So the National League tried to help out the poor defenseless Yankees before the season by trading them a quality starter for a marginal fifth outfielder, but so far it’s been merely an awful trade rather than a complete heist (although I bet Vazquez ends the year with an ERA+ well over 100 while Melky will still be Melky.) So I guess the Yanks needed more charity, getting an excellent hitter in a mild down yearand cash in exchange for a “free Coke refill at Appelbee’s with $30 purchase” coupon. Man who should return to blogging Ken Tremendous summarizes the progression of the Astros’ “logic”:
Astros paying Berkman’s salary is like a homeless guy getting robbed by a billionaire and throwing in a free shoeshine.
“We want Berkman.” “Okay.” “But you pay him.” “Okay.” “In return, we’ll give you a pile of cat vomit.” “Okay.” “Now gimme your car.” “Okay.”
“I will trade you negative four million dollars for Lance Berkman.” “Deal!”
“We want Montero for Berkman.” “How about we give you nothing and you give us four million dollars and Berkman.” “Even better!”
I expect that by the time they formally announce the trade the Astros will have thrown in Brett Myers too. And the fact that now that Spec Richardson seems to be running the team from beyond the grave the Astros might challenge the Pirates’ losing streak record before they win again won’t be that much consolation.
Although I’ve been a card -carrying Yankee hater for pretty much throughout my living memory, I’ve always had a certain respect for Steinbrenner, essentially for the same reason one should virtually always be pro-player in sports labor negotitations. It’s true that the market Steinbrenner in in has a potential that some other markets don’t have. It’s also true that the Yankees’ market (as reflected for the low, low price for which Steinbrenner bought the team) has not always been as massive as it is now, and that much of the success of the Yankees on and off the field owes itself to the fact that Steinbrenner actually invested his money in the team while billionaire cheapskates in the Carl Pohlad mode preferred to stuff taxpayer and revenue-sharing money in their pockets.
Of course, he also had many of the flaws of the classic imperious owner, most notably believing he knew far more about the sport than he did. It’s not a coincidence that the two great teams the Yankees had during his time of active leadership occurred after he had been removed from participation in the team’s operations for more than a year. He was a crook, and a whiner. But he was a visionary, and he cared about winning more than anything else. As an Expos fan, give me that over Claude Brochu or (gulp) Jeffrey Loria any day. R.I.P.
Update [Paul]: As the resident lawyer at LGM I consider it my morbid duty to demand, under the circumstances, a very careful autopsy.
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Given the degraded quality of Honus Wagner’s competition, I think the choosing the best closer of all time is easier than any other position, especially if you place appropriate weight on Rivera’s insanely good postseason performance. (Given the leverage of his typical outing, is he the most valuable postseason performer of all time? It’s hard to argue with that.) What’s especially interesting about Rivera is that his immortality — unlike that of Wagner, say, or Ruth or Mantle or Bonds or Pedro or Pujols — doesn’t rest on doing things that only a tiny handful of other players in history could do. If you were to look at 1998, when Rivera had a slightly subpar (especially in the K/W data) but essentially typical season — the 233 ERA+ actually above his career average, 36 saves about right given that he missed a few games — there were plenty of distinct non-immortals having seasons about as good or better: Urbina, Hoffman, Wetteland, Nen, Jeff Shaw, Michael Jackson fer Chrissakes. And then there were more pitchers — Beck, Wagner, Lightenberg — who were in the same general class if you account for how small samples can make the ERA fluctuate. Given that, it would seem as if it there would be multiple Riveras, guys who who could sustain the performance of the typical Excellent Closer Year for as long as great position players have. Maybe not Rivera, but at least guys who belong in the discussion.
But nobody does. Among the few modern closers who have maintained anything like that level of performance for more than a decade — Lee Smith, Hoffman, Reardon and Franco and Myers if you’re feeling really charitable — all have settled into a distinctly much lower level of quality even as they remained good enough to be decent closers. While Rivera has not only sustained his excellence, he’s gotten better; barring a second half collapse, his three year performance from ages 38-40 will be the best of his career and significantly better than his age 28-30 seasons. It’s genuinely remarkable, and if I’m still not not sure I understand it Traub’s article takes me about as close as I can.
More Chan Ho Park in high-leverage situations, please! Today’s accomplishments were especially impressive; not just anyone can allow four runners to score in 2/3rds of an inning when given a strike zone from the bill of the cap to midway down the shin to work with, but he did it…
I also can’t resist noting that following his latest blown save the ERA of the greatest pitcher athlete in Yankee known human history stands at 5.40. But, in fairness, his K/W data is better than that…
I don’t plan on watching with any attention unless the Phils are up by a significant amount, but for the Yankee fans and masochists out there. (One ray of hope: I wonder why, up 3-1, Girardi is having his last three potential starters go on short rest.)
Tim Marhcman has an excellent piece noting that the superficially numbers-savvy Joe Girardi is actually a much worse percentage manager than the folksy-seeming Charlie Manuel:
The quintessential Girardi ploy came last Friday, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees were down one run with two outs in the top of the ninth inning when the Angels walked Alex Rodriguez.
This is no nitpick or isolated incident. Throughout the playoffs, Girardi has been allowing moderately decent starter A.J. Burnett to pitch to his own personal catcher—exiling starter Jorge Posada—because of the “rhythm” that Burnett enjoys with scrub Jose Molina. (Burnett walked five and hit two in his first start. Some rhythm!)
The curious thing about these inane moves is that they don’t—at all—match up with Girardi’s reputation as a forward thinker steeped in statistical nuance. There’s nothing more old school than pinch running on a hunch or citing the chemistry between a pitcher and catcher as a reason to bench one of your best hitters. The Yankee manager’s overarching philosophy, then, seems to have less to do with statistics than with the notion that a manager needs to make slick maneuvers to win ballgames.
Manuel’s general understanding that baseball is about players throwing and hitting and catching a ball is in perfect accord with the most sophisticated study of the sport. So is his simple insistence that players should be judged by more information rather than less. The Yankees have the better team, and would probably win the World Series if they were managed by a bag of sunflower seeds. The bag of seeds, at least, wouldn’t pinch run for Alex Rodriguez, bench Jorge Posada, or swap relievers because of some minute difference that doesn’t really matter. Girardi isn’t wholly useless—he’s refreshingly willing to use his closer outside of ninth-inning save chances, and he’s dismissed calls to tinker with his batting order to aid slumping Nick Swisher. Still, if the World Series comes down to who has the smarter manager, the Phillies will win a second straight championship.