Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

The 2015 Yankees will not be a good team.  Certainly not "good" by typical Yankee standards.  Much of that is due to some odd acquisitions this winter and a sudden fiscal responsibility.  One choice the frugal Yankees made this off-season was to let incumbent closer David Robertson depart for the White Sox rather than attempt to resign him.  Though it left a Mo-sized hole at the back of the bullpen, the Yankees are prepared to fill that hole with a very big body. 

Newly-acquired reliever Andrew Miller, a 6'7" lefty, join's last year's 6'8" set-up man, the right-hander Dellin Betances, to form the last line of defense for New York.  How those two will be deployed is one of spring training's early story lines.  I would advocate moving away from the traditional (and some would say silly) model of having one guy designated as the closer and one as the 8th-inning set-up man.  I'm not the only one with this idea, and Joe Girardi has even been asked whether he'd consider a closer tandem:
It would not be my first choice, but it’s something you can definitely think about.
Okay, Joe, let's think about it.  For one, both Betances and Miller present the same interesting fact: neither one is appreciably better (or worse) against lefties or righties, making the two of them virtually interchangable:


You can still play lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty, figuring that even perceptibly hitters are less comfortable facing a guy throwing from the same side.  Then it's up to Girardi: who's coming up in the 8th?  Is Robinson Cano slated to bat second?  Let Miller start the 8th.  (The lefty Cano is 1-for-12 against Miller.)  Won't see Miguel Cabrera until the 9th?  Save Betances for the end, as Cabrera has come away with 3 strikeouts in 3 trips against him.

Another benefit of an interchangeable 1-2 punch: gone are the days of the too-tired closer.  Some nights, even the infallible Rivera was unavailable if he'd pitched in three straight games.  With a pair of arms to choose from on any given night, there should always be a powerful (and fresh) arm to close out a game.  It also makes the lives of opposing managers more difficult.  If you can't guarantee who's pitching in the 8th or the 9th, you can't effectively line up your late-game pinch-hitters. 

There's also something to be said for sharing the burden.  Neither Betances nor Miller has been a full-time closer before, and certainly neither has done so in the pressure cooker of Yankee Stadium.  Knowing that the whole world isn't riding on your shoulders has to be a relief.  If an anointed Betances blows a couple of April saves, how would that affect his confidence moving forward?  How would it affect him if Miller got the next save opportunity?

But if each pitcher knew that the manager was going to use each pitcher to the best of his abilities, dictated by the situation, each would know that his role was safe.  A blown save on Tuesday and an 8th-inning role on Wednesday wouldn't portend anything for Thursday.  That's not to say that one player won't excel in the closer role and make him the de facto choice.  But why force the issue before we really know?

It's an interesting "problem" to have, and I wonder how it will work out.  With a team that's likely to struggle for runs again, protecting a late-game lead becomes even more important.  The Yankees would seem to have the weapons.  How those weapons are to be deployed is the real question.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Shut It Down!

In what came as less a surprise than an unfortunate (but perhaps necessary) inevitability, Carmelo Anthony indicated that the NBA All-Star game would probably be his last game of the season.  Like Liz Lemon used to say, "SHUT IT DOWN." 

Citing a sore left knee that has kept him out of action at times this season, Anthony told ESPN Radio it's "very likely" he won't be back on the court after Sunday's game.  In fact, Anthony may only make a token appearance, wave to the fans (well, to the laughably small contingent of fans in attendance) and shuffle off the court.  Like most Knicks' fans, Anthony has had enough.

Without Anthony, a Knicks' team that already has the worst record in the NBA will be, somehow, even worse.  But for Knicks' fans who had already given up on the season, that's okay.  Because the light at the end of the (Lincoln) tunnel is the Draft Lottery.  The biggest dreamers among us will remember that first draft lottery.  Much has changed since 1985 -- now we have ping pong balls, weighted odds, and a lot more teams.  But seeing Dave DeBusschere nearly topple over with glee when David Stern revealed the Knicks to be the winner of the Patrick Ewing sweepstakes is the sort of thing that makes losing, if not palatable, then a means to an end.  The Melo-less Knicks would certainly have the inside track to that 25% chance at the #1 pick.

Speaking of wihch, many early mock drafts have Duke's Jahlil Okafor as the top pick.  With Jason Smith and Cole Aldrich sharing time in the middle, the Duke center would look mighty fine in orange and blue.  Even if the Knicks don't land that top pick, PG Emmanuel Mudiay, SG D'Angelo Russell or another top prospect will be on the board when the Knicks make their selection.

It's safe to say that Phil Jackson will get a rehabilitated Anthony some help when the (post-surgery?) forward takes the floor next October.  Add a star free agent to the mix -- the Knicks could have some $30 million in cap space -- and all this losing may not seem so bad after all.