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Posts Tagged ‘Derek Jeter’

Thanks (for) Hank…

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Honestly, as someone who dislikes the Yanks by nature, can there be anything better than the Steinbrenner brothers?  They are the gift that keeps giving and as a fan of any other team, you just hold out hope that they will begin to meddle more and more and more…

Today, Hank felt it important to tell media about what brought down the Yanks last season.  It wasn’t just that they ran in to a pitcher who was so good that they were willing to offer him 150 million a few short weeks later.  And it wasn’t that they have a team that’s getting a little older and – as teams getting a little older tend to do – is slowing down, if ever so slightly.  And, it wasn’t that they had a very successful season, winning 95 games and just happened to lose 4 of 6 in October to a team playing great ball.

Nope.

It was, at least according to the razor sharp analysis of Hank, that the Yanks are spending all their time building mansions.  Seriously,

“I think, maybe, they celebrated too much last year,” Steinbrenner said Monday. “Some of the players, too busy building mansions and doing other things and not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that.”

That makes sense.  I mean, when the Yanks season went down the crapper, it wasn’t April or May, June or July.  Heck, it wasn’t even August or September.  I mean, in those months, the first six of baseball after they won the World Series, their distraction over celebrating meant that they actually only bothered to win 59% of their games.  So, sure they were the best team in baseball, but like vapid school girls, their concentration was on projects other than winning.  Still, it wasn’t until October that this level of distraction really cost them.

That’s because, when they should have been competing against the Rangers, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were off building mansions.  It’s true.  Jeter was the foreman, he had a yellow hard hat and carried the plans with him everywhere.  ARod was his right hand man.  He ran all the errands that Jeter needed completed; grabbing coffee, scones for the crew, and handing out the paycheques.

It wasn’t just them.  Mark Teixeira was there too.  He was carrying bricks.  CC Sabathia had a Batman lunch pail, and Robinson Cano brought his own hammer.  Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte sat to the side, smoking cigars, and playing cards with the Union rep.  Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain weren’t actually invited to work on the project, but like most men, when they walked past the construction site, they just stopped to watch the work happen.  So, sadly for the Yanks, it was only Brett Gardner and AJ Burnett that actually showed up to play against Texas.  You can imagine how that played out.

Oh well, fear not Yanks’ fans.  The results will be different this year.  There wont be any more mansion building.  The World Series is in the bag.  How do I know?  Well, Hank’s seen the team,

“I was just saying, maybe they were riding the wave of ’09 a little too much, and it happens sometimes,” Steinbrenner said. “This year in spring so far, from what I’ve seen and what I’ve been told, they’ve come in with a real, new drive and determination — the kind they had in ’09.”

Phew, we must all be grateful that three days into camp Hank can see a “real, new drive and determination.”  That’s good news.  Thanks Hank!

Ending the Jeter Madness…

December 5, 2010 Leave a comment

And just like that, the hostage situation ended. Thank god; I simply cannot imagine the turmoil that poor New York Yankee fans must have been suffering. Watching as their franchise threw their iconic captain under the bus, day after day, with all the balls that can be mustered by “unnamed sources.” Being subjected to wildfire rumors of their captain wearing the enemies uniform, and suffering sleepless nights as they wondered whether Derek Jeter would decide, ‘F*** this, I’m taking my talents to the Bay Area.’ Finally, they can rest easy, the Yankees have re-signed Derek Jeter. What remains confusing is, how the deuce did this get so ugly?

I mean, I could understand why the Yankees thought that 45 million for three years was reasonable, and I can understand that they felt it was bad for their organization to be spending 50 odd million yearly on a 123 year old left side of the infield, but what I couldn’t understand was the constant pot-shots at Jeter. I mean, I guess that the Yanks were trying to win a PR battle in the off chance that Jeter left, but really it just seemed petty, petulant, and puerile. Of course, each of those words would seem to describe the Steinbrenner sons, which perhaps explains the smear job.

Did the Yanks overpay Derek Jeter? Well, yes. And did they give him more than any other team would have? Well, yes, but that’s not exactly the point here. Derek Jeter isn’t worth more because he’s Derek Jeter, and the fastest way for a top team to succumb to the middle is to overpay for past success, but what exactly would the harm have been if they’d stepped out immediately and offered him say, 60 for three? Jeter surely would have wanted a fourth year, so the negotiating team of Randy Levine and Brian Cashman could have wiggled and bartered a fourth year based around the same parameters that they did for this contract. Sixty for three would have kept Jeter’s decline-years salary in line with what he’d made with his last contract. While it wasn’t the 25 he was looking for, it would have kept him in the glorified 20 million club. Most importantly, it would have saved the undermining of Jeter’s status with the franchise.

From Jeter’s perspective, I can understand his confusion over the Yankees taking a hardline stance, even one that empirically was fair. Two years ago the Yankees dropped 423.5 million on three players who together had been to no World Series, won only one playoff round, and had a combined 78.4 career WAR. At the same time, Jeter had been to six world series, his team had won four. He’d also been integral to them winning 17 playoff series, and he had a career WAR of 62.3 all by himself. Of course, this negotiation was all about logic, and logic dictates that Jeter can’t get extra credit for what his team accomplished and that he shouldn’t be paid for how good he was. Instead, Jeter should be accepting a contract that pays him requisite to what the market would pay him now during the decline phase of his career…

Except, three years ago the Yankees gave Alex Rodriguez a 275 million 10 year deal that will take him through his age 42 season. The contract pays him 31, 29, and 28 million over the three years that Jeter’s new contract runs, then it pays him another 86 million over the following four years. Just like Jeter now, nobody in 2008 was offering ARod within a hundred million of that deal. Nobody. So why’d they pay ARod three years ago and not Jeter today?

Ultimately, the contract that I suggested above and what the Yanks ultimately offered Jeter is a difference of 9 million over the three years. Nine million. Assuming that the Yanks maintain their current salary in the neighborhood of 215 million, that’s roughly 1.5% of the Yanks budget. 1.5%. Again, I have to ask what the point of this hardline contract negotiation was? What did the Yanks hope to gain? 1.5% freedom in their budget? Seriously, that’s bad math.

Jeter Five Gold Gloves, no MVPs…

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

A girlfriend I had about a million years ago bought me a softball glove.  This was probably in 2004, three years after Derek Jeter had made that insane flip play against the Oakland A’s; it was a year after the Boss had named him the 11th Yankee captain; and it was the same year that he dove into the stands, bloodying his pretty mug to make a game saving catch against the Sox.  At the time I was, as I am today, an avid Jays fan, so I hated the Yankees, but that didn’t stop me having a serious man-crush on the Captain.  He played baseball the way I wanted to play baseball.  He was a winner, he was a great fielder*, he did all the little things, he could hit for average, power, run the bases, and he was clutch.  So, naturally, there was only one name for my new glove… Ruben Rivera.  No, I kid, I kid, I named my superstar glove with a superstar name: “Jeter.”

Unfortunately, over the next year or two, like many other fans of my age and disposition, I became fascinated by Sabermetrics and my love of Jeter crashed head first into dogmatic logic.  A war began, not just with me, but with fans everywhere, in which Jeter was alternately overvalued and undervalued.  Ironically, it wasn’t always (although it was mostly) the stat mavens against Jeter and the “clutch” crew for him.  He was torn to shreds by stat mavens for his defence, but won four (now, most absurdly, five) gold gloves.  On the flip side of the coin, he was credited for being the consummate, ultimate team player, but failed to win an MVP in 2006 when his WAR almost doubled that of eventual winner Justin Morneau.

Therein actually lies one of the most interesting things about Derek Jeter’s phenomenal career, the way the same group that typically overvalues him has also been the ones keeping an MVP award just beyond his outstretched hand (the way all those ground balls roll past him as he dives to his right).  There were four years in Jeter’s career in which his performance was distinctly MVP worthy.  Two years ago Jeter posted a WAR of 6.5, producing a batting line of .334, .406, .465, while leading a Yankee offense that scored a league leading 915 runs.  He deservedly finished behind MVP winner Joe Mauer ( 7.9 WAR), but also finished behind teammate Mark Teixeira (5.9 WAR) who was given bonus points for “improving the Yankee defense” and leading the league in those “reliable” old stats, home runs and RBIs.

That’s of course why he lost to Morneau in 2006.  The Twins slugging first baseman had all those home runs (34) and all those RBIs (130), never mind that his rate stats (.934 OPS) for a first baseman were good, but hardly Pujolsian.  You can’t really fault the voters, I mean 130 runs batted in… Wow, that’s shinny.  That year Jeter almost won, because he surprised people with his play and he would have been a worthy winner, however he also probably should have finished behind Mauer (7.0 WAR) or  Grady Sizemore (7.3 WAR).  Still, if Jeter had won that year, nobody among the stat community would have been apocalyptic.  I actually think that if that vote had happened even three years later, when the shine of the RBI had been smudged, and the value of a shortstop (even one who can only move one way) having a .900 OPS had seeped into the psyche of some of the electorate, Jeter probably would have won.

Jeter’s two best seasons came during the statistical dark ages known as the 90s.  So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that despite a very impressive 8.0 WAR in 1999, Jeter finished sixth in the MVP voting.  Of course, that was the season when Pedro Martinez was robbed of the award.  Pedro you might remember finished with more first place votes than eventual winner Pudge Rodriguez, but two voters left Martinez off their ballot completely, both costing Pedro the award and the Baseball Writers of America some modicum of respect.  As a shortstop with a .349, .438, .552 line Jeter was certainly deserving of the award.  Of course, Roberto Alomar was almost as good at second base, Manny mashed a 1.105 OPS.  Plus, Pedro did have that 2.07 ERA and his FIP was a preposterous 1.39.  I don’t want to make grandiose statements that I have no intention of backing up, but given the era, Pedro’s 1999 season was probably the greatest season by a pitcher in baseball history.  So, Jeter certainly could have won that year and he was the most deserving candidate amongst position players, but if Pedro had walked away with the prize, nobody would have complained.

The real kicker, the real year that his “clutch guard” let him down, was 1998.  That year Jeter wasn’t quite as good as he would be in 1999, but his 7.8 WAR was second only to ARod’s 7.9.  What should have pushed Jeter ahead of the pack that season, is that his Yankees won 114 games.  Juan Gonzalez won the award because he had 157 RBIs and if Morneau’s 130 were shiny in 2006, imagine how shiny Juan Gone’s 157 were in 1998.  Still, Jeter was the best player on the NEW YORK YANKEES.  He was the best player on a team that had won a then AL record 114 games.  A team that won 26 more games than Gonzalez’s Rangers.  Understand that I’m not saying any of these things should matter, only that to voters they do seem to matter.  When the Mariners won 116 in 2001, their great record pushed Ichiro above deserving candidates Jason Giambi and Roberto Alomar.  That’s how these things usually work.  1998 was the year Jeter should surely have won an MVP.

Ultimately, none of this really matters.  MVP or no, Jeter has been one of the ten best players in baseball over the last 15 years.  He has 5 titles, 2926 hits, 11 all star appearances, five gold gloves (cough-bullshit-cough), he has the captaincy, a career WAR of 70.1, career earnings in excess of 200 million dollars.  All in all, I’d say that it’s hard to feel sorry for Derek Jeter, but it is interesting that for how much the old guard loved Captain Clutch, for how many times managers have dropped gold gloves into his lap, that they never bestowed the biggest hardware on the man.

A Crack in the Empire?

October 20, 2010 1 comment

Given their history of postseason success, it would be exceedingly capricious to write the Yankees off down 3-1 to Texas in the ALCS, but… (don’t you just love a leading but) with two of the final three in Texas, Mark Teixeira’s hammy hanging by a thread, and Cliff Lee looming in game 7, the Yanks certainly look to be in dire straits. So, if this really is the end of the Yankee’s season, then an interesting question begins to emerge for the Evil Empire: where to from here?

The Yanks are the defending World Series champions, they have averaged 95.6 wins over the last five years and they have a seemingly unlimited payroll, but this series has shown that their foundation might be developing a few flaws. I don’t actually mean a two meter hole straight to the core of the Death Star kind of flaw, more of a who the hell allowed Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada to age past 35 kind of flaw.

When I was listening to Mr Tony yesterday, he was discussing how impressive Cliff Lee’s pitching performance was against the best offence in baseball, but as I’ve watched the Yankees this year, I’ve rarely thought of them as being the best offense in baseball, let alone the Murderers Row they once were.

This was the Yankees opening day roster:

1) D. Jeter ss
2) N. Johnson dh
3) A. Rodriguez 3b
4) M. Teixeira 1b
5) R. Cano 2b
6) J. Posada c
7) C. Granderson cf
8) N. Swisher rf
9) B. Gardner lf

And here is their lineup from Game 3 game against Texas:

1) D. Jeter ss
2) N. Swisher rf
3) A. Rodriguez 3b
4) M. Teixeira 1b
5) R. Cano 2b
6) M. Thames (L. Berkman) dh
7) J. Posada c
8) C. Granderson cf
9) B. Gardner lf

The second lineup is basically, give or take an adjustment here or there, what the Yankees preferred postseason lineup has been (I put Berkman in parenthesis, because obviously him and Thames split the position). So, right off the top I think we can all agree that the great Nick Johnson experiment ended exactly as we thought it would, with him on the DL after only 24 games. Now, Thames and Berkman have been fine in that role. Good even, but Berkman is Berkman is 34 and far removed from the man who once posted a 163 OPS+. And Thames? Well, he’s a solid platoon hitter, but uhmmm… seriously, it’s Marcus F***ing Thames?

Ok, good. Now, let me say that Robby Cano is a much better ball player than I thought and he had a hell of a season. He’s money baby. After that? If you read my Jays piece, then you know I think that Brett Gardner’s good, but he’s a plucky hitter kind of guy, not a stud with a stick. Nick Swisher? He’s good; a solid contributor and his 130 OPS + this year is nothing to sneeze at, but again, if I’m Cliff Lee I’m not quaking at the thought of facing him. Which brings us to Curtis Granderson, whom everyone says is the nicest guy. Of course, they also say that the writing’s on the wall and the dude, nice though he be, can’t hit a lefthander to save his life. Joe DiMaggio he ain’t.

All of which clears away the flotsam. So, lets get to the heart of the matter:

Derek Jeter
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira
Jorge Posada

Now, obviously we’re talking about three Hall of Famers* and a man who finished second in last years MVP voting, here. So there is nothing but grade AAA prime beef in front of us, but… has some of it past its ‘best by’ date?

*The more I think it about it, the more I think that Posada’s position, rate stats and rings eventually push him through the gates. And obviously with ARod I’m ignoring the whole steroid thing when saying he’s a Hall of Famer.

Lets start with Tex, because he’s the only one still in his prime. Obviously he hasn’t exactly passed his ‘best by’ date, but I do think we’re past the point where we can continue to think of him as one of the top ten (20, 30?) players in the game. A steady presence in the field and a switch hitter with a career 134 OPS+, Tex is a very good player. He’s hit 275 home runs in eight seasons, but this year his WAR (3.5) was 12th amongst first basemen. ONLY first basemen. Sure, some of the names above him you wouldn’t take, guys like Adam Dunn, Daric Barton, and Aubrey Huff are either too one dimensional, too young, or too fluky to pick over Tex, but the other names:

Joey Votto (7.4)
Albert Pujols (7.3)
Miguel Cabrera (6.2)
Adrian Gonzalelz (5.3)
Justin Morneau (5.3 – in only half a season)
Paul Konerko (4.2)
Kevin Youkillis (4.2 – in not much more than half a season)
Prince Fielder (4.1)

Maybe you say that Votto’s only really done it once, that Konerko’s too old, and that Fielder’s a meal away from his own zip code, but that still makes Tex the sixth best first baseman in baseball (fun fact: can anyone pick out the big name missing?). Again, good but not exactly Bernie Williams in the late nineties good.

Which brings us to the three geriatrics. First Posada: Look, I’m not going to mince words, if Jorge’s not your DH next year (and with his .248, .357, .454 line this year, I’m not entirely certain he’s a good enough hitter any longer for even that), then the Yanks are going to have problems. Never Johnny Bench behind the plate, he’s now become a giant liability. He couldn’t throw my grandmother out and his movement for pitches out of the zone is stiff and slow. All of which was fine when he was 35 and posting a 970 OPS, but that was three years ago and when next season kicks off, Posada will be a creaky 39 years old.

The Yanks may have an in house answer in Jesus Montero but two things give me reservations about the slugging catcher. One, nobody but the Yanks thinks he can catch, so if he breaks into the bigs next year, then the Yanks will be carrying two catchers, both of whom play thier position about as well as Granny. Two, oh I don’t know… call it Chamberlainshock. Phil Hughes had a good season this year, but I’ve just lived through a few too many great Yankee (and Red Sox for that matter) prospects to bite every time they’ve got the next great thing on the horizon. They might, but let me see him do it for 81 games in New York before I count my chickens.

Two down, Jeter and Arod left to go. The two best shortstops of their generation. Two absolute no doubt about it Hall of Famers. Mr. Clutch and Mr. Mirror. They are excellence personified, with a combined 177.4 WAR between them. Of course, they are also a combined 71 years old. Now, we all know that great baseball players remain great past the years of mere mortals, but we also know that in the post steroid era, ageing does occur and I think we can be sure that in the case of both these guys, it has.

I’m not saying they aren’t still good, but Jeter’s just publicly suffered through his worst professional season. Like Posada he’s playing a premium defensive position poorly (that might be an understatement), which was fine when he was a premium offensive player, but when his OPS+ is 90, that’s a problem. Bill Simmons keeps claiming that he expects a big bounce back year from Jeter, but I’m not entirely sure how much of that is real and how much of that is him trying to reverse jinx the Captain. Last year Jeter was great, a genuine MVP candidate, but the year before he was only average. That’s two mediocre years out of the last three. For a player deep into his 30s, there’s a pretty well trodden path that Jeter’s walking. According to Baseball-Reference, the top two comparable players to Jeter after this season were Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio. When Alomar had his bad year with the Mets, everyone thought he’d bounce back the next year. Instead he bounced from the Mets to the White Sox, to the D-Backs back to the Sox, before bouncing right out of baseball. Biggio hung on longer, but his OPS never again topped 104. Of course those two were second basemen, what about shortstops you ask?

Well, after 36, Barry Larkin’s last four years he had OPS+s of 90, 74. 94, 101. Alan Trammel? 84, 32. Heck, even the Ironman himself, Cal Ripken, only had one other season with an OPS + above 100 after 35 and that was a season in which he only had 300 odd at bats. So, while Jeter may well have a bounce back year, I think we are talking about a bounce back to .300, .350., .400 not the .334, .406., .465 he posted last year.

All of which brings us to the big money man, Alex Rodriguez. Now, I’m already at 1600 words and half an hour away from my deadline, so I’m going to make this quick. ARod’s HR, OPS, and WAR over the last five years:

2007 – 54, 1.067, 9.2
2008 – 35, .965, 6.0
2009 – 30, .933, 4.5
2010 – 30, .847, 3.9

I’m no statistician and I don’t even play one on TV, but I’m pretty sure when numbers trend down like that for four years in a row, that’s indicative of something bad. Of course, this wouldn’t be that big a deal if ARod didn’t have 8 years and 174 million left on his current deal. If he’s in decline now, what’s he going to be in two years? Four? Six? Rodriguez’s decline phase is likely to be long and productive, but like the rest of the lineup, we are no longer looking at a monster hitter. He simply isn’t a batter that a pitcher like Lee is going to fear (and yes, I hate the Rice-ian “fear” argument, but you know what I mean).

The Yanks have one great hitter relative to position, Robinson Cano. They have two pretty good ones (Tex and ARod) and then they have a handful of good to decent guys, many of whom are going the wrong way with their skills. Yes, they are the Yankees and they’ve made the playoffs in 15 of the last 16 years, but there are flaws to their roster. Pieces of the puzzle no longer fit so succinctly and I no longer consider them a lock to win 100 games every year.

When I wrote that the Yankees seemingly had a limitless payroll above, I think that in the next three or four years, we’ll see just how limitless it truly is. Can they shuffle off the dead weight of Arod’s contract when it becomes onerous. How much does Jeter make and what happens when he’s a weak hitting right fielder instead of the Captain of Yore. Do they let Posada walk next year? Are they going to watch the Sox sign Carl Crawford, get anxious and dump a terrible deal at the feet of Jayson “I spell my first name wrong” Werth? And none of these 1800 words talk about a pitching staff that has some glaring holes (AJ Burnett anyone).

Now, obviously all these cracks can be spackled up with money (cough-Lee-cough), but when you’re spending a hundred million to cover up a hundred million mistake, at some point, eventually, maybe, (do I sound desperately hopeful here?) the cracks start to spread, the foundation starts to crumble and the empire comes crashing down…

Derek the Cheater…

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

During yesterday’s Rays-Yanks game, Derek Jeter was hit by a pitch… Or, not. Look, I obviously hate the Yanks, because, well, they’re the Yanks, but despite that, I’ve always kind of been a Jeter fan. Sure, at Blue Jay retreats I wear my Alfredo Griffin jersey and argue that the Yankee Captain couldn’t hold Tony Fernandez’s jockstrap, but if I could reinvent my fat ass as a baseball player, I would want to be a gold glove shortstop, who combines plate discipline, speed, power, and a flair for the dramatic. Basically, I would want to be Jeter, but you know, with actual range at short. Jeter’s obviously a Hall of Famer and he’s been a class act his entire career, but, come on… what he did last night was pure unadulterated BUSH-league.

Look, I’ve heard everyone from Michael Wilbon to Richard Justice claim that it was a “baseball play.” That cheating is a part of baseball and that Jeter’s job in that instant is to get on base, all of which is a big old load of bullsh*t. Taking the second point first: I can accept that Jeter’s job is to get on base in that situation and if he had simply stood up, heard the Ump call it a hit by pitch and demurely walked his way down to first, then I could accept that point. But, that’s not what happened. Derek flailed, grabbed his hand, looked agonized, had the trainer come out, and ultimately got Rays’ manager Joe Madden tossed. I mean, I kept waiting for some Portuguese medic to run out with a mystery water bottle, spray Jeter’s hand and make everything better. Come on, nobody in America liked the flopping display during the World Cup, and that is excactly what Jeter did. He flopped, rolled around on the ground, got the red card, hopped up and ran on. How is was it any different? It wasn’t.

Which brings us to the second point: cheating. Was it cheating? Well, I guess, perhaps, but not really. I mean, it wasn’t shooting horse tranquilizers into your butt cheek, nor was it a corked bat, heck it wasn’t even putting snot on the ball. It was “gamesmanship.” Cheap, bush-league gamesmanship. What I find interesting about all the punditry I’ve heard over this is… how is this any different than in 2004 when Alex Rodriguez slapped a ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove? ARod was killed for that. Likewise, he was killed when in 2007 he yelped at The Jays’ Howie Clark while running to third. Clark dropped the routine fly, the Yanks tacked on three runs, and ARod was lambasted for being cheap. As he should have been. It was bush, just like Jeter summoning his inner Mark Whalberg to get a free pass to first was bush.

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