Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Teixeira’s Shift

By any reasonable standard, 2010 was a bad year for Yankee first-baseman Mark Teixeira. After putting up MVP-caliber numbers the year before (.292/.383/.565), Tex’s numbers fell in every offensive category, except walks (oddly enough, his otherwise-worst year at the plate also featured a career-high 93 walks). In my profile of the Yankee offense at the beginning of the season, I assumed, like everyone else, that it was a fluke.

Unfortunately, it might not have been. This year, although he’s produced plenty of runs (32 HRs, 86 RBI), his career-low .249 BA is hard to understand for a guy who, until last year, hadn’t hit below .280 since his rookie year. Teixeira knows that, at 31, he’s too young to be physically declining and especially so since his power numbers remain strong. But numbers don’t lie. So to what does he attribute it?

Asked to identify why a hitter who was once so complete might have experienced such a noticeable drop, Teixeira said he believed one factor was the defensive alignments teams are increasingly using against him when he bats left-handed.

In the shift, three of the four infielders move to the first-base side of the diamond to neutralize his tendency to pull the ball.

“Obviously I’m losing hits to the shift,” Teixeira said. “How much? I don’t know. But I’d guess something.”

According to Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, Tex is losing 15-20 points off his batting average to the shift. I didn’t crunch the numbers myself but it makes sense. It explains why Tex still gets his walks, strikes out about the same, and hits for power. I started getting nervous when he went on a home run tear in June. Obviously, he was seeing the ball well, but during that span his batting average only hovered around .260. The power meant he wasn’t slumping. Something else had to be going on.

At the end of the day, a .850 OPS is nothing to sneeze at and the Yankee lineup is certainly deep enough to pick up any slack. But long-term, Tex has to adjust if he’s to continue contributing over the next few years. This isn’t a slump he has to get out of, like must of us assumed last year. Teams just figured out how to defend him.

There’s no shortage of ballplayers who have a few good years and flame out at 30. I’ve been a fan of Tex since the trade rumors about the Yankees first surfaced in ’08. At the time, I considered him one of the most complete players in the game. He hit .300, hit for power, drew walks, and played a Gold Glove first-base. But he’s on the verge of withdrawing into irrelevance if he doesn’t adjust his game. Next year will make or break Tex’s legacy. If he’s the elite hitter I always thought he was, we should see a dangerous Mark Teixeira back at the heart of the Yankee lineup.


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Last week, I assessed the 2011 Yankee offense by comparing it with the championship-winning 2009 team. The two lineups are fairly similar. The two starting pitching staffs, though, are very different and that’s the ’11 Yankees’ primary concern.

Going into the ’09 season, the Yankee rotation, led by newly acquired Sabathia and Burnett, looked like it could hold its own against any team in baseball: Sabathia, Burnett, Wang, Pettitte, Joba. Sabathia was (and still is) a bona fide ace. Wang and Pettitte were expected to provide consistent quality starts. Burnett was (and still is) a wild card and Joba was the hard-throwing, explosive reliever who the Yankees converted into a starter, amidst much hand-wringing.

It didn’t quite work out that way, though. Sabathia was great, Pettitte was reliably good, and Burnett had one of the best seasons of his career. But Wang seemed to forget how to pitch, boasting a 9.64 ERA after only 9 starts, 3 relief appearances, and 42 innings, before going on the DL. Joba had a good first half, but finished with a mediocre 4.75 ERA, due partly to inning limits and an erratic schedule that messed with his head (but that’s a whole other post). Even without Wang (who was the Yankees’ ace in ’06-’07) and with Joba faltering in the second half, the Yankee rotation finished the season with the third-best ERA in the American League (4.26) and marched through the postseason with 3-man rotation for the first time since the ’95 Braves. How does the ’11 starting rotation compare?

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2011 Yankees: Offense

The New York Yankees begin the 2011 season with several question marks and plenty of speculation about an unproven pitching staff and an aging lineup. I thought I’d jump into the fray with some speculation of my own. The consensus among baseball pundits has the Yankees competing for a division title and ultimately settling for the Wild Card. Few non-Yankee fans (if any) have them reaching the World Series. Yet, most analyses compare the upcoming season with last year. Since only two years ago, they won 103 games en route to World Series #27, it may be worth looking at how, heading into 2011, the Yankees match up with their not-too-long-ago championship selves. Let’s start by comparing the 2009 and 2011 respective lineups.

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Last week, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga threw the perfect game that wasn’t. With two outs in the ninth, Indians Jason Donald hit a ground ball between first and second. Galarraga covered first and caught the ball with his foot on the bag, beating the runner by less than half a step. He was ready to celebrate one of the greatest feats in all of sports when umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe. Watch it for yourself.

As soon as Joyce saw the replay, he knew he blew the call.

Joyce emphatically said he was wrong and later, in tears, hugged Galarraga and apologized. “It was the biggest call of my career, . . .” Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires’ locker room. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

“I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay,” he said after the Tigers’ 3-0 win.

The big question now is what to do about it. Many agree that it’s technically within Commissioner Bug Selig’s power to reverse the call and grant Galarraga a perfect game in the record books.

Dozens of players, managers, and assorted talking heads have called for Commissioner Bug Selig to reverse the call and grant Galarraga a perfect game in the record books. Michigan governor Jennifer M. Granholm actually declared Galarraga to have pitched a perfect game, as if that means anything. Even the White House has chimed in.

But it won’t happen. The day after the game, Selig released a statement acknowledging that “last night’s game should have ended differently,” but he will not reverse the call. Nor should he. Baseball can’t retroactively fix every bad call and shouldn’t make an exception here merely because fixing this bad call is uniquely practicable.

If the umpire blew a call in the 3rd inning, it would be unfortunate but few people would even notice. It’s not the egregiousness of the call (I’ve seen worse), but rather, the fact that it ruined a perfect game that makes this so painful. As the espn.com article states, “Even in the sports world, where bad calls are part of the mix, this one reached way beyond the lines: the perfect game that wasn’t.” But what “reached way beyond the lines” wasn’t the call itself. I might grant an argument that a bad call can be so egregiously bad as to warrant retroactive reversal. But that’s not the issue here. The truth is that perfect games are probably ruined relatively often by bad calls, just not in the final out. It’s painful to watch but still part of the game. Baseball, a sport that doesn’t even use instant replay, shouldn’t use day-after replay.

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