Six Cold, Hard Questions For The Yankees

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On the same night one of the last pitchers the Yankees developed and practically utilized—Andy Pettitte—took the next step in his comeback attempt with a minor league start in Trenton, two pitchers upon whom they’re relying to maintain contention under the new luxury tax mandates were terrible (Phil Hughes) and heading for surgery (Michael Pineda).

The pompous arrogance of the organization, their media wing and fan base all but disappeared in favor of maudlin whimpering, melancholy sadness, silence and the ever-present spin-doctoring to twist matters into a favorable view of blamelessness.

There’s no defense. Only damage control.

To compound the irony, Pineda’s surgery is going to be performed by the Mets’ team physician Dr. David Altcheck.

In the past the fact that Dr. Altcheck is a respected and renowned specialist would’ve been shunted aside by a Yankees’ support group to laugh at this fact if the sequence of events were happening to anyone other than the Yankees.

Reality rears its ugly head and convenient fodder for jokes—the Mets’ team doctor—is suddenly off limits.

But is it ugly? Or is it what it is without discretion, intent or preference?

Let’s take a look at some of the burning questions regarding the Yankees, Michael Pineda and another disaster in the reign of Brian Cashman that can’t be glossed over by lukewarm distractions from that cold, hard reality.

Was Pineda hurt when the Yankees traded for him and did the Mariners know it?

It’s possible.

Anything is possible.

But I doubt it.

If he was hurt, it was probably an injury that would only have been discovered had the Yankees or Mariners been looking for it. Pineda was examined for the shoulder pain that shelved him and robbed him of his velocity in spring training and nothing was found. It was when the Yankees did a more comprehensive examination following his last spring rehab start that they found the labrum tear.

The Yankees have made ghastly errors with Pineda, but ignoring a possible injury isn’t one of them.

Even if he was damaged goods, it’s irrelevant. What’s done is done.

How are the Yankees at fault?

The same arguments that allocate the blame on the Mariners and Pineda can also be shifted to the Yankees.

Much like their signing of Pedro Feliciano and holding the Mets responsible for Feliciano’s shoulder injury by saying he was “abused”, it’s a reluctance to own up to anything for which they can be negatively perceived. It’s cultural and has created this litany of failed pitching prospects.

They’re more worried about what will be thought of them if the pitchers get hurt than they are in having the pitchers do well and evolve as Yankees.

Pineda showed up to Yankees’ camp overweight, but it wasn’t as if they made the trade in October and Pineda stopped exercising and started eating. The trade was made in January weeks before pitchers and catchers reported. Did he suddenly get fat from the day of the trade to his appearance in Tampa? In two weeks?

I think not.

If he hadn’t shown up fat for the Yankees, he would’ve shown up fat for the Mariners.

GM Brian Cashman, immersed in his own egotistical bubble, was the person who publicly castigated the Mets for Feliciano’s injury after he gave Feliciano $8 million to come to the Yankees.

He scurried away when the Mets, for once, fought back.

The trade of Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Pineda and Jose Campos made sense. Pineda pitched well for the Mariners last season and his second half struggles and supposed velocity decline weren’t drastic enough to dissuade them from making the deal. They examined him and found nothing wrong.

But the aftermath is a different matter.

Almost immediately, the Yankees propped up the inclusion of Campos as the biggest factor as if a 19-year-old in A-ball would validate any eventuality. Cashman told Jim Bowden that the trade will have been a mistake if Pineda doesn’t develop into a top of the rotation starter. They complained about his weight. When he got to camp, they constantly referenced his velocity—or lack thereof—as if they were waiting for him to launch 98-mph fastballs in early March.

Could Pineda’s attempts to throw harder before he was ready or while he was ailing have contributed to the overstressing of his shoulder and gotten him hurt worse? Did the Yankees place an unfair onus on him? Did running him down affect his mentality when he became a Yankee?

You tell me.

Why are they clinging to this “developmental” strategy?

Cashman’s comments following the Pineda diagnosis were expected as he said various permutations of, “We don’t regret it and we’d do it again.”

This is understandable if he’s spouting a line to protect himself and his organization for making the trade and doesn’t truly believe it. Only a lunatic would say he doesn’t regret making this trade after the Pineda injury.

Like the Yankees’ ridiculous limits, rules and regulations they’ve placed on every pitcher since Cashman took complete command as the top-down boss of the organization, they’re clutching to them in a death-grip as if any admission that they might’ve been wrong is a sign of weakness that would lead to anarchy and revolution.

What would disturb me is if Cashman doesn’t regret making this trade; if he believes that the Yankees method of development that has all but destroyed Joba Chamberlain, has Hughes on the verge of a demotion to the bullpen or minors, and led them to trade away Ian Kennedy were the right things to do.

If Cashman is under the impression that Pineda’s injury was a result of the Mariners using a different strategy of nurturing their pitchers than the Yankees, then the problem isn’t a simple mistaken projection, but a foundational blind spot and inexplicable egomania.

Pettitte didn’t graduate to the majors under any limits and he’s the last starting pitcher the Yankees have signed, built and utilized on their own over the long term.

Looking at his minor league numbers, he was allowed to pitch as a youngster. He accumulated innings, durability and resilience. He learned how to get in and out of trouble without a random number or overactive management to bail him out. He got to the majors in 1995, was a large factor in the Yankees’ playoff berth and threw 175 innings. He wasn’t abused, but he wasn’t babied either.

In 1996 at the age of 24, Pettitte logged 240 innings and won 21 games. Apart from some expected injuries, on an annual basis, he could be counted on for 200+ innings not counting playoffs. He never had Tommy John surgery nor did he have major shoulder surgery.

Now they’re counting on Pettitte to replace the lost Pineda.

Are the Yankees rationally examining these studies they constantly refer to in keeping their pitchers healthy? Or are they blindly sticking to what’s not working just because?

Do Ivan Nova and Chien-Ming Wang prove the righteousness of the Yankees’ methods?

No.

If you mention Nova as a pitcher the Yankees developed and who’s doing well, you need to check the backstory. Nova was not a prospect. They thought so little of him that they left him unprotected in the 2008 Rule 5 draft. He was selected by the Padres and returned to the Yankees.

Nova wasn’t babied because they didn’t think much of him and weren’t overly concerned about the perception from the masses if he got hurt. Now he’s a ruthless competitor who, in spite of their continued disregard for him with threats of demotion and non-existent expectations, is a lifesaver for them.

Wang wasn’t considered a prospect either, but out of necessity they recalled him in 2005 and he blossomed.

Are you seeing the trend?

Pitchers who are left alone become useful. Those who are stuffed in a cookie-cutter mold of paranoid “protective” services turn into Hughes and Chamberlain.

Is the Yankees position on pitching understandable?

It was.

Once.

If they have experts in the medical field versed in sports and biomechanics making recommendations; if they’re listening to experienced pitching coaches and baseball people; if they’re copying what clubs like the Red Sox have done to develop their young pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, then you can say it was worthwhile to try and build their own starters under the auspices of the innings/pitch counts.

But it hasn’t worked.

One would think that they’d stop and say they have to try something else; that they’d realize that the Rangers, Giants and Mariners have chosen a different and successful route with their pitchers; that perhaps greater flexibility and individual attention is in order.

Sometimes these pitchers are going to get hurt. They’re going to flame out.

But if the Yankees or any other team gets use from them, what’s the difference?

Which is better? Having the pitcher healthy and ineffective like Hughes or using him until he breaks down—as the Diamondbacks did with Brandon Webb—and getting a spurt of greatness that resulted in one Cy Young Award that could easily have been five?

Will this sink in?

If sports talk radio existed in the early 1960s to the degree it does now, we’d be hearing the same forceful pronouncements of a neverending empire; an inevitability of the Yankees’ dominance.

But the Yankees’ reign of terror ended in 1965 in part because they were oblivious to the decay from age, mismanagement and didn’t adapt to the new way in which baseball did business with a draft, divisions and Yankees’ “mystique” disappearing.

By the mid-late-1960s they were a laughingstock and other teams took joy in their humiliation after years of bullying, condescension and abuse.

You don’t think it could happen again?

It’s the circle of life. Dynasties fall and they’re aided and abetted by a blanketed stupidity that has fomented this nightmare of pitching miscalculations.

If they continue down this road, it’s going to get worse and judging by what’s being said and done, they’re not changing anything anytime soon.

They made their own mess and have taken no steps to clean it up.

It’s downhill from here.

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Santana May Come Back As A “Crafty” Lefty

All Star Game, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Uncategorized

When a pitcher has been a gunslinger—even a thoughtful, strategic gunslinger—it’s not an easy transition to go from “I’ll outthink you. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll blow you away,” to a more cautious approach without that backup weapon of pure power. But that’s where the Mets are with Johan Santana.

Yesterday Santana continued his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery with a “gush-worthy” bullpen session. He’s scheduled to have a minor league start on Friday and the Mets are hoping for a token appearance in the big leagues before the season’s over.

I saw the clips of the session; his arm angle looked to be higher than it had been in his entire time with the Mets—back to where it was with the Twins. It remains to be seen whether that’s a short-term, occasional thing like we saw with Pedro Martinez in his first season with the Mets or is contingent on how he’s feeling that day.

The optimism is fine; the results—so far—are encouraging. Santana has been guarded in his comments and diligent in his work habits and recovery; he’s not trying to be a hero and come back before he’s absolutely ready.

These are positive developments.

But if people are anticipating the Johan Santana from the Cy Young Award years with the Twins or even the Santana from his first season with the Mets, they’re asking to be disappointed.

Apart from the occasional flash you see from a once-great athlete, be it a baseball player; tennis player; or boxer, that Santana will never be seen again on a start-in, start-out basis.

Anyone who’s known greatness can recover that at one point or another—briefly—but it’s not going to return with the consistency that once was there.

It’s far more likely that Santana returns as a pitcher who uses control and changing speeds to keep the hitters off balance—can dial it up 3-5 times a game when he’s in trouble—and records his outs through guile and execution of a plan. His slider has barely been seen in his time with the Mets and it was a key to his dominance with the Twins; his fastball lost a few critical inches as well. Don’t expect that to suddenly reappear on a regular basis.

He’s not going to be Jamie Moyer, Tom Glavine, Randy Jones or Frank Tanana—cunnythumber lefties—nor is he going to be Johan Santana circa-2004.

As a pitcher with a change-up/fastball repertoire, Santana has an advantage over other pitchers who’ve had a similar shoulder procedure and whose comebacks were slow and arduous and are only now beginning to bear fruit (Chien-Ming Wang) or have essentially stopped with their careers likely over (Brandon Webb).

Santana’s recovery is “on the right track” as the linked column says, but don’t believe that the Mets enthusiasm over Santana’s work is going to result in the devastating force that left lineups in ruins on a regular basis.

It doesn’t mean he can’t win; it doesn’t mean he won’t log innings and be a cog in the machine of a successful team. But he won’t be what he was. That pitcher is gone. Forever.

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Waiting (Hoping?) For The Breakdown Of Tim Lincecum

All Star Game, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

Tim Lincecum got knocked around by the Diamondbacks in the Giants’ 7-2 loss last night.

The Diamondbacks’ broadcasters—I’m not sure who they were, but it wasn’t Daron Sutton and Mark Grace—were discussing Giants V.P. of Player Personnel Dick Tidrow and his suggestion that Lincecum, when he was drafted, go straight from college to the big leagues so his “max effort” innings (1000 was the number) would be used by the big league club and wouldn’t be wasted in the minors—the Giants would get “max” use from his “max” effort.

Needless to say, the Giants didn’t do that.

This was all said while Lincecum was getting pounded for the second straight start after having been brilliant from late June until recently; whether it would’ve been an issue had he struck out 16 and pitched a 2-hit shutout is unknown, but I’d guess the answer is no.

But he hit the magic number of 1000 last night.

“Magic” as in a nice, round number of convenience. Sort of like planning a military operation around the days of the week. It’s a random parameter and an imaginary smoking gun.

There’s a palpable rhetorical chafing among certain members of the Giants organization that they were and are completely left out of the Lincecum world. From the time he was drafted, there was an edict not to mess with his mechanics. And they haven’t. I still wonder what pitching coach Dave Righetti says to Lincecum on his visits to the mound. What is there to say? Coaches and front office people don’t like being marginalized, so they shake their heads and wait for the “I told you so” opportunity as if they want the guy to get hurt so they can be “right”.

Where the number 1000 innings got its start, I don’t know. When I was a kid, I was so dumb I thought that on the day of my 13th birthday, my voice would change as if that magical moment would flip a switch to adulthood.

Not much has changed.

Pigeonholing human beings and their physical limits is ridiculous.

No one mentions the pitchers who weren’t treated like delicate flowers that would shatter in a gentle breeze because it doesn’t “prove” their hypothesis. Greg Maddux; Randy Johnson; Nolan Ryan; Tom Seaver—they did something novel known as pitching. We’re seeing it with Justin Verlander now. Brandon Webb was allowed to pitch; was the best pitcher in baseball for 5 years; won one Cy Young Award; could’ve won two more; and got hurt with his career likely over. Would he have been better off to have been babied? Maybe he would’ve lasted longer, but I can’t see how he could’ve been a better pitcher; but he definitely could’ve been worse.

With the Verducci Effect and other such silliness, the above-mentioned names are considered outliers to the norm. But what’s the norm?

The “norm” that once existed was what was enacted—they were allowed to pitch. This was before the proliferation of laymen doing research and scrutinizing players from the time they’re amateurs; these laymen are creating a culture of paranoia.

Is Lincecum a part of the Seaver/Ryan/Maddux “norm”? Or is he part of today’s “norm”?

Lincecum, in his formative years, was kept in a Todd Marinovich-like cocoon (without the fascist father and the heroin) in his on-field endeavors and had perfect, undeviated mechanics from the time he started to now. How is he even part of this discussion? Because his development was different, he’s different and since he’s not one of “them”, he’s an exception to that which is supposedly documented as fact.

These innings limits and expectations of breakdown make it easier. Easier to explain away in injury. Easier to justify diminished velocity and results. Easy to shift the blame from someone, anyone in the organization and chalk it up to an arbitrary number of innings and pitches. It’s like someone having a heart attack—you don’t know why it happened and there’s no one to blame if there’s not a direct cause.

Just let the man pitch without the retrospectives, comparisons and groundwork to say, “it’s not my fault”. Please.

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The Johan Santana Charade Must End

All Star Game, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Management, Media, Players

Johan Santana is not going to pitch for the Mets this year.

Not only would it make no sense whatsoever to put him in a big league situation in what will be a meaningless cause, but he’s clearly going to take longer to recover from shoulder surgery than indicated in the best-case-scenarios and repeated movement of the goalposts the organization has perpetrated on the fan base and media in the interests of giving “hope”.

After pitching in a Class A game last week, Johan Santana suffered a setback in his rehabilitation.

Well, it’s being framed as a “setback”, but is it really? Or is it a “setback” in name and perception only as told by the Mets?

Given the slow and non-existent recovery times of other pitchers like Chien-Ming Wang and Brandon Webb who’ve had the procedure done, this isn’t and shouldn’t be unexpected. The Mets were using verbal sleight-of-hand to give a false belief that perhaps Santana would be ready by the early summer; then the All-Star break; then late August; now he’s going to the doctor and, in the words of GM Sandy Alderson, “It will either be reassuring, or we’ll step back to see where we are.”

Much like the phantom idea of the 2011 Mets in a race for the Wild Card, the plan to see Santana pitch in the big leagues this season is a fantasy. It’s not going to happen.

Hopefully the discomfort is something minor and normal; but he might have another problem somewhere. We don’t know and won’t know until he’s examined.

But the notion of Santana emerging from the disabled list to heroically help the Mets in their quest for an unlikely playoff spot was of a similarly fictional tale that had them in contention for that playoff spot to begin with.

It’s not real. Accept it and move on. Let Santana rehab at his own pace without dictates and “we need him” entreaties that will do more harm than good. The actual best-case-scenario is that Santana is ready for spring training 2012…or it might be that he’s able to pitch at all. Period.

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Brandon Webb’s Flash Of Greatness

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Brandon Webb‘s career may be over.

An examination of Webb’s surgically repaired right shoulder revealed “changes” to his rotator cuff and he’s weighing his options.

It doesn’t sound good.

Before the season, in my book, I said expect nothing on Webb; that he was no risk/massive reward; that they should be thrilled if they got 140 innings and competence at the back of the rotation.

They got nothing.

Webb could easily have won 3 straight Cy Young Awards from 2006-2008 with the Diamondbacks. He won the award in 2006 and finished second in the next two years.

He was one of the best pitchers in baseball, durable, tough and talented. He gobbled innings and was everything you’d want your ace to be. Despite all those innings, he was never stereotypically “abused”; never asked to throw an outrageous number of pitches (generally between 100-110).

There’s no smoking gun. Had he been babied a la Joba Chamberlain, would Webb have still gotten hurt—as Chamberlain did—without Webb’s success?

Or would he have stagnated in his development, not been as great as he was and gotten hurt before he could fulfill that potential that made him great for that short burst rather than healthy, but not as good over the long term?

Which is better? The paranoia and mediocrity or the freedom and greatness?

You can look at any number of great pitchers who flamed out after heavy usage. Dwight Gooden, Sandy Koufax, Steve Busby—if they’d been handled more cautiously, could they have had longer careers? Would the flashes of brilliance been less luminous?

There’s no answer.

Because we don’t know.

And apparently, with Webb, we never will.

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Precision Strikes 7.1.2011

Books, Draft, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Reality.

Unless something major happens, I’ll tone down my Billy Beane/Moneyball rhetoric and save it all up for my book.

But I’ll say this as Beane undertakes yet another teardown of what he built (Mark Ellis is the first to go): without Moneyball, Beane would’ve been fired by now; without Moneyball, he’d be treated in a similar fashion as GMs present and past like Omar Minaya, Dayton Moore and Jim Bowden; without Moneyball propping him up as a demagogue, he’d be judged for what he is.

And what that is has yet to be determined in full—although I have a pretty good idea—but he’s certainly no genius.

Scott Kazmir works out for the Rangers.

I don’t get the impression that Kazmir is all that bothered about how badly his career and stuff has degenerated; that he’s okay with what he is; if he doesn’t find a new team, whatever.

A lack of competitiveness concerns me as much as the injuries and decline.

The Rangers worked him out and sounded non-commital.

Maybe Brandon Webb needs a rehab friend and they thought of Kazmir.

Designated targets of the Mets.

Every poor outing from Mike Pelfrey and Bobby Parnell inspires a new round of “get rid of ’em” from Mets fans.

Okay. But don’t say you weren’t warned.

Pelfrey’s not great but such idiocies from the likes of the clueless Evan Roberts and Joe Beningo on WFAN are indicative of non-existent and self-proclaimed expertise. Roberts said something to the tune of Pelfrey, with his 94-mph fastball, has to strike out more batters, blah blah blah.

Yeah. That’s a good idea. Try to throw the ball by big league hitters. Know what’ll happen? He’ll strike out fewer hitters and give up more homers.

He’s not a strikeout pitcher so it makes no sense for him to try and be one.

Pelfrey’s big and durable and on a good team he’ll win 12-16 games and provide 210-220 innings. He’s no ace, but that’s solid, inexpensive production.

As for Parnell, his numbers and Mets performances are eerily similar to another pitcher who Mets fans wanted out of their sight while he was a Met and now complain ad nauseam because the Mets traded him—Heath Bell.

So you’d like to trade Pelfrey and Parnell? Fine. Just don’t scream and whine about it after they’re gone and become contributors elsewhere.

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Myth Becomes Myth In The Re-Telling

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Stories tend to fluctutate.

As does analysis regardless of how the stories are formulated.

It’s with that in mind that the “free agent year myth” is a worthwhile topic.

With this column from ESPN.com stat people like Dave Cameron say that there’s no evidence of a contract year boost.

Cameron’s points are propped up by reality…sort of; but just like anything else, you can find examples of players who have had it “kick in” at contract time.

That might be staying healthy in an injury-riddled career (Carl Pavano); it could be having their career-year at the right time (Brad Lidge); and there are those who made sure they were healthy and their stats were top notch with free agency beckoning even at the expense of team needs (Rafael Soriano).

No one is suggesting that Albert Pujols is going to be “better” than he’s been his entire career because of the money he’s set to make at the end of the season; in fact, if any player was a prime candidate to have an “off” year in his free agent year, it’s someone like Pujols who’s set a standard of excellence so ridiculous that even a great year for a normal player would be seen as a fall for Pujols.

And Pujols’s numbers will be somewhere in line with what they’ve been in the past by the time the 2011 season is over.

Cameron brings up familiar “walk year” names like Adrian Beltre. Beltre is much appreciated in stat circles because of his superior defense; he’s been assisted by two massive years as he was heading for free agency; but he also had several mediocre seasons with the Mariners before his free agent year of 2009 in which he got hurt and wasn’t particularly good at all.

That winter, the Red Sox signed Beltre to a 1-year, $9 million deal. This was an situation in which the stat person’s template to building a team cheaply and efficiently and a player’s motivation worked for both sides; Beltre and the Red Sox maximized assets and found value. This is an unassailable tenet of stat based theory.

It was a mutually beneficial contract. Sometimes they work as was the case with the Red Sox and Beltre; sometimes they don’t as appears to be happening now with the Rangers and Brandon Webb.

The Rays, Athletics, Marlins and even the Red Sox and Yankees have gotten great value from players who either had nowhere else to go or were, yes, looking to have a good year for a good team and cash in.

The Marlins in particular have found scrapheap pickups like Jorge CantuCody RossJohn Baker and Brendan Donnelly, gotten use from them and discarded them when they grew too expensive or were no longer producing.

In fact, I don’t believe a team can win under a budget unless they find these types of players.

It’s not a matter of simplistic “free agent year=big year”; it’s a myriad of factors that could advantage the player, team, both or neither.

To simplify it in terms of “no evidence” is just as bad as the all-encompassing implication that the promise of free agent riches is the impetus to the big year in the first place.

It’s not one thing that spurs a player. It could be anything; the promise of money is part of that “anything” as a motivating force with a great many players.

Truthfully, it’s nothing to be ashamed of; nor is it something to dismiss out-of-hand based on out-of-context statistical analysis.

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Duck And Cover

Fantasy/Roto, Hot Stove

Or cover and duck.

One of those.

Yesterday, in all my roto-innocence, I listed a few names that might help you in your fantasy baseball drafts, picks, trades, acquisitions, wheelings, dealings, healings and feelings.

Today, here are players you should avoid like the plague; or like Jose Canseco when he’s on Twitter and/or off his meds.

If you see these names available? Run.

But the strange part is that while some of them aren’t “numbers” players, they likely have use to their clubs on the field which, in part, proves my point of the need to place stats into their proper context; why being a numbers cruncher does not automatically imply a baseball expertise that takes years of watching, analyzing and participating to be able to come to a reasonable and educated conclusion.

Let’s have a look.

B.J. Upton, CF—Tampa Bay Rays

If you pick him up during one of his hot streaks, then fine, but too often Upton doesn’t look like he wants to play. He has barely evolved from the 2008 World Series when he grounded into a double play because he wasn’t running hard. Upton plays hard when he feels like it and this is not a positive attribute on the field or stat sheet.

He’ll steal you some bases, hit a homer here and there; but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t hit for average and doesn’t get on base. His terrible attitude shows in the numbers if you read between the columns.

Russell Martin, C—New York Yankees

He’s coming off numerous injuries and his offense has declined drastically in the past three years.

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF—Boston Red Sox

He’s listed as the center fielder on the Red Sox depth chart and even if he’s healthy I think he’s going to share time with Mike Cameron and lose the full-time job by May. If anything, the Red Sox might play him regularly to bolster his trade value.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of Ellsbury; he’s more of a product of the Red Sox PR machine than actual use on the field; he’s not a good defensive center fielder; he doesn’t hit the ball out of the park; and his stolen bases and triples aren’t worth the trouble of picking him when he’s not going to play regularly and there are many other options available.

Speaking of options available, I forgot to mention Josh Willingham in my list of players to pick up. Grab him. He can hit.

Jose Bautista, INF/OF—Toronto Blue Jays

This has nothing to do with any allegations of impropriety on his part to achieve the *absurd* heights he did last season. We don’t know whether it was due to the first chance he’s gotten to play every day; the approach advocated by Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy to look for a fastball and try to hit it into space; illicit means; or a fluke.

No.

He’ll be very expensive because people will recognize his name and while I do think he’ll hit his homers (I’ll say 30+), he’s not worth the presumptive cost.

J.J. Hardy, SS—Baltimore Orioles

Hardy’s never gotten on base at an impressive rate and he’s been injured and awful  in the past two years. He’s a good fielder, but I don’t think you get credit for that in your fantasy leagues.

In reality, he’s a giant upgrade from Cesar Izturis for the Orioles, but because what a club now has is better than what they had previously, it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily “good”.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

I’m sure there will be those who look at his 17 wins last season and say, “well, he won 17 games,” but I wouldn’t touch him.

I’m cognizant of the “relaxation factor” where he’ll have his contract in hand and want to go to the beach. I doubt that’s going to happen again, but I didn’t expect the ludicrousness of his time with the Yankees; nor did I expect Yankees GM Brian Cashman to make an offer to bring him back(?!?).

With Pavano, there’s a vortex of unreality that I want no part of. If you get sucked into someone else’s madness, it infects you fast.

And his numbers, apart from the wins and innings, were not impressive. The Twins defense is worse than last year and, as a club, they’ve got some major issues.

Mark Buehrle, LHP—Chicago White Sox

Here is the epitome of a player you want on your team when you’re actually playing the game of baseball, but do not want in a fantasy league.

Buehrle is the guy you want at your back in a dark alley. If White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen walks up to him and says, “we need a compete game from you today,” or, in Ozzie-speak, “Compleh gah today babeh, huh?” Buehrle would not question nor complain; he’d stay on the mound for 140 pitches and if he allowed 10+ runs; he wouldn’t worry about how it blew up his ERA or hits/innings pitched ratio because it helps his team.

If you do pick him up, you have to be lucky in getting a “good Buehrle” day as opposed to “bad Buehrle”. The good one pitches a perfect game; the bad one gives up 7 runs in the first inning.

Stats do not adequately define a player and Buehrle is proof of that.

Grady Sizemore, CF—Cleveland Indians

People might remember what he was before micro-fracture surgery and he’ll be in demand; I’d expect absolutely nothing and wouldn’t waste my time.

The one saving grace is the fear that he won’t be able to come back and his availability/upside—it depends on whether he’s cheap or not.

Brandon Webb, RHP—Texas Rangers

More name recognition and remembrances of greatness; considering that he’s missed two years and his fastball was reportedly puttering in at 82-mph last summer, he’s going to be picked because he’s known for what he was.

There’s a big difference between a bowling ball sinker at 90+ and at 84; and he’s pitching in Texas in a ballpark highly conducive to hitters.

Carlos Ruiz, C—Philadelphia Phillies

A career .260 hitter batting .302 with a .400 on base? Are you buying that? I’m not.

Craig Kimbrel, LHP—Atlanta Braves

Because he racks up the strikeouts and has been anointed as the Braves closer entering spring training, he’ll attract interest; he has has trouble throwing strikes and will be closing for a team with playoff expectations. He’s only 23.

It’s a shaky combination.

I have no clue how it works with 40-man rosters and fantasy drafts, but here’s what I would do if he’s available—take Billy Wagner.

He’s still on the Braves 40-man. Pick him late and hope he possibly comes back at mid-season.

Angel Pagan, OF—New York Mets

I’m hesitant to believe in a player when he has his first full season as a regular and puts up the numbers Pagan did last season; plus he’s got a history of injuries that can’t be ignored—that would be my biggest concern.

Jayson Werth, OF—Washington Nationals

How is he going to fare as the focal point? As the highest paid player? With a long-term contract in hand?

Out of the cocoon of the Phillies lineup and into the wasteland of Washington, I wonder whether he’s going to fall on his face.

Probably not, but if you think you’re getting huge numbers from him, think again.

Scott Rolen, 3B—Cincinnati Reds

At age 36 and after two mostly healthy seasons, he’s due for an injury.

Zack Greinke, RHP—Milwaukee Brewers

Amid all the talk that a move to the National League will inspire a Roy Halladay-style dominance, it has to be remembered that mentally, Greinke is no Halladay.

Having taken time to learn to deal with high expectations pitching for a team with no chance at contention with the Royals, how’s he going to react as he’s picked to win the Cy Young Award and an entire organization is pinning their hopes for contention on him?

Brett Myers, RHP—Houston Astros

He was excellent last season and got paid.

That’s what worries me.

He’s emotional and has had injury issues in recent years; the Astros defense is awful and Myers is a contact pitcher.

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Chicago Cubs

Since you don’t know which Zambrano is going to show up, he’s a dart flung at a dartboard while wearing a blindfold.

There will be those who believe his renaissance in September is a portent of turning the corner, but how many times has that been said of Zambrano?

I’ll believe it when I see it…and still be dubious after I see it.

Brian Wilson, RHP—San Francisco Giants

Tim Kurkjian wrote an article for ESPN that looked into the workloads of pitchers in the post-season and their results in the following season—link.

I haven’t torn it apart yet (I intend to), but after a quick glance, it’s a simplistic and broad-based way of analysis.

But one pitcher for whom it might be a problem is Giants closer Brian Wilson.

He’s tough, durable and willing to take the ball whenever, wherever and for however long he’s needed. The aftereffects of the long playoff run and intense innings are cumulative and the slightest downgrade in Wilson’s velocity/movement will give the hitters that extra split second to react to his power pitches; plus his control might not be as good.

It’s imperceptible but real.

Jason Bartlett, SS—San Diego Padres

People think he can hit after his 2009 career year, but he’s moving into a rotten lineup and a giant ballpark. He is what he is as a hitter and that’s not much.

Cameron Maybin, CF—San Diego Padres

With Maybin, you’re waiting until his rough edges are smoothed; he’ll be a good player one day, he’s not yet. Horribly inconsistent, strikeout prone and still learning the game, Maybin has a lot of expectations in his third big league stop and that’s a bad combination for a young player.

Ian Kennedy, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

Kennedy was impressive for the Diamondbacks last season and let his pitching do the talking as opposed to the constant yapping, tweaking and ignoring he did with the Yankees. Away from the hype and in an atmosphere with limited expectations, he pitched well.

It’s still not enough to take a chance on him yet. He’s the type to think he’s “made” it and relax. This is not good.

Buyer beware.

I’ll do the mail tomorrow.

Ambiguity And Brandon Webb

Hot Stove

There’s absolutely no risk and a massive reward for the Rangers to sign former NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb to a 1-year, incentive-laden contract with a $3 million base salary.

But that doesn’t eliminate the questions surrounding Webb and whether he’s going to regain a semblance of the form that not only won him the Cy Young in 2006, but allowed him to finish second in the voting the subsequent two years.

As recently as late September, Webb’s velocity was in the Jamie Moyer-zone of 78-82—MLB FanHouse Story.

This is a problem.

What makes the wonderment of what the Rangers are getting more pronounced is the shift from the National League to the American League and pitching in a Rangers home ballpark that is notoriously hitter friendly. If Webb’s sinker was at its diving, darting, bowling ball best, then he’d thrive in Texas; but this point is moot because if that were the case, he would’ve been unlikely to leave Arizona; and if he did leave Arizona, he’d have been in greater demand than Cliff Lee.

None of this is important in the grand scheme of things. What would concern me more than anything regarding Webb is the ambiguity in his injury. The surgery wasn’t for a torn labrum or a rotator cuff; according to this ESPN Story, Webb’s surgery was “shoulder debridement surgery, which essentially cleans out loose debris and inflamed tissue”.

He’s missed two full years with this injury and the velocity hasn’t returned yet.

If a pitcher has a defined issue, it’s repaired and there’s a proven method of rehab, then you can pretty much know what you’re getting when he returns. With this? After missing two years and being unable to break a pane of glass with his fastball in his early workouts?

You can look at other pitchers who rehabbed from injuries and compare them to pitchers who’ve had similar issues. Tommy John surgery has become so common that it’s almost a guarantee that a pitcher will be as good or better than they were before.

Rotator cuff surgery is more dicey and, for the most part, the pitchers who’ve rehabilitated have altered their approach to account for the diminished stuff.

Frank Tanana was a power fastballer in the Sandy Koufax mold who blew people away until he hurt his shoulder; rejuvenating his career as a junkballer, he carved out a long career for himself. But he, like Moyer, was a lefty.

Alex Fernandez and Steve Busby were top-tier pitchers who tore their rotator cuffs and were never the same; both retired at 30.

Another aspect of Webb’s comeback is how the injury will affect the unique sinking action that has been the foundation for his success.

For all the dissection of pitching mechanics using various techniques prevalent today—computer generated, eyeballing, whatever—no one can adequately explain why a Webb or Kevin Brown have had the ability to throw the ball and create a seemingly natural movement where others have tried to copy them with different grips, twisting of the wrist and even scuffing the ball—and failed.

Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Al Leiter made a living off of a cut fastball; Bruce Sutter from a split-fingered fastball; Webb and Brown from their sinkers.

Pitching is such an individualistic endeavor that the thought of creating a baseline set of mechanics for everyone to follow can’t work any better than trying to make everyone into a scientist for NASA. Some have the aptitude; some don’t.

If mechanics and techniques are altered to prevent injury, who’s to say that the change isn’t going to ruin what it was that made the pitcher effective in the first place?

When he broke into baseball with the Texas Rangers, Ron Darling was a pitcher who had movement with a 3/4 arm angle. The Rangers made him change to an over-the-top motion to develop a curveball. The results weren’t good. When he was traded to the Mets, they immediately switched him back to his normal way of throwing. Had he stayed with the Rangers, there’s every chance he would never have made it to the big leagues.

Webb might come back. He might need to adjust his style to account for the diminished velocity. It may be that the mere thrill of competition will pop his fastball back up into the high-80s range—that’s enough to get by if a pitcher is skillful and has control; but there will be those questions surrounding Webb; they’re not helped by the absence of a defined problem that was solved by the surgery.

A clean-up?

Personally, I’d prefer to have someone say, “you tore your rotator cuff” and move on from there rather than wait two years and still not be able to pitch.

If I were the Rangers, I’d expect nothing from Webb and be happy if he contributes anything at all. It’s a shame because the way Webb was going, he was on his way to the Hall of Fame; now, he’s trying to rebuild his career and may not have the tools to do it.

History is not his friend.

  • Viewer Mail 12.28.2010:

Mike Fierman writes RE Bob Feller and Dave Eiland:

it’s hard to even make a comparison to what guys like Feller and Williams did back then. The zeitgest was so different I think we can’t even wrap our heads around what most people simply considered to be a duty. duty..a word that hasn’t completely disappeared, but has lost most of it’s relevance. What i DO wonder is what these guys would have done if there had been draft dispensations given to Major Leaguers. How many of them would have volunteered to go anyway?

Eiland is making a fool of himself, but since he is safely out of the media glare in Florida not many are paying attention. Not only would I keep very quiet after the stunt he pulled ( and NO i do not care what the reason was- either do your job or quit)- he really hasn’t got much to crow about as a Yankee pitching coach. see Joba and AJ. but also look at CC– he’s been excellent, but his K’s have gone down and his walks, up. I’ll grant that he’s been good with some of the bullpen guys like Robertson. I’m glad he’s gone

good post

It’s such a different world now. Today’s players, for the most part, were probably treated differently from the time they were children because they could hit the ball a mile or throw harder than everyone else; this led to the sense of entitlement and the notion that the rules of regular society don’t apply to them. It’s brought us to where we are now. I would think that there are a fair number of players who would willingly go to fight if they were called upon; others would try and use connections to weasel their way out of it.

With Eiland, there’s not much more to say. I would tend to think that he’s going to keep his mouth shut; we’re not the only ones saying it and I wouldn’t be stunned to hear that someone from the Yankees contacted him and told him to pipe down…or else.

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Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Bob Feller and Jorge Posada:

Excellent piece on the heroes of Feller’s day compared to the so called ‘heroes’ of today. Pretty sure Mike Vick ain’t gonna go fight no Nazis.

You really think Posada would waive his no-trade clause to get dealt? I feel like he wouldn’ t know how to act in another uniform. And I’m serious!

Everyone involved with the nurturing of these star athletes like Mike Vick shares in what they become as they reach the pinnacle. If they don’t know anything else, how are they supposed to know better?

With Posada, I think it’ll come down to money and wanting a new contract that he’s not going to get from the Yankees; plus, the Yankees he knew—Joe Torre, Don Zimmer, Paul O’Neill—aren’t the Yankees of today. He doesn’t seem particularly happy these days and they have treated him shabbily. For all his moodiness and reputation for being difficult, he has some legitimate gripes.

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Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Yankees and having patience:

You’re right – Yankee fans don’t like to wait…and I don’t.

Unless you want Carl Pavano, you’re not going to have a choice. And I doubt you want Carl Pavano.