Aroldis Chapman Not Making Great Impressions

Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman was photographed arm-in-arm with women adorning lingerie during his recent visit to Boston. While too much should not be made of this (we should really confine our evaluation to the baseball field), this incident does speak to his character. Is this a guy you want to bring in to your club?

More on the player. According to Keith Law at ESPN:

“Chapman has a huge fastball and has been clocked as high as 100 mph in international competition. But he will sit more consistently in the mid-90s in his best starts and in the low 90s in some of his lesser outings. The quality of his secondary stuff is a bigger question; he has thrown a slider that’s sharp and approaches 90 mph, but pitches primarily off his fastball. He has the arm speed required to throw a plus slider, and has also shown a curve, a cutter and a changeup in past outings. There has been some question over whether his fastball-heavy approach is by choice or whether Cuban baseball officials were trying to limit his appeal to MLB clubs by preventing him from showing off his full repertoire; it is, of course, impossible to confirm that theory. Either way, the fastball/slider combination alone marks him as a potential front-line reliever. With his size and ability to hold his velocity deep into games, he offers the ceiling of a No. 1 starter.”

It certainly sounds as if Chapman has the potential to be successful in the major leagues. But how realistic is this? Remember Jose Contreras?

Everyone talks about how Chapman throws 100 MPH, but not about how he is consistently slower. No one talks about the fact that he hasn’t regularly faced major league hitters; no hitters are as good as those in the MLB.

It would be a risky move for any team to throw $40-50 million at a guy who has never thrown a pitch in the majors.

Yankees Face Must-Win Game Two

After watching Cliff Lee dismantle their lineup, the Yankees will send AJ Burnett to the mound in game two tonight against Pedro Martinez. Down 1-0 in the Series, tonight’s matchup is indeed a must-win game.

If Burnett cracks under the pressure and the Yanks drop the second game the Series will be all but over. They will have to head back to Philadelphia where they will face Cole Hamels in game three and possibly Lee again in game four. If Lee does not go game four, he will certainly go game five.

Being down 2-0 in Philly against the defending champs will be rather daunting. I realize it’s been just one game so far but, suffice it to say, if the Yankees are to have any realistic chance of defeating the champs, they will need a great performance tonight from Burnett.

Mark McGwire to Coach: Why?

Mark McGwire will be the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals next season. Many are complaining about the move because of McGwire’s sordid past. But I take issue with the move for a different reason: McGwire was a homerun, strikeout hitter. How can he help every hitter on a major league roster?

Big Mac is a career .263 hitter that averaged a strikeout every 3.88 at bats. In a 16 year career, he only played 150 games in a season seven times. For a guy who averaged about 50 home runs for every 162 games he played, McGwire averaged under a stolen base per year (just 12 in his career).

He’s not really the all-around hitter you want teaching your major leaguers.

But, I may be missing one thing Mac can bring to the table: intangibles. He was constantly in the spotlight, expected to hit a home run every time he was at the plate. He can impart to the Cardinals hitters how to deal with the mental aspect of hitting. If you’re good enough to get to the major leagues, you can obviously hit. But that’s not to say your head’s screwed on properly. McGwire can help with that.

Rivera Falters But Still Saves Yankees

In last night’s American League-clinching game against the Angels, manager Joe Girardi summoned closer Mariano Rivera for the final six outs. In the eighth, he allowed Chone Figgins to get on base and then a run-scoring single to Vladimir Guerrero. But Rivera threw a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to save the game and win the pennant.

In hindsight it is hard to second-guess Girardi’s decision to bypass setup man Phil Hughes and give his role to Rivera. Hughes has been struggling, and Rivera is considered a godsend. As well, if the Yankees were in fact to win, Rivera would not have to pitch again until Wednesday at the earliest. Moreover, this is the playoffs, a pennant-clinching game at that; Rivera can get six outs.

But Girardi will have to maintain his roles more tightly in the World Series. I understand that this game was unique for obvious reasons, but Girardi has been criticized (and rightfully so) for misusing his players, especially his bullpen. Hughes is the setup man; he throws the eighth inning. Rivera is the closer; he throws the ninth. You mix and match to get to them. You don’t bring Hughes in in the seventh to clean up Joba Chamberlain’s mess (unless it is a dire emergency). You give your bullpen specialized roles and you let them embrace them and subsequently flourish.

I’m not saying Girardi did anything wrong last night—he didn’t. He will simply have to be on guard a little more against the Phillies.

Back on WordPress

MVN was too much of a hassle. I am now back on WordPress and the domain is finally working again–http://mlbbabble.com. Some of the formatting on previous posts is screwed up but I don’t care at this point. The important thing is that the blog is fully functional for the first time in two months. It was a terrible mistake moving to MVN. I was cautioned against it by some fellow bloggers but I did not heed their advice. Thus, I paid the penalty. I’ll start writing tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

Yankees to Go with 3 Man Rotation

Manager Joe Girardi said that, most likely, the Yankees will use a three-man rotation for the American League Championship Series: CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte. Joba Chamberlain will remain in the bullpen and, if Girardi changes his mind, Chad Gaudin will be the likely fourth starter.

This move makes sense. The way the series is structured will allow Burnett and Pettitte to pitch two games on full rest. Sabathia, however, were he to pitch three games in a seven-game set, would be on short rest. This is nothing new for him, though.

If you had to hand the ball to one pitcher on short rest, it would be Sabathia. Last season with the Brewers is proof of that. Down the stretch in September, he pitched three consecutive games on three-days rest.

As well, the decision to potentially start Gaudin over Chamberlain is smart. Chamberlain has proven that he cannot get it done as a starter; regardless of the reason, it just isn’t working. But Gaudin was solid in September as a starter (especially as a fourth/fifth starter). His final start of the year saw him toss 6.2 innings of two-run ball, surrendering just four hits. If the Yankees were to indeed need a fourth starter, Gaudin is the right choice.

But I doubt the Yankees will actually need Gaudin’s services out of the rotation. With a healthy bullpen, Girardi will micro-manage and monitor Sabathia’s pitch count, keeping him fresh in case he is needed for three starts in the series.

Either way, with the Angels likely to go with Scott Kazmir or Joe Saunders in Game Two (according to ESPN Insider), the Yankees will have the advantage in starting pitching. John Lackey and Jered Weaver were great in the ALDS, yes. But I’ll take the Yankee’s big three over the Angels’ solid four at this point.

Jonathan Papelbon Proves His Worth

Does anyone remember the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium? Does anyone remember when Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was fuming that he was not named the closer by Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona for the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium? Does anyone remember when Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona tabbed New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera for the role? I remember these things, and I hope Jonathan Papelbon does as well.

Papelbon blew not just a save opportunity, but the entire season as well, in an elimination game against the Angels. I won’t give the highlights; you can get them here.

Instead, I’d prefer to focus on Papelbon’s demise–yes, demise–as an elite closer, and his future role. As well, I’ll talk about Mariano Rivera.

A lot has been made about how this could be Papelbon’s last season in Boston. The trade for Billy Wagner, the emergence of Daniel Bard: these could certainly contribute to an off-season deal involving Papelbon for another bat in the lineup.

The Boston psychopath had a decent season, earning his fourth All-Star appearance. He posted 36 saves with a 1.85 ERA. That being said, he had a stingy 3.17 SO/BB and a poor (for a dominant closer) WHIP of 1.15.

Rivera, by comparison, had 44 saves with a 1.76 ERA, 6.00 SO/BB and .91 WHIP. Papelbon is almost 29 years old; Rivera is almost 40.

So, does Papelbon still think he is the best closer in the game? The season was on the line and he crumbled. I don’t care about saves with two-run leads in June. I care about October. That’s where Rivera thrives. And, as of now, it’s apparently where Papelbon self-destructs. Let it be known: Papelbon did not just blow the save; he imploded. I have never seen him pitch as poorly as he did yesterday.

You cannot blame an entire season’s outcome on one man (even if I want to). The Red Sox team put themselves in an 0-2 hole. The Red Sox team snuck in with the Wild Card and not a Division title. But Papelbon is easy to blame in this situation. He is the scapegoat. And he may be pitching for a new team next season.

Sabathia, Lee Toss Gems

CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee picked up wins yesterday for the Yankees and Phillies, respectively. The former tossed 6.2 innings of two-run ball, striking out eight. Lee went the distance, allowing one run and striking out five.

Both Lee and Sabathia each threw 113 pitches last night; Lee tossed 79 strikes to Sabathia’s 71. While neither walked a batter, Lee’s performance was objectively better: he allowed less runs, less hits, and threw the same amount of pitches over 2.1 more innings. But Sabathia certainly kept his team in the game and certainly deserves recognition for his outing.

So, I’ll ask the question: Did we see the best two left-handed pitchers in the game last night? Jon Lester goes tonight for Boston and Johan Santana won’t throw a pitch this post-season for the Mets. Who else is there? Mark Buehrle? Wandy Rodriguez? Cole Hamels? Randy Wolf? After last night, no chance.

You can make cases for Lester and Santana, and you may be right to say the latter is still the best left-handed pitcher in the game. But I don’t want just seven innings out of my starter every time he toes the rubber. That’s all you get out of him. Santana isn’t a grinder; if he doesn’t have his stuff, he gets shelled. If Sabathia doesn’t have his stuff, he keeps fighting. That’s not to say Santana doesn’t care at all (perhaps a product of his playing for the Mets), but he just goes out every five days and gives you
100 pitches and walks off. He’s more or less dominant, don’t get me wrong. But he’s not the guy I would ask to put a team on his shoulders. Sabathia? Yes, I would. Lee? Evidently, yes, I would. Lester? I’m not so sure. Let’s see how he does tonight.

Jorge Posada Should Shut Up

Jorge Posada will not be catching AJ Burnett in Game 2 of the American League Division Series. Instead, Jose Molina will get the job.

Posada said: “I just hope we win that game. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

He added: “It’s not like I didn’t see this coming.”

Jorge, I love you, but shut the hell up. You and Burnett obviously do not mesh well together. Burnett throws much better to Molina: 1.88 ERA with 28 K in 24 IP over four starts. A small sample size, but telling nonetheless.

It is more important to have Burnett throwing well to a catcher he is comfortable with than to have Posada’s bat in the lineup. That is not a knock on Posada; it is simply a fact that the starting pitcher is more important than the catcher’s bat (as well, New York has an imposing lineup even without Posada’s bat).

I would rather have Burnett dominate to Molina, and have Posada pinch-hit in the seventh inning, than have Burnett struggle with Posada for five average innings.

This is Posada being selfish. I’m a Yankees fan; I know Posada is an intense person and a team player. But, in this instance, this is selfishness. Not only will Posada not catch in Burnett’s start, he will not bat either. Hideki Matsui will be the DH.

“I’m sure he’s disappointed,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Jorge would want to play every inning. I don’t blame him. That’s
how I want him to be. If I was in his shoes, I would want to play every game, too.”

I love Posada’s want to play, but I’m disappointed in his inability to see the bigger picture. I know he wants to win, and I respect him for that. But the guy has got to shut his mouth and simply be in whatever role in which he is most valuable. For this specific case, he is more valuable coming off the bench.

A-Rod Sets More Records

I’ve been writing about Alex Rodriguez a lot lately. I promise this will be my last on him for a while.

Yesterday, A-Rod went into the final game of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays with 28 home runs and 93 RBI: He needed two home runs and seven RBI to reach 30 and 100, respectively (I wrote a post on this earlier).

In the sixth inning, A-Rod launched a three-run bomb and a grand slam to reach the thresholds. He also became the first player in American League history to record seven RBI in one inning. The major-league record is eight, set by Fernando Tatis who hit two grand slams in one inning as a Cardinal in 1999.

But, let’s disregard the fact that A-Rod set a modern day record. Instead let’s focus on the idea that A-Rod now has twelve consecutive seasons of at least 30 HR and at least 100 RBI. This season, he did it in his fewest games: 124. His season had a pace for 39 HR and 131 RBI. Those are MVP-caliber numbers. He would have given Joe Mauer and teammates Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira a run for their money.

But he didn’t play in 38 games, missing the entire first month due to injury.

So when he got back to the Yankees he was still recovering. May and June were not fun for A-Rod. He was in so much pain (and still playing through it) that the Yankees were forced to give him extra days off in order to recover more fully. He is so valuable a player that the Yankees would rather have him at 60% (for arguments sake) than any other player at 100%.

He’ll be back to 100% for next season. And, whether you like him or not, he’ll continue to put himself in the MVP conversation year in and year out.