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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mariano Rivera: "I will be ok. I will be back."

Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America
Apparently, my emotional rant yesterday was premature, as Mariano Rivera's career is not over just yet.  Here is the word straight from the man himself, "Thank you fans, friends and family for your prayers, well wishes and support.  I will be ok.  I will be back."

First of all, I have no words to describe Rivera anymore.  He's superhuman.  No matter who it is, coming back from this type of injury is never easy, especially at 42 years old.  Seeing those words have assuaged my fears and downright depression over the injury, and every Yankee fan I talk to feels the same way.  Yankee fans simply could not handle that it could have been it, Mo could have been done.  He needed to come out and say it to prevent Yankees fans from jumping off the ledge.

It's going to be a long and arduous process, and when he does come back, there is no guarantee of him performing at the same level that he has over the last decade and a half.  Though Mariano at 25% of his ability is still a valuable cog in the bullpen.

That said, the Yankees will most probably be without Mo for the remainder of the 2012 season.  Yes, it is a major obstacle to overcome, but with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano at the back end of the bullpen, it is not insurmountable.  Guys like Cory Wade, Boone Logan, and perhaps even Phil Hughes if the Yankees decide to go that route with him will have to fill the void in the middle innings.

"I can handle this, I can handle this.  If God gave it to me?  I can handle this,  I'll deal with it.  That's what adversity is, you deal with it." -Mariano Rivera via nj.com.

We are dealing with a true baseball great.  If anything, this injury has given us a glimpse into life without Rivera. It has reminded us that one day, Mo will no longer be closing games at Yankee stadium.  It reminded us to savor every last save, every last cutter Mo throws in 2013, because that may truly be the end.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mourning over Mariano Rivera

One last time Mo, Please.    Image via Getty Images
Back in 2001, I was a young, naive baseball fan. At just seven years old, I did not know much about the intricacies of baseball.  But I did know at least one thing.  I knew that Mariano Rivera would be ready to come in to the game late to ensure a Yankee win.  And I knew that he would be successful in just about every try, more than anyone else in baseball history.  It did not take an experienced baseball fan to know that Mariano Rivera was, and is, something special.

And over the past ten and a half years of my being a Yankee fan, there have been two guarantees.  One, Derek Jeter would be manning shortstop, or sitting somewhere atop the Yankees' order.  And two, Mariano Rivera would be his usual dominant self, year after year, putting up ERA's under two, painting the corners to perfection with his patented Mariano Rivera cutter.

I had been in deep personal conflict the ever since day Mariano hinted at possible retirement following the 2012 season.  But at least I could take solace in the fact that we would see Mo for at least one more year.  We would still see those wondrous cutters that make opposing batters look foolish.  We, as Yankee fans, would be able to count on the great Mariano Rivera to close things out for at least one last season.

Perhaps, I thought, we'd be able to give him a proper sendoff.  Perhaps he'd end his career having conquered baseball's grandest stage one last time.  Rivera's career should have ended in the top of the ninth at Yankee stadium in October.  His career should have ended with one last ride down the Canyon of Heroes.

I cannot remember ever being so distraught over a player's injury.  I needed to see Mo one last season, I needed to take it in.  I needed to see Mo swing out of the bullpen to the raucous sounds of Enter Sandman.  We as Yankee fans needed one last glimpse of Mo's supremacy.  The Yankees needed it.  Baseball needed it.  But such is life.  It is highly likely that Mariano never throws another pitch in the majors.  A torn ACL for a 42 year old pitcher already on the verge of retiring is never a good thing.  But that's baseball.  That's life.  These things happen.

Worst of all, though, is that Mariano Rivera could not choose his own fate.  Unlike most players who play past the age of 40, Mariano has remained as effective as ever.  Unlike most players, his decision to retire was going to be of his own accord.  He was not supposed to be forced out by injury or ineffectiveness.  Mariano Rivera was different.  He was an aberration, a once in a generation player.

Maybe I'm overreacting, I don't know.  It's just a game after all.  Or maybe he will pitch again, if not this year, then next.  Who knows?  Mo himself probably doesn't know.   I can dream, I can beg, I can wonder that I will see him pitch one last time.  Mo is different after all.  He's not a normal athlete.  Perhaps he will return before the end of the season, throw a few innings in September as if he had never been gone, and then act as his normal self in October.  Perhaps he'll be on the mound come 2013, aching for one last go-round.

But who am I kidding, things are not looking good.  There is no reason to expect such a magnificent turn of events.  We might as well just accept it.  Mariano Rivera is probably done for good.  All we can do is remember all he has done, all we have witnessed.  All we can do now is wait.  If he does in fact retire, we'll see him in Cooperstown in five years.  If he does come back, that trip will have to wait.  Whatever the case, we as Yankee fans should consider ourselves lucky.  We are lucky to have been witness to the greatest closer of all time.  We're lucky to have been able to count on Mariano Rivera to finish game after game, all with the utmost pride, humility, and grace.  He will be sorely missed.
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Temporary End to The Subway Connection

This may come as little surprise, but for the time being, I am going to cease to update The Subway Connection.  My partner can no longer make the commitment on the Mets' side, and as I am now in school, I do not have the time to write more than one or two times per week.  I will be writing about the Yankees on Rob Abruzesse's Bronx Baseball Daily so be sure to check in.  It's an excellent site and Rob does an excellent job of keeping you up to date.  So thanks to everyone who has been reading and I hope that in the near future I can restart on this blog.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nick Swisher's Playoff Performance: Fluke or Standard?

Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images
To the dismay of all Yankee fans in 2011, the Yankees six hitter Nick Swisher failed to contribute anything throughout the ALDS.  And this is nothing new.  For the past three seasons, Swish has struggled to put up numbers we all know he is capable of in the postseason.  This has led many to think of Swisher as a player who cannot hit once the games truly matter.  But is this true?  Is Swisher really one who cannot perform past the regular season?

For years, I have been preaching that playoff performance is about as indicative of a player's ability to thrive under pressure as the amount of pine tar on his helmet.  After all, it is a world of small sample size.  A few bloop hits, a few caught line drives, and the view of that player's performance is vastly different.

Only a players long-term performance, stats throughout the 162 game regular season or throughout his entire career, should be used to judge that player.  Otherwise, there is far too much left to chance.  After all, what is more telling, 600 at bats or 16?  Imagine we looked at statistics on a weekly basis throughout the year.  How inconsistent would every player be?

And for players with vast playoff experience, their stats are eerily similar to their overall stats, Mariano Rivera notwithstanding.  (Although, he is the exception to every rule in the books.)  Look at two revered "clutch" performers; Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte.  Both have enough experience in the playoffs to provide a representative sample.

"Big game pitcher," Pettitte has been lucky enough to throw 263 innings past September.  In those 263 innings, he has an ERA of 3.83.  Switch over to his 3055.1 inning regular season sample and his 3.88 ERA is almost identical.  And Jeter, perceived as one of the most clutch players of this generation,  has a .307/.374/.465 line through playoff 704 at bats, also identical to his career line of .313/.383/.449.

And that is the reason that Swisher's postseason struggles in 2009 and 2010 gave me no worries heading into 2011.  But Swisher again was nowhere to be found.  He was the third of the 4, 5, 6 black hole in the Yankees lineup last week.  And as this was the third straight year of miserable production, Swisher has earned himself a not-so desirable reputation among many fans.

Even those who do understand the issues of sample size and such have begun to think that something is aloof with Swisher.  Perhaps his strikeout tendencies do not play well once the calendar turns.  Perhaps he does begin to over think and press too hard.  Perhaps his style of game is not conducive to October at-bats.

Many have even called for his ouster, despite the fact that Swisher had the highest OBP of any Yankee in 2011.  They call for a less productive, more "consistent" player.  They argue that such players thrive in the postseason.  But there is no such thing as a consistent player in this game.  Albert Pujols has good weeks and bad weeks.  Yuniesky Betancourt also has good weeks and bad weeks.

But can Swisher truly be trusted if the Yankees wind up making the playoffs again in 2012?  Yes.  Look at Alex Rodriguez for example.  For three straight years from 2005-2007, A-Rod had less than stellar numbers in the ALDS.  Remember the subsequent "choker" label placed on the Yankees' superstar?  Heading into 2009, few were confident in A-Rod's ability to thrive in baseball's brightest spotlight.

Alas, he did this, and this... and this, and much more to lead the Yankees to their first world series win since 2009.  But no, he was a choker, and because he had failed so hard the previous three years, he would not produce in 2009.  So, should we take the same approach with Swisher as we did with A-Rod?

Yes, it is frustrating to watch a solid player forget how to swing a bat for a few games, but it happens.  But we must not forget the true performance of that player.  Most importantly, we must not let a few weeks worth of at bats mold our expectations for future performance over almost a decade's worth of at bats.  Give me a team of Nick Swishers vs. a team of Don Kellys, and my team will win 9 out of 10 times.  Unfortunately for the Yanks, 2011 was that one outlier.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Who is to blame for Yankees loss?

Image via Getty Images
Anyone reading this will have already read or heard countless accounts concerning the Yankees disappointing 3-2 loss in game five of the ALDS.  Yankee fans all over are baffled.  How could this happen?  How is it that the best team in the American League lost in the first round?  How could that incredible game four start by A.J. Burnett be squandered away?

At 12:38 PM, I am writing this more than twelve hours after that fateful game.  At this point, while I am still in a foul mood, and will probably be a bother for those around me for at least a week, my anger and surprise have subsided.  If I were to write a post last night, I would have undoubtedly spoken in an entirely irrational matter.

If I were to have written last night, I would have ripped Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to shreds.  I would have called out Nick Swisher for his past horrible postseason performance.  I would have wondered where the real CC Sabathia has been for the entire season.  And I would have berated manager Joe Girardi for every move or non-move that I, with my wealth of baseball experience (sarcasm) would have done differently.

But instead, I decided to keep myself off the blog.  I knew, even then, that whatever I wrote last night, I would have looked back on with disgust a month from now.  Instead of ranting and raging on the blog, I did so on the phone to a fellow Yankee fan, saving myself from having to reread the irrational diatribe I was spewing.

So I slept it off, and today, decided to read around and listen to others' reactions.  In many places, I read much of the same that I was thinking last night.  And this is such a reactionary response.  No, this team did not win the world series.  But that does not mean that it was not a good team.  No, the 4, 5, 6 hitters did not show up, and no, the Yankees' undisputed Ace did not pitch as we would all have liked, but that does not mean they are bad players that should be sent away.

But this always happens in the postseason.  Mistakes are overblown.  A mere two hits may be the difference between an entire fanbase's approval or distrust.  Reading a lot of what has been written over the past few days, you may think that if given a choice, many fans would trust A.J. Burnett over CC going into next season.  You may also think that Jorge Posada should be resigned to hit fourth over Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira next season, or that Nick Swisher is one of the worst outfielders in the game.

Now, take a step back.  How ridiculous does that sound.  It's fortunate that Brian Cashman is the Yankees GM and not us fans, or else we would be witnessing some atrocious reactionary moves in the coming months.  Just think, this is still just about the same team that won the 2009 world series, minus Andy Pettitte and plus Curtis Granderson.  Have all the players regressed that much in two years?  Of course not.

In the end, what can be blamed most is the fact that the series lasted five games, not 162.  The Yankees as a team did play better than the Tigers.  In fact, they outscored the Tigers by 11 runs.  Replay this series ten times, and you can bet that the Yankees will win more than half.

Sure, we can look at some of the moves that Joe Girardi made.  Sure, there is something to be said of Nick Swisher's constant playoff disappointments.  And you can bet that I will do so for both in the coming days.  But overall, we must keep our reactions in check.  The 2011 Yankees were a great team that fell victim to the short series, just as six other teams do every single year.
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Friday, September 30, 2011

Previewing the Yankees-Tigers ALDS

Justin VerlanderImage via Wikipedia

In approximately seven hours, the whole idea of relaxing baseball will come to a sudden halt.  CC Sabathia will toe the rubber, and all across Yankee Universe, hearts palpitate, blood pressure will rise and overall productiveness in the workplace or at home will diminish.  Hopefully this will last for a month,  but for now, the Yankees have a tough task already in place.

At 8:37 tonight, Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander will get the call against the next best candidate, CC Sabathia.  It is bound to be a grueling battle, with the 100 mph heat of Verlander going against the all-world offense of the New York Yankees.

So, what exactly are the Yankees going against?  How good is Justin Verlander?  For starters, he has that fastball.  For much of the game, Verlander will sit mid to upper 90's, but in a pinch, he could get it up to 99, 100.  And this velocity does not diminish as the game goes on.  It is not unlikely to see the hardest pitch of the night in the eighth or ninth inning.

And it is not just the fastball that the Yanks have to worry about.  The Tigers ace throws three devastating offspeed pitches to complement that otherworldly fastball.  He throws a devastating curveball, a sharp-breaking slider and a changeup, all in any count against any hitter.  As River Ave Blues Mike Axisa says,
Based on those values, Verlander had the sixth best fastball, the sixth best curveball, the 12th best changeup, and the 20th best slider in baseball this season (min. 150 IP). That’s pretty insane.
Insane indeed.  Justin Verlander is a very good pitcher.

That said, far too many people look at a playoff matchup as pitcher vs. pitcher.  It is not that simple.  Tonight, we are not watching Justin Verlander vs. CC Sabathia, we are watching Justin Verlander, hopefully the Tigers' bullpen and the Tigers lineup vs. CC, the Yankees' bullpen and the Yankees' lineup.  And in the latter two categories, the Yankees are the team with the clear advantage.

In 2011, the Tigers offense put up 787 runs, 80 runs fewer than the 867 the Yankees scored.  They have done so with a .277/.340/.434 line to go along with a .336 wOBA, also 10 points lower than that of the Yankees.  While their offense is strong, fourth best in the American League in face, it is no match for the powerhouse lineup of the Yanks.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 22:  Miguel Cabrera #24...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
A key to keeping this offense in check will be to limit the damage Miguel Cabrera can do, easier said than done.  Somewhat under the radar, Cabrera has put up an absolute monster season.  His triple slash line of .344/.448/.586 is unfair, and his wRC+ of 177 is far and away better than that of any player on the Yankees.

Where the Yankees offense has excelled over the Tigers' has been its balance throughout 1-9.  The bulk of the production that has come out of the Tigers lineup outside of Miggy has been from Alex Avila, Victor Martinez, and Johnny Peralta.

Avila has been on fire throughout the regular season, putting up an outstanding .295/.389/.506 line, translating to a .383 wOBA.  The switch hitter Victor Martinez is hitting a career high .330 with a .380 OBP and .470 SLG.  And shortstop Johnny Peralta has been one of the most valuable shortstops in the game, putting up a .353 wOBA.  In short, the Tigers offense will be a handful for the Yankees.

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 11:  Jose Valverde #46...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
In the bullpen, the back three of Jose Valverde, Al Alburquerque (awesome name btw) and Joaquin Benoit is solid.  The three have posted ERA/FIP's of 2.24/3.55, 1.87/2.08 and 2.95/2.96 respectively.  But the three are not quite as good as the Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano trio awaiting underneath the right field bleachers.

The Tigers are a very good team, a team I would have loved the Yankees to avoid in the division series.  With Verlander going tonight, followed by Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, the Tigers have a slight upper hand in terms of starters.  But the Yankees have the upper-hands in both offense and bullpen, though both are also slight.

For over a week now, the Yankees have been coasting through games, not necessarily worried about the outcome, instead worried about getting the players ready for later tonight.  Tonight, we begin the culmination of the 162 games played during the regular season, and we as fans better strap in tight, as it is bound to be a bumpy ride.



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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Formulating the Yankees' Playoff Roster

Photograph taken by Googie Man 05:48, 21 March...
With one game left on the regular season and nothing else for the Yanks to tie up, the wonderful baseball postseason is right around the corner.  And as the ALDS quickly approaches, the top Yankee brass continue to debate the final construction of the postseason roster.

Before we begin analyzing, let's first list those who have a set spot on the roster, and then we'll look at the remaining spots.
  • Starters- CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova
  • Relievers- Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, Cory Wade
  • Catchers/DH- Russell Martin, Jesus Montero
  • Infielders- Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Eric Chavez, Eduardo Nunez
  • Outfielders- Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Andruw Jones
This fills up a 19 spots, leaving six to be filled.  So, who has been left off so far?
Jorge Posada, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Luis Ayala, Hector Noesi, Raul Valdez, Chris Dickerson, Austin Romine.

First off, I would assume the Yankees carry 4 starters, whether they go with a three man rotation or not.  Even with a three-man rotation, a fourth may be used out of relief.  Of the four: Hughes, Burnett, Colon, Garcia, Garcia would have to be the third starter.  Through 146.2 innings, Garcia is 12-8 with a 3.68 ERA and 4.12 FIP.

That leaves room for one more starter.  With an ERA north of 5, and an overall penchant for implosion, Burnett is out, leaving Hughes and Colon.  With a 4.02 ERA and 3.77 FIP, Colon has had a much better season than Hughes (5.86, 4.59).  But he has struggled of late.

Both Hughes and Colon suffer from the same problem as they both tire quickly.  Though this would mean that both may play well out of the bullpen as a long man.  Overall, due to Hughes' overall inability to put hitters away and recent injury trouble, Colon would have to win out.

But there may be hope for Hughes yet.  This current pitching staff now consists of nine pitchers, leaving room for one or two more.  (A 12 man staff would be pointless with all the off days-the 12 man would never pitch.)  For now, we will add one more pitcher, and look at the 25th man later on.

Left for the picking are Hughes, Noesi, Ayala, and dark horse candidate Raul Valdez.  There have been rumblings that Hughes will become a postseason reliever, hoping to catch some of that 2009 magic.  But he will have to compete with Noesi, who has been a decent arm for much of the season, and Luis Ayala, whose ERA of 1.64 through 55 innings is sparkling.

Going straight by the numbers, Ayala would have to be the definite choice, but just about everyone involved with baseball knows that he is not a 1.64 ERA reliever.  As for Valdez, he may be used as a second lefty out of the pen should the Yankees face the Rangers.

But for now, I'll say that Hughes gets the call due to the fact that his stuff is simply better than anyone else' in this list.  While he may have struggled so far this year, much of that was due to his diminished velocity and lack of repertoire, something which should not be a problem if he's used as a fireman for a few innings.

This leaves three spots to be split among Jorge Posada, Luis Ayala, Hector Noesi, Raul Valdez, Chris Dickerson and Austin Romine.  At most, one more pitcher should make the cut, so let's get the two hitters out of the way.

I cannot see the Yankees leaving Jorge Posada off the roster despite his horrid season.  Besides, he can still hit righties.  (.354 wOBA against right handers in 2011.)

As for the second position player, I can see Dickerson making the cut.  He provides value in the postseason as he can run and fill in as a defensive replacement late in the games.  With an outfield of Gardner, Granderson, and Dickerson, the Yankees will not let anything fall in.

Now, for the much anticipated 25th man.  It seems that Valdez might actually get the call against the Rangers.  But I am against it.  Although he is left-handed, I would much rather have Robertson, Soriano, or even Cory Wade and his fading changeup against Josh Hamilton than Raul Valdez.

So who would it be if it were not Valdez.  You may notice, there is not one true backup catcher on this list, and with Cervelli out, Austin Romine would be the logical choice.  But there is no point in a backup catcher on this team, not with Posada and Montero both on the roster.  Russell Martin, with all the off days, can play every inning of every game, meaning that Romine would not see the light of day.  And should Marting knock on wood get injured, Romine could always be added to the roster.

Seeing as though the lineup and bench is pretty filled up, if it's not Romine, it should be another pitcher.  And since Valdez is not a viable LOOGY option, Hector Noesi and Luis Ayala are the last men standing.  On the one hand, Noesi can provide innings, but has a 4.47 ERA on the season and a FIP just above 4.

On the other hand, Luis Ayala may not be as good as his ERA suggests, I say go with the journeyman right-hander.  Maybe he will continue his surprising dominance.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mets Should Let Jose Reyes Walk

I attended a Mets-Astros game at Shea Stadium ...Image via Wikipedia

For months now, the media, fans, bloggers and even casual fans have been clamoring about how the Mets will afford to keep Jose Reyes.  After all, Reyes is the Mets biggest star, and has been just about the only real bright spot in the hazy muck that is the 2011 Mets season.

In an injury shortened year, Reyes has still been worth  about 6 WAR according to fangraphs. In just 124 games, Reyes has put up a triple slash line of .334/.381/.481, translating to a .380 wOBA and a 144 wRC+, extraordinary numbers from any angle, but even more so considering the dearth of quality shortstops.  Extrapolated into a 162 game sample, Reyes has been worth almost 8 WAR, near tops in the majors.

Not only has Reyes been the Mets best player, he has been one of the best players in baseball, and more importantly, a true star in a position of tremendous scarcity.  In spite of all of this, the correct question may not be "how can they afford to resign him?"  The question may very well be, "Should they even try?"

If it were a guarantee that Reyes produce similarly every season, or even just somewhat throughout whatever contract the Mets were to give him, this would be a no-brainer.  But, it is highly unlikely that he produces the same way once more throughout his career.
Now, look at this chart showing Jose Reyes' offensive production over his career.  Which season appears to ?be the outlier. Of course, Reyes has had other outstanding seasons, but none quite like 2011.  Overall, Reyes is a career .291/.340/.439 career hitter, still good, but a -.43/-.41/-.42 drop compared to 2011.

Moreover, he has been beaten up over the last several seasons, and is rapidly approaching 30.  Overall, he has missed about a full season's worth of games due to various injuries over the last three years.  As he gets older, this trend will almost certainly continue.

And not only has Reyes been injured, but injuries have continually attacked his game's most impressive facet, his speed.  Hamstring injury after hamstring injury; never a good sign.

And then there is his fielding.  Reyes has certainly lost a step in the field since his early prime of 2006-2008.  In fact, his fielding according to UZR has been negative each of the last three seasons.  Even the most optimistic Mets fan can't argue that his fielding is going to get better as the years go on.

Imagine Reyes in five years.  There is no guarantee that he will still be a viable option at shortstop, not when his legs are consistently giving out on him already.  And in five years, Reyes will still be paid like a premier shortstop, even though he may be playing like a mediocre left-field.

Again, I am not for a second arguing that Jose Reyes right now is not worth whatever contract he is going to receive.  For the first few years of it, he may even be worth more than his monetary reward.  But as has been said time and time again, teams should not reward contracts based on past performance, or even current performance.  Contracts have to be given out based on what is expected to be provided through the duration of that contract.

In some instances though, a team may be willing to eat a few dead years at the back end if the reward at the front end outweighs it.  But for this to happen, the team must be a contending team looking for a player to push them over the top.

Think A.J. Burnett.  The Yankees were already a contending team, with a hole in the rotation.  Everyone involved knew that within a few years, Burnett would be an albatross.  But, he was after all, the number two starter in a world champion team.

The Mets are not in this position.  Unless Sandy Alderson can find more 15 wins worth of improvement over 2011, there is no point in hindering future success.

If Jose Reyes can be had on a relatively short term contract, even if it is a high annual salary, the Mets should, and probably would, jump all over it.  But the chances of other teams not falling all over themselves to acquire a top-tier shortstop are slim to none.

Some team will overpay Reyes for a few years of great production and several more of mediocre production.  It may even be worth it for that team.  Reyes may be the difference between third place in the division and the league pennant.  But that team will not be the Mets.
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Monday, September 26, 2011

My Thoughts on Moneyball


Moneyball MovieImage by pursuethepassion via Flickr
Last Friday, thanks to a generous friend and his car, I was able to make my way off campus to see the long-anticipated movie, Moneyball.  Ever since I first heard that the popular book was being made into a movie, I knew that I would see it as soon as it came out.

Going in, I did not know what to expect.  I had seen a lot of the commercials, and I was relatively certain that I would thoroughly enjoy it.  After all, I did pour through the book in less than one week.  But at the same time, I was doubtful that it would be a movie I would recommend to others, as others rarely share with me the same enjoyment of the most nerdy concepts in all of sports.

To clarify though, Moneyball is not a movie about sabermetrics.  A viewer does not need to understand intense baseball statistics, nor does that viewer need to buy into it at all.  Instead, it is a movie that follows the plight of two characters as they attempt to overcome an unfair game and pioneer change in an institution defined by more than 100 years of tradition.

It is as much a biography of Billy Beane himself as it is a movie about the Athletics' season.  And I have to say, this was the best, and more specifically, most intelligent sports movie I have ever seen.

The dialogue sparkled.  In fact, the screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, who was also responsible for The Social Network.  And the characters were portrayed in a similar manner, with the same quick-moving, witty script that made The Social Network so great.

I found myself on the edge of my seat for just about the entire two hour movie.  Brad Pitt was excellent as Billy Beane, as was Jonah Hill, who played Paul Depodesta.  (Though Depodesta asked that his name be removed, so Hill's character is Peter Brandt.)

Done quite well was the dichotomy between the progressive thinkers (Beane and "Brandt") and the traditional thinkers (scouts, media, etc.).  The interactions between them were both hilarious and so true based on my own frustrations trying to win unwinnable online arguments.

Above all, Moneyball made the baseball culture war understandable.  To those that do not buy into statistical analysis, I would think that the movie would help them to understand the obsession with research over traditional methods.  And for those who think that sabermetrics is the only method, and hold contempt for anyone who disagrees with that method, it does a great job of highlighting the fears of traditionalists.

So whether or not you are a baseball nerd, go see this movie.  It is a fascinating portrayal of an extraordinary culture shift in America's pastime.

As Red Sox owner John Henry told Beane, this new philosophy threatens the livelihood of many in baseball, from coaches, to front office members, to scouts, to members of the media.  Change is always scary, but progressive change such that we are currently seeing in Baseball is almost always for the better.
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Friday, September 23, 2011

Angels, Red Sox, or Rays?

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Over the past month, the American League wild card race has changed dramatically.  Remember when the Red Sox were ahead in the division, and almost the unanimous pick to win the division?  At the same time, the Yankees were going to coast to a wild card birth while the Rays were mired in a near-lost season.

Fast forward to September 23.  The Yankees have already clinched the division, and will approach 100 wins.  The Red Sox, who were nearly ten games ahead of the Rays at one point, are now just two games ahead in the wild card race.  And out of nowhere, the Angels are also creeping, at just three games back with six games to go.

As Yankee fans, we all have an irrational desire for the Red Sox to get ousted.  It gives us no more sadistic pleasure than to watch them crash and burn, losing all their pride in the process.  But what about our rational desire?  Who should we as Yankee fans root for in this surprise wild card race?  Let's look at each team one by one.

Boston Red Sox-  Without doing any real thinking or research, most would say that the Red Sox are the best team of the three, and for good reason.  With a lineup featuring the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzales, they do boast the best offense.

In fact, having scored 851 runs this season, the Sox are number one in the league, fifteen runs better even than the second place Yankees.  Their team wOBA of .351 is fantastic.  It is significantly better than the Ray's (.318) or the Angels (.315).

There are two sides of the ball, however.  And on this side, the Red Sox are statistically the worst of the three.  With a team ERA of 4.15, the Sox are just tenth in the league.  But it's not this simple once the postseason arrives.  With Josh Beckett returning from his injury, and Jon Lester continuing his dominance, the Sox have a formidable 1, 2 punch, important in any short series.  Add to that the possible return of Clay Buchholz, and rest assured we will not be seeing as much Tim Wakefield as will make us happy.

Tamba Bay Rays-  The Rays at the moment are no where near the 2008 version that coasted to a division win.  That does not mean though that they are not a strong contender.  On the offensive side, the Rays are not in the same league as the Yanks or the Red Sox.  With a triple slash line of .244/.320/.401, and a wOBA of .318, the Rays are middle of the pack.

On the defensive side though, they have quite the advantage over the Sox.  Their team ERA of 3.62 is second in the league.  And although this ERA may be helped by a great defense as the team FIP of 4.01 is just .01 better than that of the Red Sox, defense counts, and the Rays have an absolute advantage in preventing runs.

With a rotation comprised of "Big Game" James Shields, David Price at the top, and impressive young arms Jeremy Hellickson and Jeff Niemann, the Rays pitching staff is top notch.  It is responsible though for making up for a sub-par bullpen.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim-  At first thought, the Angels seem like the logical choice for us as Yankee fans to root for.  Perhaps this is an ethnocentric view we holds towards the Angels because they are in the AL West, hardly the all-powerful AL East.  But a further look and the Angels seem like quite the opponent.

The Angels lineup is easily the worst of the three.  Their one true offensive threat this season has been Howie Kendrick, whose .291/.343/.472 line and .355 wOBA is only slightly better than the Red Sox as a team.  Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu are shells of their former selves, and Peter Bourjos and Erick Aybar add above average but unspectacular production.  Mark Trumbo offers loads of power (.227 ISO) but little in the way of on base ability (.293 OBP).

As a team, the Angels .318 OBP is slightly worse than that of the Rays.  They have scored just 613 runs on the season, tenth in the American League.  But while the offense may be the worst, the pitching is most definitely the best.

Overall, the Angels 3.55 team ERA is top in the league.  The top two of Jered Weaver and Dan Haren is every bit as good or better than Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, and much better than James Shields and David Price.  If there were any 1, 2 punch in the American League I would least like the Yankees to face, it would the Weaver and Haren.  Add in the perpetually overlooked Ervin Santana (3.38 ERA on the season), and the Angels probably have the best postseason rotation of the three teams listed.

Overall-  So what did we just conclude?  The Red Sox have the best offense, and it's not particularly close.  And while they do have several issues with the rotation, a top two of Beckett and Lester is scary.  The Angels have the best rotation and the worst offense, and the Rays are right in the middle.

Because the Red Sox offense is so much stronger than the rest, they are still the most formidable opponent despite their pitching deficiency .  And for what it's worth, they are 4-11 against the Yanks.  So both irrationally and rationally, it makes sense to root for the Sox to get tossed.

The Rays and the Angels are so statistically similar with a .318 wOBA to a .315 wOBA and a 3.62 ERA to a 3.55 ERA.  But because of the Haren/Weaver combo, the Angels scare me in a short series.  In a seven game series, it is entirely possible that the two of them pitch four or even five games.  So overall, the Rays seem like the least formidable postseason opponent.

As the rest of the season means nothing else for the Yankees, we can all root for the underdog Rays to boot the collapsing giant.  And with a three game series against the Sox just next week, a sweep would be bittersweet.