Monday, March 29, 2010

Boston Signs Schoeneweis and Embree

The Sox shored up their bullpen recently by signing oldsters Scott Schoeneweis and Alan Embree. Sox fans will remember Embree as one part of Boston's lights-out bullpen in 2004. The sequel is never as good as the original. Embree is the very definition of a journeyman reliever. Other than the 2004 postseason, his resume boasts a mediocre 4.59 ERA and 1.340 WHIP. But hell, he's left handed. Let's sign him.

Schoeneweis, 36, is a young pup compared to Embree at 39. His ERA is slightly worse along with his WHIP and he is also a lefty. I found it amusing that the article said that he was eager to prove "he's still got it." Got what? A 5.00 ERA? All kidding aside, he's got good stats at Fenway at least. And you have to root for the guy. The father of four lost his wife last spring to a drug overdose.

I think the Sox are just chucking mud up against the wall hoping that something sticks. But that's what you have to do with your bullpen; sign a bunch of guys and pray. This year's star might end up on next year's scrap heap.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Now I'm Excited

It's stuff like this that gets me geared up for the season. Let's play ball already. At the beginning of March, I don't think I'm going to be into it, but after listening to NCAA Tournament and NFL Draft junk for a couple of weeks, baseball can't get here fast enough.

Hughes Will Be Fifth

The word is out all around that Phil Hughes will be the Yankees fifth starter on Opening Day. I can't say I am terribly surprised, but I am a little disappointed. I have always been a big Phil Hughes fan, and I always wanted the Yankees to groom him for a rotation slot. Still this move essentially throws away the past two years of Joba's development unless the Yanks send him down to Scranton, a move which seems highly unlikely.

I will say that Hughes showed a lot of improvement this spring. The one time I was able to watch his full "start" on Monday, he looked like a much more mature pitcher than in the previous two seasons. Perhaps his time in the bullpen allowed him to regain his aggressive approach on the mound. The five home runs he allowed in 13 spring innings is more likely a result of him toying with his change up than anything else. Despite that his change up has looked good at times and could become a difference maker for him this year.

It is also worth mentioning that Hughes will likely have a slightly higher if not the same innings limit that Joba had last season. How the Yankees handle that as the season goes will be telling. Have they learned anything from last year season's mistakes? We will soon find out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yankees Fifth Starter Race Down to Four

According to Ed Price via Twitter, the Yankees have put Chad Gaudin on waivers. It makes considering he would make the most money of any of the fifth starter candidates and his performance was the worst of the five this spring. So that leaves just Alfredo Aceves, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Sergio Mitre.

Aceves is most likely ticketed for the bullpen, while Mitre could end up back at AAA Scranton. Chamberlain and Hughes pitched yesterday and while I couldn't watch Chamberlain because it was an intrasquad game, I did catch Hughes four innings against the Phillies and they were some of the best I've seen him throw.

Obviously the results were not what you would want considering the three home runs he gave up. Still his changeup looked very effective. He had Jimmy Rollins falling over as he rolled over on a changeup that went for an easy grounder to first. Later he even had Chase Utley jumping out of his shoes at one.

Joba, on the other hand, seems to have remember how to pitch of late. He is throwing more strikes and attacking hitters. He is getting groundballs at a better rate than earlier in the spring. His recent performance has given Joe Girardi something to pause over as Hughes continues to dominate.

Many think that the logical choice would be either Hughes or Chamberlain while one of the two goes to the bullpen as Mariano's set up man. I think the logical idea would be to send the loser to AAA as a means of keeping them stretched out for when a call up is needed. I would be very disappointed if either Chamberlain or Hughes was forced to waste another year of their career in the bullpen. Sure they don't have much to learn down there, but at least it will keep them hungary when they come back up.

Monday, March 22, 2010

State of the Rotation: The 5th Starters

We come to the end of the rotations, and being that both teams have so many candidates I figured I would take the extra time to include the extra pitchers for each team.

The Yankees have the most candidates to fill out the final spot in their rotation. The group includes top candidates Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Al Aceves. Normally Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin would be included in this list as well, but the reality is they never really had a chance unless Joba and Hughes were hurt or completely inept. The Yankees simply have too much invested in Joba and Hughes to not have one of them in the rotation.

If the Yankees were to simply go by the performance of the top three candidates, this race would go to Hughes or possibly Aceves based on his early spring dominance. It seems though, that Chamberlain will end up with the job after his recent revival. Plus the Yankees didn't go through all of the trouble of expanding his innings total to the point where he could pitch an entire season uninhibited just to throw him back in the bullpen now. They owe it to the Joba Rules to see the process out to the end.

That being said, Chamberlain in the rotation wont be as bad as many think it would. Last year showed that until the Yankees handcuffed their young righty with ridiculous pitch counts he was more than adequate. Chamberlain reached his career high of 110 innings after eight shut out innings against the Rays, the Yanks went about skipping his turn and limiting his pitches. That severely curtailed his performance. I think that if he is left alone his performance will greatly improve.

The Red Sox on the other hand have fewer candidates for their fifth spot than a year ago. That season it seemed that the Sox were signing every rehab veteran around with the hope that one would return to form. In the cases of Brad Penny and John Smotlz the results were far from favorable. However there was a bright spot when Clay Buchholz was able to stabilize the last spot over the final two and a half months of the season.

The young righty will be coming into this season as a main contender for the fifth spot. He and Tim Wakefield will both start the season in the rotation until Daisuke Matsuzaka is ready to take a rotation slot. After that one will probably be shifted to the bullpen and, as long as Buchholz doesn't choke in his first few starts, that one will probably be Wakefield since it will be much easier for the knuckleballer to adjust back and forth between the pen and the rotation.

If you had to compare the overall pool of fifth starter candidates from both teams, I would give the nod to the Yankees for having more talent, but if you were to go by which two starters are most likely to get those jobs, I would go with Buchholz over Joba. They have both had their ups and downs over their short careers, but Buchholz was more consistently effective over the final two months of the season which is a lot longer than any stretch Joba has had in his major league starting career.

I'll give this one and the rotation battle to the Red Sox, 3-2.

A Victory for the Little Guy

The word is out and Joe Mauer is staying with his hometown team. The Twins locked up Mauer's historic bat for the next eight seasons (2011-2018).

Personally I am glad to see the Twins finally shell out the cash for a hometown hero. Too often they have let their best players go just to ensure that their late billionaire owner Carl Pohlad could continue to line his pockets. The Twins needed Mauer to stay in Minnesota and baseball needed him to stay in Minnesota. It's a good thing to see.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The New Look

It's the same Bros. at Arms you've come to know and love with a bit of a face lift. We wanted the colors and layout to be more reflective of the our favorite teams, the Sawks and Yanks. The format is also cleaner and more minimalist to make content easier to sort through and find what you're looking for. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

State of the Rotation: Andy Pettitte vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka

The fourth slot in our match is the one with the biggest differences. Andy Pettitte and Daisuke Matsuzaka could not be more different in every way. Pettitte is the old veteran lefty who relies on pitching smarts and location rather than raw physical power.

Matsuzaka on the other hand is a pitcher that has shown himself to be a pure power pitcher in every sense of the word. The righty lives by the strikeout and dies by the walk. He often shies away from contact and while that strategy won him 18 games in 2008, it ballooned his WHIP to 1.87 in 2009.

Everyone recognizes what Dice-K has in his arm; he has a power fastball and a set of devastating breaking pitches. His problem is that throughout his major league career he has never challenged hitters on a consistent basis and that has led to high walk rates. Red Sox Nation ignored the problem while Matsuzaka was pitching to the tune of a 2.90 ERA in '08, but eventually the problem came back and bite him. It didn't help that Matsuzaka was ignoring the Boston off-season conditioning program for pitchers and that, coupled with another stint in the World Baseball Classic, led to arm problems that derailed his '09 season.

Pettitte has been what he has been for the past three seasons in New York. He is an aging lefty that the Yankees relied on far too much in 2007 and 2008. Then, before last season, the Yankees picked up a couple extra arms for the front of the rotation and Pettitte was able to slide back to a more respectable three spot in the rotation.

Now that the veteran has dropped to the fourth spot in the rotation he will be more effective, well, at least in terms of performance to his slot. 200 innings plus an ERA right above 4.00 is more than respectable and is exactly what both teams want from the back end of their rotation. The thing is Andy Pettitte is far more likely to give that to the Yankees than Dice-K is to give it to the Sox. Sure the Japanese star has plenty of talent, but even if he is healthy, that doesn't preclude the possibility that he will continue to walk the house.

I've got to give it to the Yankees here simply because Pettitte's performance isn't likely to deviate much while what we have seen from Matsuzaka doesn't give me confidence in his performance this year.

Yanks even up the score at 2-2.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

State of the Rotation: Vazquez vs. Lackey

Next I suppose we will move on to the imports for each team. Both the Yankees and the Red Sox brought in a veteran right-hander starter to shore up their rotation during the off-season. The Yankees traded for Javier Vazquez a second time when they sent Melky Cabrera and Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves.

Vazquez had a career year for the Braves in 2009. No doubt it was a combination of his ability and experience that he had finally gained as a 12-year veteran. Vazquez struck out 238 batters and was sixth in the senior circuit with a 2.87 ERA. While he is on the wrong side of 30, Vazquez has evolved as a starter, relying less on his fastball and using his offspeed pitches to step and then put away hitters, something he did not do as a young pitcher when he threw a majority of fastballs (I'm looking at you Joba...).

The biggest thing Vazquez can do is take the ball every five days and eat innings. He will also give New York a reliable fourth option come post season time. Some will think that Vazquez will revert to something between his 2004 numbers and last season, but I would imagine that Vazquez will be far better than his '04 numbers, considering they are by far his worst numbers since his second year in the bigs.

After being a pillar of the Angels rotation for the last seven seasons, John Lackey departed sunny California for New England and the Bosox. Lackey has had injury troubles over the past two seasons, including an elbow injury that kept him out of the rotation until mid-May. Still, as Lackey returned to the rotation he performed at an above average level with a 3.83 ERA. He also maintained his standard seven strike outs per nine innings. Lackey doesn't seem to do any one specific thing better than everybody, but he does most things better than most starters.

It is likely that Lackey will not lead the league in ERA again, but somehow I feel like his performance has been undervalued over the past five years. He always takes the ball and he always gives you everything he has and that is usually enough for him to win.

While Vazquez is definitely the upgrade the Yankees needed in the third spot in the rotation, he doesn't have the track record of Lackey. A lot of that is Lackey's big game experience, which Vazquez doesn't really have. Both teams solidified their rotations with veteran righties, but the Red Sox got the guy everyone knows can win Game 7 of the World Series. I give the three spot to Beantown and the battle stands at 2-1 Sox.

State of the Rotation: Burnett vs. Beckett

In the continuation of my series of Red Sox starters vs. Yankee starters, we will look at two right-handers who match in the rotation and in their history. Both A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett came up through the Florida Marlins system and during their time in Florida they both had success and injuries. Burnett's injuries came from a problematic elbow that recquired surgery in 2003, while Beckett tended to have less serious hand and other injuries that consistently prevented him from pitching a full season or to his potential.

Both right-handers departed the marlins after the 2005 season. Burnett as a free agent to the Blue Jays and Beckett in a historic trade to the Red Sox. Over the course of their first three seasons in the AL East both pitchers had remarkably similar numbers.

Last season was the first year the two former teammates viewed each other across the great divide that is the Yankee/Red Sox rivalry.

For Burnett the year was not that far off of his career numbers. Though his ERA was slightly higher that normal, his walks and his strikeouts were right around where they normally sit. It is also important to note that the righty managed to stay healthy for the whole of 2009, a feat for Burnett no doubt, considering that he had never pitched 200 innings in back-to-back seasons or in a none contract season. The another thing lacking on Burnett's resume was a postseason performance of note.

Since he blew out his elbow in 2003, Burnett missed his one opportunity to distinguish himself in the postseason until 2009. Remarkably enough Burnett put together impressive performances in three of his five playoff starts, including seven innings of one-run ball in a must win game two of the World Series.

Beckett on the other hand merely did what he has been doing almost every season he has been in red. That, of course, is 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings pitched. His 2009 season was a good bounce back from his 2008 season. Beckett seemed to push through his back problems in 2009 and pitch to his capability to gain back some reputation points he lost after his substandard 2008 season and his poor performance in that year's playoff run.

Beckett's K/9 and H/9 were right in line with what he has been giving Boston in his three previous years with the team, although he pitched poorly in the playoffs again as the Red Sox were swept away by the Angels. Still, Beckett is someone the Red Sox won't hesistate giving the ball to in a big game.

Not much changed between the two pitchers from last season to now, though if any pitcher took a hit in terms of quality of his performance, it would have to be Burnett. While he did come through in some big games, he still had bouts of terrible wildness and uncharacteristic hitability.

Burnett would have really had to step up for my vote to swing his way, but if anything he pushed me further into Beckett's camp. Beckett is just way too reliable to choose someone as inconsistent as Burnett over him. The second match up goes to the Red Sox and we're tied at one.

Monday, March 15, 2010

State of the Rotation: Sabathia vs. Lester

Last season my Spring Training comparison of the top two rotations in the AL East brought about a lot of discussion regarding the starting staffs of both the Yankees and the Red Sox, so I figured now would be as good a time as any for an encore.

Today we will start with the top of each rotation and coincidentally enough the two big lefties for each team: CC Sabathia and Jon Lester.

We'll start with Sabathia who really needs no introduction. The man is a beast among men and his huge frame allows him to maintain his velocity deep into games while his athleticism allows him to consistently repeat his delivery giving him excellent command. The big lefty led the Yankees with 230 innings pitched and a 3.37 ERA. While Sabathia wasn't that great in the first half, he went on a crazy tear in the second half to boost the Yankees and return his own numbers back to 2008-09 form. He was also great in the playoffs, dispelling any notion that he is "unclutch", whatever the hell that means.

Even though Beckett regained some of his luster after a substandard 2008, Lester held onto his title as the ace of the Boston staff. He cracked 200 innings for the second consecutive year and also finished third in the AL with 225 strikeouts. It is also worth noting that Lester went 5-1 in September. His only loss came after he was knocked around by the Yankees and took a line drive off his right leg, forcing him from the game.

It's easy to say Sabathia is the winner of this debate like I did last year, but Lester got even better last season. His K/9 jumped almost four all the way to 10 and he maintain the same walk rate, meaning that his K/BB rate jumped up to 3.52. So Lester has made a tough decision even more difficult.

Verdict: I'm inclined to give the edge to Sabathia because he can give his team more innings in a season and more innings per start. I suppose the question comes down to when the quality of those innings diminishes to the point that Lester's quality outweighs Sabathia's quantity. To me that point has not yet arrived, though it may in the next season or two. The first match up goes to the Yankees.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Red Sox Preview

The season is less than two weeks away and I just don't know what to expect from this year's iteration of the Red Sox. The line up should be effective if not overpowering. Without a tremendous amount of pop, I think they could be prone to slumps. Home runs can mask some other offensive deficiencies if the rest of the bats aren't clicking. That's the luxury of having a player who can change the game with one swing. Youkilis, Martinez, and Drew have power that you have to respect, but they're not exactly Gehrig, Bench, and Mays. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if David Ortiz ends up on the bench for most of the year or if the Red Sox trade him before the deadline. He is flat done. Of course the way things are going, Theo will probably trade him for another pitcher.

The pitching on the other hand looks stacked. Lackey, Lester, and Beckett are as good a top three as you'll find anywhere. Manny Delcarmen and Daniel Bard will do well as the bridge to Jonathan Papelbon. Last year was Papelbon's worst season statistically, but I've read some things that indicate he's recommitted to working on his cutter. He relied too much on the fastball only in 2009. Of course, his worst season means a 1.85 ERA and 38 saves in 41 attempts. He just danced on the edge a little too often for me. This is a make or break season for Dice-K. Time to find out if he's a legit starter or a bust.

I read a lot about how the Sox have improved their defense. They may have some defensive upgrades (Adrian Beltre), but can anyone tell me what zone rating is!? As an observer, I don't think that Jason Bay was that bad in left. They tell me he cost the Sox a lot of runs. Maybe I was just used to Manny's buffoonery?

This will be a very different year for the Sox. Barring injury, they should win 90 games easily. I think the Sox brass will be looking to make a few more moves as the season moves on. I don't know who they could get, but another bat should be on their minds. In any event, it sure will be nice to come home from work, play outside with the boy, put him to bed, crack open a High Life, and turn on the Sox.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nomar Calls It Quits

One of my favorite Red Sox was Nomar Garciaparra. Today, Nomar signed a 1 Day contract to retire as a Red Sox. I was disappointed when Nomar was traded at the deadline in 2004, but giving up Nomar did help the Sox win their first World Series in 86 years. He will forever be linked with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter as they all came up as athletic shortstops who could really hit the ball. Nomar had a few years that were pretty incredible (Batting titles in '99 and '00), but struggled with injuries after leaving Boston in 2004. Garciaparra will join ESPN as an analyst. Everyone at Bros. at Arms wishing him well.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Vazquez Strong in Spring Debut

Javier Vazquez had his spring debut against the Phillies yesterday. After giving up a homer to Jimmy Rollins on the first pitch of the game, the righty settled down and retired the next six batters he faced, four of those via strike out.

After his performance against the Phillies yesterday, my intrigue in Vazquez was peaked yet again. Sure I checked out his stats to figure out what he had been up to while away from the Yankees after New York traded for the crafty right-hander, but I didn't really take an in depth look at his numbers.

I remember seeing several projections as to what Vazquez would do back in the AL and the crucible that is the American League East. Most of those numbers would bring A.J. Burnett to mind and not necessarily the Vazquez that finished third in the NL Cy Young voting last season. Baseball Prospectus put his ERA at around 3.85 through 203 IP and 180 strikeouts.

Now I wouldn't complain if those were the numbers Vazquez put up and I doubt any other Yankee fan would complain either. My only qualm is that I think Vazquez has the potential to do better. To support my theory I decided to look at Vazquez's number from interleague play. Unfortunately, Vazquez only had one start in interleague play, a 1-0 loss to the Red Sox at home on June 27.

To bulk up his splits I figured I would include the top four offensive clubs from the NL that he faced during 2009. These include the Phillies, Rockies, Brewers and Dodgers. While still a small split, it brought his total number of innings in those 10 starts up to 61.2. His ERA in those starts was merely 2.77 and opponents only hit .211 with him toeing the rubber.

Now I'll grant you that those NL offensives I have sighted simply aren't as good as the top AL offenses. The Phillies, a team that scored 40 more runs than any other NL team, would have finished a distant fourth to the Yankees, Angels and Red Sox and the other top NL offenses wouldn't have cracked the top five. Still I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility that the Yankees new #4 starter could wind up out pitching everyone on the staff and putting up huge numbers.

He could also pitch like he did in '08, but, like A.J. Burnett, I think Vazquez is at a point in his career where he has figured out how to pitch and how to stay in the game all the time.