The Yankees have made a habit out of plugging holes at the trade deadline when their internal options don’t work out, most famously grabbing Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston Jr. to shore up the bench for the 2009 World Series run. This season was no different, as Brian Cashman pulled off a trio of moves on July 31st. Austin Kearns didn’t exactly work out, but the other two moves certainly did…
Once the Nick Johnson experiment failed in glorious fashion, the Yankees spent the better part of the summer searching for a designated hitter. Jorge Posada filled in most of the time, partly due to nagging injuries and partly because Joe Girardi fell head over heels in love with Frankie Cervelli. Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames also chipped in some at DH from time to time, but it was obvious that the team needed a full-time DH going forward.
With the Astros way out of contention, long-time ‘Stro Lance Berkman agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join his buddy Andy Pettitte in New York and have a shot at the World Series. His first 40 plate appearances in pinstripes were largely unimpressive, a .281 wOBA that was reliant more on walks that anything else. Berkman sprained his ankle running out a ground ball in Kansas City and sat out the rest of the month, rejoining the team when the rosters expanded on September 1st.
From that point on, Fat Elvis looked a lot like the guy with four career top five finishes in the NL MVP voting. He hit .299 the rest of the way with a cool .400 on-base percentage, and although there was little (if any) power production, Berkman was reaching base at the terrific rate near the bottom of the lineup. He was then one of the few consistently productive bats in the postseason, driving in two runs in Game Two of the ALDS and replacing the injured Mark Teixeira at first base in the ALCS. All told, Berkman hit .313/.368/.688 (.427 wOBA) in the postseason, and once he came off the disabled list in September he was one of the team’s most productive bats.
It’s hard to believe that when the Yankees acquired Wood, he hadn’t pitched off a big league mound in close to three weeks. He had been on the disabled list with blisters and was activated just in time for the transaction to go through. That was also his second stint on the DL of the year, as he missed the first five weeks of the season with shoulder issues. Wood actually threw more innings for the Yankees (26) than he did for the Indians (20) this year. Thankfully those 26 innings were high quality.
Wood began his Yankee career working various middle relief stints, often recording more than three outs. By the time September rolled around he had pitched his way into that all important eighth inning role, setting up Mariano Rivera for the remained of the regular season plus postseason. The full body of work featured a 10.7 K/9 and just two runs scored in those 26 innings, and in the playoffs he added another eight innings of two run ball. With the season on the line in Game Five of the ALCS, he threw two scoreless inning to bridge the gap between starter CC Sabathia and Mo in the ninth.
As good as Wood was with New York, let’s not kid ourselves, there was some luck involved. His .235 BABIP was about 50 points below his career mark, and his strand rate was a completely unsustainable 98.1%. League average is around 72%. He walked 18 guys in those 26 innings but just one (one!) came around to score. They say it’s better to be lucky than good, especially when it comes to bullpen, so Kerry Wood’s stint in pinstripes gets a A+.
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Both Berkman and Wood were popular players with their previous teams, but they accepted lesser roles with the Yankees and thrived. I thought Berkman was especially impressive; a guy that had spent his entire career hitting in the middle of the Houston’s lineup and was the toast of his hometown, accepting what was essentially a platoon DH role when he could have just stayed home close to his family. The Yankees didn’t reach their ultimate goal this season, but the contributions of Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood are certainly appreciated.