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Five Things About Last Night’s Yankees-Rays Game

17 July 2010

(Three of them about B.J. Upton)

1) I was at the game, so didn’t have the benefit of announcers: Is Rafael Soriano hurt? He went those 4 outings in a row, then Maddon bent over backwards to give him…not just ample rest, but excessive rest before the All-Star break. Last night’s decision making made me wonder if he was nursing an injury that the Rays hadn’t discussed.

If he wasn’t injured, then Joe Maddon lost that game. Unacceptable not to bring in Soriano – if for nothing else than to face Nick Swisher with the game on the line.

2) Randy Choate’s FIP/other advanced stats vs. left-handed hitters still look good. But the Rays either need a true lefty hammer, one who can dominate hitters on both sides and doesn’t need extremely limited usage patterns, or Joe Maddon has to think about more aggressive usage of his three best relief arms, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and Soriano. The Rays see enough low- and medium-leverage situations in the course of a season that Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate and Lance Cormier (or someone from the minors or outside the organization – Andy Sonnanstine is a wild card who’s exempt from the laws of nature) should be able to get plenty of work. Balfour, Benoit and Soriano have shown they can retire hitters of all stripes. If it’s a high-leverage situation, there’s no reason to ever be cute – unless the bullpen’s big three have been worked really hard in the previous few days. LaRussa managing isn’t helping. You’ve got three great weapons, use them properly.

3) B.J. Upton did NOT make a great catch on that slide. It looked pretty, sure. But he royally, royally misjudged that ball. I suspected as much watching it live, and happened to be walking next to a TV screen as they showed the replay. Woefully late break. Never should have had to dive in the first place.

4) Upton getting picked off by Rivera in the 9th is inexcusable. I don’t care if Rivera balked, or if Upton says he balked, or if Rivera shot laser beams out of his spleen. There is no excuse for that. They may well not have scored anyway (Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria were overmatched, certainly), but that was miserably bad.

5) It was one play, and an analyst is never supposed to react to one play, but…I’m done with Upton.

If you actually take the hard data approach that Steve Slowinski at DRaysBay cited, you can find some rational evidence to support that seemingly irrational judgment.

In 2007, Upton’s one huge offensive season, his BABIP nearly .400. He hit one home run for every five flyballs that year. Hence the near-.300 batting average and 24 homers. But his statistical profile — a career 27.6% K rate, career ISO of .146 — points to a guy who can draw walks and hit for moderate power…but also be a lousy bet to be much above a .260 hitter with ~15-home run power. Upton is a good fielder, but by objective measures we cannot call him great. About +3 to +5 per season in CF. Upton’s basestealing (high volume at about a 75% career success rate) is the only part of his profile that’s truly extraordinary.

He’s a 3-win player until he (re-)proves otherwise, at least from where I’m sitting. Still an extraordinary bargain at his current salary, but going into ARB2 this off-season, I would give serious, serious thought to shopping him, if other teams still view him as a future superstar and not merely a good but not great player.

Could he still be a future superstar? Sure. He’s 25 years old, a former number-one draft pick, and has shown hints of stardom at various times. But on a resource-limited team, it would be foolish to count on it, or to pay him like one.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. kevinccp permalink
    17 July 2010 9:19 am

    Cormier had limited Swisher to 0-for-7 previously which is why Maddon made the change. Cormier needs to go as does Kapler. Soriano isn’t injured; Maddon was waiting to use him for the save situation, which on cue ended up being pointless. Choate is fine, the problem is that Maddon allows him to face right-handed batters which he shouldn’t be. If they lose again today, will that finally force their hand to bring up Hellickson, Jennings or Johnson? Make a trade? There was also no reason to run Pena out there with a All-Star lefty on the mound, that was also perplexing (he went 0-for-3 with three Ks, came into the game 4-for-32 with 17 Ks against Sabathia).

  2. Jonah permalink*
    17 July 2010 9:20 am

    0-for-7 is a completely horseshit reason to use a pitcher. Soriano could have easily gone for 4 outs. I might be the biggest Joe Maddon fan outside Hazleton, PA. But he outsmarted himself there.

    They need a bat regardless. Whether they want to give Dan Johnson a spin or make a deal, they need a bat.

  3. kevinccp permalink
    17 July 2010 9:30 am

    Not saying 0-for-7 was a good reason but that’s the reasoning that was given. The truth is Cormier was good last year and that was his only good year ever in the bigs. He’s not that good of a pitcher and should be gone.

  4. ramedy permalink
    17 July 2010 12:47 pm

    No indication that Soriano was hurt.

    Two big reasons that Cormier decision really got under my skin, beyond the obvious one that Cormier stinks:

    1. It came in sharp contrast to Girardi’s decision to use Rivera in a tie game. Yes, they were the home team, but there’s a good chance he probably uses Rivera if the game’s at the Trop; Rivera apparently is the only closer in baseball who can pitch more than 3 outs, so why not? That leads to:

    2. I expect more from Maddon. There is no way Rivera is the only closer in baseball who can be effective for more than 3 outs. As unconventional as Maddon can be sometimes, in this he is woefully stuck in the status quo. That’s a much bigger “save” situation than a 3-run lead against against Oakland in May (he did get a save in just such a game).

  5. lordd99 permalink
    17 July 2010 1:09 pm

    Maddon made the same mistake as I’ve seen Girardi (and most other MLB managers) make by leaving their best available arm in the pen when the team is on the road and the game is on the line. If it’s not a save situation they just won’t bring their closers in. The save rule was one of the worst additions to the game over the past generation because it’s created a class of players who now only pitch one innining and pretty much only when it’s a save situation, or a tie game at home. One day a manager is going to have the balls to change and expand how closers are used, no matter how much the player’s agent of the Player’s Association bitches.

  6. lordd99 permalink
    17 July 2010 1:25 pm

    One item forgot to add that relates to Upton. Do you think Carl Crawford is developing a strong dislike for Brett Gardner, who may end up costing Crawford several million a year? The belief has been that the Yankees were going to go heavy after Crawford as a free agent, but with every hit, every walk, every stolen base, every run scored, and every great catch that Gardner makes, it greatly reduces the chances the Yankees will make Crawford a priority. Crawford is better than Gardner, but Gardner is several years younger, only makes $500K and is going to be a bargain for a few more years. One OFer at 500K vs. another at $15,000,000. Hal Steinbrenner does not operate like his father he has a high budget, but he does have a budget. (Go ask Damon). He’ll spend, as he’s shown, but unlike George he’s not going to chase every shiney object in his path. I think the Yankees will spend their free agent dollars chasing Cliff Lee, with Crawford the loser. Oh, he’ll still get millions somewhere, but without Yankee dollars chasing him, he’ll go for less than he would have, thank you Brett Gardner.

    That gets back to Upton. Desmond Jennings was supposed to replace Crawford when he left as a free agent, but maybe now he replaces Upton who gets traded, and without the Yankees in the hunt for Crawford, perhaps the Rays will have a chance to re-sign him.

  7. Jonah permalink*
    17 July 2010 2:11 pm

    There are several other teams with the money, the will and the need to sign Crawford. It’s possible that the Yankees cost Crawford a little bit on the margins if they don’t go after him (though Crawford to me would still be great with the Yankees, push Swisher to DH). But it’s not like the Giants or Angels or several other teams couldn’t offer something like 5/$85M.

    Re Maddon and Soriano: He would usually go to his best pitcher (Soriano) in that spot. This wasn’t anything nefarious or anti-closers out of save spots. This was Maddon doing backflips to try to steal one out here and one out there, (I would suspect) seeing Swisher’s 0-for-7 vs. Cormier, and pushing his luck.

    Which is silly, of course. The difference between 3 outs and 4 outs would have been negligible in terms of fatigue, but huge in terms of game leverage. And Yankees probably go to Joba in the 10th, who’s very shaky (as is everyone else who was left in the pen).

    • lordd99 permalink
      18 July 2010 2:39 am

      A Gardner, Granderson and Crawford OF would certainly give the Yankees the strongest defensive trio I can remember them ever having. I just don’t see them moving Swisher to full-time DH. If Crawford makes it on to the Yankee roster next year it will be because either Gardner collapses the second half of this season, or they decide to move Granderson.

      • Jonah permalink*
        18 July 2010 10:49 am

        Never understand why teams feel the need to start DHs who can’t hit and/or to use the position as a waystation for old players who need rest. Nick Johnson was the right idea (legitimate hitter) but wrong profile (injury time bomb).

        Swisher is easily the worst of the Yankees’ OF defenders, and he’s an excellent hitter. If the Yankees don’t want to move him to DH for some nebulous Won’t Somebody Think of Ol’ Posada reason, then they are, to use sabermetric parlance, lamewads.

  8. modo85 permalink
    18 July 2010 1:27 am

    I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I tuned into the Fan590 and heard you ripping Jose Bautista to shreds, as if he’s some worthless, terrible baseball player. First of all, there’s no rush for the Blue Jays to trade him – he has value even as a bench player with a salary decided by arbitration, and his versatility can really help a team. In the semi-regular playing time he received in 2009 he was a 1.9 win player making 2.4m, and was a 1.2 win player in 2007 despite his horrendously rated defense dragging him down. When you consider he’s already at 2.3 WAR for 2010 and is again making 2.4m, it’s pretty clear that he’s an asset. I was astounded to hear you say he’s bad defensively – have you watched a Blue Jays game this year? It’s true that he doesn’t look as comfortable at 3B (and I’m not even sure this would be the case if he was given regular playing time there), but he’s been exceptional in RF, and I don’t care what UZR thinks. Anybody who watches this team on a daily basis will tell you that, and he adds in a RIDICULOUS throwing arm out there, one that Jays fans haven’t seen the likes of since Jesse Barfield. Sure, he’s hitting only .236, but who the heck cares? Last I checked he was leading the AL in both HRs and BBs, and if one is going to assume his HR/FB normalizes eventhough he isn’t hitting cheapies, up goes that AVG as it too normalizes from its current .221 BABIP with a 16.2 LD%. He’s also a smart runner despite not having great speed, in a Scott Rolen sorta way. It’s easy to sit there and say he won’t be a part of a winning Blue Jays team therefore they should trade him, but honestly that poor logic would extend to Marcum, Morrow, Hill, Lind, etc…the Blue Jays have very little $ committed to payroll for 2011 and if they want to there’s no reason why they can’t shore up the roster by bringing payroll back to the 100m mark and beyond, considering they were spending 100m in 2008 when the dollar was around 20% weaker. You went WAY overboard with the hatred, and obviously if a team was stupid enough to pony up some serious prospects AA would jump at the offer, but we both know how unlikely that is to happen and I’ll continue to enjoy watching JoBau play in the event that it doesn’t. Versatile players with .333/.420 lines who can grow full beards in 3 innings while providing a good clubhouse character, seamlessly transitioning from the English to Spanish crowd, do not grow on trees.

    • Jonah permalink*
      18 July 2010 11:00 am

      We’re looking at the same player in Bautista (I’m aware of his stats, and have also watched him play), we’re just arriving at different conclusions. “Being part of the next championship team” doesn’t only mean how many years left before free agency, it also refers to actual age. Lind, Marcum, Morrow et al are starting to rack up service time, yes. But they’re also more likely to develop into the kinds of players you’d want to sign to an extension that buys out their first couple years of free agency. It’s also possible (likely?) that we haven’t seen their best yet.

      No matter how charitable you want to be toward Bautista, one would have a hard time arguing that these aren’t the best 3.5 months he’ll ever have. And that he’s not young. We agree to disagree on his defense – to me throwing arm is a tool that looks fabulous on the field, but isn’t nearly as important as catching the baseball.

      I don’t expect the Jays to contend until at least 2012, and 2013-2014 (or later) looks more likely. As excellent a super UT guy as Bautista is now, don’t see that holding up a few years from now.

      With all of that said, it’s possible that no GM will overpay for Bautista and offer quality prospects. But I think that’s overestimating the acumen of GMs. Colletti gave away Carlos Santana for Casey Blake, to name one jaw-droppingly, mesmerizingly awful deal of recent vintage.

      More broadly, I don’t think the time to trade a player is when his salary catches up to his WAR (or whatever other metric you want to use). It’s a year or two before that. That’s why I’m an advocate for trading B.J. Upton, even though his production based on sabermetric measures is theoretically worth about four times his salary at this very moment.

      Other teams likewise have to see Bautista’s current value vs. contract (whether through sabermetric or more likely traditional means). So shop the hell out of Bautista, market him as Casey Blake with more power. Even if Jays don’t get Santana, someone a notch below would be lovely. If and only if that aggressive marketing fails, then sure, keep a guy who certainly has value, and add a couple more wins to a 75-80-win club for the next 2-3 seasons.

      My intent was not to impugn Bautista per se (it’s talk radio, and I come with strong opinions that sound less sober than when I write). Rather it was to say that the Jays have a golden opportunity to cash in an asset that looks quite marketable right now. Your mileage may vary on that last point, but hell, TRY IT, see what happens.

  9. 18 July 2010 3:20 am

    Hallelujah, I love that the concept of “small sample size” makes sense on this blog. May I offer another piece of quantitative analysis on Rays-Yankees?

    My rankings are based on an algorithm that has picked 60 percent winners against the line in American football (haven’t had the chance to quantify baseball yet). While the Rays and Yanks have traded the top spot all season, Tampa Bay took the top spot after tonight’s win. This has been my way of following the Rays this summer and getting excited about your book. When can I get my hands on a copy?


    • Jonah permalink*
      18 July 2010 11:17 am

      Good stuff Ed, thanks for sharing.

      Book comes out in March. You will literally be able to see the blood, sweat and tears in the pages.

      • 19 July 2010 1:54 am

        Awesome, March is marked on my calendar. Feel free to blog like this after the remaining 10 Rays Yanks games this season!!

  10. mrokjazztokyo permalink
    20 July 2010 2:39 am

    Jonah, it’s not just Posada who needs to see time at DH next year. A-Rod & Jeter will also need some games there..if you think those three each get 15 games in the DH spot, that leaves less than 120 games for Swisher..not really ideal. It’s the same reason it makes no sense to get Prince won’t take AB’s away from him, so what happend to all the geriatrics?

    I love A-Rod, but the length of that contract is just insane..

    • Jonah permalink*
      20 July 2010 8:35 am

      That’s still a cop-out. Say Swisher only gets 115 games at DH. Fine. For those other 47 games, use him in LF vs. LH to platoon with Granderson.

      Yankees fans crack me up with their attempts at fiscal discipline and practicality. Carl Crawford’s the best FA on the market. Ergo, they should sign him. Not complicated.

  11. mrokjazztokyo permalink
    20 July 2010 11:35 pm

    “Carl Crawford’s the best FA on the market. Ergo, they should sign him. Not complicated.”

    Jonah, this makes no sense. If Albert Pujols is a FA next year then the Yankees should sign him? Crawford is awesome and I’ll be glad if the Yanks get him but that is not a rule to go by. Just because Cliff Lee is available then why should they pull out $150 million for him? Yankees have pitching..spend that money on a younger position player, not on Lee just because the can..

  12. lordd99 permalink
    21 July 2010 12:00 pm

    The Yankees do operate under a budget, especially since Prince Hal assumed control a couple seasons back. The younger Steinbrenner seems to be more of a finance-oriented person, having Cashman operate within a budget, even if it’s a very high one, and also making moves as part of a longer-range plan. George did neither, or if he did, he’d throw the plan out the window to get what he wanted. To date, they’ve maintained in the $200 million range they’ve been at the past few years. Hal did approve a big spending spree for Tex, AJ and CC, but what he paid out was off set by what he lost. The yearly player budget remained about the same.

    I don’t think that’s going to be possible heading into 2011 because a number of players contracts will escalate and they are going to have a number of holes to fill that won’t come cheap. I think Cliff Lee is going to be their number-one priority, especially if Pettitte decides to finally retire.

    My point here is that under one scenario the Yankees may look at all their needs and pass on Crawford with the emergence of Brett Gardner. Not because they wouldn’t like to have him since Crawford is still better than Gardner, but Lee is going to cost in the low $20 million range and Crawford is going to cost somewhere in the 16-18 million range. That’s an additional $40 million per year. While I don’t question if the Yankees can afford that, I question if they will want to afford that if they believe they can win without going that high. Despite the preception, the Yankees don’t always go out and get the best position player that could to seemingly improve their team. They really didn’t know if Brett Gardner was going to perform well this year in left, so they could have easily gone out and spent on Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. They didn’t because neither fit in their budget. I’m not sure both Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford are going to fit into the Yankees 2011 budget, and with the emergence of Gardner, and having Granderson and Swisher locked up, I think the Yankees first choice will be to spend on Lee, especially since they can shift Posada more to DH and they also need to find ABs for Jesus Montero, who after a slow start is once again hitting up a storm. Since Montero will make Posada look like Johnny Bench behind the plate, I see a lot of the DH ABs going to Montero.

    Of course, now that I’ve made my case for why the Yankees may pass on Crawford, I can make another case on why they won’t, which also illustrates why it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in a few months. The emergence of Gardner may have decreased the need for Crawford on one level, but the continuing slump of Derek Jeter may force Crawford back into the picture on a different level. I’m not ready to write Jeter off quite yet. I’ve watched too much baseball over the years to know that HOF-bound players should not be judged on three months of data. Yet Jeter has been as consistent as any player in the game for nearly 15 years, but Father Time waits for no one and Jeter is 36 and for some reason is now hitting .268. Unless there’s an injury here, I can think of only one other explanation. Age. If so, then the Yankees have to think about rebuilding the top of their line-up, and a Brett Gardner and Carl Crawford duo at the top will certainly do that.

    If the Yankees think the end is coming for Jeter, expect a hard push on both Lee and Crawford. Hal Steinbrenner may have a budget, but he has a machine to feed, both the Yankees and YES, that requires the Yankees be highly competitive. He’ll increase the budget for that.


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