Slumping nothing new for the Yankees

Fan Confidence Poll: September 13th, 2010
Building a bench to plug a DH hole

After watching the Yankees for the past week I understand why football is such a popular sport. Each team plays once a week and there are only sixteen games before the playoffs. A few surprises occur each year, but for the most part the strong teams win and the weak teams wilt. A loss, especially to a weaker team, might sting, but there is a six-day recovery period during which the pain subsides. Even more beneficially to the psyche, you can tune in on Sunday, forget about football for the next six days, read a notes column and the injury report the following Sunday, and then enjoy the next game. None of this is true for baseball.

As Earl Weaver said, “This ain’t a football game; we do this every day.” Playing every day makes for great entertainment. It means that nearly every night from April through October we have something to watch. Yet because baseball happens every day it is much more prone to random outcomes. Dave Cameron explained this in July after the Dan Haren trade. While a season as a whole might end somewhere close to expectations, the day-to-day events will fluctuate. I recommend Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for a more thorough explanation. He discusses it in the context of the stock market, but it applies directly to a baseball season.

This all leads to the way the Yankees have played for the past week. Starting two weeks ago the Yankees rattled off eight straight wins. If not for a walk-off home run last Wednesday they would have followed it with seven straight losses. Thanks to Nick Swisher the Yanks have only lost six of their last seven, but that one win is little more than a consolation. The Yankees are playing like crap, and things won’t get easier this week. Something has to change — though that’s always the case when a good team slumps.

The past week has taken a particularly significant emotional toll on the fans because of a few factors. It starts with the Orioles, a team the Yanks certainly should beat, and it continues onto the Rangers, a team the Yankees could face in the first round of the playoffs. It certainly has something to do with the nature of the losses, four of which were by a single run and two of which resulted in walk-offs. It also concerns the depth of the slump. To this point the Yankees have not lost six of seven. They have lost five of seven as recently as July 30 through August 6 and back in May they lose five of six. But six of seven and a three-game sweep? That’s uncharted territory for the 2010 Yankees.

Thankfully, the Yanks could take a few positives even from a swept series. On Friday and Saturday they scored 11 runs combined, or 5.5 runs per game, which is a tick above their season average of 5.34 per game. They might have left a combined 32 runners on base and gone 6 for 30 with runners in scoring position, but that means that they were getting men on base an into scoring position in the first place. If they keep doing that they’ll eventually drive home more runs. But last weekend they caught a few bad breaks in those situations.

On Saturday A.J. Burnett pitched better than he has in a month. The curveball wasn’t all there, but his fastballs worked just fine. He generated between seven and 10 swinging strikes — Baseball-Reference, PitchFX, and ESPN all have different numbers — and recorded six strikeouts in four innings before rain forced him from the game. The seven base runners were no picnic, but the four hits he allowed came on just eight balls in play. In other words, with a little more command he would have been phenomenal. If he can find that little bit between now and October he’ll make the playoff rotation decision quite a bit easier.

And, of course, there was Derek Jeter. On Friday night he went 1 for 7, dropping his OPS to a season-low .693 and his AVG to a season-low .260. In one of those AB he fouled a pitch off his knee, which made it easier for Joe Girardi to hold him out of the lineup on Saturday. On Sunday he came back with a fury, seeing 27 of Cliff Lee’s 108 pitches and going 1 for 2 with an RBI double and two walks. No matter what happens in the final few weeks 2010 will be the worst season of Jeter’s career. But if he can revert to 2009 Jeter for the next month and a half all will be forgiven.

Any time a team gets swept amid a 1-6 skid it’s easy to dwell on the negative. The Yankees suffered from bad bullpen outings and untimely hitting, but those are things they showed that they can do over the long haul. As was the case with previous slumps, they’ll bust out of this one in short order. It’s easy to forget that when they’re in the middle of it. There is no week-long recovery period after a tough loss. Instead they go out and play the next day. When the slide continues it can become a frustrating experience. But when they break out of it the feeling is pure joy. I think we’re in for a happy few weeks ahead.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 13th, 2010
Building a bench to plug a DH hole
  • Ross in Jersey

    Positives from the last week:

    -Offense is still getting on base despite slumping
    -Burnett actually grinding out starts
    -Berkman hitting .478/.556/.565 his last 27 PA
    -A-rod’s strong return from the DL

    Negatives from the last week:

    -Vazquez has shown us absolutely nothing, again
    -Sloppy outfield play (missing cutoff men, bad routes to balls, etc)
    -Playing Swisher despite his obvious leg injury
    -Posada being dinged up, again
    -Besides Swisher’s walkoff, they homered once in the last 6 games
    -Cano slumping and generally looking tired

    It’s also pretty shitty that they wasted that 8 game winning streak and basically gave it all back. There’s now no wiggle room – they have to take 4 of the next 7 games with Tampa to have a realistic shot at winning the division.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      See, I thought Vazquez pitched pretty decently against Texas. He was the victim of some bad luck.

      • Jon

        I think letting Julio Borboun beat him was a problem. If it was any other Ranger hitter, I doubt anyone would be as pissed off. But that fact that 4 of their 6 RBI’s were from him was just terrible. The fact that he did shut down most of their lineup was a good step forward.

        The stupid thing was Joe putting him out there for the 6th, and then taking him out after a doofy infield single. Dont quite understand the logic of putting him out there if you plan on taking him out if one batter gets on.

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          But even Borbon’s double was a bleeder down the line. It wasn’t hit hard at all, it was lucky for him and unlucky for Javy. I feel bad for him, while he has pitched terrible at time this year, he also has been the victim of horrendous luck and lack of consistant run support.

        • Ross in Jersey

          Saying “he took a good step forward” and then arguing that he maybe have been done after 5 innings is kind of contradictory. In any case, Girardi’s trust in him as a pitcher rests somewhere between “None” and “Slightly more than Swisher”.

          • Jon

            I wasn’t arguing that he should have. In fact, thats not what I even came close to saying. He should have stayed out there, there was no reason to take him out.

    • JGS

      It’s also pretty shitty that they wasted that 8 game winning streak and basically gave it all back.

      That’s not really true. At the end of the 8-game winning streak, the magic number was 17, now it’s 12. Heck, even the magic number for the division is lower now than it was before the losing streak (20, as opposed to 25 after the 8th straight win).

      And they don’t have to take 4 of 7 with Tampa to win the division. Tampa has lost 5 of their last 8, including series losses to Baltimore and Boston before taking 2 of 3 from Toronto. They haven’t exactly stepped up to seize the division from the slumping Yankees.

      • Kiersten

        You mean [i]other[/i] teams slump too? O_O

        • Kiersten

          ugh, fail.

      • Ross in Jersey

        This is pretty misleading as well. Yes, the magic number went down. It’s also 20 with 19 games to play. Looking at it that way, why even mention it at all? The magic number may be for the Rays tomorrow.

        And yes, Tampa hasn’t been playing that well either. But you can’t ignore that the Rays finish with Seattle, Baltimore, and Kansas City while the Yankees finish with 6 against Boston and 3 against Toronto. Could the Rays lose most of those games? Sure, you can’t predict baseball. But conventional wisdom says they have a big advantage, which is why I think the Yankees will need to take at least a 2 game lead into that final week and a half.

        • JGS

          Just pointing out that “giving back” an 8 game winning streak by losing some games isn’t true. Knocking days off the calendar has value in itself.

          • Ross in Jersey

            I would argue they didn’t do that. The magic number for the playoffs is a formality, and they hardly “knocked days off the calendar” in regards to the division.

  • nsalem

    We won a ring in 2000 and we closed at 3-15. We will be much better odd in a couple of weeks. With a hopefully healthy Jorge there will be no soft spots in our starting line up. I hope AJ improves and we can afford to keep Phil in the bullpen for the playoffs. Texas won’t have a forty man squad in the playoffs and I doubt they could repeat what they did this weekend without the 5 or 6 lefties they threw at us.
    CC will dominate tonight and this bad week will be in the rear view mirror. There is nothing to worry about.

  • vin

    I’ve never seen balls carry so poorly at the Ballpark at Arlington. It was almost comical. The two Cruz HRs wree smoked. So many players hit balls to the warning track or off the wall, or caught at the wall that probably would’ve been home runs at any other time of year, or in YS3.

    I remember the early season series between the Rangers and Yanks in the Bronx. The Yankees just ripped their hearts out that series. Completely dismantled them. None of the Rangers’ starters could make it out of the 5th inning because of excessive pitch counts.

    The Yanks looked unbeatable, and the Rangers looked like a last place team. This series was so different. Generally speaking, the Yankees were good, but not good enough. The starters all performed at or above expectation. The bullpen did a very nice job, except for Joba’s mistake to Cruz and Mo’s control problem. The offense got tons of guys on base, but couldn’t cash in often enough.

    This was an OK, but not good enough series. And frankly, if a couple of those well hit balls go over the fence, as they normally do, then maybe the series outcome is much different.

    • Jon

      Yea we also had Wilson out by the 4th inning the first game and Hunter was nearing 100 pitches in the 5th. With the exception of Cliff Lee and the million pitchers in the bullpen, if these were actual playoff games, we probably would have taken 2 of 3 there.

      • vin

        Yup. The outcome wasn’t necessarily indicative of how the two teams played. The Rangers didn’t really impress me, they just played well enough to win each of the games.

      • Josh S.

        Seriously, there should be some sort of limit to using pitchers with expanded rosters in September – or maybe rosters should stay at 25. I mean, I thought Girardi was nuts when it came to mixing and matching, but Ron Washington takes the cake. What he did was well within the rules, but maybe the MLB should think about limiting the ability of a manager to use a million pitchers in a 9 inning game if no one is injured. It’s not like he’s throwing out All-Star pitchers, and most of these guys won’t even make the major league roster next year, except in Sept. However, it’s kind of ridiculous to have 6-7 lefties in the ‘pen just so you can get Curtis Granderson out and have Big Puma batting righty every time they come up. Like I said, it’s within the rules and we can’t really cry about it, but maybe something should be done.

  • larryf

    “Jeter came back with a fury” 1-2 with 2 walks


    • whozat

      The fact that you think that’s a bad day for a leadoff guy, off one of the best pitchers in the game, one whose strength is NOT walking guys says a lot about you.

      • larryf

        ease up Whozat. It’s just not my definition of coming back with a fury. That’s all. I didn’t say it was a bad day for a leadoff guy. Lee was pretty upset about the last walk on a questionable 2 strike take by Jeter. This “saying alot about you” stuff for being less effusive in my praise for a guy hitting under .200 for the last month gets old too.

        • Jobu

          I have to agree. After a bad season, one game is hardly coming back with a fury.

      • nsalem

        Right you are whozat. Considering one of Derek’s faults this year has been his over anxiousness his two walks (which is 13.3 percent of
        Lee’s walk total for the year) and solid double was quite impressive.

        • bexarama

          Jeter’s career BB% is 9, this year it’s 8.2. He’s never been much of a walker, just this year he’s having such a sucky year overall. He’s not more “overanxious” than he usually is.

          • nsalem

            I was referring to his O Swing% of 28.4 which is an increase of over 25% from his lifetime 20.4.

  • Yank the Frank

    I tell ya Suyzan, you just can’t predict baseball.

    • BigDavey88

      (Inaudible squawking in reply).

  • Joe West’s Music Career

    Optimism and perspective FTW

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    New York Yankees, second half: 31-24
    Tampa Bay Rays, second half: 32-22

    New York Yankees, August: 16-13
    Tampa Bay Rays, August: 17-12

    New York Yankees, September: 5-5
    Tampa Bay Rays, September: 5-6

    (returns serve)

    • StatBoy

      I think part of why we aren’t noticing this is because we’re used to the Yankees turning it on during this time of year. From August 13th to September 13th the Yankees are 16-12. Since 2002 in that period they’ve put up 20 or more wins 4 times and 18 another time. Their average wins per year from Aug 13 to Sep 13 is ~18 compared to ~11 losses, so they’re playing about a game and a half worse than their “usual” level. If you don’t count 2007 and 2008 when they weren’t leading the division the average is closer to 19-10. It’s not a huge difference but combine that with our most recent memory being a 20-9 mark in 2009 and the frustrating past week and it’s clear why Yankees fans think might think the sky is falling.

      • tom

        We also might note that, for the first time in a decade, we’re fighting a team for the division which doesn’t have a history of fading down the stretch. However the Yanks played from August 1 on, I’ve pretty much always been confident they’d pick up ground on the Red Sox (even in the few years they didn’t catch them, they got closer). Tampa is a new, different sort of opponent. I think the 7 games with them was always going to be decisive as far as the division crown.

        For the record, my take on the past week: losing alot of 1-run games creates depression far in excess of the objective reality. The Yanks will offset that with some close wins just ahead, and realign nearer the Pythagorean projection.

    • Jobu

      Damn it! Why do you have to rub in the fact that the Rays were better in the second half, better in August, and have just as many wins in September. You really like kicking a man when he is down don’t you?

  • Hughesus Christo

    The people crying right now are the same ones who still check Boston box scores every morning.

    • Jobu

      Right you are. When I am feeling sad, nothing cheers me up like a good Boston loss. Then I remind myself that they are not even in the playoff hunt and I just have to smile.

      Better than a standard Boston loss is a Papelbon blown save. The way he turns on the mound and grabs his crotch while a home run sails into the night, priceless.

      • bexarama

        This is all true. I know Boston is basically dead and I don’t really care what they do on a daily basis but I still love when they lose. And I LOOOOOVE when Papelbon blows it spectacularly. That game against Chicago was just… (happy sigh)

        Though nothing cheers me up more than this when I am glum:

        • Ross in Jersey

          Remembering when (bad) Gardner, Ransom, and Molina were our 7/8/9 cheers you up?!

          (Just kidding, that is a nice pic)

          • Jobu

            I’d take a little Hava Molina for the stretch run.

          • bexarama

            “Alex, it’s up to Gardner/Ransom/Molina to get me a win. HOLD ME.”

        • Carcillo

          The Yankees won that game during the 9th inning, with Ransom playing a key role in it (1 out single, scored on Derek Jeter’s RBI single with 2 out).

          I know what your point is, but all I get from that image was one of the ’09 team’s first great late-game victories against a good team in their building.

          • bexarama

            Heeeee. I actually did remember that myself.

    • ChrisS

      You mean that AAA club near Fenway? They still have a team?

  • Steve O.

    Hmmm, so you’re telling me that everything is right in the universe? The sky is blue? The sun is hot? Grass is green? Dirt is brown?

    I don’t know, seems a little suspicious.