Yankees School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

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Every now and again — well, let’s face it, pretty much every day now — I get another email telling me that Vernon Wells — Vernon Bleepin’ Wells — just got another two hits with another homer with another three RBIs and so on.

The emails are from Michael Schur, Parks and Recreation executive producer, and the emails have a purpose: Michael is convinced that it is time that I just admit that I am wrong, and he is right about the New York Yankees being a magical species, not unlike house elves. He is fairly enraged that I will not just admit defeat. I picked the Yankees to collapse under their own weight this year. He thinks I’m a flat-earther who will not face the obvious truth — that the Yankees will always, continuously, endlessly, constantly, incessantly and unceasingly win forever and ever, amen. He thinks it is way past time for me to admit it doesn’t really matter who is actually ON the Yankees — doesn’t matter if every single baseball player on earth gets hurt and they are forced to have Shecky Greene hit second and play centerfield. In this case, Mike is convinced that Shecky Greene would hit .289 with 24 homers and win a Gold Glove.

His latest evidence for this Yankees sorcery is, of course, Vernon Wells, who at this moment for the Yankees is hitting .299/.349/.526 with nine homers — he’s ninth in the American League in home runs per at-bat after a career of never once being in the Top 10 in that category. He is roughly on pace for 100 runs and 100 RBIs, something he did only once, a long time ago, when he was 24 and full of promise.

Vernon Wells, the last two seasons, made a compelling a case for being the worst semi-regular player in baseball. I don’t think it was quite a winning case — it seems to me there are probably a half dozen players like Adam Dunn and the ever popular Yuniesky Betancourt* who were worse — but the point is he was in the discussion.

*Four times this year — FOUR TIMES THIS YEAR — the Milwaukee Brewers have hit Yuniesky Betancourt in their cleanup spot. There … um … you know … it seems … but … the thing … I’m sorry, the mind’s spluttering, I can’t even come up with a joke for this.

How bad was Wells? Well, usually you can’t define someone by a single number but Wells’ on-base percentage in 2011 and 2012 was .258. That is not just bad. That is legendarily bad. At the very core of offensive baseball is the game’s golden rule “Do not make outs.” Vernon Wells has been one of the great transgressors in baseball history.

Adding to the Wellsian knot was the seven-year, $126 million deal Toronto gave him beginning in 2008. Wells was a pretty good player in 2008, but he was also 29 years old and he only played 108 games. Bad signs sparked like fireworks. But by then the deal was signed and it was too late. He was fairly dreadful in 2009, a good player in 2010, and then the roof caved in, but not before Toronto managed to unload him on the Angels, who seem desperate to corner the market on terrible contracts. You can almost imagine an Angels-inspired movie, sort of the anti-Moneyball, with Bruce McGill as a GM shouting, “How in the heck did Philadelphia beat us on this terrible Ryan Howard contract? Were you guys even paying attention? Was the bank closed that day?”

Wells hit 25 homers for the Angels in 2011 but posted an astounding .248 on-base percentage, which was the lowest for a corner outfielder since the legendary George Barclay, nicknamed Deerfoot, posted a .241 OBP in 1904. Wells only played 77 games in 2012, hit about the same in those games, and then then Angels were so desperate to get rid of him they gave him to the Yankees and agreed to pay about 70% of his remaining contract.

It should be added that the Yankees were so injured and desperate, that they took Wells and agreed to pay 30% of his remaining salary, which still comes out to $13 million, which still would be a huge overpay for the Vernon Wells of the last two seasons.

But, Michael — a huge Red Sox fan who has watched such Yankees miracles from a front row seat — immediately predicted that Wells would end up having a really good year. His prediction was not based on Wells looking good in spring or being in the best shape of his life or anything like that. It was simple math. The Angels are in that low funk where everything they do is just kind of stupid. And the Yankees, of course, are magical.

And it seems that Michael, despite what seem to me obvious flaws in his thought process, is right again.

Not that he ever doubted it. Michael now includes a list of players in his Vernon Wells emails. You look at this list and decide:

1. Shawn Chacon. He was a generally struggling pitcher for the Rockies who in 2004 had gone 1-9 with a 7.11 ERA. The league slugged .500 against him that year. In July of 2005, the Yankees — who hovered only a few games over .500 and in second or third place all year and were desperate for starting pitching — traded for Chacon. His first start, he threw six innings of shutout baseball. His first seven appearances, the Yankees won six of them. They were battling for first place. And in mid September, Chacon threw back-to-back starts of eight innings, zero runs, as the Yankees overtook first place and, eventually, won 95 games. The league hit .225 and slugged .348 against Chacon with the Yankees.

The next year, Chacon returned to being  generally struggling pitcher.

2. Aaron Small. A Michael Schur favorite. He was 33 years old and in that same year, 2005, and he had started all of three games in his big league career. He started nine games for the Yankees and the Yankees won eight of them. In September that year, he threw a five-hit shutout against Oakland and came in against Toronto in the second inning and threw 6 2/3 shutout innings. His record, that year, was 10-0.

The next year, he pitched 11 games with an 8.46 ERA and did not pitch another big league game.

3. Raul Ibanez. One of my favorite people in the game, Raul has had a nice career, but he was 40 years old his one year with the Yankees. He hit 19 homers in 384 at-bats. But veterans will sometimes do that, you know, swing for the fences and give a team a few home runs. What made Ibanez magical was the time. In October he was like a walking miracle. Against the Red Sox on Oct. 2, with the Yankees in a huge fight for their postseason lives, Ibanez hit a two-run homer to tie Boston in the ninth then hit a walk-off RBI single to win it in the 12th.

A week later, in the ALDS against Baltimore, he pinch-hit for A-Rod in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees down one and hit the game-tying homer. Leading off the 12th, he homered again to win it.

Three days later, with the Yankees losing to Detroit by two in the ninth, he homered again to tie the score..

For about 10 days, Raul Ibanez was Roy Hobbs. “Could this have happened on any other team but the Yankees?” Michael asks.

4. Eric Chavez. He was a terrific player as a young man, but once the injuries started it seemed like they would never end. After winning six Gold Gloves and hitting 227 homers before he turned 30, Chavez did indeed turn 30 and for the next three years he played only 64 games and hit .222 with three homers. He was thoroughly done, and then the Yankees got him, Then, at age 34, last year, he hit 16 homers, slugged .496 and helped the Yankees reach the postseason again.

5. Ichiro. He was 38 years old last year.

Ichiro for Seattle in 2012: .261/..288/.353.

Ichiro for Yankees in 2012: .322/.340/.454

6. Bartolo Colon. He did not pitch at all 2010 and had not made 25 starts in a season in six years. He made 26 starts for the Yankees and the team won more than than half of them, and while there was all sorts of talk about HGH and stem cells and various other nefarious methods that Colon might have used to get back, Michael is convinced it was simply Yankees black magic.

Now, at this exact moment, the Yankees are by any objective measure a dreadful team. Look at a typical lineup.

Leading off: Brett Gardner (CF). Missed almost all of last year with injury.

Batting second: Robinson Cano (2B). Truly great player.

Batting third: Vernon Wells (LF), who the Angels paid $29 million to go away.

Batting fourth: Travis Hafner (DH), who is 36, and hasn’t slugged .500 in seven years. He’s slugging .500 now.

Batting fifth: Ichiro Suzuki (RF), who the Mariners dumped last year. Batting FIFTH?

Batting sixth: Jayson Nix (3B). Thirty-year-old on his fifth big league team, replacing injured Kevin Youkilis who was dumped by both Red Sox and White Sox last year.

Batting seventh: Lyle Overbay (1B). Thirty-six year old on his fifth team since 2010. He’s slugging .480.

Batting eighth: Alberto Gonzalez (SS). Thirty-year-old backup shortstop for five teams, he replaced Eduardo Nunez, who was hitting .200 while replacing Derek Jeter, whose ankle may or may not be getting better.

Batting ninth: Christ Stewart (Cat.). Thirty-one year old backup catcher for fifth organization.

Now, seriously, what if that team was playing in Kansas City. Or Seattle. Or Milwaukee. Take away Cano, and you can imagine it very easily. How many games would that team win? More to the point, how many would they lose? Ninety-five? A hundred? In New York, that lineup — and a pitching staff with 41-year-old Andy Pettitte and 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda trying to get the game to 43-year-old Mariano Rivera — is in first place with the best record in the American League.

I continue to tell Michael It won’t last. But the truth is, I’m losing faith in the science-based baseball world. I know that sooner or later, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter will return. And, I must admit, that’s magic even I have no choice but to believe in.

Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig had a brutal collision in right center field

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The score was tied in the top of the 10th inning in last night’s game between the Dodgers and the Cardinals. Yadier Molina was up to bat, facing Kenley Jansen and drove one to deep right center field.

Yasiel Puig was in full run for the ball as center fielder Joc Pederson ranged hard for it himself. Puig caught the ball, but not before slamming into Pederson. Both men went down, but Pederson went down harder, taking an elbow to the face from Puig before crashing head-first into the outfield wall.

Watch:

 

Pederson came out of the game, apparently bleeding from his head. There will be an update on his condition today.

UPDATE: Oops, there was an update last night:

 

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 4, Giants 1: Jon Lester tossed a complete game with 10 strikeouts and needed only 99 pitches to get it done. That’s not a “Maddux” — that requires a shutout — but in terms of efficiency it’s almost more impressive given that, you know, you need at least three pitches to strike a dude out. Schwarber, Heyward and Rizzo homered for the Cubbies.

Twins 2, Orioles 0: Ervin Santana did, in fact, shut out his opponents and he did it with a complete game two-hitter. He needed 105 pitches to do it, but I think he’s fine with that.

Indians 8, Reds 7: If you’ve talked to Indians fans much in the season’s first couple of months the thing you hear most often is disappointment in Edwin Encarnacion‘s performance. There was no problem with it here, as he hit two homers and drove in three. Worth noting that Encarnacion’s big league debut came in a Reds-Indians game. That was on June 24, 2005, when he was playing for Cincinnati in a series up in Cleveland. I’ll always remember it because earlier that day I was checking into a hotel there and Encarnacion was in front of me in line, having just made it to town from Louisville. When he gave his name the Marriott lady handed him a big envelope with maps and parking instructions and a wad of cash and all kinds of other things left there for him by the Reds. He seemed confused and overwhelmed. He also went hitless in his first six games. No matter how much he accomplishes in his career, I always think of him as that confused guy at the Cleveland Marriott and I’ll always root for him a little bit.

Braves 6, Pirates 5: Matt Adams is quickly making friends in Atlanta. He homered in the sixth to bring the Braves to within a run and then he hit a walkoff single in the bottom of the 9th to give them the win. In between those events came a three-hour rain delay. The game ended just before 2AM and, rain delay included, meant for a 6 hour, 15 minute evening. There were probably only 200 fans in Sun Trust Park when Adams hit that game winning single, but every one of those 200 people started a band.

Nationals 10, Mariners 1:Anthony Rendon homered twice and drove in five and Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth each went deep as well. Joe Ross got ten runs to work with but he didn’t need ’em, as he allowed only one run over eight innings of work. Rendon was asked how the Nats scored all those runs and said “I don’t know, I guess we were swinging at good pitches.” The reporter’s response:

Rockies 8, Phillies 2: Charlie Blackmon went deep twice, both two-run shots. He leads all of baseball with 40 RBI. He’s played in 46 games. He’s led off 45 times and batted ninth the other time. Take that, people who care about batting order.

Red Sox 11, Rangers 6Xander Bogaerts had three hits and three RBI but the stat I find most impressive is that he scored on wild pitches twice, once from Andrew Cashner, once from Jeremy Jeffress. The Sox had 11 runs on 12 hits and drew eight walks from Rangers pitching. This box score looks like it came straight out of 1999 or so.

Royals 6, Yankees 2: New York had a 2-0 lead heading into the seventh but then the Royals put up a three-spot in the next two frames. All eight runs in this one came via the longball: Cain, Bonafacio, Merrifield and Moustakas for Kansas City, Hicks and Carter for the Bombers. Danny Duffy got the win after striking out seven over seven. It was his second win over the Yankees in a week.

Mets 9, Padres 3: Michael Conforto homered twice and had a career-high four RBI. Three of those RBI came in the Mets’ seven-run first inning as New York jumped all over Jhoulys Chacin. The Mets romped, but this play by Padres catcher Austin Hedges may have been the highlight:

Angels 4, Rays 0: Matt Shoemaker tossed shutout ball into the seventh. He had a 2-0 lead six pitches into the game, as Cameron Maybin and Mike Trout went deep in the first inning. The Angels have won seven of nine.

Blue Jays 4, Brewers 3: The Jays had a 4-0 lead,thanks in part to a Kendrys Morales homer. Milwaukee pulled close, however, chasing Jays starter Joe Biagini with three runs in the fifth inning. The Jays pen then shut things down with four Toronto relievers combining to shut out the Brewers over the final four and two-thirds.

Astros 6, Tigers 2: Brian McCann is on the concussion DL, but Juan Centeno, making his Astros debut, homered in his place last night. Lance McCullers allowed a one hit in five shutout innings to extend his scoreless innings streak to 22. He had to leave early, though, as he was less than efficient. Jordan Zimmermann allowed four runs — only two of them earned — on five hits while pitching into the seventh. It was his birthday. Maybe the Tigers defense will get him something better today to make up for it.

Diamondbacks 5, White Sox 4J.J. Hoover came into the game with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth inning, the Dbacks clinging to a one-run lead. Then he struck out Kevan Smith and Yolmer Sanchez to preserve that lead and, ultimately, the win. That wasn’t even his best performance of the day, however. Earlier he won a dang cow milking contest:

 

He’s from Western Pennsylvania so, you know.

Dodgers 2, Cardinals 1: Clayton Kershaw pitched well enough to win — he went nine innings, striking out 10 and allowing only one run on a ninth inning wild pitch — but so too did Lance Lynn who went eight innings, striking out ten and allowing only one run on a first inning homer. So this one went to extras. It ended in the 13th when Jonathan Broxton issued a two-out walk to Kiké Hernandez and followed it up by allowing a walkoff double to Logan Forsythe.

Marlins 11, Athletics 9: Miami had a five-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. The gave up three to Oakland, but that’s it. Justin Bour had four hits including his fourth home run in five games. Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon had three hits each. Every Miami player had at least one by the third inning.