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May 28, 2003

Prospectus Today

Stupid Human Tricks

by Joe Sheehan

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Some days, you can't swing a dead cat without running into stupid human tricks.

In Atlanta, Bob Boone demonstrated the death grip he has on baseball strategy of the late 19th century by benching the major-league leader in home runs, Adam Dunn, for the second straight day, this time against right-hander Shane Reynolds. The benching came one day after Dunn popped a pinch-hit grand slam in the 11th inning to propel the Reds to a 7-6 victory.

I don't really care what kind of rationale Boone pulls out of his nether regions. The fact is, he's limiting Dunn's playing time for two reasons: batting average and strikeouts. We're more than 20 years into a more modern way of looking at baseball, and Bob Boone can't see far enough past batting average and strikeouts to notice that he's sitting his second- or third-best hitter.

If Boone really needs to get Jose Guillen in the lineup, how about benching the first baseman?


               AVG   OBP   SLG   2B   3B   HR   SO   BB   EqA   MLVr
Sean Casey    .295  .352  .410    6    1    5   25   17  .262   .061
Adam Dunn     .227  .328  .583    4    0   18   48   29  .289   .098

The only things Sean Casey does better than Dunn are make contact and hit singles. Perhaps because those were Boone's primary offensive skills as a player (.254/.315/.346, extra-base hit every 18 AB or so, a strikeout every 12), he finds them attractive in his personnel. They don't put runs on the board the way the guy slugging .583 does, however, no matter how often the big guy strikes out. Dunn is a monster, and every game he starts on the bench is another notch in the argument that Boone should be fired.

Then there's one of the lifetime leaders in the category, George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner, unhappy with how the Yankees have been playing lately, has taken to issuing veiled threats towards Joe Torre. That's the manager who has been, by such a distance that it's not even funny, the Yankees' most successful skipper since Casey Stengel and the first manager in the age of Steinbrenner to last seven complete seasons.

Joe Torre isn't the Yankees' problem. On the list of things the Yankees have to fix, Joe Torre comes in somewhere between Derek Jeter's looks and the shade of blue paint used atop the dugouts.

So far this season, Jeter has missed six weeks, Mariano Rivera has missed five weeks, Bernie Williams has been gone about a week and will be out for much more, and Nick Johnson has missed two weeks and is gone for much more. Steve Karsay never threw a baseball in anger before being declared done for the year. Jason Giambi can't see. The bench is, once again, brutal; the bullpen is a disappointing collection of castoffs; and George's big winter prizes have been awful. About the only guy Torre asked for was Todd Zeile, and while that wasn't Joe's best moment--Zeile is long past the point of being able to contribute as a first baseman or DH, and is hitting .217/.292/.396--it's silly to argue that Zeile is more than a tertiary reason for the Yankees' 9-16 May.

I love what Brian Cashman has done for the Yankees over the years, but he did not have a good winter. Setting aside the international signings, he's largely responsible for the weak bench and bullpen, which have been major flaws in the Yankee machine. Charles Gipson? John Flaherty? Juan Acevedo? For years now, the Yankees have been one of the game's worst teams at picking up quality depth through secondary sources; this year, it finally comes back to bite them as their luck with good health disappears all at once.

Meanwhile, the players Steinbrenner went out and got with his checkbook have been a disaster. I don't believe Hideki Matsui will hit this poorly (.259/.308/.361) all season, but it's clear that the comparisons I made to Brian Giles lost something in the translation. Matsui is hitting more groundballs than he ever did in Japan--more than just about any player in baseball, in fact--so this may just be an adjustment period. Regardless, his performance has been a big part of the Yankees' offensive problems this month, and he's a Yankee because George wanted him.

The same can be said for Jose Contreras, who aside from a couple of spring-training outings and two mop-up appearances has been awful. Contreras was signed largely because Steinbrenner couldn't bear the thought of losing him to the Red Sox, but it's increasingly clear that the current version bears little resemblance to the pitcher who beat the Baltimore Orioles a few years ago. Contreras has yet to look like a major-league pitcher, and until he does, has to be considered a huge mistake of Andy Morales/Hideki Irabu proportions.

For Steinbrenner to blame Torre for the Yankees' slump, to single out a man who has done so much for this franchise, for Steinbrenner himself, is a despicable act. Steinbrenner is as much responsible for the Yankees' state as anyone; he brought in Matsui and he threw bags full of money at Delroy Lindo's stunt double to be a rotation starter.

The funny thing is, this will likely all go away in the coming weeks. Just as the Yankees opened the season with a light schedule and went from that into five weeks of hell, they go forward into a much easier stretch: the Tigers, the NL Central, and then two solid weeks of the Devil Rays and Mets. The Yankees may not be any better in a month than they are right now, but their record sure will be.

Finally, there's Ruben Rivera. Rivera, long considered a player with tremendous physical tools and a serious lack of baseball smarts, made one of the stranger trips around the bases last night.

For those of you not awake at 1:30 a.m. EDT, here's what happened: Rivera was on first base as a punch-runner with one out in the ninth inning and the Giants tied 2-2 with the Diamondbacks. Marquis Grissom lifted a fly ball to deep right field that should have been handled easily, but David Dellucci whiffed on it, allowing the ball to bounce to the wall.

Rivera, who was all the way down past second base, saw Dellucci about to catch the ball and began backtracking towards first, correctly re-touching second on his way back. When he saw Dellucci chasing the ball, he reversed field, and in a move that would have made the 1890s Baltimore Orioles proud, cut from about 10 feet shy of second base across the infield grass and headed towards third. He'd just about reached the base path when he realized his error and ran back to touch second base, then continued on to third.

(Oh, no, we're not done yet.)

Rivera slid into third base safely as the relay throw short-hopped Alex Cintron and bounced back towards the infield. Seeing this, Rivera took off for home plate, a needless risk under the circumstances and a silly one given the location of the ball. Tony Womack gobbled up the loose ball and gunned down Rivera at the plate by three steps.

It worked out for Rivera, however, thanks to some great bullpen work by the Giants (four shutout innings) and a 13th-inning triple by Grissom that notched the win for the G-men. I guarantee you, however, that Rivera's long, strange trip is going to be a staple of sports blooper shows and between-innings lowlight reels for decades to come.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Bob Boone,  The Who,  Ruben Rivera,  Juan Rivera,  Benching

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