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Nick Swisher’s Appeal Ranges Beyond His Baseball Skills

November 20, 2009 4 comments

Photo Courtesy of Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Trading Nick Swisher would be a poor choice by the Yankees brass. Recent rumors about making Swisher available have been dismissed by the management but Swisher’s place on the Yankees is clearly not set in stone. He is not the greatest player but his positive externalities have a lot of impact. Clearly Economics 120 has taught me a lot. Swisher definitely had a positive impact on the Yankees this year and no one is denying that. Those who defend Swisher primarily point to his help off the field first and his abilities second. People who think Swisher is overrated are saying that his abilities, average by all accounts in the field, good at the plate, and his mythical clubhouse appeal, are not necessarily worth keeping if he is a part of a trade that might bring Curtis Granderson or Roy Halladay to the Yankees. In the end it comes down to determining just how important Swisher is to the Yankees. The only problem is that externalities are exceedingly difficult to measure. So while his talent alone might not justify keeping him, it depends on whether his positive impact on the team justifies keeping him. Since we will never know just how much he helps, it is not easy for management to make that determination.

For me, however, the choice is very clear. KEEP HIM. Does any Yankees fan remember the team ever being this upbeat or together? Make fun of the pool tournament and pies all you wish, those things are great to see. Could you ever imagine the 2007 team hitting each other with pies? I feel like they would have started fighting each other. Swisher played an integral role in changing the culture of the Yankees from a group of players to a team and that, in my mind, is the difference between missing the playoffs and winning the World Series (getting three of the best free agents doesn’t hurt either). The point is, Swisher might not be the best player in the world, but he is important to the Yankees in other ways than just on the field.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to club house morale, it’s important or it isn’t. Pundits absolutely crushed the 2004-2008 Yankee teams for being too business-like or a collection of 25 players rather than a team. But, as soon as the Yankees become a fun team rather than a bunch of stiffs with the additions of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, AJ Burnett, and most importantly Swisher, club house morale is suddenly overrated. I don’t quite see how this works.

I feel that the answer is that a happy club house helps but in the end talent is what determines a team’s success. In that case it would be a mistake to trade Swisher for anyone other than Halladay. He is the only person that the Yankees appear to be targeting that has the talent to justify the removal of Swisher’s swagger if talent is what wins out in the end. Is talent the key to winning and happiness overrated? Or is talent important for success and good team morale important as well? What do you think? Let me know in the comments section.

How Things End

November 7, 2009 Leave a comment

When my wife and I got married, we’d only known each other for two and a half months. There were many skeptics. When I told my father the news, he said something that has stayed with me to this day: “these things,” he said “are not measured by how they begin, they are measure by how they end”. I think this is an appropriate criteria for the 2009 New York Yankees. To say that we had an inauspicious beginning is an understatement, I’m not much for hyperbole but consider the following:

  • Before the first pitch of spring training The Yankees had to deal with Alex Rodriguez’ steroid circus, the accusation, the mea culpa press conference, and concerns over A-Rod’s mental fortitude to deal with it all.
  • Then it seems that the universe was piling it on to A-Rod, books by Selena Roberts and Joe Torre painted an even dimer view of Rodriguez in and out of the locker room. He pulls out of the World Baseball Classic with a hip injury, has surgery, and misses the first few weeks of the year.
  • CC Sabathia labored during his first few outings
  • Teixeira had his infamous slow start in April
  • Going 0-for-8 against the Red Sox to start the season, were criticism of Girardi’s over-managing gained momentum
  • Chien-Ming Wang goes 1-for-6 with a 9.64 ERA, hurts his shoulder, then his foot

The Yankees were 8 back of the Red Sox before getting it together in June and turning their season around in a hurry to get to their 27th Championship. Everything came together for this team, the pitching solidified, the offense became more consistent, the defense was sharp, all things that can be attributed to talent and execution. But then we began to notice other aspects of their game develop, the kinds of things that make a team special or at least poised for something great.

Things that we notice which excite us a fans and makes us wonder aloud: this could be the year. Two-out rallies, numerous comeback wins, consistent contributions from the bottom of the lineup, scoring almost 1/2 of their runs after the 6th inning, poise at the plate, working the count, no desperation when loosing by a few runs, bullpen contributions. These characteristics are the result of more than talent and execution, they are the tangible result of team character and chemistry.

Even after winning 103 games, the most in the league, there were questions about the way that Girardi was setting up the pitching rotation, the Joba experiment, would A-Rod finally come through in the postseason, can Sabathia improve his postseason record specially when asked to pitch with 3 days rest, how can the Yankees loose Posada’s bat in order to accommodate AJ Burnett with Molina behind the plate, which Burnett would show up…but this team embraced a blue collar approach and was determined to work through any obstacles to be victorious at the end.

The Yankees did not hesitate in their approach to the job at hand, they did not shy away from challenges, they didn’t get too high or too low, and they did not allow for doubt to permeate their thoughts. They were clear in their purpose and continued to do what was necessary to become World Champions. No one in sports is under more pressure to finish the job than the New York Yankees, to whom much is given much is expected, and finish the job they did. This is how things end, not with a whimper, but with the bang of fireworks and the loud proclamation that the 2009 New York Yankees are World Champions.

Why So Worried?

November 4, 2009 Leave a comment

Tonight the Yankees come back home to New York after a fairly successful stretch in Philadelphia. I am curious as to why the mood has swung in the Phillies favor. The Yankees took two out of three as visitors to Citizens Bank Park and did so with one dramatic victory in game 4 and a sound victory in game 3. They lost game 5 but only because AJ Burnett imploded in the early innings. The Yankees fought back, scored 5 runs off of Cliff Lee who has been the most dominant pitcher this postseason and were in a position to win the game. Not only does this show that the Yankees have regained some offensive prowess that was lacking in the first two games but it also shows that the bullpen was able to hold things together and give the Yankees a chance to win. With Andy Pettitte working on short rest in game 6 the show of strength from the bullpen has got to count for something because it puts less pressure on Pettitte to get directly to Mariano Rivera. So my question is, why all of a sudden does every Yankee fan, anti-Yankee fan, Philly fan, or sports pundit all of a sudden think that the Phillies have the momentum in the series?

The only thing that really should make the Phillies confident is that Chase Utley has been a man among boys and that some, but not all, of the Phillies bats are starting to wake up. But has their pitching, both starting and in the bullpen, been any better? Has Ryan Howard stopped slumping? Did they demolish the Yankees at home and take a lead in the series? All of these questions are answered simply by saying no. Brad Lidge was given a mental health day in game 5. And how confident should the Phillies be if they win game 6? Are they going to start Cole Hamels who apparently doesn’t even want to be playing baseball anymore or are they going to mix and match Joe Blanton and JA Happ? Howard seems to be doing his best to tie the World Series strikeout record. Oh, and by the way, the Yankees lead the series 3-2! For all the questions being raised about the Yankees, shouldn’t there be more about the Phillies? The Phillies have a much tougher task than the Yankees do.

Certainly I would have liked the Yankees to win game 5 and end the series. But for seemingly the entire sports world to suddenly believe that the Yankees should hit the panic button after game 5 is fairly ridiculous. All we need to do, as fans, is have faith in the Yankee’s ability to win the series. And that is pretty easy to do considering the winningest pitcher in postseason history is taking the mound for the Yankees tonight.

GAME RECAP: WORLD SERIES GAME 5

November 3, 2009 Leave a comment

AJ Burnett gets rocked early, Yankees unable to complete the comeback late

FINAL SCORE: YANKEES 6 PHILLIES 8 (F9th)

SCORING PLAYS

  • Top of the 1st: Johnny Damon singles to center field. Alex Rodriguez doubles to right field, Damon scores (NYY 1, PHI 0)
  • Bottom of the 1st: Jimmy Rollins singles to center field. Shane Victorino hit by pitch. Chase Utley homers to right field. Rollins, Victorino, & Utley scores (NYY 1, PHI 3)
  • Bottom of the 3rd: Chase Utley walks. Ryan Howard walks. Jayson Werth singles to center field. Utley scores, Howard to 2nd base (NYY 1, PHI 4)
  • Bottom of the 3rd: Raul Ibanez singles to right field. Howard scores, Werth to 3rd (NYY 1, PHI 5)
  • Bottom of the 3rd: Carlos Ruiz grounds into a force out, Werth scores (NYY 1, PHI 6)
  • Top of the 5th: Eric Hinske draws a 1-out walk. Derek Jeter singles to right field, Hinske to 3rd. Johnny Damon gounds out softly to first base, Hinske scores (NYY 2, PHI 6)
  • Bottom of the 7th: Chase Utley homers to right field (NYY 2, PHI 7)
  • Bottom of the 7th: Raul Ibanez homers to right field (NYY 2, PHI 8)
  • Top of the 8th: Johnny Damon gets an infield hit. Mark Teixeira doubles to left field, Damon to 3rd. Alex Rodriguez doubles to left field, Damon & Teixeira scores (NYY 4, PHI 8)
  • Top of the 8th: Nick Swisher moves the runner (ARod) to 3rd on a ground out to 1st. Robinson Cano out on a sacrifice out, Rodriguez scores (NYY 5, PHI 8)
  • Top of the 9th: Jorge Posada doubles. Hideki Matsui singles to left field, Posada to 3rd. Derek Jeter hits into a double play, Posada scores (NYY 6, PHI 8)

STARTING PITCHING (from Yahoo Sports)

  • AJ Burnett: 2 innings, 4 hits allowed, 6 earned runs, 4 BB, 1 HR, 2 SO, 7.00 ERA
  • Cliff Lee: 7 innings, 7 hits allowed, 5 earned runs, 3 BB, 3 SO, 2.81 ERA

KEY PERFORMERS: Chase Utley 2-for 3 with 2 HRs and 4 RBI

OBSERVATIONS: 10 down, 1 to go.

GAME RECAP: WORLD SERIES GAME 2

October 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Burnett & the long ball help even out the series for the Yanks

FINAL SCORE: YANKEES 3 PHILLIES 1 (F9th)

SCORING PLAYS

  • Top of the 2nd: Raul Ibanez hits a 2-out double to left field. Matt Stairs singles on a sharp ground ball to left field, Ibanez scores (NYY 0, PHI 1)
  • Bottom of the 4th: Mark Teixeira homers to right center field (NYY 1, PHI 1)
  • Bottom of the 6th: Hideki Matsui homers on a golf shot to right field (NYY 2, PHI 1)
  • Bottom of the 7th: Jerry Hairston and Melky Cabrera begin the inning with back to back singles. Brett Garner comes in to pinch run for Hairston. Jorge Posada pinch hitting for Molina hits a single to center field. Brett Gardner scores (NYY 3, PHI 1)

STARTING PITCHING (from Yahoo Sports)

  • AJ Burnett: 7 innings, 4 hits allowed, 1 earned run, 2 BB, 9 SO, 1.29 ERA
  • Pedro Martinez: 6 innings, 6 hits allowed, 3 earned runs, 2 BB, 8 SO, 4.50 ERA

KEY PERFORMERS: AJ Burnett pitched a gem through 7 innings of work, Teixeira and Matsui provided the bulk of the offense with 2 homeruns, Mariano closed out the game with a 6 out save.

COMMENTARY: During his pregame conference AJ Burnett talked about not being so careless “just throwing balls over the middle to get strike one”. You have to give it up to AJ because that is exactly what he did, throwing 1st pitch strikes to 21 of the 26 batters he faced. It was a coming out party for Burnett who had yet to record a win, or a loss for that matter, in the postseason. Prior to this start there were a lot of questions about Burnett’s ability to handle the big stage, specially given his rocky start in the close-out game of the ALCS series and the pressure of securing a win after a Sabathia loss. No doubt, AJ answered his critics.

He was dealing throughout the night, ringing up 9 batters and out-pitching Pedro to rack up a win in his first World Series start. The Yankees offense was subdued to start the night until Teixeira hit a long shot to right center field to tie the game at the bottom of the 4th inning and later in the 6th Matsui hit a golf shot to right field to give the team a lead they would not relinquish. Burnett’s 7 innings of solid work also allowed Girardi to set aside the nowhere bridge to Mariano Rivera and get Mo to close out the game with a 6-out save.

AJ’s performance in game 2 of the World Series is another reminder that everyone in this team contributes to its success and you may not now who will provide the next stellar performance of the series.

WORLD SERIES GAME 2 PREVIEW

October 30, 2009 Leave a comment

TALE OF THE TAPE: GAME 1 STARTERS

YANKEES – A.J. Burnett

“I won’t change anything as far as my plan or my attack, just maybe not be so careless from the get go — just throwing balls over the middle to get strike one.”

BREAKDOWN

  • 2009 Regular Season – 13-9, 33 GS, 4.04 ERA
  • Burnett is yet to win or loose through 3 games in the postseason, while posting a 4.42 ERA.
  • He has pitched better at home than on the road this season with a 5-3 win/loss record and a 3.51 ERA, but he’s had no success against Philadelphia the only time he faced them this year taking a loss with a sky high ERA of 7.50 and allowing 3 HR.

KEY STAT: Led league with 97 walks and 17 wild pitches.

KEY MATCHUPS

  • Pedro Feliz, 2-for-15
  • Carlos Ruiz, 3-for-3, HR

PHILLIES – Pedro Martinez

“I don’t know if you realize this, but because of you guys, in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped [on to the field] at Yankee Stadium.”

BREAKDOWN

  • 2009 Regular Season – 5-1, 9 GS, 3.63 ERA
  • Pedro Martinez has a win/loss record of 6-and-2 in his postseason career with a 3.13 ERA through 12 games.
  • Martinez has been here before, facing the Yankees at Yankee Stadium during the post season. Throughout his career he has played well in Yankee Stadium with an 8-and-4 record through 16 games and an ERA of 2.95. But he’s fared very poorly in the postseason against the Yankees.

KEY STAT: Allowed 7 HRs in 44 2/3 IP

KEY MATCHUPS

  • Hideki Matsui, 4-for-28
  • Alex Rodriguez, 16-for-55, HR

TV: FOX 7:57 PM ET

COMMENTARY: A.J. Burnett has yet to secure a win in postseason play. In his last outing to closeout the ALCS, Burnett had a rocky first inning to start the game and later in the 6th, playing with a lead, gave up lead-off hit and a walk to start the inning. Pedro Martinez is 0-for-2 with a 5.93 ERA in his past five postseason appearances against the Yankees, along with some terrible playoff memories in Yankee Stadium. Something’s got to give.

Girardi has orchestrated a way for Burnett to pitch only at home during the World Series, where he is most comfortable. The Yankees are hoping that Burnett limits his walks and wild pitches, settles down and gives them a solid outing to even out the series. Charlie Manuel is following a similar line of thought, saving Jaime Moyer for game 1 at Citizens Park where he’s racked up a better record. The Phillies send an experience Pedro Martinez to the mound in the hopes that he can give them enough solid innings before the well rested bullpen is called into action.

Interview with Chad Jennings from The LoHud Yankees Blog

October 28, 2009 2 comments

The following interview was conducted by Brandon Cohen. Brandon along with the staff at The Pinstriper would like to express our gratitude to Chad Jennings for sharing his time for this interview.

Without further ado, here is the interview in its entirety:

1. In a recent blog post I debated whether I would prefer Ryan Howard or Mark Teixeira for this series….which would you take?

Right now I would take Howard. He’s as hot as anyone not named Alex Rodriguez, and he’s even getting Rodriguez a run for his money. I got to see Howard hit quite a bit in Scranton, and he’s more than just a pull-the-ball power hitter. He can go the other way. He can move runners. He’s not awful at first base. On the whole, though, I think Teixeira is a more complete player. Just hard to overlook what Howard’s done this postseason.

2. With Pedro Martinez starting game 2, do you think the Yankees or Pedro have the upper hand? (Which has the advantage in that matchup)

I think Pedro’s a little different pitcher than he used to be. He’s still mixing his pitches, but this isn’t going to be the same Pedro that Jeter and Posada and the rest remember from Boston. I’m not sure the experience against one another plays a huge role, but certainly this is going to be a tough place to pitch for Martinez and this Yankees lineup is awfully dangerous. I’ll take this Yankees lineup over an aging Martinez, but I’ll say that respectfully. The guy can still pitch. Just ask the Dodgers.

3. Do you think the Yankees will go with a 3 man or a 4 man rotation for the World Series? Which would you do?

Four man. That’s what I think they’ll do and that’s what I would do. I would pitch Sabathia in Game 4 and Gaudin in Game 5. That leaves a fully rested Burnett/Pettitte for Game 6, and the off day between 5 and 6 means the Yankees can burn through a ton of relievers without losing them for the next game.

4. Do you think the set-up man role is open right now? Girardi has stuck by Hughes, but if Hughes struggles?

I still think Hughes has the job, mostly because Chamberlain hasn’t been lights out. He’s allowed some hits of his own. I’m a huge Robertson believer, and I think the eighth inning might be his one day, but I’m not sure a few big outs by Robertson and a couple of bad innings by Hughes is enough to swap roles. Hughes earned this spot and I’m not sure anyone has done enough to take it from him.

5. Having covered the Phillies farm system in the past, can you give us some background on their core players?

Utley is the best player I ever saw in Scranton. He and I weren’t especially close — he was never particularly comfortable with the media back then — but he’s a terrific, terrific hitter. I touched on Howard, who can do more than hit home runs. He has a lot of power to left-center. Victorino isn’t so underrated anymore thanks to the all-star game, but he’s had a lot of talent for a long time. Good speed. Good power. Terrific arm. I’ve said before that I think Victorino is the kind of player the Yankees hope Austin Jackson becomes. Don’t count out Carlos Ruiz. His numbers aren’t good, but he’s a dangerous hitter and does good work behind the plate. He works great with pitchers. That’s why he’s remained an everyday catcher.

6. What do you think is the biggest problem for the Yankees going into the World Series?

I think there should be a little bit of concern about the middle of the order, outside of Rodriguez. Teixeira and Matsui got it done this season, but both have been a bit cold in the playoffs and I think the Yankees need both of them to break out oit.

7. For the Phillies?

The bullpen. The rotation has some question marks, but the bullpen is full of them. Brad Lidge has pitched really well this postseason, but I don’t know any Phillies fan who feels particularly comfortable with him in the ninth. And getting to him is hardly a sure thing.

8. Any bold predictions for the series?

Nothing too bold, but I’ll say Teixeira snaps out of it and Utley gives the Yankees more trouble than Howard.

Quick Questions:

  • Who wins, how many games? Yankees in six.
  • Best starter? Sabathia.
  • Best Hitter? Utley.
  • Best Reliever? Rivera, with Hughes getting back on course in the eighth.
  • World Series MVP? Jeter.