We all know by now, even if we don’t admit it to any Met fans we might be on speaking terms with, that the glory years of Yankee dynasty from 1996-2001 are long since over. I admit I originally thought Buster Olney’s book was a bit outlandish in claiming Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single was the dynasty’s swan song, but in retrospect the facts are undeniable. Whether you are in the camp that claims the “new” Yankees don’t have the heart to win or with their alter-egos who state the Bombers haven’t had the pitching to succeed, the facts remain unalterable – the team hasn’t made it to the World Series since 2003 and has been bounced out of the postseason in the first round three years running.
There are several statistics that tie these post dynasty Yankee teams together and one I would like to explore is there early season lack of success. The Dynasty Yankees of 1996 through 2003 had a combined April winning percentage of .640 (126-71) while the most recent versions of team have struggled to reach the .500 mark with an overall record of just 43-49. Each of these teams however, recovered during the regular season to make the postseason, averaging 97 wins in the process.
Quiet bats have been a recurring theme in the early going and trends emerge when looking at the basic rate stats for each April when compared with the rest of the season:
Mar/Apr Rest Season
2004 .230 / .336 / .387 .274 / .356 / .469
2005 .274 / .357 / .422 .276 / .354 / .455
2006 .299 / .395 / .495 .282 / .357 / .456
2007 .268 / .347 / .421 .293 / .369 / .470
Only in 2006, when the Yankees had a somewhat successful start to the season at 12-10, did the offense fail to improve considerably after a slow start.
On the mound it has been a somewhat different story. Each season the bullpen has been strong early only to fade late (thank you Mr. Torre) as the average April ERA for relievers has been a solid 3.68 but jumps to 4.49 over the rest of the season.
Yankee starters however, have had their issues too. Only in 2006 did they compile an ERA better than league average when Mike Mussina (2.31 ERA) and Sydney Ponson (3.13 ERA) of all people, were great, winning eight of nine in ten starts. In 2004 the starters ERA’s were equally bad both in April and the rest of the season; and in 2005 and 2007, the April’s were long months but at least things got markedly better as the season progressed.
Still, these mid-season corrections haven’t been enough to add a 27th World Championship banner to Yankee Stadium. Once October rolls around the trends seem to reverse again – the bats go cold, the pitching coughs up some runs, and the Yankees are lucky to make it out of the 1st round. In the losing series each postseason, the Yankee stats have been poor:
2004 – 5.17 ERA, .282 / .371 / .469
2005 – 4.40 ERA, .253 / .347 / .392
2006 – 5.56 ERA, .246 / .289 / .388
2007 – 5.89 ERA, .228 / .300 / .404
In looking at the failures at a player level however, there is no apparent common theme to harp on. We can’t point to Alex Rodriguez or Jorge Posada or any batter and blame them for recurring post-season lapses. We can’t point to Mussina, Chien Ming Wang, or any starter and call them out, as each has had their fair share of both success and failure since 2004. Just like in April, the Yankees, like any team, simply get cold at the wrong time.
In truth, over the past four seasons the Yankees have played in 5 post-seasons series, only St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox have played in more. Post-season winning is not a God given right as many us want to believe, and in fact, might be dumb luck. Witness just the handful of breaks Yankee fans enjoyed during their championship run:
1996 – Jeffrey Maier, Tim Welke, Mark Wholers’s slider
1998 – El Duque’s Game 4 against Cleveland, Mark Langston’s non-strike to Tino Martinez
2000 – Only 87 regular season wins; Three 1-run victories in the World Series
What we witnessed during the Yankee dynasty years was a once in a lifetime run that is duplicated only every 20 years or so, if not longer. These were great Yankee teams, but as with all great teams, a few bounces here or there and their legacies are much diminished, and the current squad has less to live up to. The current Yankee squad, like every other baseball team, has flaws. These are apparent in April or October.