Author: Matt Imbrogno Page 1 of 11

Thinking Optimistically About the Lineup

I’m going to do something dangerous here. No, not quite as dangerous as going maskless or eschewing social distancing, but a pretty dangerous things as Yankees baseball goes. I’m going to take Aaron Boone at his word regarding injuries.

A note that this is all obviously premature and dependent on whether or not MLB and the MLBPA can come to an agreement about how to bring baseball back safely…if such a thing is even possible. I’m still not convinced there’s a way to do that this calendar year. Do I want there to be baseball this year? Sure. Do I think there should be baseball this year? Probably not. But let’s just pretend everything is okay, even for just the length of this post.

According to Boone, of the Yankees’ four injured stars–Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, and James Paxton–two of them will be ready to go for a July Opening Day: Stanton and Paxton. I’d assume that given the timeline, Hicks could be ready, but I doubt it. Let’s assume not and assume that Judge won’t be close because, well, there’s no indication he would be close to close, let alone close itself. What a mess…

With Stanton back, let’s take a look at what the lineup could be. He slots into left field, presumably with Brett Gardner manning center and, presumably, Clint Frazier in right, unless the Yankees want to roll with Mike Tauchman, which could be a possibility. But since I like Frazier more and this is my post, I’m going to say Frazier. That’ll push Miguel Andujar to the DH spot, delaying some complications with his playing time that’ll arise when the outfield gets even more full.

The lineup itself?

  1. Gardner, CF
  2. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  3. Giancarlo Stanton, LF/RF
  4. Gleyber Torres, SS
  5. Gary Sanchez, C
  6. Luke Voit, 1B
  7. Miguel Andujar, DH
  8. Gio Urshela, 3B
  9. Clint Frazier, LF/RF

That seems pretty okay, right? At the very least, the first six is a gauntlet and the bottom three all have big time potential. If defense is a concern, you can easily use Tauchman for either Stanton or Frazier in the late innings with a lead.

This is all academic until we know there’s going to be a season, but it’s nice to pretend every so often during this ridiculous time.

Please stay safe, everyone.

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Labor of Frustration

Are we there yet? Even though I’m a parent and my soon-t0-be four year old is a curious kid, he hasn’t quite gotten to that stage. According to my wife, he dropped it once in the car with her and my mother-in-law, but not since. Granted, he’s been in the car exactly one time since this lockdown started. Given his nature, though, I’m sure he’ll be asking this question soon enough once things get rolling again. But I’ll be prepared for it because I keep asking myself that question about our current predicament.

Are we there yet? When can I see my students, family, and friends again? Is it safe? How safe is it? And, selfishly, when will baseball be back? This last question is the least important one there is, but given that this is a baseball blog, it’s okay to ask. With the owners having given a proposal to the players, we may have a destination in sight: baseball in early July.

I’m not an expert on the proposal and won’t claim to be. I don’t know what about it is feasible regarding testing, traveling, isolating, all that. As such, I won’t speak to is merits or flaws as a proposal, as a destination for baseball in 2020. I will, however, speak of the journey, much in the manner I did on the most recent podcast episode (p.s. don’t forget to download, listen, subscribe, rate, all that fun stuff).

There is a chance all of this is for naught and things go smoothly, but if the last week is any indication, there’s going to be tension between the owners and the players regarding starting back up. And if that happens, I want to urge you–as I did on the podcast–to back the players in this.

While the owners are taking a financial risk in owning teams and stewarding them through this time, they players are the ones who are going to be at the most physical risk. Aside from the obvious possible exposure to COVID itself given the tight quarters necessary for baseball, this season will be unlike anything the players have ever trained for; who knows what the effects on their bodies will be?

The owners are, as mentioned, taking a financial hit. But so are the players. A big one. They’ve already agreed to reduced salaries and, unlike the owners, their alternative revenue streams may not be nearly as robust. And there’s the difference of starting points, so to speak. To paraphrase an old Chris Rock comment about Shaq, the players are rich, but the owners are wealthy.

It’s all a bit abstract, of course, because most (all?) of us reading this are not millionaires or billionaires. It can seem silly for there to even be an argument over this. I suppose I understand that sentiment and get how people can turn on the players in this case, but, again, please resist the urge to do that.

The players are the ones we watch and pay to watch. The players are the ones who create the enjoyment and passion we feel when we watch baseball. Their health and safety should be paramount in this endeavor (relatively speaking, of course, as our own personal health and safety and those of our loved ones…you know what I mean). The players are the ones who are being asked to take the brunt of a physical and financial risk for our entertainment. The players, like us, are the workers, even if their work is unique from ours in so many ways from the job itself to the compensation and benefits. Regardless of that, they are labor, not capital, and it behooves us to be on the side of labor, even when it looks way different from our labor.

You might be tempted to say it’s their job and they should just go out and do it. But what about you? Would you run back to your job if you weren’t sure of its safety and if your bosses asked you to take another cut to your pay rather than honoring what was already negotiated?

And I understand that some of you may not have that luxury, that you may have to go back when you’re not ready or at a reduced salary, and that’s unfair. It would be understandable to take the ‘they should, too, if I have to’ attitude. But the players belong to a union and their workplace is determined by collective bargaining. That’s their right and it’s a damn good thing they have that right. All of us should, regardless of profession.

I want to see Major League Baseball played in 2020. I miss it and the Yankees terribly. I’m interested to see how a new league format and playoff style shake out. But I’m interested in seeing those things only if the situation is as safe as possible for the players and staff needed to make games happen.

A Baseball Remembrance

This is a repost from something I wrote at RAB in 2015. Updates are in brackets.

Every baseball or softball game that I’ve ever played in has, generally, started the exact same way: some running, some stretching, some throwing. Lately, as in, since I graduated (read: got too old for one) from baseball to slow-pitch softball, I haven’t had a consistent throwing partner before games like I did during high school and American Legion baseball. Back then, I generally threw with the same teammate before each game. My first throwing partners, though, were my relatives, namely my father and his father, my grandfather. This is hardly unique; I’m sure that many of you reading this learned the game through your parents, grandparents, and siblings. Now, however, I’m going to be a bit selfish because today, May 10, would have been my grandfather’s [93rd] birthday.

When it’s hard for me to think back on the totality of the person my grandfather was, I think back on specific memories that involve him or his home where I spent so much time as a kid. And every image has something to do with baseball.

He kept a tennis ball under his deck that he’d throw at his neighbor’s roof if the pigeons he kept got up there. I used to take that ball every chance I could and throw it against his neighbor’s garage, whose outer wall faced into my grandfather’s yard.

Before big pigeon races, he would take his birds to random locations in the tri-state area (he really loved the Vince Lombardi Service Station on the Turnpike for this). One time, I went with him and we let the birds go on a baseball field. I was young, still playing on the small diamond. For fun, I ran the bases of this big diamond; I’m sure it took me forever and a half, but he made me feel like Rickey Henderson.

I recall his living room, which was my father’s childhood bedroom, where I would adjust the blinds so there wouldn’t be too much glare so we could watch the Yankees–at least until he fell asleep in his recliner.

On Saturdays when I would have games of my own on his side of town, my father and I, pizza in tow, would sit in his backyard, waiting for the pigeons to come home, listening to the Yankees on the radio.

His backyard sloped and when we did have a catch, he always insisted that I stand on the top part of the slop so I felt like I was pitching, so my throws would be easier, would seem harder, faster. Even now, I can picture his throwing motion, almost perfectly overhand, his bicep practically clipping his ear as it passed; this makes me think he’d absolutely love watching Chase Headley throw (seriously, could his throws be more over-the-top?).

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times he and I sat with my father around the kitchen table, talking about baseball. The generational connection so often peddled out by MLB for marketing purposes is definitely tired, but it exists for a reason. The three of us did not always have a lot in common–how could we?–but baseball was always there to bind us, to lighten our stresses.

And then on July 24, 2006, after a little under a month in the hospital, my grandfather died. To cope, or to help cope, I threw myself headlong into baseball. Looking back, I most definitely pushed away family and friends at times that summer, which I regret, but I embraced baseball with vigor I hadn’t known before. Every night when the Yankees played, that was my catharsis. I doubt I expressed this properly then, maybe I couldn’t, but turning on those games on TV or the radio, or being at the Stadium made me feel a connection to my grandfather. For three hours a night, I felt better and that’s all I cared about.

I owe all the baseball writing I’ve done to my grandfather. It is partially through the memory of him that I love watching the game, and talking about the game, and writing about the game. This piece alone cannot adequately encapsulate just how much I miss having him around, but (again) selfishly, it feels good to put “pen” to “paper” and talk about his influence on me as a player of and a fan of the game. Happy Birthday, Louie; thanks for helping imbue me with a love for the greatest game there is.

The 2019 Yankees and RBI

If you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve at least dipped a toe into the waters of analytics, sabermetrics, whatever you want to call it. Even if you haven’t done more than that–or even that at all–you likely know that RBI isn’t exactly an ‘in vogue’ measure of a player’s performance. And, really, it shouldn’t be. While getting a hit with a man on base is great, that hitter didn’t do the work to put the men on base. At best, a high RBI total shows us a combination of skill–getting the hit–and chance–hitting while there happened to be men on in front of you. 

Stil, RBI tells us a story–who scored when and courtesy of whom. Without that story, the story of the game itself can’t be told. Earlier in the week, I saw a story about RBI that caught my attention. 

In a Facebook group, someone mentioned Luis Castillo’s 2000 season, in which he notched 17 RBI in 626 (!) plate appearances. Curious as to how that happened, I went to Castillo’s game logs page on Baseball Reference and looked up this handy chart:

Despite how shockingly low that is, especially when you see it compared to the average, it makes sense. Castillo was mostly a leadoff guy who was on a below average (79-82) team, so he routinely had bad hitters and the pitcher in front of him to drive in. The whole thing, though, got me curious about the Yankees. How good were they at driving in runners? Let’s take a look, using some charts. I included only those who had 300+ PA. 

Gary Sanchez

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44629677265426321+5

Luke Voit

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
51032062196130020+1

DJ LeMahieu

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
655343102307938620+10

Didi Gregorius

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
34421561284120220+8

Gio Urshela

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
47630474245728020+4

Gleyber Torres

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
60436890247335621+3

Brett Gardner

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
55030574246632420+4

Aaron Judge

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44724955225426321+1

This isn’t too surprising, is it? The Yankees get a lot of men on base–not one player had fewer than expected runners–and drive a lot of them in–not one player had fewer than expected RBI. As such, all of them are above the average expected RBI% by at least 1%, with DJLM smoking everyone else at 10% above average. 

Are these players good because they have high RBI totals and percentages compared to the average? No. They have those things because they are good players and they play with good players who get on base. RBI don’t tell the whole story, but they tell part of it. In this case, it’s another way of telling us the the Yankees are good at hitting. Plain and simple.

My Top Three Part 3: Important Players

Welcome to another edition of my Top Three series. As always, I hope you’re doing well and staying healthy where you are. Thanks, again, as always, for reading along during these tough times. There’s a lot of ways you could while away your hours and that you choose to do part of that with us here is flattering to say the least. We’re all in the same boat by isolating or quarantining or sheltering in place and it’s comforting in an uncomfortable time to know that. But we’re also in the same boat when it comes to missing baseball. Hopefully we can provide a little taste of that, even if it isn’t game action. Anyway, on to the list…

Today, I’m gonna discuss the three players I think were most important to my development as a fan and writer. These players aren’t necessarily the ones who had the most impact on the game or were even the best players for my lifetime. Rather, they’re the ones whose careers shaped the way I think about the game or the way I write about the game.

First up is Derek Jeter. Is this cliche for a fan my age (32)? Hell yes. Do I care? Hell no. This isn’t to say Jeter was always my favorite player growing up. Bernie Williams was eventually my favorite with Andy Pettitte close behind. But what Jeter represented and when he did it made him more important to my budding fandom. As Jeter rose to prominence, so did the Yankees. As the Yankees rose to prominence, so did my fandom. Like many young people, I found it easy to latch onto the idea of Derek Jeter–not that his ballplaying didn’t match that image most of the time–and root for him and the team. As the years went on, that image faded and I, like many fans my age and of my persuasion, poked holes in the Jeter image. But all the while, I owe a lot of my Yankee fandom to him. He came along at a perfect time to hook a young fan for life.

Next on the list is Chien-Ming Wang. CMW’s career with the Yankees, despite its brevity, was impactful to both the team and me. To the team, he was the first “real” starter they’d developed since Andy Pettitte. He turned in two back-to-back excellent seasons with the Yankees in 2006 and 2007, finishing (a distant) second to Johan Santana, ahead of Roy Halladay, in 2006’s Cy Young Award voting. It was all going great until June 15, 2008 (coincidentally, my 21st birthday!) when he was injured on the bases in Houston. I’ll never forget the way Robinson Cano went from signaling Wang to stay up, not slide, to waving for a trainer in a split second. But I digress…

Wang’s importance to me came well before that terrible afternoon in Houston. Back then, I spent a lot of time arguing about baseball, mostly on message boards, forums, and the like. Then at some point in 2007, I decided to put myself out there and submitted something for publishing.

It was a piece about CMW that got posted to Dugout Central and, in retrospect, it is terrible, horrible,no good, very bad. Were I to read it today–and I definitely prefer not to–I would likely be embarrassed by its hypothesis, its content, its writing. But what mattered is I published something somewhere public where I could get feedback from outside the closed echo chamber of a forum where I knew everyone. About a year later, I had set up my own blog, then began my odyssey of Yankee writing that eventually led me here. May I have done that anyway, having written about someone other than CMW? Probably. But the reality is I wrote about him because something in his game inspired me to do so. Now here I am, almost 15 years later, still spilling digital ink about the Yankees.

Nick Swisher will likely not go down in any sort of Yankee lore. He was a fun, easy to root for player for some good Yankee teams, but his impact wasn’t monumental. Despite that, he was one of my favorite players in that 2009-2012 run. He was also important to my development as a writer.

When Swisher was acquired from the White Sox, there were doubts about him, considering how poorly he fared in 2008. And even after Spring Training, he wasn’t penciled in as a starter in the outfield–Xavier Nady was until he was injured and Swisher took over full time starting duties and never gave them away. Those doubts, which Swisher eventually erased, helped me become a better baseball writer. I had to make an argument for a player. I had to use (for the time) off the beaten path data to make that case in my writing.

Having to craft the argument(s) in favor of Swisher honed my writing skills and my analytical ability and informed how I would write and analyze going forward. Both things have certainly evolved since then, but they came from humble beginnings.

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