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October 21, 2009

Prospectus Today

The Horror

by Joe Sheehan

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For such an interesting and entertaining night, we learned nothing new:

  • CC Sabathia is a very good pitcher. The big lefty continued his strong first season in New York by throwing eight innings of one-run ball on short rest in a big spot, giving the Yankees complete control of the ALCS with a lead of three games to one. Sabathia dealt with the issue of working on three days' rest by getting through the first four innings on just 38 pitches, going to two balls on a batter just twice in that span. He walked one, struck out five, and save for a seven-batter stretch in the fifth and sixth, was never threatened. It was exactly what the Yankees needed after Monday's difficult, and taxing, loss.

  • Alex Rodriguez is a very good baseball player. Rodriguez had three hits, including a homer and a double, as well as a walk and a stolen base. He looked like an all-time great player in the prime of his career, which is what he is and has been for his entire time in New York. He's been the team's best player across seven post-season games this season, with five home runs and a .407 batting average. Mike Scioscia voted on the matter by walking Rodriguez intentionally with two outs and no one on base in the ninth inning of Monday's game.

  • Playing baseball well in the postseason is not a skill above and beyond playing baseball well. I'd like to think the above paragraphs will help to put an end to the myth that October is somehow different. Sabathia and Rodriguez had assembled recent track records in postseason play that served to define them as failures in the eyes of many who want to believe that success on a baseball diamond is a moral issue. You cannot evaluate baseball players on a handful of starts or plate appearances, and that remains true no matter the date. Given time, all players perform at their established levels, and that's what we're seeing now from Sabathia and Rodriguez. Would that this lesson took hold, but even I'm not that na´ve.

  • At heart, the Angels are hackers. On a night when they would have been well-served to make Sabathia work hard-with the pitcher working on short rest, the Yankee bullpen coming off two games of heavy use, and Yankee manager Joe Girardi prone to making mistakes-the Angels reverted to form, swinging at 16 of Sabathia's first 38 pitches in the first four innings. Take Bobby Abreu out of the mix, and they swung at half his offerings in that span, averaging 2.6 pitches per plate appearance. It was exactly the wrong approach against the wrong pitcher on the wrong night, and was one of two main reasons-the other being Scott Kazmir-that they lost.

  • Smallball is dumb. A day after a baseball game was won by a team that crushed a bunch of extra-base hits, the first batter of the game got himself picked off after a single. Later, Brett Gardner got caught stealing in front of a walk and a home run. Both of these teams can hit for power, so it's amusing watching them try to abide by the idea that you win games in October by risking outs for bases. You don't.

  • Humans are no longer the best technology for the practice we know as "umpiring." I never, ever want to hear about what's in an umpire's heart. Baseball games should be determined by what the players do, not how those actions are interpreted by the people around them. An October that has been defined by its unimaginably bad umpiring crossed into the ludicrous last night, as Tim McClelland made two calls that, had they been made in your local softball league, would have resulted in a beatdown. On the first, he ruled that Nick Swisher left third base early when tagging up, a call that was both flat-out wrong as well as one that he could not possibly have made based on where he was standing when Torii Hunter caught the ball. He could not have seen both Hunter's glove and Swisher's foot simultaneously. He made the call up, and-please don't think me rash-he should not be allowed to umpire another game this season for that. He made the call up.

    Minutes later, McClelland made an inexplicable decision, calling Robinson Cano "safe" after Mike Napoli tagged him while Cano was standing a foot away from third base. Cano made a bizarre choice himself, appearing to surrender third base so that Jorge Posada could reoccupy it, which is the kind of thing the slow eight-year-old does in tee ball. Napoli tagged both runners while neither was on a base, but McClelland called Cano safe. Perhaps he knew Cano was safe in his small intestine.

    Second-base umpire Tim Scott joined in the fun, too, missing an out at second base-Swisher being picked off-that preceded McClelland's call on the appeal play. The sequence, from that call through the Cano play, reduced MLB to WWE for one disgusting half-hour. We have to take the game away from the technology that cannot hack it-the humans-and put it in the hands of that which can-video. What we're seeing this October is not some kind of anomaly; it is a concentrated form of the incompetent umpiring that plagues MLB every single day. It's time to put an end to it, and if this October hasn't proven that, I can only imagine what championship-changing event it would take to do so.

Lastly, let me say this. I don't need radical changes to the postseason schedule. I'm OK with starting the series on fixed dates. But could we please, for the love of all that is holy, get rid of the stupid offday between Games Four and Five of the LCSs that serves no purpose but to make the networks happy? Is there anyone not in upper management at Fox or TBS that thinks this is a good idea? It's "Spiderman-on-the-bases" level silliness.

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

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