Friday, September 26, 2014

Derek Jeter: An unscripted career

For the last 20 years, there has been one constant at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter. Winning wouldn’t have happened without him, and classic moments would have been fewer had he never donned pinstripes. Each poignant event in Jeter’s illustrious career has seemingly been penned by an author hell-bent on making Jeter the hero.

But you can’t predict baseball, right? The game can change without notice. And in Jeter’s final at-bat, in his final game at Yankee Stadium, he added one more completely unscripted moment to a career filled with heroics.

Had Yankees' manager Joe Girardi interfered by removing Jeter from the game early Thursday night, it would have been a scripted moment. Of course it would have been stirring and memorable, but maybe a letdown compared to what eventually ensued. Girardi knows that Jeter is all about being in the right place at the right time and most importantly succeeded when the lights shone brightest on one of the best players to roam Yankee Stadium, or play the great game of baseball.

Did Girardi know that David Robertson was going to cough up a three-run lead? I doubt it, but he was not about to pull a player who above all things hated missing games. Jeter always felt that if he was on the field he gave the Yankees a chance to win. To win games was the ultimate goal, and if he could be a part of it well that was just fine.

Jeter’s unscripted life in baseball began as a teenager, where he dreamed of being a New York Yankee. Jeter played shortstop. The Yankees needed one. He landed in front of them in the first round of the amateur draft in 1992 and they took a chance on Jeter, a skinny kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan. His dream was now a reality and he would not let the opportunity go to waste.

Jeter took the team over in 1996, which ended with a Rookie of the Year Award and a World Series Championship. No one wrote about the chances of that happening. Who writes about a young fan being in exactly the right spot for a Jeter fly ball to be removed from the Stadium in a playoff game? Perfectly unscripted.

Then came the World Series three-peat, at a time when dynasties in baseball were all but forgotten, Jeter helped craft a legendary tale of sheer dominance in the sport. During those three seasons, Jeter was incredible.



No one scripts those types of numbers. That’s talent, hard work and confidence all in one.

Classic moments don’t always end with a fairytale conclusion, making them all the more unscripted. The flip play. Hitting the first postseason home run in November – to win the game! Those instances marked Jeter as a man who comes up huge in the biggest moments, but the perfect story would have ended in a World Series title. Not all Jeter memories ended with a ring.

But the fight to add to the collection of titles never stopped for Jeter. The Yankees mantra to win the World Series each season in no way weighed Jeter down; it only fueled his own desire for victory. This wasn’t about playing hard in the just the postseason; it was about grinding each and every inning, every single play. The jump-throw in the hole. The inside-out swing. The perfectly executed bunt. Falling into the stands for a foul ball, leaping into them for another. Catch made. Out secured. It seemed that each time the Yankees needed a big play Jeter was there. Again, chalk it up to hard work, hustle and determination. The Jeter way, and perfectly unscripted.

Who writes about the star being doubted at 34-years-old, knowing he is going to turn it around? Jeter had a lackluster 2008 season, the first in which the Yankees failed to reach the postseason in his career to that point. Jeter quieted the naysayers who couldn’t resist claims he was on the downward spiral heading into the 2009 season. The result – 212 hits, 107 runs, .871 OPS – a ring for the thumb.

Jeter followed that final World Series title with a season and half of mediocre play and THIS TIME he was done. He needed to hang them up. The story was going to end here with Jeter being washed up just like every other heroic player eventually falters.

Nope.

Jeter came back from an injury which took 18 games from him and went on a tear. On July 9, 2011 he came to the plate with 2,999 hits and faced David Price, one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball and promptly deposited his 3,000th hit into the left field seats. Oh, and he went 5-for-5 that day. Unscripted, naturally.

Jeter didn’t stop hitting the ball that season and followed it up with an MLB leading 216 hits in 2012. Each hit adding to the legend. Each hit unscripted.

The Yankees reached the American League Championship Series that season and Jeter was doing his thing, slashing .364/.391/.500. Unfortunately, he fell and broke his ankle during the ALCS and the Yankees were swept by the Detroit Tigers. He missed much of the 2013 season. The Yankees missed the playoffs. This was not a storyteller’s finish.

On February 12, 2014, the only scripted moment of Derek Jeter’s career happened. He announced his retirement. He was hanging them up. The daily grind was finally taking a toll. He would leave the game on his terms. Confident enough in his abilities, he wanted to give it one last go-around. One last chance to get a ring for the other hand. The storybook ending was in sight.

Instead, the Yankees were torched by injuries and letdown by their entire offense for much of the season. Jeter, had moments where it looked like his retirement was a good idea. A 0-for-28 slump before the last homestand of his career pulled Jeter’s numbers down to completely unscripted levels. The Captain was looking old at the plate. His time was coming to an end and it wouldn’t be pretty.

But the fans at Yankee Stadium seemed to rejuvenate Jeter. He put together four straight multihit games as the homestand began. He went .353/.371/.559 in his last eight games at the Stadium; including four doubles and a homer. They accounted for more than 20 percent of his extra-base hits for the entire season. Unscripted.

The final home game, after the Baltimore Orioles quieted the crown down with back-to-back homers to open the game, Derek takes control. He roped an RBI double off the left field wall to score the Yankees first run. He came around to score the tying run.

The Yankees took a comfortable 5-2 lead as Kuroda settled down lasting eight innings. Girardi kept Jeter on the field. He would let things play out. Jeter’s tribute would come after the game in Girardi’s mind. Jeter would not want to leave the field in the middle of a game. There was one more unscripted moment to come.

Robertson, he of 38 saves in 42 chances, took the mound and allowed the O’s to tie to the game. Just like that, the story of a final Yankee win for Jeter in New York was in peril. Or was it?

With the score knotted at five, rookie outfielder Jose Pirela started the inning with a single. Speedster Antoan Richardson replaced him and moved to second on Brett Gardner’s sacrifice bunt.

Up came Jeter. The crowd chanted his name the entire game. They were as loud as any World Series game. DEREK JETER! DEREK JETER! DEREK JETER!

First pitch from Orioles' right-hander Evan Meek is an 86 mph changeup that Jeter promptly sends into right field. Richardson rounded third, the throw from Nick Markakis was late and the Yankees won. Jeter did it again, in a perfectly unscripted moment. The last one of his storied career in home pinstripes.


Jeter’s jubilance was like every other big win for the Yankees. Just like the kid in ’96 and the elder statesman in ’09 the only thing that was scripted was the desire of a champion. Witnessing that craving for a win will be sorely missed.

Thank you Derek for everything you’ve done for the Yankees, the game of baseball and for young children all over the world who needed a role model. You proved that writing a script doesn’t happen in baseball. The game can’t be predicted. But it can be molded; by practice, dedication and the will to win.

Photos courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Stats retrieved via Baseball-Reference.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Yankees must sign Chase Headley

One of the benefits of New York Yankees' general manager Brian Cashman’s mid-season moves in 2014 was the ability to “scout” some players who might be useful to the club in the future. One such player is Chase Headley, long coveted by the Yankees and finally traded to New York from the San Diego Padres.

Headley became a hot commodity after putting up exceptional numbers for the Friars in 2012. Headley launched 31 homers, drove in 115 runs and tossed in 17 stolen bases. His .286/.376/.498 slash line with a 145 wRC+ and 7.2 WAR made clubs drool, knowing the Padres might not be able to sign Headley to an extension.

But, Headley regressed offensively in 2013 (114 wRC+) and for the first half of 2014 (90 wRC+), which severely affected his stock. The Yankees were able to utilize a vagabond shortstop (Yangervis Solarte) they did not have in their system in 2013 and fringe prospect Rafael De Paula to acquire Headley. It was a welcome move for the Yankees in more ways than one.

First Headley has been much better at the plate since arriving in New York. His .263/.374/.402 line with a 123 wRC+ has given a boost to an anemic offense.

Not only has Headley seemingly found some of his stroke, he’s provided the Yankees with stellar defense at third base where they lacked such play for several seasons.

But, Alex Rodriguez is back in 2015, you might say? Well, my suggestion is that the Yankees move A-Rod to designated hitter and slot Headley in at third base. If (a big IF at that) A-Rod is going to be able to provide anything at all to the Yankees it is likely going to with his bat, not as a 40-year-old fielder with balky hips.

Rodriguez’s fielding metrics at the hot corner were dismal except for two seasons (2004 and 2011). His UZR/150 in more than 10,000 innings is -2.2. The Yankees are stuck with him, but they don’t HAVE to use him at third base.

Headley on the other hand has a track record of above average play at the hot corner. He’s put together an amazing 26.6 UZR/150 combined this season and it’s been even better with the Yankees (37.9). In 6,300 plus innings as a third baseman, Headley’s career UZR/150 sits at 10.4. As the Yankees compile a groundball throwing staff, it is very important to put above average fielders behind them and Headley unquestionably provides that.

Further solidifying the case to sign Headley was his ability to adapt to handling first base. While he’s played a minimal amount of innings at first for Mark Teixeira, he has not looked the least bit out of place in doing so.

You might ask; why would the Yankees want to sign another player who will likely require a substantial deal? First, the team is without a player who can handle third base other than Martin Prado, who I feel would be better suited to play second IF Headley is able to be acquired.

The best third baseman in the Yankees system is Eric Jagielo, but he’s probably not going to be ready until late 2016 or 2017 considering his just finished the 2014 season at high Single-A.

It is likely that Headley will want a three or four year deal in what is his first taste of free agency. He earned $10.4 million this season. He turns 31 in May 2015, which would provide the Yankees with solid seasons without much deterioration of his abilities. This is not about signing a player who is over the hill, something the Yankees have a tendency to do.

Getting back to Teixeira; he’s wasting away. If Jagielo advances at a quicker pace, it’s conceivable the Yankees will need someone to fill a void at first base at the end of Teixeira’s contract which expires in 2016. Headley would surely be able to shift if it benefited the team. This would also provide the Yankees with time to develop a first baseman should they decide on that route.

Among the rest of the this offseason's free agent class at third base, Headley will cost less than Hanley Ramirez and possibly less than Pablo Sandoval. The remaining free agents are not in the same caliber as Headley. The 2016 class looks no better with Adrian Beltre the best name, but he’ll be turning 37 that season.

Headley has expressed his pleasure with playing for the Yankees since the trade. He has taken well to the demands of the organization seeming very comfortable on the field and among his teammates. The big city is not eating him up.

I believe it is wise for the Yankees to fill this void with an exceptional fielder who can handle the bat and has some upside hitting at Yankee Stadium for 81 games. Headley fits the bill.

A three-year deal for $36-39 million seems about right to me. What are your thoughts?

Statistics via FanGraphs.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New York Yankees: 7 positives in a negative season

The New York Yankees wake up Wednesday one game away from elimination from the postseason. A single Kansas City Royals' win or a lone Yankees’ loss over the next five days will seal the deal. Yet, in an otherwise negative season, there were seven positive occurrences the team can point to as they begin to look toward the 2015 season.

Tanaka delivers


Masahiro Tanaka was sought after by virtually every team in the league and the new posting system gave each of them a shot of securing his services. The Yankees were able to nab the Japanese hurler with a seven-year, $155 million contract (plus the $20 million posting fee). The only thing that slowed Tanaka down was a partial tear of the UCL in his right arm which he recently returned from after more than two months on the shelf.

Tanaka was well on his way to competing for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, as well as the Cy Young Award before his injury. On the season, Tanaka owns a 13-4 record with 139 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 134.1 innings pitched. Not only was Tanaka able to translate his repertoire from Japan, he was cool as a cucumber on the mound and extremely humble as praise was given him.

Greene shows depth of arms


With the multitude of injuries to the Yankees’ rotation, they needed some help from within the organization. Shane Greene came to the rescue. In 14 games (13 starts) spanning 75 innings, Greene has shown that he can hang in the big leagues, proving the Yankees had more depth in their farm system than they’ve been given credit for.

Greene (5-3, 3.24 ERA) averages a strikeout per inning and almost a 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio. Greene has also shown the ability to shake off bad innings, or starts and the ability to bounce back. He’s demonstrated poise on the mound and he’ll likely play a big role with the team in 2015, assuming CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are out for extended periods to begin the season.

Pineda trade finally paying off


Michael Pineda came to the Yankees in 2012 in exchange for catching prospect Jesus Montero. We were able to witness the reason why he was coveted by the Yankees this season, albeit for a short period of time.

Pineda has been fantastic virtually each time he has stepped to the mound. In 12 starts, he’s 4-5 with a 1.93 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. He’s walked just 7 batters in 70 innings and held them to a .205 average. Pineda, provided his shoulder stays strong, could formulate a very intimidating 1-2 punch with Tanaka for the Bombers next season.

Betances and Robertson solidify bullpen


Dellin Betances and David Robertson became one of the best tandems to close out games in all of baseball. Betances has been the Yankees fireman and lights-out lockdown eighth-inning pitcher for much of the season. Betances established a new Yankees’ record for strikeouts by a reliever (135 and counting). His .148 batting average against and 0.78 WHIP are extraordinary in 90 innings of work.

Robertson, who was in a tough position taking over for Mariano Rivera, handled the closer role as well as could have been expected. His numbers might not be as shiny as Betances’ but Robertson was extremely effective. He’s nailed down 38 of 42 save opportunities and struck out 92 hitters across 62.1 innings. There isn’t a team out there who wouldn’t sign up for those numbers even if Robertson requires some Houdini magic at times.

Ellsbury stays healthy


When the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal in the offseason, many pundits pointed to his proclivity for being injured. It was a good argument and for certain, this signing could hurt during years 5-7, but for year number one, Ellsbury was able to stay on the field for 149 games as of this writing.

He’s been productive at the plate (.271/.328/.419, 16 HR and 39 SB) and played solid defense. He didn’t quite hit for as much power as some expected, but he was active on the bases as he needed to be with the Yankees' floundering offense. For much of the season Ellsbury was the best offensive player in the lineup as he bounced from the leadoff spot to the number three hole without sacrificing performance.

Deadline deals pay off


Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been under fire from some of the fans this season, but it’s hard to suggest he did not do well with his mid-season trades. He swapped Vidal Nuno for Brandon McCarthy, nabbed Chase Headley for Yangervis Solarte and Rafael De Paula and snagged Martin Prado for Peter O’Brien and a player to be named later. He also dealt Kelly Johnson for Stephen Drew and well, three out of four good moves is certainly a positive.

McCarthy has reinvented himself with the Yankees, giving them a reason to look at him as a replacement for Hiroki Kuroda who has hinted at finally retiring. McCarthy is 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA and an eye-popping 6.3 K/BB ratio since his move to the Bronx.

Headley has also found some life after coming from the San Diego Padres. Headley’s OPS has gone from .651 while with the Padres to .744 as a Yankee. His defense at third base has been better than they’ve received in years. With Alex Rodriguez due back in 2015, Headley might be a wise choice to man third while giving consistent at-bats to A-Rod as the designated hitter. Headley has also shown he can handle first base duties, and with Mark Teixeira’s ailments, it’s worth considering a contract offer for Headley this offseason.

Prado might be the best of the deals simply because he is under contract for the next two seasons at a reasonable rate and O'Brien is far from a can't miss prospect. The Yankees can play him at second, third or in the outfield and his bat proved to be a lightning rod for the Yankees down the stretch. Unfortunately Prado required an appendectomy and missed the final handful of games. But, if he resembles the .877 OPS player he was in pinstripes, the Yankees might have found a key member of the 2015/16 teams.

The Captain’s farewell tour


I, for one, have not tired of the Derek Jeter farewell tour. I was extremely surprised Jeter was able to play in as many games as he has this season (141 heading into Thursday's game). While his numbers (.255/.303/.312) pale in comparison to his career averages, he’s been an exemplary leader and still exudes confidence each time he steps on the field. This final homestand has been the icing on the cake, seeing Jeter rap out three doubles and homer while driving in six runs so far.

The tributes have been great and the endless highlight reels never get old for me. I’m grateful to have seen him play for the last 20 seasons and he will be deeply missed. My only regret, and likely his as well, is that the Yankees will probably not participate in the postseason. One more ring would have been great.

So, there you have it. The 2014 season will be forgotten by many as soon as it concludes, but not all was lost amid the inconsistent offense and countless injuries.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In.



Monday, September 22, 2014

New York Yankees: Dare to dream?

The chances the New York Yankees reach the postseason in 2014 sits at a miserable 0.2 percent according to Baseball Prospectus with seven games left in the season.

Here is a look at each of the contenders’ schedules and what would need to shake out for the Yankees to nab the second wild card slot.

Oakland Athletics (85-70) – vs. L.A. Angels (3), @ Texas (4)
Kansas City Royals (84-70) – @ Cleveland (4*), @White Sox (4)
Seattle Mariners (83-72) – @ Toronto (4), vs. L.A. Angels (3)
Cleveland Indians (81-74) – vs. Kansas City (4), vs. Tampa Bay (3)

Dare to dream?

First, the Yankees would likely need to win each of their last seven games, giving them an 87-75 record for the season. I won't even look into the tie-breaker scenarios at this point.

That would mean the A’s would need to then lose at least six of their next seven or the Royals six of eight games for the Yankees to overtake either of them. You can see why the Yankees need to win out. One loss requires either the A’s to lose all of their remaining games or the Royals to lose seven of eight. Long shots indeed.

The Mariners would need to lose four out of seven and the Indians lose two out of seven.* Seattle has a tough schedule ahead of them. Toronto (who is mathematically still in it would have no chance of catching the Yankees if New York won its last seven games) is no slouch at Rogers Centre and the Angels might still be fighting for home field advantage with the Baltimore Orioles.

The Yankees can hope for the Indians to dominate the Royals in a four-game set but then falter against the Rays in their final three. That would further require the White Sox to split the four-game series with the Royals for the Yankees to have a shot.

The Bombers dug themselves this massive hole, failing to take advantage of poor play across the league over the last few weeks. If you believe it miracles, the Yankees reaching the 2014 postseason would take such a feat.

Dare to dream.

* Note: Cleveland leads K.C. 4-2 in the bottom of the 10th inning from a suspended game to be completed Monday prior to the first game of the three-game series.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



New York Yankees: Everything clicks

In what has been an inconsistent season for the New York Yankees it was especially refreshing to see the team put together a very productive game from all parts of the team Sunday afternoon in the Bronx. The Yankees 5-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays was a result of solid pitching and good hitting.

Masahiro Tanaka was back on the mound for the first time since July 8 after rehabbing a slight tear in his UCL. He tossed an efficient 5.1 innings allowing just one run on five hits. Tanaka struck out four batters without issuing a walk. He threw 70 pitches, 48 for strikes and pushed his record to 13-4 on the season.

The offense showed some signs of life, at least at the top of the order. Brett Gardner launched the Yankees 15,000th home run in franchise history, Derek Jeter ripped two more hits and Brian McCann pulverized two pitches into the seats. The trio went a combined 6-for-12 accounting for all the run production.

At the back end, Adam Warren struck out three of the five batters he retired, continuing his very good September. While Dellin Betances had a slight hiccup in the eighth, David Robertson tossed a scoreless ninth for his 38th save of the season. For a day their overall situation was easy to forget.

The Yankees remain 4.5 games behind the Kansas City Royals for the final wild card spot in the American League with only seven games remaining. Chances are that even if they won out, they would be eliminated from the postseason for the second consecutive season. That said, none of the teams in the playoff picture are putting a stamp on the wild card slots.

It has certainly been a disappointing season, so enjoying one game where each facet of the game clicked was a welcome occurrence. As the Yankees hang on by a thread, they’ll need more of the same over the course of this week to stay in the fight. If there is a positive to draw from the 2014 squad, I don’t think we can’t say that they quit at any point. We'll see if it pays off.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.




Saturday, September 20, 2014

New York Yankees: It’s too late, right?

That’s the question fans of the New York Yankees continue to ask themselves. Yet, because of a feeble league where not one wild card contending team seems to want to grab it, the Yankees wake up Saturday with a chance. It’s a small chance, and an unlikely one to evolve, but it’s still there.

I’ve written numerous times in the last couple of weeks that the Yankees just needed one big run. If they had done so they could be sitting just two games back in the hunt for a wild card position. Yes, even the first wild card spot is technically within reach now.

Now, what remains to be seen is if this mini three-game winning streak continues and if it’s just too late. It seems that every time I completely count this team out, they lure me back in with some good play.

Unfortunately, I still can’t buy in. Their elimination number for the second wild card spot is six and they sit 4.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals for that last spot with nine games to play. I can’t fathom it because the Yankees have yet to have that extended winning streak this season.

The Yankees needed a strong stretch two weeks ago and they could have taken advantage of a weak league. Maybe that is the ticket; hang with a feeble league and strike at the end of the season?

But then we look at the facts. The offense is still failing to pummel anyone and there is a chance Jacoby Ellsbury, arguably their best offensive player this season could be on the shelf for the rest of the season with a strained hamstring. He is set to get an MRI this morning and if he’s to miss more than one or two games, color the dream dead.

I want more than anything to feel differently, but nothing that has happened this season points to the postseason. It points to never getting fully healthy, never being consistently very good and never taking advantage of the weaknesses around the league. Basically, their season has been about coming up short, and often.

In a few days, if they are two games back with six to play, then maybe I’ll begin to believe. I hope to write that piece, I really do.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Derek Jeter’s big day

We have not said that too much this season about New York Yankees legendary captain Derek Jeter, have we?

Well, Thursday was a very good day for the retiring shortstop. Gatorade released a remarkable commercial -- even if it was mostly staged -- showing Jeter interacting with fans on the way to Yankee Stadium, including a stop at Stan’s Sports Bar located just outside the ballpark. With Frank Sinatra singing 'My Way' in the background, it was hard not to get goosebumps watching it. Check it out for yourself.

 

Then, Jeter did something in the sixth inning of the ballgame which he had not done all season. He hit a home run in Yankee Stadium. Jeter’s power has certainly diminished -- he has just 20 extra-base hits all season -- but he got all of this one.

The Yankees went on to win and for Jeter, after 20 years in the big leagues, winning is still the most important thing. Here's a shot of him as Chase Headley's grounder goes through the legs of Toronto's Adam Lind for a walk-off win.

Clipped from MLB.com video.
Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dellin Betances: Bright spot in gloomy season

The New York Yankees have had a rotten season by many team’s standards, let alone their own 'win a championship every year' motto. But, amid the gloom was a very bright spot, one that was pretty unlikely; the emergence of Dellin Betances.

Betances etched his name into the Yankees’ record book by striking out two batters in Wednesday’s game versus the Tampa Bay Rays. The strikeouts brought his season total to 132, surpassing the great Mariano Rivera’s 130 K’s established in 1996.

Betances took just 87.2 innings to accomplish the feat, while Rivera tossed 107.2. Some more numbers on Betances that are simply mind-blowing.


Just two seasons ago the Yankees had no idea what to do with Betances as he faltered as a starter. They decided to put his powerful arm to use as a reliever. He had some success in 2013 with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he still had to fight for a spot on the 25-man roster.

He had a fantastic spring and received a spot, but even in April it was undefined. Betances, rather matter-of-factly, went about his business. He put out fires on a regular basis and began to elevate his role in the bullpen. It became evident early on this could be a special season for Betances.

As he climbed the depth chart and piled on the strikeouts, it was easy to begin to make comparisons to Rivera. Betances was able to throw multiple innings, dominate batters and produce fantastic results.

For this reason, many are wondering if Betances will be the next Yankees’ closer as David Robertson becomes a free agent this fall.

This is not as clear cut as it seems. While Betances can certainly handle the role in my estimation, the Yankees are not blessed with great setup relievers behind him. If they maintain Robertson’s services, he’d be making a great deal of money and would surely be placed in the closer role because of it.

In my view, the Yankees should let Robertson walk and take their chances on the free-agent market with a setup reliever and hope that person and one or two arms from the system fill Betances’ late-inning spot.

Imagine how effective Betances, who turns 27 in March, might be as a closer? He’d be able to get the four, five or even six-out saves that Robertson cannot, and if he’s limited to fewer innings, it only helps his longevity and likely his effectiveness.

Betances might not grow into the same caliber reliever as Rivera, but for the moment he can be compared to him after their first full seasons in the big leagues. It’s not difficult to see how Betances can be a major factor in the Yankees’ future success.

Dellin Betances was a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy Yankees’ season, and has the potential to have a superstar career.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New York Yankees: Carry-over or move on?

Since the question of whether the New York Yankees will reach the postseason has pretty much been resolved in the negative, the pressing item for Wednesday’s game in Tampa will be whether there is any carry-over from Tuesday night’s bench-clearing incident with the Rays.

After Derek Jeter took a fastball to the top of the wrist in the bottom of the eighth inning, both benches were immediately warned by home-plate umpire Rob Drake. It is uncertain as to why the quick jump to warn both benches. Typically, it takes a bit more than one hit batter to get that far. There is a chance that the umpires were told to be on their toes since Chase Headley took one on the chin last week courtesy of an errant Jake McGee 97-mph fastball.

Jeter’s HBP was the fifth one suffered by the Yankees in the last two series with the Rays and manager Joe Girardi, who was already ticked off because of an unreviewable tag-up play, unleashed on Drake about the instant warning. Then, Girardi showed even more frustration as he started to yell at Rays' reliever Steve Geltz.

Girardi was eventually tossed for arguing and in the bottom of the inning, David Phelps threw up and in around the chest area of Kevin Kiermaier. Phelps missed but was ejected and the benches and bullpens cleared. No punches were thrown but the Yankees for the first time in a long time seemed genuinely interested in baseball.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve supported the Yankees in the past for not be retaliatory when it comes to hit batsmen. I never saw the point of potentially hurting another player on purpose, not to mention the potential for a suspension. But last night for whatever reason, maybe seeing some fire in the Yankees for a change, I tweeted the following.
Now, spur of the moment it felt good. Within seconds I was called out by a Rays writer I respect and we chatted about it. I explained my reasoning for such a comment and in the end he might not have agreed, but respected where I was coming from. We of course were trolled by fans from both sides that had unnecessary responses to the incident.

As I was holding this conversation, I remembered that I earlier in the day was pretty upset about Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman not getting reprimanded by MLB for throwing at a hitter’s head and then smirking about it as he walked off the field. I felt it was ridiculous in light of Jonathan Papelbon’s seven-game suspension for grabbing his crotch in front of fans.

Do I think Phelps should get suspended or fined? Maybe. It could be what the game needs; a quick and decisive response which shows the league will not tolerate pitchers throwing at batters intentionally.

Here is the problem with intentionally hitting a batter, and something I should have re-considered prior to my tweet. The ball doesn’t always go exactly where pitchers want it to. Suggesting, as Girardi did in the postgame presser, Rays’ pitchers need to learn how to pitch inside, is easier said than done.

A pitcher on the hill thinking ‘I’ll plunk this guy in the butt and show I support my teammate,’ might have the best intentions in mind, but there are no guarantees the pitch does not ride up and the batter who also just happens to dive into every pitch gets cracked in the face.

Is ending someone's career, potentially causing irreparable damage or even death worth it?

The Yankees are a frustrated bunch for many reasons. They’ve underperformed all season and yes, of course it sucks to get hit often by members of the same team in such a short time span. Emotions run even higher when one of your teammates was recently hit in the face by that team and another pitch to the face incident with Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton (that same night as Headley) had far worse consequences.

I think the Yankees proved their point last night. They are “pissed” as Girardi said and it was evident by the retaliation from Phelps. In no way do I think that they need to press on this further. I’d venture to guess the umpires will warn the benches before the game and hopefully that will quell some of the desire (if any) for the Yankees to show they’re not going to take it any longer.

But if a pitch gets away from one side or the other in the final game of the series, I hope the player and team that is hit brushes it off and moves on. Sticking up for your teammate is one thing, but intentionally throwing at a batter, when the risk of hitting that person in the head exists, is another.

I’ll try to remember that in the future as well.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For Yankees, it’s all about Derek Jeter now

The New York Yankees lost in walk-off fashion Monday night for the third time in five games. They’ve failed to take advantage of the rest of the American League wild card hopefuls by going 4-6 in their last 10 games.

The Yanks sit six games out of the second wild card position with 13 games left to play. Now, the remainder of the 2014 season is about Derek Jeter.

Jeter, who announced his retirement prior to the season, is mired in a 0-for-24 slump heading into Tuesday’s contest with the Tampa Bay Rays. He contends he’s not in the dumps about it, just looking to get back on track.

“Sometimes you break your bat and get a hit,” Jeter said via Chad Jennings of The LoHud Yankees Blog. “Other times you hit the ball hard and you don’t. I wish I had more (hits). I don’t. But I can get more these next couple weeks.”

Jeter’s slump has dragged his numbers well below anything he’s ever put up in his career. His slash line .250/.298/.298 is, without sugar coating it, atrocious. He’s managed just 19 extra-base hits this season and 23 of his 115 singles have stayed in the infield.

So, as the Yankees season crumbles into a second straight year without reaching the postseason, Jeter’s fans can only hope he finds something over the remainder of the season to erase some of the bad taste his performance has brought about to date.

If there is a player who seems to step up when necessary, it’s Jeter. Of course, anything he does now will not have much of an impact on the team’s results, but can surely make us interested in what has become a lost season.

A request for The Captain; how about one last hitting streak please?

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Mattingly compares Dodgers to ’72 Athletics

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly compared his first-place club to the 1972 Oakland Athletics, and not just because of their play on the field.

Those A’s, World Series champions for three straight seasons, held a reputation as having a disjointed clubhouse.

The comment by Mattingly came after an 11-3 drubbing of the Colorado Rockies Monday night, in which outfielder Matt Kemp was seen chastising Yasiel Puig as they walked through the dugout. Mattingly said it was, “family business.”

"Just talking in the dugout, same old things," Mattingly said via MLB.com. "We're like the A's. The '72 A's."

It did not seem like Puig, who has been chided in the dugout by others in the past for on the field issues, had done anything on the field to ignite the conversation.

Kemp didn’t want to talk about it much after the game.

"It's a good game we played today, huh?," Kemp said with a grin. "Go Dodgers."

It’s always interesting to me that teams can play well on the field and not get along in the clubhouse. It really removes some of the assumptions that team chemistry is such an important thing.

If a club is as talented as the Dodgers, and they can maintain a high level of play on the field, does it matter that Kemp might have personal issues with Puig?

What the Dodgers do on the field is what matters right now. Holding a four-game lead over the San Francisco Giants and winners of eight out of their last 10 games, indicates they are doing just fine in that department.

If the Dodgers are hoisting the World Series trophy in October, I guarantee Kemp and Puig will hug it out.

Logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Masahiro Tanaka throws five scoreless, Yankees lose simulated game

New York Yankees hurler Masahiro Tanaka tossed five innings of scoreless ball in a simulated game this afternoon, but as in real games, the Bombers went on to lose.

Tanaka, who has been trying to avoid surgery for a partially torn UCL, threw 65 pitches and allowed six hits while striking out four batters according to multiple beat writers. YES reporter Meredith Marakovits reported via Twitter that Tanaka hit 92 mph on the radar gun.

The Yankees’ offense much like in real games was non-existent and a fake reliever blew the game as the Yanks watch their season go down the toilet.

The next step for Tanaka, assuming he feels no pain, could be to pitch in a real game, where he’ll get exactly the same run support. It will lead to the following comment after the game from Yankees’ skipper Joe Girardi.

‘Well, Tanaka battled and gave us all he had, but we couldn’t get anything going on offense. It’s not what you want.’

You’re welcome for saving you from watching any more of this season.

Photo Courtesy of Arturo Pardavila III via WikiCommons.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



New York Yankees: David Robertson’s no-win situation

It goes without saying that New York Yankees closer David Robertson had some very large shoes to fill when the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera retired at the end of the 2013 season. What was not expected was an amazing season from an afterthought of the Yankees minor league system, Dellin Betances.

Anyone who claims they saw Betances coming was doing so back when he was a heralded starter in the organization, not in February 2014.

There were likely times when the Yankees might have felt that departing with Betances was the right idea, but instead converted him to a reliever in 2013 and thus began the rise of one career and the plight of another.

Let’s admit that if Betances is not around and pitching like he has this season, the questions about Robertson blowing Sunday night’s save against the Baltimore Orioles would not be as dramatic. We’d potentially question manager Joe Girardi’s use of Robertson for a third consecutive day, but who would we clamor on about as the person who should have gotten the ball? Shawn Kelley? Adam Warren?

If Betances wasn’t so electric this season, Robertson might actually be given the benefit of the doubt when he coughs up a lead (he's blown four saves). But that’s not the case and it put Robertson in a no-win situation once Betances started throwing the eighth inning and doing it so efficiently.

Robertson was either chided for not being Rivera, or derided for not being Betances when he failed. Many have claimed that Robertson does not have a closer makeup since 2012 when Rivera was hurt, and 2013 when Rivera required rest. Part of that is that he is not a hard thrower and he’s had a tendency to allow baserunners and make his life somewhat difficult.

For many of Betances’ appearances, he either put out a fire, followed by a dominant inning or he shut down the opposition in quick order if he started the frame. This allowed us to speculate about his use as a closer. He rarely got into trouble, and if he did he could overpower opposing batters.

Robertson’s profile is not the same. He is gritty; I’m not sure many could argue with that if looking at the facts. But, if he gets into trouble, he has to grind his way out. Sure, he is very effective, his 13.27 K/9 rate this season suggests as much, but those strikeouts are combined with more baserunners allowed than Betances (1.03 WHIP versus 0.75). Robertson has seen his walk rate rise to 3.24 per nine innings in 2014 from a career-low in 2013 of 2.44. Betances has walked almost one batter less per nine innings (2.39).

Each time Robertson was sent out on the third straight day, or didn’t have it on another, fans were able to fall back on the Rivera narrative, or lean on the new storyline created as the season wore on with the emergence of Betances. Many threw both Robertson’s way.

Fair or not that’s how it has been for Robertson this year as the Yankees’ closer -- a no-win situation -- in what might be the last year he holds the role. But that’s for another post.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flicker.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Paul George mindlessly defends Ray Rice’s actions on Twitter

Once again, a star athlete (on the court obviously not in the game of life) failed to think before taking to social media. Paul George, the Indiana Pacers’ injured small forward, tweeted the following defense of Ray Rice courtesy of The Huffington Post.



George, after fielding numerous replies which called him out, deleted the tweets and then posted this apology.

As is typical, here’s a person with a large following spewing nonsense and propagating idiotic comments about something they are not knowledgeable about, which then feeds their even more moronic followers with ammunition to continue to suggest Rice had a right to hit a woman, his then fiancĂ©e.

Maybe George should have used his time on the couch to read about domestic violence before formulating and then delivering a very hollow belief that the victim is the person at fault in domestic violence incidents.

Unreal.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

New York Yankees: Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

As the New York Yankees spiral out of the postseason race, how about we play some Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda where it concerns a few of their offseason moves?

Move #1


The most puzzling to me was the signing of Carlos Beltran. Yes, he had some nice seasons in St. Louis, but a three-year deal bringing him to his age-39 season seemed less than optimal at $45 million. Plus his signing cost the Yankees a draft pick because the Cardinals submitted a qualifying offer for his services. Beltran is currently slashing .236/.305/.409 with 15 HR, 49 RBI, with a 97 wRC+ and a -0.4 WAR in 106 games and 440 plate appearances.

Shoulda


The Yankees instead might have signed a similar player in Marlon Byrd (also 37) at a much lower cost and potentially one year less (he has an option year with the Philadelphia Phillies). Considering he signed for two-years, $16 million with the Phils, the Yankees could have gone to two years, $20 million and saved $25 million, assuming they didn’t have to go with an option year. Further, Byrd did not have draft pick compensation attached to him. Byrd has a .265/.313/.458 line with 25 HR, 78 RBI, a 112 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR in 139 games and 581 PA.


Move #2


First, I’ll admit that this move was one I was on board with. I didn’t understand why at first because of the cost, the time associated with the contract and the Yankees depth at the catcher's position, but I felt Brian McCann would be worth it. If we can expect decreasing value over the remaining four years of the contract, the Yankees are screwed.

McCann is a Yankee through the 2018 season at a total cost of $85 million. He’s never seemed completely right at the plate this season. His .238/.288/.394 line with 17 HR, 61 RBI, an 88 wRC+ and a 1.8 WAR in 121 games and 472 plate appearances is much less than what the Yankees hoped for. To his credit, McCann has been very good behind the plate, once again helping his pitchers with excellent pitch-framing skills.

However, McCann’s presence clouds the system of young catchers and what they’ll do with them, and his production has to scare the Yankees. He also cost New York a draft pick.

Coulda


They had two options here. One they might have decided to stay in-house with Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy, or sign a holdover like Dioner Navarro and combine with one of the above.

They were probably convinced a Cervelli/Ryan (or Austin Romine) combination would not work just like they tried with Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Romine in 2013. But instead of forking over a truckload of cash and assuming they have faith in prospect Gary Sanchez, they could have tried Cervelli and Murphy out, or added Navarro.

Cervelli is slashing .280/.341/.441 with a 120 wRC+ and a 1.0 WAR in 129 plate appearances across 40 games and 129 PA. Murphy is hitting .299/.319/.392 with a 97 wRC+ and a 0.2 WAR across 25 games and 69 PA. It remains to be seen if they could extrapolate this over an entire season, but it might have worked.

Navarro who was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays for two-years, $8 million has a .284/.325/.413 line with 12 HR, 66 RBI, 104 wRC+ and 2.1 WAR in 126 games and 471 PA. Consequently, there was no draft pick compensation for Navarro.

Move #3


The Brian Roberts signing was downright laughable when all was said and done. He hit .237/.300/.360 resulting in an 83 wRC+ and 0.1 WAR. Coming off a 91 wRC+ and 0.9 WAR in 2013, I’m not sure what the Yankees expected. While the cost was not huge ($3 million) it was a waste of time and a lineup spot.

Woulda


It would be too simple to say they should have re-upped with Robinson Cano. I can’t argue with the Yankees taking a stand against handing out a 10-year contract.

However, if they would have simply had faith in Kelly Johnson (I expect to take some heat here) and given him regular at-bats, the result might have been different. Slotting Johnson at third base was their first mistake. He would have been better off with handling the regular second base duties and hit against righties only with Brendan Ryan taking the keystone against left-handers.

Johnson would have been much more comfortable in the field taking more time to concentrate on his hitting versus learning a new position. I believe he would have been much better than the .219/.304/.379, 90 wRC+ and 0.6 WAR he put up in 77 games and 227 plate appearances with the Yankees before being traded to the Red Sox for a bigger slouch in Stephen Drew.

Yangervis Solarte might have been able to hold down third base for the season knowing they were stuck with Alex Rodriguez in 2015.

That was some fun, hypothetical, hindsight is 20/20 review of some moves that shoulda, coulda, woulda made the Yankees better now and maybe even stronger in the future.

Thoughts? Please leave a comment below.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



MLB Rule 7.13 is an epic fail

If a professional sports league, like Major League Baseball, creates a rule and they begin to roll it out to the teams and players it is meant to enforce, and the first response from a large constituent is, ‘Huh?’ then the rule needs some tweaking before it is fully implemented.

This was MLB’s first mistake with Rule 7.13, otherwise known as the home plate collision rule; putting out a rule no one completely understood. The second error was going on with it for five months before trying to clarify the confusion as they tried Tuesday. The third misstep was making the rule even more confusing with the clarification. The biggest problem is that players have to deal with it for the remainder of the season and worse in the playoffs where games can be decided by these judgment calls.

The basis for the rule, the protection of catchers, is not arguable. There were some egregious acts over the last several years which have caused significant injury to catchers. These instances could have been decreased by simply adding a rule that any player who goes out of his way to barrel over a defenseless catcher will be called out and suspended for an agreed upon timetable by MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Blocking the plate and the catcher getting run over by a baserunner has been a part of the game for so long that it became part of the training. It’s difficult to undo years, eras actually, of similar play. What can be remedied is the ruling against the unnecessary action of hitting a catcher who is nowhere near the plate, is not blocking the plate or simply doesn’t even have the ball. This is a violent act and doesn’t belong in the game and most, if not all, players might agree that a suspension would be warranted.


I venture to guess we have not heard the end of the rule and it’s safe to say that chances are better than 50 percent that a play will come at the plate in at least one postseason game. The players will act differently than they would have last season or since they played high school ball and most likely one team or both will have a gripe about the rule afterward.

From the beginning, after the first ‘Huh?’ this rule should have been mulled over more and maybe even tested elsewhere before it affected games that count. For a change MLB tried to be forward-thinking, but failed miserably to do the thinking part.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Yankees’ situation forces attention to rest of MLB

I’m forever the optimist but it’s looking more and more like the New York Yankees will miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season. I didn’t see it coming, not many did, but it seems to be the way they are headed. I’ll root for them to make a run (I’ve been doing so for weeks) and won’t stop until they are mathematically eliminated but the objective sports writer in me has forced my attention to the rest of the Major Leagues.

I was able to see some of the Kansas City Royals this past weekend while they were in the Bronx and they sure seem legit to me. They’ve got great pitching and have a cast of timely hitters and tons of speed. They seem to have gelled as a team and at the right time. They have five more games against the Detroit Tigers so they could flip spots, but I’m not going to suggest it will be easy.

The AL East leading Baltimore Orioles are walking away with the division and they deserve a ton of credit in getting there. They are doing it without two of their better players, catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado. Again, solid starting pitching and relievers along with a very productive lineup has made September an easy month for the O’s.

The Los Angeles Angels have dominated the league for the last several weeks and the Oakland Athletics have fallen into a tailspin which all of the sudden has them within a couple of games of falling out of the wild card race.

I’ll admit, if Robinson Cano’s Seattle Mariners reach the postseason, I’m going to be upset. While I was not against the Yankees letting him sign elsewhere, I was somewhat relieved that he landed in Seattle, thinking they would be hard pressed to make the playoffs this year. Wrong again.

In the National League, it seems that the Washington Nationals have built a big enough cushion in the East to take home the division title. They are showing no signs of slowing down. This is a team with all facets of the game working in their favor.

I was surprised the Milwaukee Brewers lasted as long as they did in the NL Central race, though they are not mathematically out of it, they now find themselves completely outside of the postseason picture if the season was finished. The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates have come on strong and might be able to finish out the month in the same position.

The race in the NL West was not difficult to see coming, though I felt the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a more sizable lead at this juncture over the San Francisco Giants. The six games remaining between the teams should be fantastic and will likely determine the division champ.

With just under three weeks remaining in the regular season, there’s no doubt the standings could fluctuate and it will be enjoyable to watch several teams jockeying for position. I remain hopeful the Yankees can pull themselves back into the race (they sit four games back in the loss column to the Mariners before Tuesday’s games), but if they fail there will still be plenty of baseball to watch and enjoy.

Who are you most eager to see in the postseason? Let me know in the comments below.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



NFL, Ravens chose wrong side of domestic violence

There are some individuals which businesses should not back and the perpetrator of domestic violence is one of them. Never take the side of the abuser. The National Football League and the Baltimore Ravens are finding that out the hard way.

After a virtual slap on the wrist by the NFL, a tiny two-game suspension and loss of a third week of pay, the Ravens simply followed along and were set to allow Ray Rice to play this season beginning in Week 3.

However, new evidence in the form of a videotape surfaced Monday of Rice actually carrying through with the violent abuse of his then finance, Janay Palmer-Rice. Rice, not once but twice punched Palmer-Rice in the face. As she fell, she hit her face on the hand rail inside the elevator crumbled to the ground. Not once did Rice show an ounce of remorse.

The NFL had made their decision based on knowledge of an initial recording which showed Rice carrying an unconscious Palmer-Rice out of the elevator. The NFL and the Ravens both suggest they were not privy to this new tape until Monday. Seriously?

A videotape from a hotel should have been pretty easy to get, and now the NFL and Ravens look even worse than they already did in my eyes.

After the new evidence was leaked by TMZ, the Ravens jumped on the opportunity to release Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. The Ravens should have done this from the beginning and the NFL should have presented a much tougher penalty from the outset.

Domestic violence is nothing to push to the side and certainly any individual or business should never place blame on the victim. The Ravens and the NFL did this and now look the fools as they realize the man they gave the benefit of the doubt to is an absolute animal.

And while I'm at it, to all of those morons who suggest that Palmer-Rice was provoking him; get a grip on reality and see a shrink! This is all on Ray Rice, the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.