Baseball BeatMay 08, 2008
To THE Stadium and Back
By Rich Lederer

I'm planning on putting up a follow-up post regarding our second day in Cooperstown, complete with photos and a few personal stories. However, for purposes of timeliness, I want to skip ahead to Wednesday night when Joe and I attended our first game at Yankee Stadium or THE Stadium as Yankee fans like to call it.

Those of us from Southern California call our ballparks Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium. But, then again, we also succumb to easterners when it comes to describing the time. We say "Pacific Time" when conversing with folks outside our time zone whereas people on the so-called right side of the country would never add "Eastern Time" in describing when something was going to take place. Oh well, I'll be sure to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist to talk about my inferiority complex when I get back home.

Cliff%20Lee%20on%20Subway.jpgIn the meantime, Joe and I did some Cliff Hangin' last night on our way to the game. We caught the 4 Train from Grand Central (or the Iron Horse as Alex Belth told me insiders call it) to Yankee Stadium. After getting a bite to eat in the food concourse, we hopped onto the subway at about 3:45 p.m. (Eastern Time). Our car was crowded so we found ourselves standing in the middle, holding onto the rails for safety. After we got situated, Joe whispers to me, "I'm 95% certain that's Cliff Lee standing next to you" (notice the arm of my brown jacket in the foreground). I look up and, sure enough, it looks just like the Cleveland lefthander. I turned back to Joe and remarked, "I think you're right." He then says, "I'm 99.9% certain." While I'm not into star gazing per se, you have to admit that it's an incredible coincidence that a player from the opposing team – much less the starting pitcher THAT night – would be riding the subway to the park *and* at the same time as Joe and me *and* standing next to us for the entire trip.

In any event, while making eye contact with Lee, I make a pitching motion with my left hand as if I were throwing a breaking ball. He gives me a quizzical look so I mouth "Cliff?" He nods his head. Conscientious that I'm wearing a NY hat for the first time in my life, I point to it and tell him that I'm from Long Beach, California and not really a Yankees fan. Lee smiled and shook his head. I explained that Joe and I were on a father-son baseball trip and had already been to Fenway Park the previous weekend and were going to our first Yankees game that night, and to Shea Stadium on Friday night.

There wasn't a single person other than Joe or me who had any inclination that Cliff Lee was standing on the subway, holding onto the rail tightly with his left arm. The 29-year-old southpaw stands about an inch shorter than me (although he looked a tad shorter than that) but with more facial hair and was wearing a beige LaCoste shirt with a green alligator on it, designer jeans, comfortable shoes, and a silver Rolex on his right hand – the only real Rolex on the entire subway. In fact, I'm quite sure I could have bought two or three along the way for much less than what Lee paid for his watch (or it it a time piece?).

Having garnered Lee's full attention at this point, I told him that ESPN was calling that evening's game "the pitching matchup of the season." Going into the game, Lee was 5-0 and Chien-Ming Wang was 6-0. Cliff responded modestly, "It's still early." I nodded and said, "Yeah, but it must feel good." Lee agreed, "It does." I winked as if to say, "Good job," and he smiled back as if to say, "Thanks."

I left it at that and we rode in the rest of the way, exiting at 161st Street. Lee hurried off the subway and departed into a sea of commuters and early-arriving fans. Joe and I walked down the stairs and onto the street and there they were: the new Yankee Stadium directly in front of us and the old Yankee Stadium across the street and slightly to the left. We took several photos before going to Gate 2 and getting in line to tour Monument Park inside the stadium prior to the game. (I will put up photos as time permits later today or tomorrow.)

I don't need to tell Yankee fans how the game turned out. Lee threw seven scoreless innings and picked up his sixth victory without a loss while lowering his ERA to 0.81. Did I mention that Lee has 39 strikeouts while only allowing 2 walks? I'm sure these same fans (Alex included) wish I had tripped Lee on his way out the subway. Heck, ballplayer or no ballplayer, I wouldn't do that to someone I was just hangin' with.

(As an aside, how did the Indians do in that trade where they sent Bartolo Colon to the Expos for Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips? Although Lee hasn't performed to expectations and Cleveland never capitalized on Phillips' late-blooming career, Sizemore has been one of the best center fielders in baseball the past several years and Lee is pitching as well as – or better than – anyone in baseball this season.)


Should have asked him how bad he's going to be when his BABIP isn't .001.

Fricking Amazing. That could very well be the highlight of your trip. Its hard to compete with a little real-world conversation with the best pitcher in baseball (for the moment).

Adam: Yes, Lee's BABIP is unsustainably low (.211), but one can't dispute how well he has pitched thus far. He has only given up one home run while striking out 39 and walking 2 in 44 2/3 innings pitched. Believe in him or not, it's just too hard to ignore those stats.

Interestingly, half of the Yankees hits off him last night were more of the fluke variety. A poorly hit, slicing bloop single to shallow left field; a groundball that barely evaded Andy Marte at third base; and a bunt single that died just inside the third base foul line. Lee's fastball was 90-93 all night and he was mixing his pitches well, keeping hitters off balance most of the night.

I'm not trying to build a case for Lee maintaining his dominance for the rest of the year, but let's not minimize how well he has performed to date.

Lee has been dominant. It's not a fluke, but obviously nobody goes a whole season with an ERA under 1.

I was hoping the Yanks might be the first team to hit him, but alas it wasn't to be. With ARod and Posada out, they've got a real problem against lefties (no saying they win even with those guys, the way he pitched, of course).

how cool is that?
Im going to make my pilgrimage to the house Ruth built next month and see the Yankees take on the Royals.
If Grienke or Meche is standing next to me on the subway, I probably dont recognize them, but if I do, theres no way Im that subtle.
Likely it goes like this,
"Holy $#*& you're Zack Greinke!"

i almost forgot.
shame on you, Rich, for wearing a Yankees hat.

Just a hint for all of you travelers heading to NY to see some baseball. Usually the MLB teams, whether playing at Shea or THE Stadium stay at the Grand Hyatt near Grand Central Station. They usually have a bus to the stadium for the team, but if a player wants to get to either stadium early he will generally take the subway. For good player/groupie watching check out the Grand Hyatt either early before the game or late after the game.

Rich and Joe, keep on keepin' on. Sounds like a fantastic Father/Son adventure.

Adding to Rich's response to Adam ...

It's easy enough to estimate the effect of some good fortune on BIP.

Lee's ERA is 0.81, his RA is 1.01.

His FIP is 1.75. So if you want to give him absolutely no credit for having suppressed hits on BIP, he's still at 1.75. It is pretty reasonable to do this, in fact, since Lee's BABIP has sat right around league average for more or less his whole career until now, in his best and worst seasons.

His xFIP is 2.71. So if you want to give him absolutely no credit for having suppressed hits on balls in play, and also no credit for suppressing home runs on flyballs, he's still at 2.71. Lee incidentally deserves just a little benefit of the doubt on this, having not strayed too far from his career rate of 9.4% in any season, which is a somewhat better than what xFIP will assume.

Lee is leading the majors in both xFIP and FIP, the latter by about 3/4 of a run. The only thing not corrected for in those numbers is his increased GB rate and decreased FB rate, but further corrections are problematic.

For one thing, Lee's flyball rate is below his career norm, but not that much lower than it was in his earlier years, and the main point of correcting them would be to then apply a HR/F correction -- at which point, the corrections are starting to fall into pretty dubious territory.

In other words, you'd be saying, he's allowed 39% flyballs and only 2.4% have gone for home runs, but we're going to assume that without luck, he'd have allowed 45% flyballs and 9.4% should have gone for home runs. At some point you have to ask, doesn't his actual performance figure in here somehow, some way?

There are similar problems with groundballs, where a 12% spike must be seen as a fluke. And yet, this is accompanied by a jump in K rate, from 6.73 to 7.86, which suggests he's simply got better stuff and is locating better, which is further suggested by his walk rate, which has just vanished.

He presumably cannot maintain this high level of control, and his luck may return to earth sometime. Thing is, though, if his control really is that much better -- and that's what he says, by the way -- then he probably really is doing most of the BABIP and HR/F and FB/GB suppression himself right now.

The point being, you can't double- and triple-regress everything and expect to get a meaningful number. I think trying to luck-neutralize his ERA any further up than 2.50 is probably a foolish exercise, and that still makes him easily the best pitcher in the world over the last six weeks.

We don't say THE Stadium, it's just "the stadium." Not like "THE Ohio State University."

Some of us also say "the city". I still do it even though I live in Florida. Specifically, it means Manhattan, but it can refer to the 5 boroughs on occasion.

Good to hear from you guys. Yeah, I realize it's just "the stadium" or "the city." Capitalizing the word *the* was my way of emphasizing the lack of a more descriptive word like "Yankee" or "New York," as if, in the case of the former, it were the only stadium in the country or world. I'm told it was the first and only stadium for awhile so saying "the stadium" apparently grew out of that fact and was, at least at one time, a less pompous statement than it appears to be today.

Rich: You are THE MAN! Great trip from THE BEACH. With you two in the NE and Goydos in Florida...Long Beach hasn't had so much press in the last 10 years total...GO BEACH!