FIRE JOE MORGAN: Mike Celizic is Bad at Arguing Things


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Saturday, October 22, 2005


Mike Celizic is Bad at Arguing Things

Here's a real gem by Mike Celizic, entitled "Thank the Yankees for this World Series."

The Yankees aren’t going to get their 27th world title this year, but whoever does win the World Series might want to consider sending a “Thank You” note to George Steinbrenner for making it all possible.

Okay, so, we're going to hear about how a lot of former Yankee pitchers are now with the two Series teams. Let's go.

They might even consider sending a dozen roses and a nice bottle of wine. If they really wanted to show their appreciation for everything Steinbrenner has done to make their championship possible, they might consider sending him half a pennant. He’s done that much.

We get it. Let's get to the article now.

He talks about how Pettitte and Clemens, and Contreras and El Duque, were all vital to the success of their teams. Then we get this:

What should be most galling is that the Yankees could have kept at least three of those pitchers — Contreras, Pettitte and El Duque. Good arguments were made at the time for letting Contreras and Hernandez leave, but there was never an excuse for Pettitte’s departure. Nor is there any excuse for the fact that for all four pitchers, the Yankees got nothing in return, not even a player to be named later.

The funny thing about this is, he immediately undermines his own argument. Right off the bat he says that there were good arguments for letting Contreras and Hernandez leave. Okay, well, then why are you criticizing the Yankees for letting them leave? And since you have excluded Clemens, why isn't this article just about how they blew it by letting Pettitte go?

Anyway, there's his thesis: that the Yankees, who were extremely pitching-poor this year, let go of four great pitchers and didn't get anything in return. Let's see how he backs it up.

Clemens was gone two years ago. He had officially retired, and all of us actually believed him. But Pettitte, who, like the Rocket, is from Texas, was a Yankee lifer who never thought he’d play anywhere else. But when he became a free agent, the Yankee front office took it for granted that he would come back to the fold. Instead of courting him and making him feel loved, the Yankees spent their time wooing Gary Sheffield. By the time Sheff was signed, Pettitte had decided life might be better back in Texas, where he ended up pitching with his old pal, the suddenly unretired Clemens.

Now, this is the one thing the Yankees maybe botched -- the Pettitte thing. They did maybe take him for granted, and he bolted. Fine. However, his last year in pinstripes he gave up 227 hits in 208 IP. Not great. His ERA+ was 109, down from 134 the year before. They likely would have had to pay him $10-12 million a year for five years. Instead, they went after Gary Sheffield. Who is among the five most feared hitters in the league. Who has done nothing but annihilate the A.L. I mean, it's not like they let Pettitte go and signed Christian Guzman.

Yes, it is all about pitching, and yes, Pettitte might have helped them this year. But he did have a history of arm problems. He only threw 134 IP in 2002. And don't give me any baloney about his postseason dominance. He's pitched well in October, but only about as well as he's pitched in the regular season (postseason numbers: 13-8, 4.05 ERA. 3-4 in the WS.)

And as far as Clemens goes, well, the Yankees didn't "blow" that, as Celizic freely admits. He retired. Then he unretired, but only because he could pitch close to home. What could the Yankees have done differently?

Pettitte missed most of 2004 with arm troubles and subsequent surgery. Most people suspected it was coming; he’d had episodic elbow problems for years, and those things never get better on their own. But, given the success rate of Tommy John surgery, there was every reason to expect him to come back in 2005 as good or better than ever.

A. That's crazy. A whole lot of players don't recover 100% from Tommy John surgery. B. If "people suspected it was coming," why should the Yankees have automatically committed a ton of money to him? C. Pettitte had a great year. A Cy Young-calibre year. But that doesn't necessarily mean the Yankees made a mistake in letting him go. Because, remember, they got Sheffield, and they had every reason to believe that their other pitchers were going to perform well.

El Duque is a different story. He claims to be 36 years old, but he’s really at least 39 and he had been breaking down. He missed all of the 2003 season with injuries, and had just 15 starts for the Yankees in 2004. He went 8-2, but the Yankees decided he wasn’t going to be able to shoulder a full load as a starter, so they let him go. That estimation was correct. After a hot start this year, Hernandez finished the year with just 22 starts and was ineffective until his huge relief stint against Boston.

Hey, Mike. You're supposed to be arguing that the Yankees made a mistake in letting this guy go. Remember? You have suddenly started arguing the wrong side of your own argument. Do you see that? Focus up, buddy.

But that’s been the defining characteristic of El Duque’s career — he comes up big in the playoffs. He didn’t pitch in the ALCS, but other than Neal Cotts’ two-thirds of an inning in Game 1, no one else in the bullpen did either. And if the White Sox get in a situation in which they need help early in a game, El Duque is the most likely pitcher to get the nod and the most likely to shut down the opposition.

So, the Yankees should have signed this guy to a long-term contract despite the fact that he lied about his age, was clearly like 38, and had a ton of mileage on his arm...because, although he didn't pitch in the ALCS, he might pitch in the World Series, and might be good, because he has been good in the past. Solid argument.

This year, Duque was 9-9 with a 5.12 ERA, and an 87 ERA+. He had a K/BB ratio of 91/50. He was far worse than an average pitcher. If the Yankees had had him starting all year, they probably would not have even made the playoffs, and Duque would not have had the opportunity to demonstrate his preternatural alien-influenced October skill that everybody and his brother can't effing shut up about.

Then there’s Contreras. The Yankees outbid everyone — Boston especially — for him three seasons ago when he defected from Cuba. But in one season and half of another in the Bronx, he had a talent for imploding in big games — the Armando Benitez of starting pitchers.

Hey, Mike? A word? Again, you're supposed to be arguing that the Yankees made a mistake by letting these guys go. You're doing that funny thing again where you're arguing the wrong side of your own article.

The bottom line was the Yanks ended up with nothing for four pitchers and the two teams that got them ended up in the World Series. A lot of people will see poetic justice in that.

They got nothing for them because they weren't very valuable. Clemens retired. Pettitte left as a free agent, but the Yankees took that money and signed one of the best hitters in the world to fill a huge hole in their line-up (remember, RF in the Bronx had previously been patroled by such luminaries as Raul Mondesi and Enrique Wilson [!]). Contreras sucked in New York. El Duque was a thousand years old and hasn't even been very good for the ChiSox this year.

Just because they were all Yankees at one time, and just because their teams are now in the World Series, doesn't necessarily mean the Yankees blew it. I think they should have signed Pettitte, but you obviously can't blame them for Clemens, and you shouldn't blame them for Contreras or Duque, either.


Special thanks to reader Mike G. for (nearly instantaneously) pointing out that this sentence...

Nor is there any excuse for the fact that for all four pitchers, the Yankees got nothing in return, not even a player to be named later. just flat-out wrong, since Contreras was traded for Esteban Loaiza. Which, amazingly, Celizic discusses in his article. I guess he means that they didn't get anything good in return, or something. It's really unclear what he means, because, again, he is bad at arguing things.

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posted by Unknown  # 7:56 PM
Special thanks to reader/FJM Founder dak for pointing out that the Yankees also got draft picks for compensation when their free agents left.
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