter points it out on an almost a weekly basis, starters are more valuable than closers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Beckett Scratched from Scheduled Start

Josh Beckett will continue to take it easy this week after being hit in the noggin on Monday while throwing batting practice. Beckett suffered a concussion. He has started to resume team activities today, but will not start on Thursday. Obviously, you play it super-safe during spring training and hopefully there won’t be any residual effects from this injury. This is not how Red Sox wanted Josh Beckett to start 2011.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hughes Makes First Start; Pitching Rumors Abound

Phil Hughes made his first start of the spring this afternoon and was solid through two innings of work. The young righty walked one, but thanks to a double play, faced the minimum six batters. The talk of the day seemed to be the lack of his use of the change up during his short stint, as he threw only three to the six batters he faced.

Hughes needs to get his change working this year. The cutter is a devastating pitch and his fastball can be sneaky good. Still, he needs another off-speed pitch besides his curve to keep hitters honest. If that fourth pitch can be developed into something at least average then 18 wins will be just the beginning for him.

There were two other pitchers in the news today that could effect the Yankees rotation of the future. Speculation has run rampant since New York lost out on Cliff Lee that the Yanks would make a play for the Cardinals Chris Carpenter. The odds of that happening took a couple of hits, first when Albert Pujols failed to sign an extension, and then when Adam Wainwright went down for the year. Now Carpenter is out with a strained hamstring. Though it may not be really severe, Carpenter's health has never really been more than a house of cards. Any little breeze will threaten to send him to the DL. It will definitely be something the Yankees will have to monitor.

Rumors have also spread that the Yankees are pursuing the Twins Fransisco Liriano. It has also been said that the Yankees would only need to offer a package headlined by either Ivan Nova or Joba Chamberlain. I'd have to believe Brian Cashman wouldn't hesitate to send either if not both of those players if that is what Minnesota GM Bill Smith requested. Sadly though Yankee fans dreams of Liriano in pinstripes will have to wait. Buster Olney reported earlier today that the Twins aren't thinking of moving Liriano... yet.

As always, the Yankees will show patience and let the market develop. Tomorrow's starter may have a big impact on that discussion. If A.J. Burnett can bounce back to his 2008 form, or at least his 2009 form, then the Yankees may not be desperate for pitching help come July 31st. That doesn't mean the wont be looking to improve, but a solid Burnett could keep teams from trying to play on Yankee desperation to raise their prices.