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Archive for April, 2015

Baltimore and Baseball

The Orioles – and as a result the White Sox and Rays – have had some major changes to their schedules as a result of the riots in Baltimore. The Orioles feel at a disadvantage for losing three games in their home stadium (being the home team at Tropicana Field is not really being home), although overall this seems to be the best option for all teams involved. Team members have indicated they agree with the decision by MLB and the city of Baltimore, and manager Buck Showalter is considering this just another challenge a team might face during the season.

Obviously, I’m a baseball fan (and an Orioles fan) so I’m paying attention to the schedule changes. I’m also fairly close to Baltimore (my house is 44 miles from Camden Yards) so this is happening close to home. I can’t help but wonder how people who aren’t near Baltimore and aren’t baseball fans perceive these changes. It must seem like MLB and the city of Baltimore rearranged these schedules to accommodate for millionaire baseball players.

To a certain point, that’s true. The Orioles stayed safe in their homes and the White Sox stayed safe in their hotel. But the fans stayed home too – along with employees of Camden Yards and hundreds of other Baltimore businesses. The effects of the schedule changes were felt by more than just millionaire baseball players, just like the effects of the riots are effecting people in Baltimore and across the nation (maybe even the world).

Like many other cities and many other stadiums, the area around Camden Yards is buzzing before, during, and after Orioles games. There are several bars and restaurants around the stadium that are packed with fans in orange. Trying to leave Baltimore after a game is a nightmare because of the volume of cars and poorly designed streets leading to the freeways out of the city. But even with all the chaos, it’s exciting. Orioles fans love their team, and their team seems to love them back.

It’s so strange to think of that area as quiet. No game for two days, and a game closed to the public today. There were some dedicated fans standing outside the park, trying to see anything they could over the fences – but they’re only a fraction of the number of fans usually sitting in Camden Yards.

The sad thing to remember in all of this – bigger than inconveniencing baseball – is everything and everyone effected by the changes MLB and the Orioles (plus White Sox, Rays, and the Rays organization/St. Petersburg) were forced to make. If bars/restaurants around the stadium are open, they’re seeing a huge drop in sales. If they’re closed, their employees aren’t getting paid. The people employed at Camden Yards have missed work Monday and Tuesday, only a few worked today, and they’ll all miss work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That’s a big hit to citizens of a city that’s already suffering.

Whatever you may think of the events happening in Baltimore, or the changes baseball made as a result of the riots, I hope you remember how many people this all affects as whole. Baltimore isn’t a bad city, and I would highly recommend any baseball fan see a game at Camden Yards – it’s a great experience and a beautiful park. It’s a shame to see this happening in any city, let alone one so close to home.

For everyone involved, in any way, I hope the situation in Baltimore resolves soon so the city can begin to heal and recover. Hopefully, baseball and the Orioles can soon be a bright spot for a city that has greatly suffered recently.

Some thoughts about Greene/Gregorius

Less than two weeks into this baseball season, many Yankee fans have not only given up on our new shortstop Didi Gregorius, but have decided the trade that brought Didi to New York (and sent rookie pitcher Shane Greene to Detroit) is the worst trade Brian Cashman has ever made.

But is it really that simple? Losing Greene will forever be connected to acquiring Didi, but that particular deal aside, I think there is a bigger picture most fans are failing to see.

Honestly, I hated to see Shane Greene go. He was one of my favorite Yankees from the 2014 season, and as a Cleveland native and Indians fan, I really hated to see him go to the Detroit Tigers. But, baseball is a business, and he was useful in a trade.

Trading Greene, allowing Brandon McCarthy (another one of my 2014 favorites) to sign with the Dodgers, and Hiroki Kuroda’s return to Japan left three openings in the Yankees’ starting rotation. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda would be the only returning starters in 2015 (baring any injuries). In a separate trade, hard-throwing Nathan Eovaldi joined the rotation, CC Sabathia returned from injury, and still one spot remained in the rotation – which eventually went to Chris Capuano.

The two are not directly related so it’s a little like comparing apples and oranges, but comparing the two starters, I would rather have Greene on my team. Not only is he 12 years younger (25 this season, Capuano will turn 37 in August), but he also pitched better last season. In his rookie season, Greene posted a 5-4 record, 3.78 ERA with 81 K and 29 BB in 78.2 innings. In 2014 Capuano finished with a 3-4 record, 84 K, 34 BB in 96.4 innings, and has a career ERA of 4.28. I wouldn’t say Capuano’s numbers are bad, but Greene has much more potential. Since joining the Tigers, Greene is doing exactly what I expected him to do – pitch very well with a 2-0 record and 0.00 ERA. I’m happy for him…I just wish he was doing this in a Yankees uniform. Especially since Chris Capuano went down in his first spring training start and began the season on the DL. In addition, Greene costs a fraction of the price. This season, Greene will be making $515,000 while Capuano will make $5 million (up from the $2.25 million he made in 2014) on a one-year deal with the Yankees. For any team, let alone one who is supposed to be focusing on bringing down their payroll, that’s a big difference. (Also, Greene likely won’t become a free agent until after the 2020 season.)

Pitching aside, the Yankees still had a giant hole to fill at shortstop. Losing Greene meant bringing 25 year old Didi Gregorius in to fill a position Derek Jeter had manned for the better part of two decades. Didi has the potential to be a strong defensive shortstop – I’ve never expected him to be a power hitter – so of course seeing his early mental errors fielding and base-running, along with a pitiful batting average below .200 – is concerning to fans (myself included). But without Didi, who would be the shortstop? The only viable option within the organization would be Brendan Ryan. It’s easy to say if the Yankees were going to sign Stephen Drew anyway, why not let him play shortstop? In that case, he wouldn’t have to learn a new position (which he attempted to do so poorly last year). Either option – Drew or Ryan – give a decent defensive shortstop and a very weak bat, but considering both are over 30, I’m fairly confident neither will develop to be much more than they are currently. (Drew is 31 with a .256 career average; Ryan is 33 with a .234 career average.) The scary thought comparing the two is that Stephen Drew – Yankee fans’ favorite punching bag – might actually be the better option at shortstop. And Brendan Ryan is also starting the season on the DL. All things considered, if I’m the GM, I would take a chance with the 25 year old (career .240 average) – which is exactly what Brian Cashman and the Yankees did.

Also, without Stephen Drew trying his hand at secondbase again (and I think he’s doing a better job this season – so far), there is another hole in the defense with Jose Pirela also on the DL. Whether fans want to believe it or not, top prospect Rob Refsnyder is not ready for the major league yet: he’s actually had more fielding errors at second this season than Drew has. Signing Gregorio Petit was a crap move – but one that was necessary without Brendan Ryan to back up shortstop – and I expect him to be dropped when Jose Pirela returns.

All things considered, we are still less than two weeks into the season. Fans are excited by strong starts like those from Stephen Drew(!) and Alex Rodriguez – but tomorrow either (or both) of them could find themselves in a major slump. The same is true for Shane Greene. Again, I expected him to pitch well and I’m glad to see he is so far into the season, but it’s only April. He’s had two starts. Last year’s Cy Young winners finished the season with ERAs of 2.44 (Corey Kluber) and 1.77 (Clayton Kershaw). As much as I like Greene, I just don’t think he’s going to post that kind of ERA this season. (Sidenote: Kershaw’s 2015 ERA is currently 5.84(!) which is higher ERA than Eovaldi, Pineda and Sabathia. Small sample sizes make for some crazy stats early in the season!)

Losing Shane Greene sucked – especially considering Chris Capuano ended up in the rotation (as you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of his). Gregorius isn’t necessarily a bad player, although he’s certainly having a tough start. He had a promising spring, and I can’t help but think that playing in New York, in the very spot a legend last stood, is intimidating. Let’s give him some time to settle in and then see where he is. If both Greene and Gregorius continue their seasons as they’ve started (and I highly doubt that happens), then it might be time to declare Detroit “won the trade.” Bottom line: two weeks is simply not enough time to judge anyone’s season.

Andrew Miller is the Yankees closer

Last night’s weird rally and eventual Yankees victory was some of the craziest baseball I’ve ever seen, but I learned something important about this team – Andrew Miller is the closer.

No, there has been no formal announcement (at least not that I’m aware of) but if last night’s performances by Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were any kind of an audition for the role, Miller won. Easily.

In the 8th inning, Betances faced 6 batters and needed 32 pitches to escape the inning, allowing Toronto to score just one run. He walked two in the inning with only about half (15) of his pitches resulting in strikes. When Miller took the mound in the 9th, he efficiently retired all 3 Blue Jays batters he faced. He threw 10 pitches with only 2 missing the strike zone, struck out one, and was credited with the save while Betances picked up the win.

Anyone who was watching the game could see an obvious difference between Betances and Miller without even knowing the results of their outing. Betances just didn’t look like the dominating setup man we saw last year: he looked shaky, much like we saw in spring training. Miller looked completely locked in and focused. There was no uncertainty, and he quickly worked the count to 0-2 on two of the batters he faced.

Hopefully, Joe Girardi was watching the same two innings Yankee fans saw last night. There should be no more debate, or “it’s something we’ll discuss” from now on. From what I understand, bullpens function better when they have a chosen leader (the closer) and relievers know what their roles are ahead of that closer. Andrew Miller acted like a closer, and he pitched like one. This isn’t a decision that’s locked in for a lifetime – teams often change closers during the season – and if Betances returns to his 2014 self and outpitches Miller, he absolutely should take over the role. For now the answer was obvious last night: Andrew Miller is the new Yankees closer.

I’m Not Worrying About Tanaka – And Neither Should You

Who would have thought that one of the biggest stories from Opening Day 2015 wasn’t any particular game, but rather the status of Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow?

Baseball Tonight referred to today, the day after Opening Day, as “Overreaction Tuesday” and had fans tweet them their most ridiculous hot takes for the season. Most of the responses were completely over the top and great for comedy, but would never truly happen. Still, Overreaction Tuesday is not such a crazy idea…

By day, I am a medical assistant for an internal medicine physician. Just last week I was taking care of a Hospice patient in heart failure and his wife. The two of them were incredibly cheerful throughout the entire visit; you would have never known he was seriously ill and that his heart could literally give up at any moment. When my coworker and I mentioned this, they simply said “You can’t be too serious in life.” They completely understood the severity of their situation, but they also weren’t going to let it hold them back. They were going to enjoy life as much as they could, and enjoy every minute of it.

How does this relate to baseball? Because it reminds me why I am not worried about Tanaka’s arm: because there’s no need to worry until it’s time to worry.

We all know about the partial UCL tear in Tanaka’s elbow – we’ve been talking about it since last summer. Here were are now, just two days into the new season, Tanaka named the Opening Day starter for the Yankees at home…and they lose. Not only is it disappointing, but suddenly everyone around baseball is a medical expert. And not just any expert – they’re all orthopedic specialists with particular knowledge about Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow. Without medical degrees. Without examining him. Without seeing his MRI results.

Tanaka got the loss yesterday with 4 innings pitched and 5 runs scored (2 walks, 5 hits including 1 homerun), but he also threw 6 strikeouts. It’s not his best work, but it’s far from the worst showing a starting pitcher has ever made. It’s also not a good enough reason to strap him to a gurney and wheel him into the nearest operating room.

Without even considering velocity or evaluating the number of each pitch he threw, this is a different year for Tanaka in Major League Baseball. He is not a unknown pitcher from Japan anymore; he’s been in the year for a league now, and opposing teams have had all that time to study him. Many of the American League batter have already faced him. Quite simply, he’s more familiar this year than he was last year.

Even so, he is a very talented pitcher – otherwise, the Yankees wouldn’t have signed him (we hope), and he wouldn’t have had such a successful rookie season. But one bad day (or one really bad inning) does not mean Tanaka’s arm is doomed. Remember, the Yankees only had three hits all day and without Brett Gardner’s homerun, would have been shut out. (Doesn’t that sound like the 2014 Yankees? Good work by pitchers and little offensive support?) And what about Headley’s error? What should have been a sacrifice bunt and an out turned into a run scoring and two runners in scoring position – and just one hit to right later, two more runs score.

One game (with one really bad inning) and one loss does not mean Tanaka is broken, and it doesn’t mean the Yankees season is a lost cause. Personally, I’m just looking forward to tomorrow night’s game and hoping for a better result – and I still won’t be worrying about Tanaka’s arm.

There is a very real possibility the UCL may tear and require surgery at any time, but think about how true that is for all pitchers. Already this year there have been a handful of pitchers in spring training whose seasons have ended because of Tommy John surgery. There are several theories why so many pitchers are heading for TJS but the fact is, it’s happening. All the time, and at every level including high school and college.

The difference with Tanaka is we know about the small tear. Several orthopedic surgeons know about the tear and have evaluated Tanaka and have all agreed: No surgery. Where did baseball fans and writers suddenly get their medical degrees? When did any of us give Tanaka a physical exam?

Call it a ticking time bomb if you want, but none of us know if and when the ligament will actually require surgery. Right now it’s a possibility (maybe even a probability) but it’s not a necessity. The true experts have agreed he’s okay – Tanaka and the Yankees insist he’s okay – so let’s let him do his job. Right now, Masahiro Tanaka is the Yankees’#1 starter and a nearly $200 million investment.

Don’t worry until it’s time to worry.

Opening Day 2015

Friends – it’s Opening Day! Let’s talk about my hopes and dreams for some of the 2015 Yankees –

Masahiro Tanaka (P) – Will his arm hold up? Will he need Tommy John surgery? Because of the concern about his arm, I think Tanaka needs to walk a very fine line when it comes to what the general public knows. Any mention of arm fatigue or soreness is going to cause concern because of the UCL, but remember – he is a major league pitcher. His arm is going to be tired at times, but that doesn’t mean the arm is going to fall apart. Multiple doctors recommended against surgery, so let’s see how the season plays out.

My hope: That the arm holds up. Let other teams speculate about your health and distract their focus against you.

Michael Pineda (P) – Stay healthy, focus on pitching, and avoid the pine tar.

My hope: Keep up the good work, Big Mike. And if you want to wear your hat a little straighter, I won’t complain!

CC Sabathia (P) – I know spring training numbers shouldn’t matter, but… 10 innings pitched, 0-3 record, and 8.10 ERA doesn’t scream confidence. This year could turn out to be a pleasant surprise, but I do not believe he is the ace the Yankees want him to be, especially considering the money they’re paying him.

My hope: Have a better season than I’m fearing you’ll have.

Nathan Eovaldi (P) – It’s hard not to be excited about this young guy. He’s had an impressive spring already, and with continued guidance from Brian McCann and Larry Rothschild, I think he will continue to develop into a quality pitcher. If all goes well in the next few years, I could see him being a very vital part of the Yankees rotation in years to come.
My hope: Be that young pitcher no one expects to be great, and then dominate opposing teams.

Adam Warren (P) – With a 2-0 record and 2.70 ERA in spring training, in addition to a 3.47 career ERA, it’s no surprise Warren won the “competition” to be the 5th starter. What’s interesting about the “competition” (I think they knew it was Warren for awhile) is that there are a few pitchers ready or nearly ready if and when they’re needed. That’s a good problem to have, especially considering the health concerns this rotation has. Warren has the potential to be a solid part of the pitching staff, and being a full 7 years younger than Sabathia, some might argue Warren is better suited for the 3rd starter role.

My hope: Be consistent and pitching well – there’s a reason you won this rotation spot – and don’t be one of the pitchers we have to worry about.

Brian McCann (C ) – Some Yankee fans were disappointed with McCann’s 2014 season – particularly not taking advantage of the short distance over the right field wall – but I saw strength in what he did defensively. The strength of the 2014 Yankees was the pitching, and even so there was a huge number of pitchers used. Only one member of the starting rotation (Hiroki Kuroda) lasted the entire season. Without a solid catcher, the pitchers would not have been nearly as effective. If this year’s pitching staff is again a revolving door, it’s most important for McCann’s best work to be behind the plate. If the pitchers have some consistency, I think it take a stress off McCann and his offensive numbers improve.
My hope: You’ve had a year to settle in to a new environment – now it’s time to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s right field.

Mark Teixeira (1B) – Last year was disappointing for someone consistently penciled in to the heart of the order. He has the potential to be that power hitting 3rd or 4th batter, but if he isn’t producing at the plate, he should be dropped in the order for someone who is. When his bat heats up, move him back up.
My hope: Don’t be stubborn: teams are going to shift, especially when you outright say you won’t try to beat the shift.

Stephen Drew (2B) – A few months ago I would expect to be writing “I don’t want you on my team” but after this spring I’m reconsidering. Technically, Drew leads the Yankees in homeruns this spring (along with Headley, Rodriguez and Young all with 3 each) which is something I never thought I would say. He’s only signed to a one year deal, and at this point he is the better than Rob Refsnyder defensively. At this point, I’m willing to give him a year with the expectation that a young player (Ref or Pirela) is seriously considered for the every day 2B position next year.

My hope: Crack .200 for your batting average and look like you can play 2B.

Didi Gregorius (SS) – The only thing he needs to do is ignore the fact that he is replacing Derek Jeter. Fans are already loving him. If he just continues to do what he’s done this spring – and always with that smile on his face – this kid will be fine. I can’t wait to see how he develops.

My hope: Don’t get rattled by replacing one of baseball’s biggest stars on one of the largest stages in the world.

Chase Headley (3B) – He’s solid at third, a consistent switch hitter, and seems to be an excellent teammate. What more can you ask for? The very night he arrived in New York he was ready to go – including shaving on the plane. From what I can see, you just can’t find a better teammate than what he has shown.
My hope: Keep the good New York momentum going.

Brett Gardner (LF) – Let’s face it: he had an awesome 2014 season and was one of (if not the) best hitters on the team. As much as I would love for him to repeat that this season, I just don’t know that he will. What makes Gardner such a good player and someone you can’t help but but love is his determination. He’s constantly giving 100% effort. It’s not uncommon to see his uniform covered in dirt and grass stains from sliding and diving on offensive and defensive plays.

My hope: Be that gritty player who flies under the radar and leaves teams wondering “Where the hell did that guy come from?”

Jacoby Ellsbury (CF) – It’s funny to me that the Yankees have Gardner and Ellsbury because they’re so similar in so many ways. Both are very capable centerfielders and leadoff hitters. I like Gardner in LF and Ellsbury in CF, and if given the choice between the two, I would chose Ellsbury as leadoff hitter because he is the more aggressive baserunner. In 2014, Ellsbury had 39 stolen bases (280 career total) compared to 21 (182 career) for Gardner. With a patient batter behind Ellsbury who can take pitches and hit to left field, there’s no reason Ellsbury couldn’t advance to second (and sometimes third) by stealing or running on hits. This is a guy who stole home on a left handed pitcher (unfortunately, it was against the Yankees) – he’s got the guts and the speed to move around.

My hope: Steal a ton of bases – and maybe another steal of home.
Bonus wish: Have a ridiculously good game against the Red Sox. Just explode offensively and defensively, and silence those Red Sox fans who claim they’re happy you left Boston.

Carlos Beltran (RF) – His contact is too large: it’s always my first thought. Last season was affected by the wrist injury, but at this point in his career can we really depend on a bounce back? It’s particularly frustrating because there are several young outfielders coming up who could be more productive than Beltran – if they had the chance to make the team – but are probably blocked because of Beltran. If he plays well this season, I won’t complain…but I don’t know that it will silence my thoughts about his contract and young players.

My hope: Do something to make me excited you’re on the team?

Alex Rodriguez (DH) – What was supposed to be the biggest distraction of spring training and the biggest pain in the ass for the Yankees has turned out to be the biggest surprise – in a good way. This is literally the last chance this guys has to finish his career as any kind of productive player. His offensive numbers for spring were impressive: especially important since he will be used primarily for his bat. In the times he’s needed on the field, he’s shown to still be a capable third baseman, as well a first baseman – a position he has never played since he was drafted in 1993 (and probably his life). He’s caused a lifetime of trouble for himself and the Yankees already. As long as he continues to keep quiet and focused on baseball, he could be a really valuable part of this team. Considering he’s 39 (almost 40) and hasn’t played in almost 2 years, he needs to not only prove himself on the field, but realize this is the end of his career. There are no more chances in professional baseball after this one.

My hope: Don’t blow it.

These are just my thought. We’ve got an entire season to see how things work out – and by the end of the season we could be looking at an entirely different roster. Either way, Opening Day is here!… Play ball!