Baseball Doesn’t Get It

Today I received a press release heralding the decision by MLB and Fox to televise a World Series game at 6:57pm. The release trumpets the fact that it will be the earlier start time for a World Series game in almost a “quarter of a century”.

Maybe baseball hasn’t noticed, but over that past “quarter century” football became the most popular sport in the U.S.. I still think gambling is a big reason for that, but part of it has to be the fact that kids can actually watch the Super Bowl. It kicks off every year at 6:20 and is usually over by 9:30pm Eastern time. That allows kids in the West to watch the whole thing before dinner and even East Coast children can catch a half of the action. Those kids grew up over the last 23 years (1987 was the last time a World Series game started before 7pm) and they are mostly football fans first and baseball fans second, if at all.

Contrast that with a World Series televised after 8pm on the East Coast. What kid can even start to watch those games? Sadly, it’s taken baseball 23 years to realize that they are alienating the next generation of fans. Moving one game back to 6:57pm will help, but it won’t bring back the legions of fans MLB has lost.

Wow Was I Wrong

I have to admit, I thought Javy Vazquez Round 2 would be a success. Now, I wasn’t expecting him to pitch like an ace, but I thought 200 innings of a low-4 ERA were a certainty. I ignored all the screams about his performance in 2004. I figured he would thrive in the non-pressurized role of a fourth starter and the Yankees would get exactly what they needed to round out the 2010 rotation. In short, I completely blew it.

Those of you who read this site know that I like to look at stats. I think statistics are one of the most important tools a GM can utilize when evaluating a team. On the other hand, I think some people go too far with them. My chief argument against the pure stats guys has always been that an offense made up of nine Ty Cobbs may be dominant on paper, but it would never get out of the dugout because they would all kill each other. A player’s personality and attitude matter and you will never see that in a statistics report. It is probably the biggest challenge facing teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, they have to not only find good players, but they have to find good players who can handle the cauldron that is Northeast baseball. Clearly, Javier Vazquez isn’t up to that. He lived down to the expectations of all the naysayers. I could not have been more wrong about him.

But, trading for Vazquez won’t join the ranks of the worst trades in franchise history because it produced two other results that are vital to the 2010 Yankees and beyond. First, the trade sent Melky Cabrera to Atlanta. Melky has hit .258/.319/.357 in Atlanta, or just about what you expected him to do. His absence in New York gave Brett Gardner a shot at playing everyday and he rewarded the Yankees with a .278/.383/.381 year. One wonders how much better he would have been if he hadn’t hurt his wrist at the end of June and it is worth noting he has hit .308/.357/.462 since he got a cortisone shot in that wrist last week. Gardner’s development is one of the big success stories of 2010.

The second part of the trade is Boone Logan. Logan has turned into a great lefty specialist this year, holding LHB to a .508 OPS. He is exactly what this team needed and with Damaso Marte on the DL, his presence saved the Yankees from having to go out and trade for another lefty.

The Yankees will delete the Vazquez mistake in the offseason. You will read about how they declined to offer him arbitration and that will be that. Arodys Vizcaino, the prospect they traded for Vazquez, may turn out to be something down the road. He pitched well in low-A ball this year before struggling in high-A ball. But this won’t be be remembered as the Jay Buhner trade. Despite Vazquez’s struggles, the Yankees still have reasons to like the deal they made.

What Happens Next?

The Yankees did what needed to be done and got into the playoffs, now the question becomes, what are they going to do with their four remaining games? Obviously, they can rest anyone they want, but I hope they don’t. I hope the Yankees make a collective decision to fight until the division is either won or lost. I hope they use the opportunity they have to go after it.

I think part of the problem this team has had over the last few weeks is that they stopped playing with intensity. They saw that they had a huge lead for the playoffs and they took the foot off the gas a bit. It’s impossible to stay focused for 162 games and the Yankees were certainly due a period of turbulence in a season mostly free of it. But, this period seems like it was self-inflicted. It seems to me that Joe Girardi stopped managing to win and the players followed his example. Perhaps I am reading too much into it or giving Girardi too much credit, but that’s what my eyes are telling me.

And that’s why the Yankees should keep after it this week. Try and win tomorrow and then sit back on Thursday and see what Tampa does. Ultimately, the Yankees will need to win two more games than Tampa if they want to take the division. That’s a tall order, but one worth pursuing.

Stats And Stuff

Joel Sherman had some ugly stats in his column this morning. If you look at the highest ERA’s in Yankees’ history for a season, AJ Burnett ranks third for all pitchers who made 25 or more starts. Only David Cone’s 2000 campaign and Andy Hawkins 1990 season are “ahead” of him. Also of note, Javy Vazquez is 7th on that list.

He goes further than that, looking for the last Yankee pitcher to lose 15 games….Melido Perez in 1992. But as Sherman points out, Perez pitched for a lousy team and actually compiled a 2.87 ERA in 1992. And, Catfish Hunter was the last Yankee pitcher to lose 15 games for a good team, going 17-15 for the 1976 Yankees. He did that while throwing almost 300 innings, so it isn’t a fair comparison. (Tim Leary lost 19 games for the 1990 Yankees, but only had a 4.11 ERA)

Of course AJ doesn’t see any problem at all. After last night’s start he was quoted as saying, ” I expect to start in the postseason” and added this gem, “I don’t need to prove (anything) he (Girardi) saw what I did in last year in the postseason.” It’s funny AJ brought that up as a case for getting a start. Last year AJ made 5 postseason starts and racked up a 5.27 ERA. He got amazingly lucky in Game 2 of the ALDS, pitched well in Game 2 of the ALCS, blew up in Game 5 of the ALCS, pitched a gem in Game 2 of the World Series and blew up in Game 5 of the World Series. As I said at the time, he is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of baseball, you never know what you are going to get.

Mitchell said it in the comments this morning and I have to agree, I think you have to give the ball to Nova over AJ at this point. Actually, I would go with a three-man rotation in the ALDS, you would only need to have one starter (Sabathia) go on short rest. Make Hughes the #3 guy and leave it at that. Let’s face it, the only reason AJ is even in the conversation for a playoff start is because the Yankees have him signed for three more years. Javier Vazquez has arguably had a “better” season, but he has effectively been banished since he is a free agent next year.

******

Speaking of Jekyll and Hyde, Joe Girardi is going a pretty good imitation these days. Some days he wants to win the division, some days he doesn’t. Tonight he is going to start CC Sabathia, which will prevent CC from entering the playoffs on rotation. It’s absolutely the right decision because the Yankees haven’t wrapped anything up yet, but it’s an odd choice considering the way he managed games against Tampa. But I guess we shouldn’t be picky, at least he is managing to win again.

What Now?

Well AJ decided to be AJ tonight and the Yankees have an interesting problem on their hands. There is absolutely no reason to trust Burnett with a playoff start, but if you can’t trust him, where can you turn? Think about it, where do they go? The choices are down to Ivan Nova or Javier Vazquez. One guy can’t get out of the fifth inning, the other hasn’t been part of the rotation for a few weeks.

It might be time to consider adopting the three-man plan i mentioned last week. The problem of course is can the Yankees pitch Phil Hughes on three-days rest? Then again, at this point what other options do they have?

Phew

The Yankees needed that one. Switching to Hughes and bringing Rivera in for a four-out save showed that they were going “all in” for this game. If they had lost it, which they almost did, it would have been a disaster. But, they didn’t and now the magic number is down to 1.

The next six games will be fascinating with the Yankees a 1/2 game behind Tampa. Will they finally realize that the division matters and put the pedal to the metal to get that crown? Hopefully, but it remains to be seen.

Until tomorrow, enjoy this one Yankees’ fans.

Wow

I just read that the Yankees are starting Hughes tonight instead of Moseley. I am sure they will NEVER admit what a mistake it was to consider Moseley in the first place, but this had better mean that all hands are on deck until the playoff are clinched. Otherwise, it is just another wasted move that can be added to a big pile of wasted moves made over the last few weeks.

Two Worth Reading

As the Yankees continue their September swoon, it is worth reading two pieces on the web today. First, start with Joel Sherman’s indictment of Joe Girardi’s managing these past few weeks. I have been moaning about it for weeks, but I think Joe needs to get everyone together before tonight’s game and talk about how the job isn’t done. He needs to look them all in the eye and promise he will manage for wins until the Yankees wrap up a playoff spot. He will promise that until that happens, it’s all hands on deck.

The second piece to read is this one, which may calm you down a bit. Playing off of it, even if the Yankees lose their next four games and the Red Sox win their next five, New York will come into the final weekend with a one-game lead. Now clearly, that would be a team entering Fenway in dire straights, but they would still have the better odds statistically. The real crime is that we are even talking like this, but that is where we stand with one week left in the season.

Stupid

The Yankees have shown over and over again that they are not concerned with winning the division, but scratching Phil Hughes and starting Dustin Moseley is a different type of decision. By doing this, they are giving the Red Sox a speck of hope, albeit a small one. All it takes is another loss tomorrow and suddenly you have Moseley on the mound trying to stop a Red Sox sweep. And yes, while even with a sweep the Red Sox are still in serious trouble, why even create the situation?

What benefit is there to moving Hughes’ start to Wednesday, other than assuring he will only make that start this season? Assuming he is in the playoff rotation, he is still going to have a long layoff before his next start. (If you say he is the #4 guy, then the layoff would probably be 10 days) Is there that much of a difference between a ten-day layoff and a two-week layoff? I don’t think so.

The Yankees can make this somewhat moot with a win Saturday, but it is a bad decision. Clinch the playoff spot, then rest the players.

Where Are the Golf Clubs?

The Red Sox and Yankees are in 2 different places right now. While not impossible, the Red Sox basically need to run the table to get to the post-season. Sweeping all 6 of their games against the Yankees would be a good start.

Never say never, I know. The Yankees do have tougher schedule than does Tampa Bay, but the Yankees aren’t facing a Red Sox line-up with Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis.

In Boston, there has been virtually no build-up to this series. It’s about as big a dud as you can imagine. Ratings are down, attendence is down (officially everything is always a sellout, but if you go to the games, not everyone is showing up). I guess winning does matter.