Random Thoughts After a Yankee Victory

Hiroki Kuroda has been the Yankees' MVP.   (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr).

Hiroki Kuroda has been the Yankees’ MVP.
(Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr).

The Yankee-Dodgers game just ended, and it was a terrific win for the Yankees.  The game had the feel like a 1-0 loss, but the Yankees were able to scrape together a few runs in the ninth inning after Clayton Kershaw was removed from the game despite having  thrown only 97 pitches.  While watching the game, I had three unrelated thoughts involving the Yankees, and I figured I would share them.

1.  For the second year in a row,  Hiroki Kuroda has been the team’s MVP. 

Last season, Robinson Cano ‘s hot September, Derek Jeter’s offensive rebound, and Rafael Soriano stepping in for the injured Mariano Rivera garnered the most attention and, in many ways, overshadowed Hiroki Kuroda’s magnificent season.  Averaging 6.2 innings per start, Kuroda led the team in innings pitched.  Kuroda was the unquestioned rock of the Yankee starting rotation and quietly turned out to be Brian Cashman’s best offseason signing (one year deal for $10 million).

Re-signed to a one year, $15 million deal, Kuroda has been even more impressive this season.   Going into tonight’s game, the Yankees’ starting pitching staff was ranked seventh in the American League with an ERA of 4.01.  However, if you remove Kuroda from the equation, the team would rank tenth with an ERA of 4.40.  In fact, other than Vidal Nuno (who has pitched 17 innings as a starter) and Ivan Nova (who has a 3.64 ERA as a starter), Kuroda is the only Yankee starter with a sub-4.00 ERA.  (After tonight’s start, Kuroda’s ERA stands at 2.38.)

Due to the Yankees anemic offensive, Kuroda has only 10 wins this season.  Tonight was another great example of how Kuroda has carried the Yankees despite the fact that he received a no decision.  Kuroda went pitch-for-pitch with Clayton Kershaw, who is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.  Kuroda’s efforts (7 innings pitched, 5 hits, 1 walk, 8 strike outs) kept the game tied until Don Mattingly (somewhat surprisingly) went to his bullpen, and after stringing together a few hits (with an assist from Mark Ellis), the Yankees eventually scraped together enough runs to get a victory.

Hiroki Kuroda is the biggest reason why the Yankees are five games over .500 as the team enters the final two months of the season.  Unlike last year, where his success seemed to take a backseat to other story lines, Kuroda’s efforts this season are not going unnoticed.

2.  Jayson Nix had a horrible game. 

Let me state this upfront:  I think Jayson Nix is a major league-caliber player.  As a backup infielder who can play multiple positions, he can be an asset to a team in a limited role.  Due to injuries this season, Nix was forced into an everyday role and, to put it bluntly, has been exposed.  It is not really his fault; Nix just is not an everyday player.

That all being said, Nix had a horrible game tonight.  Due to the fact that the Yankees were ultimately victorious, Nix’s shortcomings will likely not receive much attention tomorrow.  Nonetheless, Nix should not get a free pass.

With one out in the second inning, Vernon Wells and Brent Lillibridge hit back-to-back singles off Kershaw, which resulted in runners on first and third for Nix.  With Chris Stewart and Hiroki Kuroda due up next, this was a pivotal at-bat.  After taking a called strike, Nix swung at the next pitch and weakly popped out to Hanley Ramirez at shortstop.  Stewart followed with a ground-out, and the Yankees wasted a great early opportunity to provide some run support for Kuroda.  After that at-bat, Nix is now 8 for 20 in driving runners in from third base with less than two outs.  I understand that Nix is not an offensive juggernaut, but he needed to have a better approach at the plate in that situation.

In the ninth inning, Nix again came to bat with a runner in scoring position.  After Lyle Overbay singled to drive in the game’s first run, Overbay remained on first base and Ichiro Suzuki (who had been intentionally walked) was on second.  Nix again popped up but due to an apparent miscommunication between Mark Ellis and Yasiel Puig, the ball dropped in, which allowed both Ichiro and Overbay to score.  When the dust cleared, however, Nix was standing on first base.  As the YES announcers pointed out, had Nix not assumed that the ball would be caught and had been hustling out of the box, he would have been in scoring position on second base.  Clearly, Lyle Overbay – who is no one’s idea of Speedy Gonzalez – was hustling as he scored from first base on the play.  Stewart grounded out, so Nix’s failure to hustle did not necessarily hurt the Yankees.  But, that’s not the point.

There is no excuse for not running hard on that play.  Nix is batting .233/.300/.300/.600 this season (and is a career .218 hitter).  If he is not going to even hustle, there is no reason for the Yankees to keep him on the roster let alone to keep starting him.

3.  A-Rod is going to do what A-Rod thinks is in his best interest.

With MLB purportedly close to announcing suspensions for the Biogenesis scandal, there are numerous rumors circulating regarding Alex Rodriguez.  Will he cut a deal?  Will he appeal any suspension?  At this point, there is a lot of posturing from both A-Rod’s camp and MLB.

Tonight, Jon Heyman wrote an article urging Alex Rodriguez to “do the right thing and cut a deal with MLB.”  The idea being that A-Rod would spare everyone a prolonged appeal and the best interest of baseball would be served by moving beyond the Biogenesis mess as quickly as possible.

I guarantee you that “the best interest of baseball” is not one of A-Rod’s considerations.  Simply put, Rodriguez will only make a deal if it serves his interests.  There is absolutely nothing in Rodriguez’s track record to suggest that he cares about anything other than himself.  While some give Rodriguez credit for “coming clean” about his steroid use, he only fessed up after being confronted by Sports Illustrated.  Even then, A-Rod carefully limited the timeframe in which he took PEDs, claimed that he was not sure what he was taking, and threw his cousin under the bus.

The current decision facing Rodriguez is a balancing test.  If he accepts the deal that has widely been reported (suspended the remainder of this season and all of next season), Rodriguez will guarantee that he will still be paid roughly $60 million (which would be the remainder of his deal after he comes back from suspension).  Unless Rodriguez retires, the Yankees would still be on the hook to pay for his remaining salary after the suspension is over.

Alternatively, if Rodriguez refuses a deal and is handed a lifetime ban, he would have to appeal the decision and leave his fate to an arbitrator.  While it is unlikely that a lifetime ban would be upheld, there is no guarantee that the arbitrator hands down a suspension shorter than the one currently being offered by the league.  Further, if the reports are to be believed, in addition to suspending A-Rod under the Joint Drug Agreement, MLB is looking to suspend Rodriguez based on the “best interests of baseball” clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Such a suspension would mean that A-Rod would not be allowed to continue playing while the suspension is appealed.  On top of that, if a deal is not reached (which would presumably include some type of confidentiality agreement), there is nothing stopping MLB from releasing all of the information it has collected on A-Rod (which is reported to be voluminous) to the public.

So, Rodriguez must decide whether the potential benefits of refusing to agree to a deal with MLB outweigh the potential risks (loss of potentially more salary, lengthier suspension, evidence made public, etc.).  There is no equation for this analysis and there is no precedent for Rodriguez to look to as we are all in unchartered waters here.  Since we do not know the extent of the evidence against Rodriguez, it is impossible to provide any type of informed opinion.  Everyone just has to wait to see what happens.

But, regardless of how this all plays out, A-Rod’s ultimate decision will not be influenced by the interests of the Yankees, the game of baseball, or the fans.