LEFT SIDE STORY
It may take a sinister plan to beat the Yankees
The three American League playoff clubs that did not reach last
year's World Series asked themselves the same question this
off-season: How do you stop the Yankees? They all came up with
the same answer: lefthanded starting pitching. The only wonder is
why the Red Sox, who added Jeff Fassero; the Indians, who signed
Chuck Finley; and the Rangers, who added Darren Oliver, Kenny
Rogers and Justin Thompson, didn't try this tack sooner.
Since 1996 the Yankees have been much more vulnerable in
regular-season games when they face a lefthanded starter (96-79,
.549) than when they meet a righthander (304-169, .643). But
American League opponents rarely had the weapons to exploit that
weakness in October. In 31 league postseason games New York saw a
lefty starter only four times: Oliver with the Rangers, Kent
Mercker (twice) of the Red Sox and David Wells, who was coming
off a poor season with the Orioles.
"When all five of your starters are righthanded, you're bound to
have look-alikes, like Charles Nagy and Dave Burba," Indians
general manager John Hart says. "That's why I wanted a lefthanded
starter. And yes, it doesn't hurt that our guy [Finley] has a
good track record [15-9] against the team we're all chasing. Our
goal was to have more balance."
That's one reason Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette took a
flier on Fassero rather than on Dwight Gooden, a righthander who
signed with the Astros. Duquette believes Fassero, who last year
had a career-worst 7.20 ERA with Seattle and Texas, can--with the
help of Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, his mentor in
Montreal--return to the form that brought him 15 wins with the
Expos in 1996.
Hart says there is a reason teams haven't thrown more lefties
against the Yankees: "They're hard to find." The dearth of
lefties has been more acute in the American League than in the
National. The lefty shortage is so dire that:
--In the past three seasons the number of starts by lefthanders
against the Yankees has dropped from 51 to 44 to 33. That last
figure was one below the number of lefties faced by the average
American League team last year. In each of those three seasons
New York had the best record in the American League against
--Only one lefty currently in the league has won 20 games, and
he pitches for the Yankees: Andy Pettitte.
--Yankees lefthanded starters won 12 of the staff's 50
postseason starts in the 1990s. The rest of the league's lefty
starters won only six times out of the 178 postseason starts by
American League pitchers who were not on the Yankees in the '90s.
--In the past 51 years the Red Sox, Indians and Rangers combined
have had only one lefthanded starter win a postseason game: Bruce
Hurst, who won three times for Boston in 1986.
The Yankees have been so ferocious in October that the lefthanded
pitching they've seen from the National League in the World
Series hasn't bothered them either. They are 4-0 in those games
since 1996, winning against the Braves' Tom Glavine (twice) and
Denny Neagle and the Padres' Sterling Hitchcock. Still, the
American League contenders are now better armed than they have
been during this Yankees run.
"We take nothing for granted," says Hart, "but there's no
question that with the emergence of [Bartolo] Colon and the
addition of Finley, we look more formidable in a short series. Of
the teams in the playoffs last year, we all feel that we've
gotten better and the Yankees have stayed the same. That's not
COLLUSION OR REALISM?
A gaggle of unspectacular pitchers looking for spectacular money
hit the free-agent market this winter dreaming of the kind of pay
dirt found by kindred hurlers Todd Stottlemyre and Al Leiter a
year ago. (Each signed for $32 million over four years,
Stottlemyre with the Diamondbacks, Leiter with the Mets.) That
kind of funny money never materialized.
Kenny Rogers ($22.5 million from the Rangers), Darren Oliver ($19
million, Rangers) and Andy Benes ($18 million, Cardinals) signed
for three guaranteed years, while Aaron Sele ($15 million,
Mariners), Juan Guzman ($12.5 million, Devil Rays) and Omar
Olivares ($8 million, A's) took two. Steve Trachsel ($1 million,
Devil Rays) got only one year.
What happened? Did the owners at last show some admirable
restraint in signing pitchers who don't sell tickets or win
pennants, or was there something more fiendish at work? It
depends on whom you ask.
The management side: "Nobody in the group stood out," says the
Red Sox' Dan Duquette. "If you didn't sign one of them, you could
move on to the next. The demand wasn't high."
The players' side: "It's that C word," one agent says. "It was a
collusive market. I believe they got together, decided where the
market was and let these pitchers fall where they may." That's an
odd claim, considering that no one dared apply the C word to the
rest of the market, which saw setup relievers such as Mike
Trombley, Arthur Rhodes and Graeme Lloyd hit it big.
In any case, several pitchers were burned by the market after
rejecting more lucrative offers from their former teams: Benes
(approximately $25 million over three years), Oliver ($24 million
over four years), Sele ($28 million over four years) and Trachsel
(about $6 million in arbitration). Hideo Nomo, who wasn't
interested in $9 million over three years from the Brewers during
the season, is still looking.
Sele did have a $29 million, four-year offer in hand from
Baltimore, but that disappeared after Orioles owner Peter Angelos
took a look at the report on Sele from the team physician.
Angelos, who already had asked that $8 million be deferred, then
asked Sele to cut the average annual value of the deal and reduce
the guaranteed years to three. Adam Katz, Sele's agent, says
three other doctors had found nothing but normal wear in Sele's
shoulder. Angelos's concerns sent Sele sailing to the Mariners.
Red Sox Get Everett
A KEY SWITCH FOR BOSTON
When the Red Sox obtained centerfielder Carl Everett from the
Astros last month for prospects Adam Everett and Greg Miller,
Houston manager Larry Dierker told Boston, "You just got the best
clutch hitter in our league from the seventh inning on." Red Sox
G.M. Dan Duquette, referring to his shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra,
says, "We already have the best clutch hitter in our league."
The switch-hitting Everett batted .341 in the late innings of
close games, 11th best in the National League. Garciaparra, who
hits righthanded, ranked third in the American League in that
situation (.385). Now it's up to manager Jimy Williams to figure
out where each will hit in the batting order. So far he's not
saying. Garciaparra, the American League batting champ (.357)
while hitting cleanup, and Everett, the third-best number 5
hitter in the National League while protecting MVP runner-up Jeff
Bagwell, say they have no preference.
"We have a righthanded hitter, a switch-hitter and a lefthanded
hitter [leftfielder Troy O'Leary] in the middle of the lineup,"
Duquette says. "It's an ideal situation no matter how it works
COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE Fassero was a flop for Seattle last year, but Boston sees the lefty as a potential postseason Yankee killer.
Separated at Worth?
Andy Benes had similar numbers to those that Todd Stottlemyre
took to free agency last year--except for the ones with dollar
signs in front of them. The same applies to Aaron Sele and Al
Leiter. Benes and Sele, though younger than their statistical
peers, signed for fewer years and less money in what was a
bearish market for pitchers.
CAREER PREVIOUS 4 YEARS
PLAYER AGE W-L ERA W-L ERA IP CONTRACT
Stottlemyre 34 129-113 4.22 46-36 3.86 727 1/3 $32M, 4 years
Benes 32 131-119 3.79 55-42 3.95 837 $18M, 3 years
Leiter 34 90-71 3.82 57-39 3.45 772 2/3 $32M, 4 years
Sele 29 75-53 4.45 57-43 4.88 752 1/3 $15M, 2 years