June 4, 2010
Remembering The Kid
Designated RHP Jamey Wright for assignment; purchased the contract of RHP Frank Herrmann from Columbus (Triple-A). [6/4]
In moments of peril, our nation's history of turning to the Ivy Leagues has produced all sorts of historic results, not all of them regrettable. So with their bullpen desperately bad again, as they've fallen to employing the league's worst relief corps after consecutive 12th-place finishes the previous two seasons, the Tribe's called up Mr. Man, to translate his name from German.
Herrmann was an undrafted free agent in 2005 who signed up with the Tribe and kicked off his pro career in 2006 in the Sally League as a starter. He was moved to the bullpen just last year, upon his in-season promotion to Columbus in early May. He wasn't remarkably successful (3.9 RA/9 in 76 IP), but with a 5-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks (literally, 50 to 10 unintentionals), his command was worth noting, even if he was managing just 5.9 K/9. Kevin Goldstein describes him as a strike-thrower, mixing in a nice slider with heat that ranges from 89-93. This year with the Clippers his ratios were up to 6.9 K/9, with 22 strikeouts against seven unintentional walks in 28
All of which sounds great, and certainly a potential cure for what ails them given the now-reliable horrors visited upon Tribe fans by their bullpens of recent vintage. However, our pre-season projection suggests that he could post an ERA in the 4.90-5.20 range while striking out a batter every other inning. Which isn't especially different from Jamey Wright, but then I'm sure some snob's likely to point out that Jamey Wright didn't go to Harvard, he went to Westmore High in Oklahoma City, which is almost certainly a step up from being a Muncie girl, but only just.
Activated C-S Jorge Posada from the 15-day DL; optioned 1B-L Juan Miranda to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A). [6/2]
By coming in for Miranda, the Yankees made it clear that Posada's back to DH for now and perhaps for a few weeks yet, which means that they'll be carrying the very fortunate Chad Moeller as their backup catcher for a while. Transitioning Posada out of everyday catching has long been anticipated, but keep in mind that this isn't like the situation when Yogi Berra had to start becoming more of an outfielder at the tail end of his career-whatever else you can say about Francisco Cervelli, he's not Johnny Blanchard, let alone Elston Howard. Cervelli's the entertaining palliative of the present, but there's no reason for the Yankees to stop praying to Jesus (Montero), plus they know they've got Austin Romine on the way just a rung behind Montero on the ladder. What those two do this summer will go far toward determining Posada's position next year, and whether or not Nick Johnson's 2011 option gets picked up.
In the meantime, life is sweet for Moeller, as he gets to knock around the Bronx for a bit given this recent stay of execution. For those complaining that Montero's thrown out just 21 percent of stolen-base attempts or Romine's gunned just 19 percent, keep in mind that Moeller hadn't thrown anybody out in Scranton-it isn't all on the catchers, so in the same way that the Bombers' big-league backstops are tasked with watching A.J. Burnett's brand of baserunner indifference (15 steals in 18 attempts), Scranton's stuck with Jason Hirsh (11 steals, nobody caught) and Zach McAllister (10-for-11). Moeller is what he is, a catch-and-throw guy in the right place at the right time, fortunate enough to be released by the Orioles on April Fool's, and clever enough to have signed up with the Yankees with alacrity just two days later.
Which is another way of saying that, in some ways, the Yankees' scrubs are the antithesis of the Gashlycrumb Tinies, where, instead of appalling ends for our little friends, you have a collection of scrubs whose signal virtue consists of good fortune. Whether that comes in the form of the good sense to sign up for a summer in Scranton as a thirtysomething minor-league free agent, or the alacrity to tackle the first Yankee scout to the island and offer to sign at any price and claim to be any age, or the happy accident of being a 20th-round selection because, at that point, the draft hasn't run down into that late stage where the general manager's apprentice toady (fifth class) is picking people's daughters or idiot stepsons or the announcer's dog's ugliest puppy because they figure it will make a neat answer to a trivia question someday.
Certainly, we can add Moeller to a long list of Yankees without distinction, which is where we get into the difficulties of how we'd make up such a list. For instance, I asked Steven Goldman his choice for worst Yankee ever, and without missing a beat he named Pee-Wee Wanninger, their starting shortstop for much of the 1925 season-and then never used by them again. That wasn't what I was looking for, though, because I'm interested in the scrubs who arrive but don't play, which takes us into more difficult selection criteria. Least-employed, or least employable? ("Enrique Wilson," opines Steve, and a fine selection indeed.) Famous for over-performing? (Why, hello Homer Bush.) Infamously bad?
I've discussed the subject with Jay Jaffe because it's a topic near and dear to his heart, via his blog, FutilityInfielder.com, even conjuring up a name for the inevitable acronym if we wanted to numericize a lack of value: FIFI, for Futility Infielder Futility Index. But as seems obvious with a guy like Moeller, you'd want to expand such a search for knowledge to include scrubs of different stripes. Say, SCIFI, for Scrubby Catchers and Infielders Futility Index? Or SPUFI, for Shouldn't-Play Utilityman Futility Index? Give me a while here, and we'll get to SPUMONI, at which point I'd say everybody wins.
The problem with calculating scrubbiness is that on the one hand you'd want to measure a fragile mix of the player's ready availability balanced against his manager's sensible underutilization of the guy. Otherwise, we just wind up with lists with Bill Bergen and Johnnie LeMaster on them, which is cool in its own way, but not really what I'm after. Anyone have any suggestions?
Meanwhile, the simple fact of the matter is that at some point Posada's going to return to catching, and it'll be before August, when Nick Johnson's next scheduled flirtation with healthiness is supposed to commence. Posada's inevitable return to donning the tools of ignorance is sort of like anticipating the decline of Francisco Cervelli's numbers in every mathematically possible area-some things are a matter of course.* But if Cervelli's your worst regular, that's not a bad thing, and however inevitable the decline, the hot start should preserve him against dropping all the way back to his projection for either a .214 TAv (50%) or .231 (Median). Maybe-since taking over as the primary receiver once Posada was deposited on the DL, Cervelli has hit .189/.292/.226.
In the meantime, Moeller gets to stick around. I suppose Miranda could have preserved himself against this fate if he'd had a great two weeks while sharing the DH chores with Marcus Thames, but he didn't, and he's not much more than a placeholder of his own sort under the best of circumstances-he's left-handed, has moderate power, and probably has a few International League all-star appearances in his future. Kevin Russo seems to have made the leap so many other moderately useful second basemen have had to attempt before him, expanding his positional utility to include third and left field, so the four-man bench of Russo, Ramiro Pena, Moeller, and Thames does keep the team covered everywhere.
* What, you mean you're expecting Cervelli to bat .615 with runners in scoring position all year? It's enough to make one wonder how many Ω marks would show up on such a Strat card-one entire column, or two?
Announced the retirement of DH-L Ken Griffey Jr. [6/2]
Noted the loss of RHP Kanekoa Texeira to the Royals on a waiver claim; purchased the contract of RHP Chad Cordero from Tacoma. [6/3]
There are moments in every fan's life that live with you forever, and I'm happy to say Ken Griffey Jr. gave me one, way back when, before Baseball Prospectus, before I'd even logged into rec.sport.baseball the first time, and landed upon the fortunate associations there that put me where I am today. It might also have been the last game I watched with a friend I'd been pretty tight with all the way through college. It probably says something if you can associate your friendships with what you were seeing on the diamond at any particular time in your life, but I know I'm not alone in that. But as a result, the Kid's an indelible person from a period in my life, and in a way a bit of anecdotal punctuation to a friendship that, like any, can fade with time.
It was May 30, 1993, on an afternoon broadcast of that day's Mariners/Tigers contest. The Kid was coming into what was already his fifth full season, and had yet to truly explode. You knew he'd be good; going back to the age before PEDs started attaching a ubiquitous question mark to any feats of slugging, he'd gone from a .420 SLG as a teenage rookie in 1989 to .481 to .527 to .525. Where past expectations that Danny Tartabull or Phil Bradley or Alvin Davis or Ivan Calderon or somebody would help get the Mariners out of their mire, the Kid was obviously going to be the real deal. But how good, how real, how epic? That was the fun, back then, because we didn't know.
This season would be Sparky Anderson's last run at relevance with the Kitties, and the club boasted most of its old heroes from the '80s: Lou Whitaker was going strong, Alan Trammell was healthy, Cecil Fielder was in his fourth year back from Japan, and Travis Fryman was at his best. Even Kirk Gibson had come scuttling back, and the additions of Mickey Tettleton and Tony Phillips and Rob Deer had created one of the best TTO lineups of all time. It even seemed as if the Tigers would finally have some pitching beyond Bill Gullickson, with Mike Moore being imported as a free agent and David Wells magically turning up on the discard pile because he'd fallen out of favor in Toronto as a pudgy tattoo'd 30-year-old swingman.
I was watching the game with Tony, a friend from college from my first year forwards, someone who happened to be a passionate, long-suffering Tigers fan, and someone who I happily blame for getting me hooked up in my first serious Strat league, in the spring of 1986. By the time 1993 rolled around, we'd been at it for years, through a couple of graduations, always one-year draft leagues, some historical replays (I took my first of a few titles with our re-do of the 1930 season), but I have to confess that memory fails me as to whether we were also playing Strat that afternoon, or whether Maggie was cooking that night, or what. It would have been typical, certainly. I know we weren't at my place, a crummy garret-ish studio on Cornell that I shared with the stray dog I'd found dodging traffic a few years before, but a spot whose advantage was propinquity vis-a-vis the lakefront, the Point, and the parks around the Museum of Science and Industry.
The Tigers were rolling into Seattle with a 30-17 record and in first place. Thanks in part to Griffey, the Mariners were also no longer a joke. They'd achieved their first winning season in 1991 under Jim Lefebvre, but '93 was the beginning of Lou Piniella's spin at the helm, having departed Cincinnati and Marge and Schottzie and all of the rest of the drama and incipient madness to come. There weren't too many dramatic changes at first: Tino Martinez was finally installed at first base, and Edgar Martinez broke down again, having not yet been given up on as a third baseman. Norm Charlton also came over from Cincy to close, and Chris Bosio was signed for what was then a good chunk of change to head up the rotation, and Harold Reynolds was allowed to go away and be replaced by sabermetric favorite Richie Amaral. Basically, small bits of progress. And then there was the Kid, and all that he might be capable of. Still, it was the Mariners, and the Tigers were in first place. Wells, a new source of one fan's joy, was pitching. Piece of cake, right?
The teams traded a 2 and a 1 on the scoreboard through six to keep the game tied at three runs apiece. In the top of the seventh, Piniella, playing the percentages, hooked middle reliever Dennis Powell with two outs to use sophomore righty Jeff Nelson against Fryman and Fielder, but they singled and doubled, at which point Piniella brought in Charlton, his closer-in the seventh, because such things weren't inconceivable-to face Gibby, who platoon disadvantage or no, plinked a single to plate both runners and put the Tigers up 5-3. The lead was cut in half in the bottom of the seventh on an Amaral-scoring wild pitch as Sparky wended his way through a trio of the generally ghastly collection of non-Hennemans he had to choose from in his pen: Dave Haas, Buddy Groom, and Kurt Knudsen.
Charlton did fine in the eighth-non-closer situation or no-to set up the Mariners' rally in the bottom of the eighth. Knudsen struck out Mike Blowers, and Sparky made his own platoon-minded switch, reaching for Bill Krueger to face Tino Martinez. Krueger, ah Krueger, a pitcher I'd regretted watching as a young A's fan 10 years before, someone from what I'll always refer to as "the Codiroli years" for an even more lamentable rotation regular. Sure enough, El Tino doubled, and three pitches later, Dave Valle was aboard after being hit by a pitch, bringing up Omar Vizquel. At this point of his career, Vizquel had finally turned the corner as a hitter, having produced his first useful season in 1992 (.259 TAv) after three years of living up to the lable "Little O." Vizquel knotted up the game with what I remember was a weak opposite-field single to right, and then Amaral gave the Mariners the lead with an even softer opposite-field base hit popped down the line, with Vizquel scooting to third. Tony's gnashing his teeth, but Mike Felder flies out to left, and it's just a run's worth of difference.
The problem is that Griffey's due up. Sparky leaves Krueger in; it's Krueger or a warmed-up Tom Bolton, but Krueger's been a key reliever for the Tigers up to this point, while Bolton's ERA is 8.80. Mike Henneman's had to pitch on both Friday and Saturday; he's being saved for the ninth, assuming you would even want to feed the Kid a right-hander in this situation. So Krueger is the man of the moment.
Except that it's Griffey's moment. Down 0-and-2, Griffey hits the ball so hard that, years later, I'm still not sure it wasn't atomized on the spot, but history suggests it landed in the far nether regions of right-center field. I forget if Tony really fell out of his chair like he was some sort of living room incarnation of Charlie Brown-he favored the occasional dramatic gesture-but it wouldn't have been too surprising given the heightened drama and the epic quality of the clout. So now it's a four-run ballgame, and as good as over, even with the proposition of the Mariners having their closer pitch into a third inning of work. Charlton retired all three men.
In retrospect, I know that wasn't the last ballgame we watched together before our friendship petered out. As I remember it, it wasn't long after that he and Maggie separated (and eventually divorced), the first of our cadre to, a rite of passage into adulthood in its own way. I know that we later caught Game Six of the 1993 World Series together as part of a group of friends in a basement bar on Chicago Avenue, watching Mitch Williams melt down and Joe Carter win a series as decisively as one man can with a blow that nevertheless wasn't close to the most impressive homer I'd seen hit that season. That's because the homer that Griffey, someone just a little younger than we were, had hit was really the signal blow that year. He was just coming into his own, was en route to his first 40-homer season, and bound for bigger and better things. I suppose in our ways, so were we. A few months later I got my first serious job in publishing, and shortly thereafter discovered the world of the small on-line sabermetric chatterocracy in rsbb.
Later, of course, on the other side of the immediate afterglow, and while we're still in that pause before a full-fledged penumbra gets shrouded around Griffey courtesy of Ken Burns and the like, some will get hung up on what I'd call the petty details, like whether or not his fielding was all that or just some of that or not a lot of that. If you grew up on the Jeter debates of the Aughties, they were just an echo of the arguments that revolved around Griffey (and Roberto Alomar) in the '90s. Once he left Seattle and an organization that did an especially good job of shielding its players, he'd get a less happy reputation in the media and with fans as layer upon layer of frustration and injuries mounted up.
But to some extent that's the logistics of a long life in the game for you-not everything works out perfectly, no matter how perfect you can be as a ballplayer. Should I attain eligibility to vote for the Hall of Fame, I happily anticipate that I won't have the privilege of voting for him: as Jay Jaffe noted, he'll reach his eligibility in 2016, where I won't reach my own until after 2018. And I won't need that to feel grateful to him, for what he's done on the diamond, for what he gave us as a player, and for the associations such things have within the mosaic of anyone's life.
Placed SS-R Jason Bartlett on the 15-day DL (strained hamstring), retroactive to 5/30. [6/3]
Activated C-R Kelly Shoppach from the 15-day DL. [6/4]
I guess I'm sort of amused by the hand-wringing over the epic choice between John Jaso-not the new Ron Hassey-and Dioner Navarro-perhaps the new Andy Allanson-and the convenience afforded by not having that choice to make at present. That's because Barlett-hitting like the Jason Bartlett we remember, the guy from before last season, the guy the Twins didn't think they'd miss-is busted for the time being, presenting the Rays with the unusual proposition of having three play-worthy catchers on the roster while also having the depth to afford Barlett's departure. What this should mean for now is that Reid Brignac's going to get everyday at-bats at short, while there are now that many more opportunities for Sean Rodriguez and Gabe Kapler to play wherever Ben Zobrist isn't. It would be nice if they could add Willy Aybar to the mix, but Aybar's getting a lot of the DH duties of late, a non-shocking upshot of the proposition that Hank Blalock was back and able to hit like anyone better than Hank Blalock.
Activated RHP Warner Madrigal from the 60-day DL, and optioned him to Oklahoma City (Triple-A). [6/3]
Optioned C-R Dusty Ryan to Portland (Triple-A); reactivated C-R Yorvit Torrealba from the Restricted List. [6/4]