The Yankees peddle class but embrace pettiness

MLB, Uncategorized

Girardi pic

“He was invited and declined” is the excuse the Yankees give for the glaring omission of the mere name “Joe Girardi” from their celebration of the 1998 World Series champions, portrayed as one of the greatest if not the greatest teams in history.

Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum of Girardi’s contribution to that team and whether the Yankees were obligated to make a note of him even though he was absent from the festivities, the contradiction between how the Yankees sell themselves and how they really are is exemplified by their behavior in these very situations. There is a basic “if this, then that” attitude that comes from the top and more noticeable than it otherwise would be if they simply exhibited the class they relentlessly sell and avoided the infantilism that is a blatant hallmark of how they truly are by just noting that he was a part of the team.

Lest anyone believe it was a circumstantial choice not to mention those who were absent and it was not an intentional act, the Yankees made certain to avoid any player who was not there. That list included Orlando Hernandez, Mike Stanton, Ricky Ledee, Chad Curtis and Hideki Irabu.

The only ones of the group for whom a blotting out of existence is explainable are Curtis, who is in jail for some pretty terrible crimes, and Irabu, who committed suicide, so it’s understandable that they would avoid mentioning them. But should Girardi be in this category?

Those unaware of the Yankees’ deviousness in using plausible deniability to advance their agenda in these relatively meaningless situations could say that it was a decision not to talk about players who weren’t there and that’s that. When looking at the Yankees’ past with how they treat players and people who have become persona non grata for reasons reasonable and ridiculous, it is to be expected that they would treat Girardi as the invisible man and white him out of existence.

What is more galling is that he did not choose to leave them. The psychological issue of treating rejection as if it was a decision on the part of whomever was rejected is obvious, but this is the exact opposite. It’s a false equivalency to say that a former manager who was fired is the same as the former manager and player refusing to join a celebration that he had every right to attend and was, in fact, invited to attend.

Technically, his contract as manager was not renewed, therefore he wasn’t “fired” in the truest sense of the word. But make no mistake about it, for all intents and purposes, he was fired. The argument that the wound is only just starting to scab so it can heal is missing a critical ingredient: Girardi has been nothing but complimentary to the organization and stayed silent over how he was treated. There have been no whisper campaigns; no columns in which Yankees insiders immediately recognize Girardi as the source; no passive aggressive comments one often sees during a bitter divorce.

Girardi’s predecessor as Yankees manager, Joe Torre, was briefly excommunicated from the Yankees universe – complete with being figuratively shit on by Randy Levine’s flunky, the buffonish mouthpiece of the Ministry of Propaganda at YES, Michael Kay – because of his book The Yankee Years and that he did not recede quietly into the night once his tenure as manager ended. With Girardi, there is no book detailing his decade with the Yankees as he attempts to turn himself into St. Joe II.

For someone who was the manager of the team for its last World Series title in 2009, oversaw a pseudo-rebuild and kept the team from falling to the depths that most teams do as they reconstruct their roster and move from one era to the next, Girardi has the right to be bitter as he sits on the sideline watching Aaron Boone drive his Ferrari. But he’s stayed silent.

Mentioning his name hurts no one. It could have been done at the end of the ceremony in which the players who were present or, as Derek Jeter strangely did amid the flimsy excuse that it was his daughter’s birthday, give a statement via video, as those who were not there were referenced innocuously: “Key parts of that team who are unable to join us today…”

It’s as simple, professional and classy as the Yankees seek to present themselves. Of course, they chose to be petty and vindictive for reasons known only to them, if there even is a reason.

No, this is not a major conspiracy for which the organization should be held accountable; no, Girardi was not a giant and irreplaceable part of that championship team and they likely would have been just as good had they used another backup catcher; but they could have said his name rather than saying, “we invited him and he said no” as if that’s some form of justification to edit to the narrative so he no longer exists.

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Masahiro Tanaka: Full Analysis, Video and Predictions

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Masahiro Tanaka has been posted and teams are scrambling to get their hands on the 25-year-old Japanese star. Like most hot items, though, is it availability that’s spurring the interest? Is it hype? Is it his gaudy 24-0 record pitching for Rakuten in 2013? Is it his ability? Or is it a combination of a multitude of factors that Tanaka and his new U.S. agent Casey Close are going to exploit to extract every last penny out of MLB clubs?

The loudest shrieks in favor of Tanaka aren’t based on any analysis. “I want Tanaka!” is not analysis and it’s based on nothing. So let’s take a look at the numerous positives and negatives of the Japanese sensation that could wind up being the next Yu Darvish or the next Kei Igawa.

Mechanics

You notice the different teaching techniques with every Japanese pitcher that makes the trek to North America. They step straight back as pitchers are supposed to to maximize leverage toward the plate. Many Americanized pitchers don’t step straight back. They move to the side or at a diagonal angle. The Japanese pitchers will bring their arms above their head and hesitate as if they’re making sure all their weight is on the lead leg before they move forward. Then they’ll very quickly and all in one motion pivot on the rubber, lift their legs and they bring their arms down, separate ball from glove and fire. Many have what appears to be a leg-based motion similar to that which was used by Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Greg Maddux.

But are they using their legs?

Looking at Tanaka, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish among many others, they’re garnering leverage from their lower bodies, but essentially stopping halfway through and using their arms to generate power. With Seaver, he would explode hard off the rubber, using it as a foundation to launch himself toward the hitter. The energy would flow from his lower body all the way up through to his arm. Upon release of the ball, that energy would suddenly be compacted as he bounced and stood straight up. The arm was simply a conduit of that power that was generated by the legs, butt and hips. While Tanaka and the others are contorting their bodies and generating power through their legs, the brunt of the release of the ball falls on their arms because the legs stop working. You can see it when he finishes his release and the leg drags along behind him rather than whipping around after impact. His arm bullwhips as it’s not decelerating with the cushion of the lower legs. He has the flexible front leg Seaver, Ryan and Maddux used, but it’s a middling technique that’s done without completion of the intent of taking stress off the arm.

You’ll hear people who regurgitate scouting terminology and facts as if they have an in-depth knowledge of them. The inverted W and Tanaka’s wrist hook should become such terms you’ll need to understand when looking at Tanaka and whether these issues will affect his long-term health and durability. There’s a profound negativity surrounding the inverted W when the pitcher moves both arms simultaneously into what looks like and upside down W (which leads to the question of why it’s not called an “M”) and guarantees his arm will be in the optimal position when he turns and throws. For pitchers who have trouble maintaining their arm slot and release point when making a big circle with their arms or might have the arm drag behind their bodies when they throw, the inverted W is a checkpoint method to ensure the arm is in the proper position. The only time it’s a problem is if the arm is brought back further than is necessary and it strains the shoulder. If the pitcher raises the elbow above the shoulder, this too can be an issue. Tanaka does neither. Watching a quarterback with proper throwing mechanics is the correct way to use the inverted W. Getting the elbow to shoulder level is the point. There’s no issue with Tanaka there.

As for the wrist hook, it’s not something that can be stopped or fixed. Barry Zito does it and has had a successful career without injury issues to his arm. Rick Sutcliffe and Don Drysdale hooked their wrists as well. With Sutcliffe, it was part of a long and herky-jerky motion that was actually quite smooth. He had arm trouble in his career, but he was a top big league pitcher and quite durable for his 18 year career. Drysdale blew out his shoulder, but he lasted until he was 32 and averaged 237 innings a season with four straight of 300-plus innings. Was it the workload or his mechanics? I’d say it was the workload.

When there is a mechanical problem, it has to be repaired when the pitcher is in his formative years. The longer they throw a certain way, the greater the challenge in “fixing” an issue. It also has to be remembered that a part of the reason pitchers like Sutcliffe were successful was because of his unique throwing motion. Much like it can’t – and shouldn’t – be taught for a pitcher to hook his wrist up toward his elbow, it can’t be changed either once he’s established. Hooking is not going to be a health issue unless it’s a pronounced yank. I don’t see Tanaka yanking the ball.

Analysis: He throws mostly with his arm and I would be concerned about him staying healthy.

Stuff

Tanaka has a mid-90s fastball with good life, a shooting split-finger fastball and a sharp slider. At the very least, no one is manufacturing a story that he throws pitches that either do or don’t exist as was done with Matsuzaka and the gyroball. The gyroball, for the record, is thrown with the wrist turned for a righty pitcher as if he’s waving to the third base dugout. From a righty pitcher, it would appear as a lefty quarterback’s spiral. The problem was Matsuzaka didn’t throw it. Hisashi Iwakuma does throw the gyroball and it’s nasty.

As for Tanaka’s fastball, it’s explosive when he throws it high and hitters will chase it given the downward action of his splitter and slider. His fastball is straight meaning if he doesn’t locate it and isn’t getting his breaking pitches over, he’ll get blasted. His breaking pitches are the key to his success. If hitters are laying off the splitter and his slider’s not in the strike zone, he’ll be forced to come in with his fastball where big league hitters will be waiting.

Analysis: With the velocity and breaking stuff, he certainly has the ability to be a successful, All-Star level pitcher in MLB.

The switching of leagues

In Japan, they tend to adhere more closely to the by-the-book strike zone. With that, Tanaka got high strike calls above the belt that he’s not going to get in MLB. If hitters learn to lay off that high pitch, he’s going to have a problem.

The ball in Japan is smaller than it is in North America. That hasn’t appeared to be a problem with most hurlers who’ve joined MLB and been successful. It’s not something to discount, but not something to worry about either.

Looking at Tanaka’s statistics are silly. A pitcher going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA (an ERA he achieved in both 2011 and 2013) is indicative of a weak-hitting league. When studying a pitcher making the switch from Japan to MLB, the statistics might be a gaudy show to sell a few tickets, but few actual baseball people who know what they’re doing will take it seriously. Igawa was considered a top-flight pitcher in Japan and his stuff was barely capable of being deemed that of a journeyman Triple-A roster filler.

Analysis: Accept the statistical dominance at your own risk.

Workload

Much has been made of how Japanese pitchers are pushed as amateurs and expected to pitch whenever they’re asked to for as long as they’re needed. Two months ago, Tanaka threw 160 pitches in losing game 6 of the Japan Series then closed out game 7 to win the series for Rakuten.

Is this a red flag?

In North America, where pitchers are babied and placed on pitch counts and innings limits seemingly from little league onward, then are tormented by big time college coaches who couldn’t care less about their futures similarly to the workload Tanaka endured, then are placed back on their limits, it would be a problem. In Japan, it’s not unusual for pitchers to be used in ways that would be considered abusive. But that’s the way they’re trained. They’re expected to pitch and there’s no evidence that injuries and pitch counts/innings are correlated because the pitchers who’ve gotten hurt (Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey) were watched while others who weren’t (Maddux, Clayton Kershaw) have stayed healthy. With all the reams of numbers and organizational mandates steeped in randomness as to what keeps pitchers healthy, perhaps it’s all about the individual and his capacity to pitch. Japanese pitchers are conditioned this way and the workload wasn’t a jump from being allowed to throw 100 pitches to suddenly throwing 175 in two days.

Analysis: I wouldn’t worry about it.

Cost

With the changes to the Japanese posting system, Rakuten is guaranteed $20 million. That’s well short of the $51.7 million Nippon got from the Rangers for the rights to Darvish and a severe disappointment to Rakuten. They could have kept Tanaka, but instead chose to acquiesce to the pitcher’s wishes and let him go to MLB.

The new posting rules make more money for the players rather than the teams that are selling him. Darvish received a $56 million contract two years ago. Tanaka is expected to get over $100 million, but I’m expecting the bidding war to reach $130 to $140 million.

Is he worth it?

To hand this pitcher $130 million after the number of Japanese pitchers who’ve come over and failed is crazy. There’s an overemphasis on the fact that he’s a free agent that won’t cost a compensatory draft pick. But he’ll cost an extra $20 million to get his rights. Matt Garza won’t cost a draft pick either because he was traded at mid-season and he’s an established big league pitcher. Is it wise to spend $130 million to get Tanaka even if he’s 75 percent of what he was in Japan? Given the failures of Matsuzaka, Igawa and Hideki Irabu and the success of the less heralded pitchers who’ve come over like Hiroki Kuroda, Hideo Nomo and Iwakuma, the fact is no one knows with any certainty as to what they’re getting. And that’s important.

Is it preferable to pay for potential or to pay for what is known?

Let’s say the Yankees give Tanaka $130 million and he turns out to be an okay third starter. Was it worth it when they could’ve signed Garza and Bronson Arroyo, filled out their rotation with pitchers who are known commodities, kept their draft picks and had an inkling of what they were getting with arms who’ve succeeded in the AL East? Or is it better to go for the potential greatness of Tanaka and face the consequences if he’s Irabu/Igawa-revisited?

Other teams face the same dilemma. The Dodgers have their own 2015 free agent Kershaw to worry about and would like to sign Hanley Ramirez to a contract extension. How would signing Tanaka influence those issues? It’s more important to keep Kershaw than it is to sign Tanaka.

Analysis: I would not give Tanaka $100-130 million.

The pursuit

Tanaka is the first full-blown Japanese free agent with the new posting fee rules and it opens up a larger pool of teams that think they have a shot at getting him. The Yankees and Cubs are known to be hot for him.

The Mariners need another arm and it makes no sense to stop at Robinson Cano and think they’ll contend. Singing him would keep them from needing to gut the system to get David Price and a top three of Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma and Tanaka with Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton would be tough.

The Angels need pitching; the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are interested; the Astros could be sleepers with an owner holding deep pockets and trying to show he’s not a double-talking, money-hungry, arrogant cheapskate; the Rangers are all in for 2014; the Red Sox are always lurking; the Phillies need pitching; and the Orioles need to make a splash.

Analysis: It’s going to come down to the Yankees, Cubs and Mariners.




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The Yu Darvish Return Policy

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Yu Darvish threw 42 pitches and allowed 4 first inning runs in his Rangers’ debut last night.

Immediately when he started to struggle, he was labeled a “bust” on social media.

After one inning.

Was he not supposed to be nervous? Excited? Overamped? Trying to throw the ball through a brick wall rather than pitching?

It certainly didn’t help that he was pitching against the Mariners and Ichiro Suzuki—a player who came to the United States and did exactly what Darvish is trying to do by becoming a worldwide star.

Ichiro is heading for the Hall of Fame.

The Rangers did exactly the right thing in letting Darvish fight his way through and get into a rhythm. Because he was such a hyped prospect and cost so much money to get, the expectations were smothering and it showed. If a pitcher is trying to throw too hard and blow the ball by the hitters rather than adhering to a strategy, his fastball will run high; his breaking pitches will flatten or dive into the dirt; and he’ll appear to be out of control because he is out of control.

It’s a good thing that the Rangers are an outside-the-box thinking organization with a patient manager in Ron Washington, a highly-regarded pitching coach Mike Maddux, and Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Nolan Ryan intimately involved in the way their pitchers are treated and developed.

There’s an understanding inherent in these men that a computer printout and mandated dictate of usage and strategy couldn’t comprehend or implement.

It wouldn’t have been a disaster of epic proportions or a potent to his whole future whether he pitched a no-hitter or gave up 9 runs in the first inning. If you remember, Hideki Irabu joined the Yankees, dominated the Tigers in his first big league start and eventually settled into mediocrity, laziness and self-destruction.

Darvish almost imploded, but pulled himself together, held the Mariners in check and gave his Rangers teammates a chance to get back in the game.

They did and Darvish got the win.

The win is not important.

What is important is that in spite of early wildness, he harnessed his stuff displaying a good fastball, a slider, a curve and a cutter. He turned what could’ve been a total negative into a net positive by slashing through his nerves.

That he was able to compose himself forms the foundation to believe that he can succeed. One start is relatively meaningless when looking at the results, but Darvish’s first big league start was meaningful in other ways.

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Stereotypical Stupidity and Yu Darvish

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If teams shied away from making a posting bid on Yu Darvish because they didn’t want to spend the money on the fee and then to sign him to a contract, then okay.

If they weren’t impressed with his abilities, fine.

If they were legitimately concerned that he wouldn’t transition well, fair enough.

If they examined the past successes and failures of big name pitchers who came over from Japan—Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu and even Kei Igawa—and decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward, I won’t quibble.

But if teams came up with the simplistic argument that because Darvish is coming over from Japan and the aforementioned pitchers were disappointing that he wasn’t worth a serious look, it’s a ridiculous and illogical case doomed to haunt those who, like me, believe strongly in Darvish’s potential.

Would any GM or scout in his right mind look at a pitcher from Ohio and say he wasn’t interested in him because of the failure of a pitcher from Florida if there were no similarities between them other than they were from the United States?

No. It would be seen as ludicrous and they wouldn’t be in their jobs for very long.

But that’s exactly the argument given when the Yankees–for example—are said to have been stung by Irabu and Igawa and weren’t going to go crazy for Darvish because of those pitchers.

Irabu was a pet project of George Steinbrenner who forced his way to the Yankees; he was hyped incessantly and the expectations were so stifling that no one could’ve lived up to them; Irabu had talent, but he needed to be allowed to grow accustomed to the big leagues without pressure from the media and ownership if he wasn’t spectacular immediately.

Igawa was a response by the Yankees to the Red Sox getting Matsuzaka. I’m convinced that they heard his name, maybe—maybe—looked at his stats and some tape and signed him without knowing what they were getting.

I’d hate the think the Yankees were employing talent evaluators who saw Igawa and decided to invest $46 million in him.

Yu Darvish is not Matsuzaka; he’s not Irabu; he’s not Igawa.

It’s the same thing as saying that because Francisco Cervelli and Wilson Ramos were both born in Valencia Carabobo, Venezuela that they’re the same talent and shouldn’t be viewed as anything other than that.

It’s idiotic.

Why compare Darvish to the pitchers that came over and failed? Why not compare him to Hiroki Kuroda? To Takashi Saito? To other Far Eastern players Chien-Ming Wang and Chan Ho Park? Pitchers who’ve done well?

His pitching has nothing in common with them either, but at least they were good.

Staying away from Darvish makes sense if that’s what scouts and financial freedom say is the smart thing to do, but to dismiss him because of his Japanese League pedigree is stereotypical stupidity at its lowest.

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Yu Darvish and the Yankees

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Despite refusing to show their hand in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, the Yankees must have posted a large bid for the Japanese right-hander.

Here’s why.

They need him.

For the second straight year, Brian Cashman went to the winter meetings looking for pitching and came away empty handed. The Yankees weren’t enamored of C.J. Wilson‘s asking price; Mark Buehrle didn’t appear interested in New York; Trevor Cahill was traded to the Diamondbacks; Billy Beane is asking for a ton to acquire Gio Gonzalez; and Felix Hernandez isn’t on the market.

CC Sabathia was retained with a contract extension; they kept Freddy Garcia and are looking for takers on A.J. Burnett. The young pitchers Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and Hector Noesi are not expected to start the season in the rotation. That leaves Sabathia, Garcia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Burnett.

It’s doubtful that Cashman is comfortable with that in the wake of the new look American League that houses the two-time defending American League champions Rangers and the rainmaking Angels. The AL East isn’t a guarantee to have the Wild Card anymore. There’s still the chance that the playoffs expand to an extra team in 2012, but that’s an unknown and the configuration of the playoff structure—a one-game playoff for the Wild Card—is not what any team with a near-$200 million payroll wants to bank on.

If the Blue Jays are—as rumored—one of the teams that put in a bid for Darvish, they’re very dangerous in the changing culture of the division. It’s not just the Red Sox and Yankees with the Rays insinuating themselves into the conversation anymore. The Blue Jays are a serious threat.

He only costs money.

The Yankees are concerned about the luxury tax; the posting bid will not count against the luxury tax. (You can read a concise synopsis of the new CBA here on MLB Trade Rumors.)

Hypothetically, say the winning bid is $50 million and the Yankees or anyone else has to come to a contract agreement with Darvish. Darvish could conceivably stay in Japan if he doesn’t like the offers he receives, but that’s unlikely. If a team wins the bid, they’ll have to sign him and he wants to pitch in the majors. They’ll hammer something out.

Judging by prior posting bid contracts, the contract itself won’t be a huge outlay. The Red Sox got Daisuke Matsuzaka for 6-years and $52 million. If the Yankees can get Darvish for somewhere around $60 million for 5-years, that’s far lower than what they would have had to pay Wilson; cheaper in personnel than what they’d have to surrender in a trade for Gonzalez, Hernandez or any other young arm they might pursue; it won’t count against the luxury tax and there are no compensatory draft picks.

Money is something the Yankees have and it’s a one-cost purchase without any kickers to affect the rest of their payroll.

Darvish is really, really good.

This is a superstar talent in personality and performance. Those who are preaching caution are using the fractured logic that because Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu didn’t work out, Darvish will be the latest in massively hyped, overpriced pitchers from Japan to come to North America and be a bust.

I was ready to make the same argument before looking at Darvish.

Pigeonholing a player based on where he’s coming from is the wrong way to pursue talent.

That stereotype could be applied to anything.

Why sign any free agents if they might become Carl Pavano?

Why draft any immense talent if they might become Brien Taylor?

Why develop pitchers if they might washout in New York like Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy?

Players have to be judged on who they are with a consideration to the history of other pitchers who tried to make the transfer. I tore down Darvish’s mechanics with video and comparisons in this piece; he’s the real deal.

I said at the time that teams with the means have to go after him because he’s going to be that good.

The Yankees are one of those teams and considering the above factors it’s a pretty fair assumption that they put in a bid for Darvish.

A big one.

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The Yu Darvish Free Agency Profile

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Name: Yu Darvish


Position: Right handed pitcher.

Vital Statistics: Age-25; Height-6’5″; Weight-185.

Agents: Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group and Don Nomura.

Chances of coming to North America in 2012: He might want to wait another year so the bigger money clubs like the Red Sox and Mets will definitely be involved. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s coming for 2012.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; New York Yankees; Toronto Blue Jays; Baltimore Orioles; Detroit Tigers; Minnesota Twins; Kansas City Royals; Texas Rangers; Los Angeles Angels; Seattle Mariners; New York Mets; Washington Nationals; Florida Marlins; Milwaukee Brewers; St. Louis Cardinals; Chicago Cubs; San Francisco Giants; Los Angeles Dodgers.

Positives:

I went into detail—with pictures, comparisons, video and projections—on Darvish here.

He has a gregarious personality; an interesting heritage and history; and massive talent that will transfer well to the North American market.

His stuff is vicious; he doesn’t appear to have had his arm abused as Daisuke Matsuzaka did as a youth; he’s fearless and unafraid to buzz hitters—this will be imperative in the big leagues.

Darvish has a wide array of pitches including two blazing, moving fastballs, a slider, an Adam Wainwright curve and a forkball.

Negatives:

Japanese imports are always a gamble and teams like the Yankees and Red Sox have been torched by diving too enthusiastically into the market without realizing what they were getting.

The pressure and expectations on Darvish might be muted because of the prior failures of the likes of Hideki Irabu and Matsuzaka, but he’s still going to cost at least $100 million to $120 million in posting fees and for his contract. That’s a lot of money.

The market is relatively weak this season, but pitchers like C.J. Wilson and Edwin Jackson aren’t going to cost as much as Darvish and they’re proven MLB pitchers.

Darvish is raw and wild—on and off the field—but that could be seen as both a positive or negative. I take it as a good thing. Within reason.

What he’ll want: The posting fee for Matsuzaka was $51.1 million; it’s a blind bidding process, so the teams will have to calculate how much it’ll cost to sign Darvish.

Contractually he’ll want $75 million in guaranteed money over 5-years and the team that wins the bid will have to sign him.

What he’ll get: The posting will be around $55 million; the contract 5-years, $68 million.

Teams that might give it to him: Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, Blue Jays, Cubs, Tigers.

If you think for one second that the Yankees aren’t interested in Darvish and aren’t preparing a massive posting bid for him, you need to stop reading this and go enjoy the work of Joel Sherman.

The Yankees aren’t interested in Darvish…just like they were only moderately interested in Mark Teixeira.

They’re going after Darvish. Hard.

Ichiro Suzuki‘s career is winding down with the Mariners and they’ll want a talented replacement for the Ichiro fanbase. They’re building their club with pitching in mind and Darvish would slide in right behind Felix Hernandez for a devastating and young 1-2 punch.

Theo Epstein was torched by the Matsuzaka signing, but the Cubs have money to spend and he might want to make a big splash upon taking over in Chicago.

Would I spend the posting money and sign Darvish if I were a GM? I’d put my job on the line to get him.

Will it be a “bad” signing for the club that does pay him? No. Darvish is the real deal and is going to be an All Star and Cy Young Award contender. He’s a megastar in waiting.

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Get Yu Darvish

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I had prepared to write about how pitchers from Japan have a small margin for error and terrible history, especially when the hype-machine is so stifling that no one could possibly succeed. That history with the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu should make clubs reticent about the astronomical posting bids for the right to even negotiate with them. In addition to that, the number of pitchers who arrived without the media exposure and did well—Hideo Nomo, Hideki Okajima—should give greater pause before going all in with cash and expectations.

Part of my argument was intended to be centered around the same teams that passed on Aroldis Chapman being after the latest hot commodity, Yu Darvish.

I still don’t know how Chapman wound up with the Reds and not the Yankees or Red Sox—he was the real deal before he signed and is the real deal now.

But after looking at video clips of Darvish, he’s going to be a dominating pitcher in the big leagues.

His motion combines the height and ball-hooking quirkiness of Rick Sutcliffe; the deception and charisma of Tim Lincecum; and the leg drive and finish of David Cone.

Watching Darvish in the video below, you see the similarities to Sutcliffe.

Sutcliffe was 6’7″, had a set of mechanics that no pitching coach in his right mind would teach, but were actually technically perfect in terms of balance and usage of both arms and intimidating size. The hooking of the wrist toward the forearm is said to be bad for the elbow, but that’s the way he threw; sometimes it does more damage to alter a natural motion that it would be to try and fix it; in some cases, it’s the oddity that makes them effective.

Darvish turns his back to the hitter similarly to Lincecum, he collapses he back leg to load up for the drive to the plate, and uses a leverage-based torque to generate power. The difference being he’s doing it at 6’5″ while Lincecum is (supposedly) 5’11”.

Cone was listed at 6’1″; was actually around 5’11” and threw everything at the hitter from a variety of arm angles; Darvish is said to throw a wide array of pitches including the conventional 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs; a wicked off-speed curve; a forkball; and a slider.

Here’s Cone as he’s just about to release:

And here’s Darvish:

I would totally ignore the results against against Japanese hitters—that’s a mistake that’s repeatedly made in trying to translate the success from Japan to North America. It’s happened not only with the above-mentioned pitchers who didn’t work out as hoped, but with hitters like Tsuyoshi Nishioka who was played up as a batting champion when he signed with the Twins and was a disaster.

With his unique heritage of an Iranian father and Japanese mother; a clear love of the spotlight; and the goods to back it up, Darvish is going to come to the big leagues and be a sensation.

The teams that miss out on him due to being gun-shy after prior errors are going to regret it. He’ll be a devastating force as a big league pitcher.

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Hideki Irabu Could’ve Been Really Good

Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Harvey Araton writes about Hideki Irabu in today’s NY Times.

Irabu was found dead in California yesterday from an apparent suicide.

For him to kill himself, he obviously had bigger problems than just baseball; but if his baseball career had gone according to plan, perhaps he wouldn’t have spiraled to this point.

Irabu was a prized acquisition of the Yankees in 1997 after the Padres had secured his rights from the Chiba Lotte Marines and he refused to play in San Diego. Irabu wanted to be a Yankee; the Yankees wanted him; his demands were met.

In the Times piece, it’s noted by a Yale anthropology professor—William Kelly—that Irabu may have made a mistake going to the Yankees; Kelly seems to blame agent Don Nomura:

“It may be that Nomura did not serve him well as an agent,” Kelly said. “In the end, Irabu might have been better off in San Diego.”

Blaming the agent is idiotic. If anything, Nomura was doing something that star agents like Scott Boras occasionally fail to do—serve the client as a person by acquiescing to his desires. That may not be what’s best for said client, but in the end the agent is an employee and Irabu chose to go the Yankees.

He got that and more. Which turned out to be less.

There are circumstances in which a pitcher is overvalued for the interest he’ll generate off the field rather than what he can do on it. Kei Igawa was signed by the Yankees as a response to the Red Sox getting Daisuke Matsuzaka; Irabu was the Yankees’ version of Hideo Nomo.

The expectations for Irabu were heightened by Nomo’s sudden and unforeseen explosion and the Yankees hype machine. Nomo arrived amid little fanfare aside from the way he extricated himself from Japan by “retiring”. No one predicted much and Nomo turned into a sensation; Nomo’s parents had received assurances from Dodgers GM Fred Claire and manager Tommy Lasorda that the club would protect him. Irabu had no such protective measures; all he had was the albatross of being the “second guy” after Nomo. “You think Nomo’s good? Watch this!!”

It’s not easy being the “second guy” especially playing for the Yankees under George Steinbrenner.

With a near 100-mph fastball and devastating split-finger to go along with a wild personality, the decision to lever his way to the Yankees wound up being a big part of his undoing.

Irabu was a disappointment, but he did have good stuff. That power fastball and split-finger could’ve made him a useful and probably very good big league pitcher. But the Yankees needed a Nomo and Irabu wasn’t Nomo.

Lineups were to be left in ruins at the mere sight of Irabu; the club, fans and media waited for devastation when he was merely “okay”.

Okay wasn’t, nor would it ever be, good enough when saddled with those demands for that team with that owner.

Clearly that professional failure to meet lofty and absurd fantasies were only a fraction of the myriad of issues with Hideki Irabu and those issues caused him to end his own life.

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Contractual Relevance

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

What would’ve happened had the Yankees and Derek Jeter not waited until he was a free agent to agree to a new contract?

What if the sides had gotten together after the 2009 season—after another World Series and Jeter 3rd in the MVP voting with a fantastic all-around year—and agreed to the exact same contract he signed last winter?

It’s purely speculative and unrealistic to think that Jeter would’ve agreed to a 3-year extension for $51 million; presumably he, at the very least, would’ve wanted the fourth year guaranteed. And that probably wouldn’t have gotten it done considering what he accomplished in 2009 in an individual and team context.

But think about it.

What would’ve happened?

Would those that are currently engaging in retrospective and somewhat shortsighted eulogies of Jeter’s career be using the same rationale to attack the player and team for the contentious negotiations and the contract he signed? Or would it be different? Would the argument center on Jeter’s age and how stupid it was—2009 irrelevant—to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract until he’s 39?

Here are two important points that the critics are missing: the money is relatively meaningless to the Yankees; and they didn’t have many options aside from Jeter last winter.

Considering the amount of money the Yankees have wasted on players who have done little-to-nothing while in pinstripes—Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth, Hideki Irabu—is another $50 million that much considering it’s Jeter? Would the fallout of being ruthless as the internet musclemen seem to suggest and letting him leave have been realistic?

What could they have done this past winter in lieu of Jeter?

I suppose they could’ve tried to trade for a third baseman of the Mark Reynolds ilk and shifted Alex Rodriguez to shortstop; they could’ve made a move on Stephen Drew or J.J. Hardy; or they could’ve re-signed Jeter.

If Jeter was 30, the 2010 season would’ve been seen as a down year; the confluence of events—his free agency and age—make it appear as if the investment was unwise and his poor start is exacerbating that view, but I’ve never quite understood why outsiders are so concerned about how much money the Yankees spend as if there’s a payroll constraint. They have a $200 million payroll and have dealt with underperformance in relation to money forever. It’s the cost of doing business as the Yankees.

It wasn’t all that long ago (2005) that Jason Giambi was treated in much the same way as Jeter is now. Following the revelation that he admitted to using steroids, there were calls to try and void his contract; it didn’t help that Giambi wasn’t hitting at all through mid-season. Savaged in all aspects of the media, Giambi hit 14 homers in July and was suddenly the toast of the town again being asked if he remembered those who were so brutal in their assessment and desired punishment because he told the truth about his PED use. He said he remembered.

It goes with the territory for players to be judged on what they’ve done in recent history, but to imply that Jeter is finished and should be benched or shouldn’t have been re-signed in the first place ignores the other issues of what the alternatives were and are.

I have to believe that Jeter will eventually hit.

If he doesn’t, the Yankees will have to figure something else out. But to bury him now is counterproductive and reactionary;  it has the potential to come back and bite those partaking in it. They’re don’t stand behind what they say; they engage in the vitriol and move on with no consequences or need to retract apart from the occasional and wishy-washy, “well I guess I was wrong”.

It won’t do.

This pure arrogance and self-importance is inherent in the detached culture of “expertise” where the secondary tenet of the implication—accountability—is absent to begin with.

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I was linked on Baseball Think Factory yesterday for my posting on Rob Neyer and Derek Jeter; the results were telling as always. It’s easier for the commenters to say the stuff they do without confronting me directly because then they’d have to deal with my response—something they’re incapable or unwilling to do.

But I’m here if they’d like to try.

Check it out—link.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. It’s useful all year long; it’s not a preview with predictions and nothing else, it’s a guide and can help with your fantasy baseball stuff.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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