Monday, January 17, 2011

Loopy Wally's At It Again

Wallace Matthews, who for some reason has a job writing for ESPN New York, wrote a really hilarious column on Saturday, and he now believes that the Yankees have "won" the off season when they signed Rafael Soriano, and are now the favorites to win the AL East in 2011.

You remember this clown. He did a hatchet job on Tim Wakefield back in 2007 that I talked about (and I still get a lot of hits on my blog about it), and I am truly amazed that anyone would pay this hack to write about sports.

Here is what he wrote about the Yankees signing Soriano.

And later on today, my friend Adam sent me this, his refuting Matthews' nonsense. (The italics are excerpts from Matthews):

If it were possible to win a division in January, then the Yankees would be American League East champions today.

That's how good a pickup Rafael Soriano looks like from the vantage point of a mid-winter's day, before a single pitch has been thrown or a single game has been played.

This is dumb on so many levels. One, the MFY are virtually the same team as last year--albeit one year older--and they still haven't re-signed their second-best starter from last year (or replaced him). It's important to remember that New York didn't win the division last season. Also, Andy Pettitte, despite injury, threw about twice as many innings as Soriano last year. The number of innings a pitcher throws is important. Soriano has only thrown 70+ innings twice in his career. Pettitte was worth between 3.1 wins (Baseball-Reference WAR) and 2.3 wins (Fangraphs WAR). Rafael Soriano had his best year in 2010, and was worth 2.6 WAR (B-R) and 1.6 WAR (Fangraphs). In other words, an injured Pettitte was worth half a win more than Soriano in his best year. That's because Pettitte, or any other starter, will throw more innings that a relief pitcher--even a very good one like Soriano. Fans and the media tend to overstate the impact of one reliever.

But no team addressed a key weakness as effectively as the Yankees did with the signing of Soriano, who not only solves an immediate problem -- who will pitch the eighth inning in 2011? -- but might also solve an even bigger one in the future: namely, who will pitch the ninth after Mariano Rivera says farewell?

We can look at this two ways. First, the MFY had a good bullpen last year. Thus, the pen wasn't a "key weakness." In contrast, New York's starting rotation of Cash Cow, Hughes, Burnett, Mitre, and Nova is a definite question mark. Rafael Soriano isn't a starter; so getting him didn't address the key weakness of the MFY.

Another thing Matthews misses is that Soriano's contract is structured in such a way that he cannot be Rivera's replacement. Here are the facts: Soriano can opt-out after 2011. Mariano is signed through 2012. Scott Boras is Soriano's agent. There are three likely scenarios: (1) Both pitchers are good; (2) Mariano finally shows his age and Soriano pitches well; (3) Mo is still good and Soriano's 2010 is a fluke. The most likely scenario where the MFY retain Soriano's services is number three. Any scenario where Soriano pitches well will lead Boras to seek more money for Soriano, either as a closer of another team or as the MFY closer. In other words, if Soriano pitches well, he'll most likely be on another team in 2012 (and the MFY will have lost a first round pick for 65-75 innings of set-up work).

But what the Soriano deal really does is take a team that seemed stuck in the mud all winter and set it off and running again.

Just like that, the Yankees go from a wild-card team at best to favorites to win their division.

Matthews seems to belong to the any move is a good move school of thought.

Here's food for thought: It's unlikely that Soriano's results next season will be as good as Kerry Wood's with the MFY. Wood, acquired at the Trade Deadline last year, had a 0.69 ERA with New York. You can't really have better results than that. While many cite the Wood trade as a key move last year, the MFY were 66-37 (.641) from April through July and 29-30 (.491) after August 1st. Thus, having "lights out" relief in the 8th and 9th innings didn't offset the loss of Pettitte, who only threw 13.1 innings after July 18th. This seems to belie Matthews argument that the Soriano signing makes up for a weak rotation.

Matthews' argument is dumb. Even if Soriano throws 70 scoreless innings next year, he won't be as valuable as a good starter. Starting pitchers throw many more innings. Also, not every inning a closer or set-up man throws are high-leverage.

The MFY still have a good offense and bullpen. Their defense and, most importantly, their starting pitching is suspect. Right now, the MFY look more like last year's team that had Kerry Wood and no Andy Pettitte. While I don't think the MFY are an under .500 team, I certainly don't see them as being better than the Sox on paper.

1 comment:

Peter N said...

Q, you know how I feel about this Mathews article. I've written a counterpoint to it (in a way) from another viewpoint based on a cbs sports dot com piece. Wallace Mathews? Excuse me, I have to laugh. Pete