Subtle He Is Not-UPDATED

Michael Pineda apparently doesn’t know to quit while he is ahead. He was tossed in the second inning tonight because he had an illegal substance on his neck. (It looked like the umpire said “pine tar” when he threw him out so I am going with that.)

Now, let’s put aside the debate about whether or not using pine tar to get a better grip should be illegal for a second. MLB has decided that it is and that means you have to be clever if you are going to use it. Putting it on your hand or neck is not clever. Doing it against the same team you did it against the first time is just stupid. I can’t believe that there isn’t someone in the Yankees’ clubhouse who could have shown Pineda how to hide pine tar somewhere less obvious. Al Leiter and David Cone talked about putting some grip on their belt in cold weather- these are not state secrets!

It you want to argue that this is a stupid rule, I won’t argue with you. I don’t like the idea of pitchers throwing 95-mph without control. But, that doesn’t excuse Pineda’s stupidity here. If he needed something to help him grip the ball he should have been way more subtle about it. John Farrell couldn’t let Pineda get away with such an obvious flaunting of the rules a second time.

Now there are a few issues going forward.

1- The Yankees are probably going to lose Pineda for 8 or 10 games. Let’s say two starts. Who will fill those? I suspect Phelps since the Yankees are going to stretch him out tonight a bit, but that will be the first challenge facing the Yankees.

2- What are the Yankees going to do about pitchers for the next few days. With the bullpen being forced to get six-plus innings tonight they will probably need a replacement arm or two. (Of course if this game keeps going the way it is going we could see Dean Anna pitching later) But, the Yankees just optioned Daley and Mitchell to the minors and cannot recall them without an injury. This could be a problem.

3- When/who will the Yankees choose to search in “retaliation” for tonight? The smart money is probably on Buccholz, but he isn’t pitching this series. The Yankees end the year at Fenway when the weather should be cool again. It wouldn’t shock me if they waited five months.

UPDATE Give Pineda credit. He stood up, answered questions, apologized and admitted he used pine tar. When was the last time you heard a MLB player do that?

 

One Down One To Go

The sportswriters and radio guys will always hype Yankees-Red Sox, but it’s hard to get overly excited about April baseball. It is simply too early to draw good conclusions. But, I think most Yankees’ fans entered this series very curious about how Tanaka and Pineda would fare in Fenway.

So, tonight’s game was a good thing to see. Tanaka looked like the pitcher we had seen in his first three starts. He pitched his game and looked unperturbed by the atmosphere around him. Other than his start against the Cubs last week, Tanaka has faced tests in all of his starts. Against Toronto, it was a question of how he would fare against MLB hitters in a real game. Against the Orioles, it was a question of how he would pitch at home. Tonight it was his first test in a hostile environment. He has passed each test,  but it is very early.

Tomorrow brings an even bigger moment- Pineda’s first Fenway start as a Yankee. Throw in the pine tar controversy from a few weeks ago, and I am sure the crowd will be on him often and early. Can Pineda continue to pass “tests” like Tanaka has? We shall find out.

 

Inevitable

I have rallied against the Yankees’ roster building for years. 13 pitchers is simply too many to carry and tonight, they are getting caught with their proverbial pants down. (And it could get really ugly)

Francisco Cervelli started at first tonight and had to leave the game with a hamstring injury. Cervelli shouldn’t have been at first considering he is the backup catcher, but the Yankees have two injured infielders. Brian Roberts has some sort of back injury and Derek Jeter has an injured quad. So, with 13 pitchers on the roster, the Yankees entered the night with only 10 offensive players healthy. That meant the Yankees had to put someone on the infield who didn’t have much experience there and Cervelli “won” that competition.

The part I don’t get is that Jeter hurt his quad n Friday. I don’t know when Roberts hurt his back, but the Yankees could have had someone like John Ryan Murphy ready to be activated at the expense of the 13th pitchers’ spot. Instead, they rolled the dice as they often have and they have lost.

Before You Get Too Excited….

From Buster Olney’s column today…..

“He (Pineda) is the first pitcher to go at least six innings and allow one run or fewer in each of his first two appearances as a Yankee since Kevin Brown in 2004″

Hopefully, the Yankees have padded all the walls in the clubhouse!

Did He?

Was Michael Pineda cheating tonight? This looks like a “foreign” substance to me. I certainly don’t think it was sweat and dirt.

But here’s the thing, the Red Sox didn’t ask the umpires to examine him. I can only think of three reasons for that.

1- They weren’t aware of it.

2- They were aware of it, but decided not to do anything now.

3- They were afraid to ask the umpire to look at Pineda because they didn’t want to have the Yankees return the “favor” against one of their pitchers.

I find reason #1 impossible to believe in this day and age. YES openly talked about it during the game and I am sure NESN did too. Someone could have gotten a message to the Red Sox to ask the umpires to check Pineda.

Reason #2 is plausible. This happens in hockey a lot when a team is aware that an opposing player is using an illegal stick. Since it’s a penalty, teams wait until the best moment to ask for a measurement so they can maximize their advantage. Now baseball is different. A pitcher who gets caught with an illegal substance is automatically ejected and gets an eight-game suspension. Maybe the Red Sox judged that it would be better to wait for a bigger situation to have the umpires inspect Pineda. I agree that the 10th game of the season is hardly a big spot. But, the Yankees’ got roughed up Tuesday and their bullpen is tired a bit of a mess in general. Losing Pineda in this game would have hurt and having him miss his next start would hurt even more. So I would say the Red Sox made a strategic error if they thought that it was better to wait than confront this problem now.

That brings me to reason #3 and this is where things get really messy. You may remember that Jon Lester caused a bit of controversy during the World Series. And Clay Buchholz, tonight’s starter, was accused of throwing spitballs last year. So maybe the Red Sox looked at the situation and decided they didn’t want to risk having one of their pitchers, both of whom I would consider better than Pineda, searched at some point in the future?  After all you can’t throw stones from glass houses.

Maybe David Ortiz gave us the answer when he said tonight, “Everybody in the league does it” Sadly, I think he did.

Wishing Doesn’t Make It True

Hank Aaron is a baseball God. He hit .305, hit 755 homers and drove in almost 2300 runs and won three gold gloves. He is clearly one of the greatest players to ever play baseball. But, he is not the all-time leader in home runs.

I know this because I saw that record broken back in August of 2007. I called it a “joyless spectacle” and speculated that one day A-Rod might break the record. (In 2007 we thought he was clean kids)  I wish Bonds had never hit that 756th home run, but I can’t ignore the fact that he did. Whether he did it naturally or unnaturally, Barry Bonds is the home run king. MLB can put on ceremonies to honor Hank Aaron, and they should, but they can’t change that fact.

But what they can do is stop pretending that Bonds and the whole PED era didn’t happen. We need to confront it with some honesty. Pick a date, anytime after 1986 works for me, and admit that players started putting stuff into their bodies to cheat the game. Stop trying to figure out who cheated and who didn’t, we will never know. Put the players who put up the biggest and best numbers into the Hall of Fame and go from there. Do I think Bonds and Clemens cheated? Absolutely, but how do we know that they weren’t the rule rather than the exception? And if almost everyone was doing it, they were clearly better at it than most. I don’t like what they did, but a Hall of Fame that has Ty Cobb and Cap Anson in it can’t start to preach about character and morals. Don’t put an expiration date on that era because as we have learned recently, the cheating is getting more and more sophisticated. MLB has done great work trying to clean up the game, but the truth is that the cheaters have an advantage over them. No matter what anyone says, when you can take a cough drop full of steroids right before a game and then pass a test after it, you can’t say the sport is totally clean.

Why does it matter? Because more than any other sport, baseball is enriched by its history. We look out at Mike Trout and wonder if he is the next Willie Mays. We debate things like Munson or Fisk and Ripken or Smith. It is what brings us back to the park year after year and it belongs to each of us. It’s time for the BBWAA and MLB to stop trying to whitewash it.

That Didn’t Take Long-UPDATED

Is anyone surprised that the Yankees are facing a injury in the first week of the season? I don’t think so, but the parlay of Mark Teixeira and his hamstring was probably further down your betting list.

I will never understand how Brian Cashman didn’t learn a thing from 2013. Last year the Yankees suffered injuries all over the place and Cashman had to scramble to try to fill those spots. This offseason, he brought in a lot of talent, but also a lot of fragile players. Yet he didn’t exactly stock the system with injury replacements. The Yankees readily admitted that they didn’t have a backup first baseman entering the season, but it appear likely they will need one now.

Kelly Johnson looked ok over there last night, especially when you take into account the fact it was only his third game ever at first, but I don’t think he is the solution. For one thing, that would open a hole at third. And while some will clamor for Solarte to fill that hole, I wouldn’t jump on that bandwagon just yet. If you look at Solarte’s minor league numbers, they suggest he is a guy who really only hits LHP. For instance, in 2013 he had an OPS of .681 as a LHB and an OPS of .828 as a RHB. The difference was less in 2012 (.716 vs. .809) but the trend is clear. This isn’t the guy you probably want facing righties every day. Putting him into a platoon seems like the best use of his talents.

And that will be the problem with Canzler if they call him up. His split in 2013 was almost .500 OPS points between LHP and RHP. Plus, Canzler isn’t on the 40-man roster and activating him will require the Yankees to say good-bye to another player. But there are not a lot of choices here. If Teixeira is going on the DL the Yankees need someone to play first. It’s too bad they didn’t plan for this in the offseason.

UPDATE 11:15 AM- Jack Curry tweets that the Yankees have DL’ed Teixeira and recalled Romine. Johnson is the first baseman for now with Solarte and Cervelli as the backups.

So, the Yankees are going to use a guy who has four games at first in his career as the starter and back him up with two guys who have combined for one game at first in their careers. This is depressing, but with their 40-man issues I understand it. I wonder what happened to Soriano’s work at first?

Here We Go

We are about an hour away from first pitch and the start of the 2014 Yankees season. If you want to see how big the changes are that the Yankees have made this offseason, consider the fact that Brett Gardner is the only guy who was in the 2013 Opening Day lineup and will be starting tonight. In fact, only three of the guys who were in that lineup are still on the Yankees. You can see the 2013 lineup here, but it is not for the squeamish.

The Yankees also made an interesting roster move today. They have DFA’ed Eduardo Nunez. They needed to open a 40-man spot for Solarte and Nunez was clearly the fourth-best reserve infielder at this point (Anna, Ryan and Solarte were obviously ahead of him)  It’s a bit of a shock as Nunez was once hailed as the future shortstop and the Yankees coddled him immensely. But he simply couldn’t handle the defensive side of the game and the Yankees went with safer choices. The question this raises is what happens in 2015? Nunez won’t be the shortstop and I would bet that Anna, Solarte and Ryan won’t be either. The minors don’t offer any obvious candidates, so I would assume an external candidate is the ultimate answer. So, how about Stephen Drew? He’s still out there and would still be a great addition to this team. Now, with no obvious future candidate, he would be a great addition to the 2015 team as well.

Just a thought, on to the 2014 season!

The Crystal Ball

I know the season has technically started, but today is Opening Day in my mind. Here’s how I see the 162-game season and beyond unfolding.

AL East

1- Tampa

2- Boston

3- New York

4- Toronto

5- Baltimore

I think Tampa is the best team in the AL East and I expect they will be the only team that cracks the 90-win level in the division. Boston comes in second with the Yankees repeating last year’s 85-77 record. Toronto and Baltimore bring up the rear.

AL Central

1- Detroit

2- Cleveland

3- Kansas City

4- Chicago

5- Minnesota

I didn’t like the Cabrera extension, but he will earn whatever he gets paid this season. The Tigers are the class of the division and I see no reason not to pick them to repeat. Cleveland showed us something last year and while KC is a trendy pick, I am not buying it yet. Minnesota will be lousy, but I bet Phil Hughes has a nice year away from the Bronx.

AL West

1- Anaheim

2- Oakland

3- Texas

4- Seattle

5- Houston

A lot of things went wrong for the Angels last year and I think they rectify those this year with a division crown. Oakland is right behind them, but Texas drops off because of injuries. I wonder how Robinson Cano will enjoy playing meaningless games as early as August 1st? The only thing keeping Seattle out of the basement is the train wreck that is the Houston roster.

NL East

1- Washington

2- Atlanta

3- Miami

4- New York

5- Philadelphia

This is really a two-tier division. Washington and Atlanta are much, much better than everyone else. I think the Nats take the crown this year. I expect it will be a long summer in Philadelphia.

NL Central

1- St. Louis

2- Cincinnati

3- Pittsburgh

4- Milwaukee

5- Chicago

The Cards are consistently excellent and I suspect they win the NL Central again. Pittsburgh snuck up on people last year, they won’t do that again this one and I expect them to drop back a bit and miss the playoffs.

NL West

1- Dodgers

2- San Francisco

3- San Diego

4- Colorado

5- Arizona

A classic rivalry will fight for the crown in the NL West until the end. I say LA gets it.

Playoffs

Wild Card Round

Oakland over Boston

San Francisco over Cincinnati

(Yup, no playoffs in the Bronx this year)

Divisional Round

Detroit over Oakland

Tampa over Anaheim

Washington over St. Louis

LA over San Francisco

Pennant

Tampa over Detroit

LA over Washington

World Series

LA over Tampa

That’s how I see 2014 unfolding, how about you?

 

Are They Better?- Part 2

We took a look at the hitting the other day. Now let’s examine the pitching starting with the rotation. I am going to list the pitchers in the order they will pitch in 2014 and to make the comparisons easier list Nova as the #3 starter in 2013.

Starter #1

2013- CC Sabathia 14-13 4.78 ERA 2.7 WAR

2014- CC Sabathia 13-11 4.03 ERA 3.6 WAR

Difference +0.9 WAR

I think it is reasonable to assume Sabathia rebounds from last year, but also doesn’t resume his role as an ace.

Starter #2

2013- Hiroki Kuroda 11-13 3.31 ERA 3.8 WAR

2014- Hiroki Kuroda 13-9 3.74 ERA 2.8 WAR

Difference -1.0 WAR/-0.1 cumulative

I also think it is reasonable for Kuroda to fall back from last year.

Starter #3

2013- Ivan Nova 9-6 3.10 ERA 2.5 WAR

2014- Ivan Nova 11-9 3.96 ERA 2.1 WAR

Difference -0.4/-0.5 cumulative

Which Nova will we see in 2014? The guy who looked great in 2013 or the guy we saw in 2012?

Starter #4

2013- Andy Pettitte 11-11 3.74 ERA 3.2 WAR

2014- Masahiro Tanaka 12-8 3.61 ERA 5.1 WAR

Difference +1.9/+1.4 cumulative

If this can truly come to pass the Yankees will be in very good shape.

Starter #5

2013- Phil Hughes 4-14 5.19 ERA 1.3 WAR

2014- I know it is Pineda, but ZIPS only projects him for 81 innings, so I am using Phelps and Pineda which gives us a WAR of 1.5 combined

Difference +0.2/+1.6 cumulative

Tough for me to see how Hughes was 1.3 WAR last year, but so be it.

Bullpen

The problem with using WAR and the bullpen is that relievers don’t generally pitch enough to generate much on the WAR scale. However, the 2013 Yankees had two guys with WAR’s of 1.5 or better (Rivera and Robertson) Obviously, we know Rivera won’t be pitching this year and Robertson is predicted to lose 0.4 WAR from 2013. So, I am going to say the bullpen will be worse. And I will simply subtract the 1.6 WAR improvement in the rotation from the bullpen and say that the pitching will break-even compared to 2013. Not overly elegant, but I think it is on the right track.

Summary

Combining the pitching and hitting projections says the Yankees should roughly improve by 7 wins over last year. The problem again is that their 85-77 record from 2013 probably doesn’t accurately reflect their true performance. I am going to use their 2013 pythagorean number and say that the 2013 Yankees should have been 79-83, so seven more wins brings them to 86-76 in 2014. Is that enough to grab a wild card? I will examine that tomorrow when I make my annual predictions.