Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Public Enemies: Jose Bautista and the Chicago Cubs

In the bottom of the third inning last night, Jose Bautista hit a 453-foot home run to deep center off Yankee pitcher Ivan Nova. The 23 year-old Nova was making his first big league start after a stellar season in the minors. At AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre, he compiled a 12-3 record with a 2.86 ERA, including 115 strikeouts in 145 innings. The next time Bautista came up, in the bottom of the 6th, Nova threw a high fastball that escaped the glove of his catcher Cervelli. The pitch was maybe three or four inches inside, and Bautista bailed out, falling to the ground.

You can see the ensuing reaction here. Bautista took exception, and began walking out toward the mound. Nova, a skinny Dominican from San Cristobal, stood his ground. He held out both hands, as if to say "what are you gonna do about it?" The umpire warned Nova, and then warned the benches of each team. Soon, those benches cleared. Cervelli, Girardi, and Jose Molina held Bautista back, and other Yankee players gathered around Nova. The two continued to jaw at each other, with Bautista looking genuinely angry while Nova seemed surprised, rattled, and a little defiant.

"Instinctively, I was kind of upset," Bautista said. "I was just trying to see what kind of reaction I was going to get from him. I was surprised to see he was pretty defiant. He was walking up towards me and flashing his hands up and started yelling. That's when I felt that the pitch was intentional."

And Nova:

"Nothing happened," Nova said. "It wasn't on purpose or anything."

I tend to believe Nova in this case; I don't know his personality, and I don't know his style, but it seems really unlikely that he would go after Bautista in his first big league start. Still, I can understand the reaction. Bautista leads the league in home runs, and the pitch was high. But if you look at the replay, it really wasn't very far inside, and it looks to me like a fastball that just got away. I also disagree with Bautista's opinion that Nova's reaction indicated guilt. If you accuse somebody of wrongdoing in an aggressive fashion, sometimes they'll respond aggressively, even (or especially) if they're innocent. That's particularly true of athletes, who exist in a culture ingrained with at least a little machismo.

But as Girardi said, the situation was handled fine. Until Bautista came up again, in the 8th, against David Robertson. With the score tied 2-2, he drilled his 40th home run into the left field stands. And then he flipped his bat, and spat out toward the mound. And then he took 30 seconds to round the bases. (It might be #2 on the tater trot tracker, when it's updated.) And then he pumped his fist repeatedly as he crossed the plate. And then he took a curtain call.

All of which is pretty ridiculous. He was angry about a pitch that may or may not have been a statement, and which didn't hit him, so he chose to show up a different pitcher in a different inning? Classless. Also, it's worth pointing out that he's currently hitting home runs at a rate more than double what he's ever managed before. Hmmm...bizarre increase in power numbers, and a random display of unwarranted anger? There can't be an obvious explanation for that, right?

I don't know if Robertson will get to face him again this season, but if it happens, I'd expect a high, inside fastball. And this one won't just be for effect.

Girardi was the first man off the bench to protect his pitcher last night, and he's also the first name mentioned now that the Cubs have a vacancy at manager. As this article reminds us, he has a lot of ties to the Chicago area and the Cubs specifically. He's an obvious choice for the north siders, and it's not surprising that his name appears near the top of prospective lists.

But here's the thing: it's not an obvious choice for Girardi. Why would he leave the most storied franchise in sports- a place where he's won a world championship and is well-respected, mind you- for a mismanaged team that hasn't seen a World Series in years? The article linked above tries to make something of the fact that the Yanks aren't re-negotiating his deal yet. But that's not some kind of vindictive choice; it's Yankee policy. They don't make deals until the offseason, and they're just going by the book here.

At most, Girardi could use the Cubs as leverage for his next Yankee contract. But I'm not even sure that would be effective. I'm sure his family doesn't want to be uprooted, and Girardi has already proved that he's a family man. This is the guy who made a deal with his daughter that if she got braces, he'd get them too. And he followed through! If his family wants to stay in New York (and really, what family ever wants to move?), that will be a huge factor in his decision.

The doomsday scenario for Yankee fans is that the team fails in the playoffs (or earlier, God forbid) this season, and Girardi feels unappreciated enough to bolt. But that, frankly, is ridiculous. Fans love to complain, Yankee fans more than most, but we know a good thing when we see it. Girardi has a proclivity to over-manage, and will occasionally bow before the match-up altar, moving his pitchers around like chess pieces rather than trusting their ability. But every manager has a weakness. His strengths, which include bullpen management, attention to statistics, dealing with erratic personalities, and media relations, far outweigh his weak points. It wasn't too long ago that Joe Torre was sitting at the back of the dugout, in the shadows, barely awake while his team floundered through October. Girardi is far more passionate, and that youthful attitude is reflected in the energy of the players. Plus, he's got a great hitting coach and a beleaguered but competent pitching coach in tow. If he goes, would they go too?

Girardi is smart, steady, and enthusiastic. He gets along with the players, he can be tough when it's necessary, and he led us to a championship. He's our man, period. If I realize it, Cashman does too. Both sides have nothing but positive words for each other. I don't care if the Yanks have an epic collapse and miss the playoffs by a half game on the last day of the season- Joe Girardi isn't going anywhere.


  1. Display of unwarranted anger? Really? First you talk about alpha male type reactions, then when he gets to put his team ahead, and get back at the other team at the same time, he is overreacting? Can't have it both ways...
    There is some history between these teams the last couple of years, early last season Jays batters were hit repeatedly by the Yankees with no response until Jesse Carlson threw behind Posada, who went into his whole alpha male, "you don't want to do that" routine. A-Rod's "Mine" call rounding third etc...
    Allot of people seem to forget that Jose is still getting to play full time for the first real time in his career, yes he play 142 for the Pirates, but that was years ago when he was still getting used to the bigs. Look at his numbers from the time last year when he started to play everyday, which coincides with when he says what Murphy and Cito were trying to teach him "clicked".
    It’s so unfair to players today, that when they have a breakout year, the first thing the talk about is, is steroids, and I am not just talking about Jose here. Players of the past sure have put it to the guys of today…
    I am a huge Jays fan, and I do think the pitch was not intended to hit Jose, but what matters is what Jose thought.

  2. Didn't quite crack the top-10 for slowest trots. Also, I literally LOL'd at the thinly veiled accusation of Bautista juicing. He hit 10 HR in his final 26 games (1 every 9.8 ABs) in 2009, so the power surge actually started last year. Don't think juicing would make you all of a sudden start hitting for more power in the last month of the season, but there are plenty of former and current Yankees that could give you a clearer picture of how PEDs work.

  3. Neil - the root of this post is that the pitch probably wasn't intended for Bautista's head. Like I said, I don't mind his reaction to Nova. What I mind is that he showed up Robertson, and if you think his theatrics (emphatic fist pump, curtain call, and the obvious stare at the mound after contact) were just excitement, you're kidding yourself. The two events were unrelated, and it shows no character to make Robertson feel like shit for something you're suspicious about from three innings before.

    As to the stats, he has 438 ABs this year. He had 400 in '06, 532 in '07, 370 in '08, and 336 in' 09. Before this year, he never hit more than 16 in a season. When you do the math, his current pace more than doubles those years.

    That being said, I have no idea whether he's juicing or not. My gut reaction is that he's not, since the word seems to be out that it won't be tolerated anymore. On the other hand, he's 30 years old, and all the sudden he's on pace for a 50+ HR season. That's almost a Brady Anderson jump. That should at least make everyone raise an eyebrow.

    I'm a big Cito Gaston fan, and it's entirely possible he got through to Bautista.

    Nasty - is there a rule that says you can only start juicing in the offseason, or that if you start juicing in say, May, that it takes effect immediately, and not in early September? He had exactly three home runs last season by the end of August (wow), and he was batting .225. The summer had been absolutely miserable for him, and his job was certainly in danger. Why couldn't he have decided to juice out of desperation then?

    Either way, this current pace is absurd, and I'm not the only asking the question:



  4. Yeah, I didn't really have a point about whether or not Bautista used. I only brought up his late '09 power surge because I noticed it then and took him in the late rounds of my fantasy draft this year. Go me! (And keep doing whatever it is you're doing, Jose)

    What I was getting at is that I find it amusing that a Yankee fan would try to make any sort of point by suggesting that another team's players might be using PEDs.

  5. Fair enough, but let's keep in mind that most Yankee players accused of juicing started on their own, and usually with teams that weren't the Yanks. A-Rod and Clemens fall in that category. Other than that, you have ole wandering arm Chuck Knoblauch, and Pettitte using HGH for a few days. It's not like we had a system-wide epidemic or something.


  6. The Yankees had to know though, right? I'm not saying they gave the players PEDs, but an organization like that, giving out big contracts to guys like Giambi, Sheff, Kevin Brown, A-Rod, Clemens...Surely they had doctors/trainers/nutritionists that were at least curious how these guys could do what they did. I guess almost everyone was on drugs so nobody gave a shit.