The Yankees and Small Ball

The 27-Game Season
How to blow a ten-game lead in 48 days
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

The Yankees have fallen into an unfortunate pattern of late. They aren’t just losing games, they’re losing games in what feels like the same way night after night. They push across a run or two early, the other team then takes the lead, and the Yankees never really bother to get back in it. Maybe I’m just crazy and that hasn’t happened at any time other than last night. Either way, the pitching staff owns a solid 4.04 ERA (4.01 FIP) since the All-Star break but the offense has been unable to pick them up far too often.

“We’ve got start doing some things,” said hitting coach Kevin Long following last night’s game. “We might start having some guys bunt that you don’t normally see bunt. That might have to be the case right now until we get it going … We’re going to talk about that, and we’re going to address some of those things, and we’ll see if we can’t turn it around … We’ll stay at it. We’ll keep battling. I think the biggest concern here is we’ve lost our cushion. We’ve got to turn it around, and we’ve got to turn it around in hurry.”

Long specifically mentioned the third inning of last night’s game as an instance in which they may try a bunt going forward. Derek Jeter (single) and Curtis Granderson (hit-by-pitch) put men on first and second with no outs, but Nick Swisher (strikeout) and Robinson Cano (1-6-3 double play) couldn’t advance them any further. If a similar situation arises tonight, Swisher could be asked to bunt the runners into scoring position so Cano could theoretically drive them in with an out. Easier said then done, obviously.

I think you all know by now that I’m no proponent of the small ball, but I’m strangely okay with the Yankees changing their approach right now. Common sense says that if you’re struggling to score runs, the last thing you want to do is volunteer outs to the defense. That said, it’s quite obvious that whatever the Yankees are doing these days just isn’t working. There are too many black holes at the bottom of the order to keep things status quo. They aren’t changing things up just for the heck of it, this is a club that has scored a whopping 36 runs in their last dozen games, an average of exactly three runs per contest. I don’t care how great your pitching is, no team wins with that kind of offense.

There are three important things the Yankees must keep in mind about this shift to a small ball approach. First of all, they have to be smart about picking their spots. They can’t just blindly bunt whenever they get a man on first with no outs. Early in the game they need to continue to play for multiple runs and make the pitcher work a bit, because taking advantage of a pitcher willing to walk his way into trouble is the best way to generate offense. Not by helping him with a free out before the rally can really get started. Later in a close game, sure, go for the small ball if needed. First time and a half through the order? That can be counterproductive.

(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Secondly, they have to do with the right players. Jeter, Swisher, Granderson, Cano, Mark Teixeira (when healthy), and Alex Rodriguez shouldn’t be bunting. The Cap’n has hit the ball far too well this season to be giving away outs and the other guys are still very capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark at any given moment. I know as well as you that Granderson strikes out a ton, but if he bunts runners over with men on first and second with no outs, I just might lose it. Save the small ball stuff for the guys that are actually automatic outs, the Raul Ibanezes and Andruw Joneses, the Russell Martins and Chris Stewarts, the Ichiros and the Suzukis.

Lastly, this should be a temporary measure. No team bunts and small balls its ways to the World Series, so the Yankees shouldn’t expect that to happen. I can’t even recall the last time a small ball team won the title and the Yankees sure as hell aren’t going to advance through the AL portion of the playoffs one run at a time. They have to get back to mashing the ball like they did earlier this year, but until that happens this is the best possible solution. It shouldn’t last longer than it has to.

There was always a kernel of truth to the “too many homers!” criticism, but it was never expressed correctly. Obviously hitting homers is the best possible team a thing could do, but the Yankees lacked the diversity to score in other ways. Losing Brett Gardner‘s speed exacerbated the problem, as did other injuries that pushed all-or-nothing reserve players like Ibanez and Jones into more prominent roles. Teixeira’s steady decline from a complete hitter into a pure slugger has contributed to this as well. Going to the other extreme and playing small ball isn’t necessarily the solution, but it seems like the best the Yankees can do until they’re able to change some personnel this winter.

Changing things up like this immediately after the division lead is blown reeks of desperation — “It’s not desperation, it’s about playing baseball,” said Long last night — and there’s a decent chance it’s too late for the adjustment to have any meaningful impact. I don’t really believe that but I do acknowledge it’s a possibility. I’ve already advocated playing Chris Dickerson and Eduardo Nunez over some of the guys currently stinking up the bottom of the lineup just to get some live bodies into the game, and at the end of the day a shift to a small ball approach is the same thing. They’re trying something different in an effort to spark the offense. It’s much better than the alternative of just sitting around and waiting for everything to click again.

The 27-Game Season
How to blow a ten-game lead in 48 days
  • Mike HC

    This sounds like a terrible idea. I don’t think it is time to panic. The offense has been in a slump. Just put your head down, keep doing what you have done all year, and trust that the offense will bounce back. There is still a full month left of the season. Just keep playing.

    • Kingslayer

      No team goes into a “slump” for two months.

      • JohnnyC

        Seattle’s been in a slump for 4 years. They trust their offense will get back to 2001 level…any day now.

        • Mike HC


      • Mike HC

        It happens. Overall, Yanks still have one of the top offenses in the AL. Maybe this will light a fire under the team, and the Yanks will go into the playoffs having played meaningful, playoff type games for the last month, and get hot going into the playoffs. Staying the course is the way to go. Trying to play small ball with a homerun hitting team has disaster written all over it.

        • Joltin’ Joe

          That is what I am hoping for, meaningful games that jumpstart the team for the playoffs

    • Mike

      Offense is not in a slump, timely hitting, sure, but that’s been the rule since JoeG became a manager in 2008.

      Most of the runs they score come via the homerun, and as the season grows older, pitchers allow less homeruns (unless you only want to pitch fastballs down the middle like Hughes, Nova and Freddy).

      Yankees have been playing awfully bad all season, the only good month they had was june with a 20-7 record, the rest they are barely over 0.500:

      April 13-9
      May 14-14
      July 13-13
      August 15-13

      It is not a recent slump, that’s been the norm, the Yankees beat NL teams and have not been consistent against AL teams. But JoeG fails to notice that.

  • Kingslayer

    How about we begin using Cervelli behing the plate and get this over the hill Martin out of the lineup altogether!! At least Cervelli brings some enthusiasim and passion into the mix, and he can bunt.

    • stuart a

      MARTIN IS 29, BTW CERVELLI SUCKS UNLESS A bad hitter and fielder means he is good.

      • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

        Holy shit. I agree with stuart a, in a post where he didn’t use multiple periods and a comma. Seriously what the fuck is this site coming to?

        Anyway, stuey boy is right. Cervelli has been terrible all year in AAA AND let’s not forget he threw more balls into centerfield last year than Martin and Stewart have combined to do this year (absolute hyperbole, I don’t have any sort of stats in front of me.) I understand people are getting desperate right now, but playing Cervelli is in no way, shape or form, even close to maybe being a possible answer. He has zero power, a below average throwing arm, has never caught Kuroda outside of spring training, and walks just about as often as Ichiro does. At least Martin has some semblance of power and plate discipline.

        • Kingslayer

          OK so lets stay with a 193 hitter!!

          • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

            better than the guy who struggled to a .246 average in AAA.

      • JohnC

        right now, Cervelli can’t do any worse than Martin

        • AdamC6

          The point about sitting Martin is the same point about bunting, or playing Nunez, or stealing home with four outs……just shake it up and try something different.

          I mean, Cervelli could make the team look worse? How?

        • DC

          Yes Cervelli could do worse. To think otherwise is naive.

      • Kingslayer

        Anything is better tha Martin!!!

  • stuart a

    Tex at the beginning of the year decided I a mwho I am a pull hitter and screw you all. therefore he is a 250 hitter who’s production has decreased significantly from a few years ago when he was at least a 280 hitter… He is a example of the pull happy, go for the fences ineffective offense they have become.. the SS hole is open all the time for Mark but nah, go for the fences. How has thsi strategy worked out? THis team cannot score late, tack on, win with out hitting homers to save there lives… The offense ineptitude right now is at it’s apex but the offense has been bad for quite a while…

    they have 1 keppinger, get the bat on the ball hitter in the lineup and that is Jeter. The rest of the guys all try to hit the ball out of the park….Ichiro does not count since he is just horrible….

    now the hitting coach see’s a problem.DUH……

    • Kosmo

      Despite being an older team NY at full strength is still a better hitting club than either Baltimore or Tampa. The current problem as I see it is NY is getting out-pitched by an excellent Tampa pitching staff and a surging Oriole one. NY has to win a share of 1 run games and this falls into the hands of NYs pitching staff which has outside of Kuroda not been so stellar. If NY can´t hit its way out of a team slump maybe at least NY can pitch its way out.

  • Better off Eddard

    Finally! The problem is we have too many old and slow ballplayers that can’t play small ball. We don’t have Gardner. Joe refuses to play the speedy Nunez. Who’s going to steal a base? ARod? He’s our current leader in SB. Who’s going to bunt? Ibanez? Next year we need to get younger and quicker. This year we’re stuck with what we’ve got and can just hope they hit HRs.

    • JohnnyC

      Not easy to get younger and quicker overnight. That’s the thing with doubling down on veterans all through the roster. If the team makes it into the post-season, that lesson will probably go unheeded by the FO. Groundhog day in 2013…

  • Matt G

    I shudder at the idea of seeing Andruw Jones or Raul Ibanez attempting to bunt runners over. I’m too lazy to check, but I’d be willing to bet neither of them has successfully executed a SH in many a year. Hopefully this small ball idea gets implemented along with your plan to put in some of the younger guys, too.

  • Vinny S.

    At least K-Long acknowledged that the team is basically sitting around waiting for the big homer. That’s been reflected in at-bats where it’s obvious that they’re trying to do just that.

    • JohnnyC

      Didn’t realize Long was actually watching the games. Thought he was too busy helping everyone perfect their home run swings.

      • Tom Morea

        Another excellent observation, Johnny C!

    • Herby

      Yea…and isn’t he the guy who got him to this point…flip, flip,flip. He wants them to pull more than a 13 year old boy.

  • J6takish

    I’d always taken small ball as a way for mangers to justify their existence.”Hey ma, look at me. I’m managing!”

  • Brian C.

    Last small ball team to win the WS–2003 Florida Marlins? PIerre and Castillo at the top of that order.

    • Mike Axisa

      Maybe, but they did have two 30+ HR guys in Lowell and Lee.

    • MC DC

      The 05 White Sox and Torre/Zimmer Yankees played small ball without being small ball teams. Their first win the the 96 playoffs was on a Charlie Hayes sac bunt that Dean Palmer threw away

  • David K.

    A squeeze play every now and then wouldn’t hurt. Remember the squeeze by (I think) it was the Blue Jays. Worked perfectly. Sometimes you just have to do whatever it takes to score the run. My biggest problem with this statement by Kevin Long is why they waited until now to try other stuff. They should have been doing this from day one of this year. It’s a little too late.

    • DC

      As slow as some of the Yankees are, you’d need a 57mph Wakefield knuckleball to run the squeeze.

  • Athenian

    When the hitting coach is now speaking about problems and bunting is a suggested solution, the Grim Reaper is standing on home plate.

    This thread and the previous one do a good job of catering to the nonsensical rhetoric that we as fans hear each night from players and managers, but at the end of the day, what is not being said is that this is a poorly constructed team. A team that appears better on paper than it really is, but a team that masked its shortcomings by having one half show up for a period of time over the season. One part it was the offense, then it was the pitching/defense. Now they are at the point when it all should come together and it turns out it is nothing more than scrap metal lying around and no one knows how to shape it into anything.

    They need (well I think will) to miss the playoffs and force management to consider the large wasteful contracts they felt gained them an advantage while ignoring that they were over paying for declining years. The blueprint just does not work anymore – high on base, high strike out, inability to hit with RISP, power hitters, etc.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    Does Martin come back next year? At one point I felt like he played so badly, that his value would be so low, that they could sign him to another 1 year deal.

    Now, I’m not even sure it’s worth it.

    • JohnnyC

      Given the lack of alternatives, I’m not sure it’s that unlikely for Martin to return in 2013. However, what should end is the sheer idiocy of expecting anything offensively from him. Girardi should’ve been rebuked for batting Martin anywhere near the middle of the order ever.

      • Matt :: Sec110

        I mean, I don’t disagree, but I wonder if you could find a guy who’s basically the same, for less money. He made $7.5 this year, doubt he’ll take a pay cut.

        • JohnnyC

          If Cashman is serious about the payroll, yes, they should look elsewhere. Is he?

          • rek4gehrig

            Get Jorge back for $1 million :-)

        • Herby

          At this point if Romine can show he’s healthy I’d be willing to just throw him in there next year and look for a veteran back-up to help guide him through or take over if he gets injured.

          • JohnnyC

            If he can stay healthy, yes. Girardi loves the kid but I’m not sure Cashman would hand the catching reins to a rookie. He’s still smarting from starting the season with 3/5 of his rotation being Joba, Hughes, and IPK. Maybe he’s never gotten over it.

          • Jose M. Vazquez

            I’m with you on that one.I can’t see why they would bring Martin back. I never used to criticize our players but I cannot help myself this year. Say good bye to Ichiro,Garcia, Martin, Jones, Ibanez, Pearce, McGehee, and others I cnnot recall at this time and stock up on double and tiple A players. They at least are hungry and will provide at least a greater effort. And they are cheaper.

  • Yanks Fan In Sox Land

    This line up has been all or nothing all season. It’s very unfortunate that they’ve been stuck in nothing for this long. With the expanded roster there is an opportunity to get some new blood and hustle on the field. Perhaps mixing some small ball in to keep the opposition honest would help. It seems to me that every pitcher they face has had their number. Last night Ken and sweet Lou were wondering why the Yanks weren’t trying to drive the ball the other way when they had men on base, especially since they were getting a diet of offspeed or pitches away while facing a shift. I am no ball player, never was any good really, but the guys in the line up are proven professionals who should, in theory, be able to make that adjustment. Also, as much as I love Grandy, I’d tell him to lay down a bunt…he has the speed to beat the throw with a defense caught off guard.

    • JohnnyC

      Granderson’s lost a step or even two. Defensively and offensively. He’s 32 and showing it. The lack of SBs are a sign of physical decline not choosing not to run,

      • Tom Morea

        Excellent observation, Johnny C!

    • Jose M. Vazquez

      I saw Mickey Mantle drag a bunt with two strikes many times and beat the throw if any for a hit.

  • Robert

    Old ,Older and oldest thats the problem. These guys can not endure a 162 game season.
    Hopefully they learn the lesson and do not stock up on old vets next year.
    I mean wouldn’t it be better to have Melky Mesa and Z Almonte on the bench next year or would you rather have Raul and Andrew???

    • JohnnyC

      The veteran thing works if Gardner and Nunez play the entire season. That’s a thin line to base a season on. Backing up aging veterans with even older veterans is a dangerous concept.

  • You Get The Horns

    When we get around to doing a post-mortem on the 2012 Yankees, I’m sure many people will point at that 4-game sweep by Oakland as the pivotal moment in the season.

    However, for me it will be that game against Baltimore when the Yanks scored five runs in the bottom of the first inning, and Nova immediately shit the bed and surrendered seven runs in the next half-inning. That, right there, was this season in a microcosm.

  • Better off Eddard

    Jeter – Old
    Swisher – Slow
    Cano – Slow
    A-Rod – Old, slow
    Teixera – Slow
    Ibanez/Jones – Old, slow
    Granderson – Can’t get on base
    Ichiro – Can’t get on base
    Martin – Slow

    There’s our lineup. No speed. Our fastest guy hits .230 and strikes out 1/3rd of the time. He can’t even get on base! Girardi won’t play Nunez. He’s been playing Dickerson over Ichiro and I applaud that move. Dickerson is at least a threat to get on base and steal a bag. When a 37 year old who missed 6 weeks is your leader in SBs you know your whole team is too old and too slow.

    • JohnnyC

      Well, you’re assuming that a smart GM would know 2 things:

      1. Brett Gardner is injury-prone.

      2. Eduardo Nunez is a bad fielder at several positions.

  • Defensive Indifference

    How about this as an alternative strategy to bunting more: suck less.

  • hornblower

    This team was built to score 5 runs a game in whatever fashion. Unfortunately, there have been no 9th inning comebacks and few two out rbi’s. The batting averages of the bench players are exposed when they have to play too often. Unless they start to score more runs things cannot improve. With all the low BA’s it is hard to build runs.
    Get healthy and make a run. That is the best hope.
    By the way, it seems that Ichiro can’t play. It was a good pickup but he really looks bad.

  • UpstateYanks

    I don’t care how they do it…just win

  • rek4gehrig

    “Maybe I’m just crazy and that hasn’t happened at any time other than last night. ”

    Maybe we are all going crazy because all the games (for the last two weeks) have pretty much looked the same to me. The same infuritating things happening over and over and over and over again.

    • goterpsgo


  • JohnC


    NOW WHAT AM I MAD ABOUT???????????

  • rek4gehrig

    “Common sense says that if you’re struggling to score runs, the last thing you want to do is volunteer outs to the defense.”

    True but the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again wishing for a different result.
    Play small ball and try to score 1 run very inning
    By the end of the game you’ve given away some outs but you have scored 9 runs

  • Jose M. Vazquez

    I have noted that every opinion we fans put out, the team does the opposite of what we say. I hear that Hal cares about the fans and what they think. I hope this is true.

  • stuart a

    i take martin back next year at 1 year and $5 mill. I play him and ROmine half the games. If martin wants more years or more money, adios.

    jones, ibanez, stewart, chavez, ans swisher adios.

    gardner will be back, nunez will be backup SS and part time DH, and late inning PR.. if nunez can jsut make the routine plays in the field he has value. try to get anpther bat in a trade.. BTW if they had Montero things would look much differently especially against lefty pitching oops..

    if tex does not become the 280 tex hit him 6th and tell him to get a clue. addition by subtraction. you cannot be scared to play younger players. this team needs more variety offensively. being a power team is fine, but not 1 thru 9. you need at least 2 guys who can move and take pitches..Garnder is 1 of them.

  • AdamC6

    The problem is that the front office has decided that NY demands a 105 win first place team full of veterans who will homer its way into the playoffs every year.
    What does this create for the fans? Everywhere you go you hear how the Yankees “buy all the good players” and “buy the Series”.
    So we’re basically stuck in a “win the Series or it was a failed baseball season” mentality. THAT IS WHAT SUCKS.

    This season is a message: learn patience, use the farm and slowly ease off the payroll.

    When the youth has emerged, then you put the cash pedal to the metal again and find your missing piece or three for a new dynasty.

    I for one would be fine with missing the playoffs. So what… a good, entertaining team that we can enjoy. Why does everyone recall the 1996 team so much? Because we actually cared about those guys. Not much on this team to care about other than Jeter.

    • Hardy

      “When the youth has emerged, then you put the cash pedal to the metal again and find your missing piece or three for a new dynasty.”

      aka the Pirates Plan

  • blake

    Asking the Yankees to play small ball now with a month to go would be about like asking Shaq to become a 3 point threat.

    This lineup was purposely designed to hit homers and walk….they don’t have the personnel to play like the Rays or somebody like that….they don’t make enough contact and they can’t run.

    We have to hope they start walking and hitting homers again because it’s too late now to change what they are.

  • paul a

    ITS TOOOOO………….LATE FOR ANYTHING, Get the shovels out, there are DONE.

    • stanley a

      jeter had a bounce back season……..throw him a parade……

      this team is as dead a doorknob…:..:….:…stick a fork in ’em, their goose is cooked….:…:.::..


  • kevin

    Right now with the way everyone is hitting my lineup until till tex comes back is this

    Jeter- ss
    Swisher- 1b
    Cano- 2b
    A-rod- 3b/dh
    Granderson- CF
    Chavez- dh/3b
    Dickerson- Lf
    Martin- C
    Ichiro- RF (he a Ibanez suck so go with the better d) bench him when tex gets back he’s done

    Jeter- ss
    Swisher- RF
    Cano- 2b
    A-rod- 3b
    Granderson- CF
    Martin- c
    Nunez- Dh
    Jones- Lf
    Nix/ Mcgee- 1b (don’t care which)

    • Athenian

      Only issue is that even when Tex comes back he has been under performing just like everyone else in the line up.

      The issue isn’t having all the players back as much as it is that the players are just awful right now and have shown no signs of figuring out why they are awful.

  • kevin

    With Tex

    Jeter- ss
    Swisher- Rf
    A-rod- 3b/dh
    Cano- 2b
    Tex- 1b
    Granderson- Cf
    Chavez- Dh/3b
    Martin- C
    Dickerson- Lf

    Jeter- ss
    Cano- 2b
    Arod- 3b
    Tex- 1b
    Granderson- Cf
    Swisher- Rf
    Nunez- dh
    Jones- Lf
    Martin- c

  • Timothy

    Great, glad we solved the problem. All we gotta do is BUNT! Perfect. Here’s a good idea, if we get a lead off single lets bunt TWICE no matter who is at the plate. That way the runner will be at 3rd and he can score on a wild pitch! I see us winning the division by 15 games now! If only we thought of it sooner!

  • Hall and Nokes

    “There was always a kernel of truth to the “too many homers!” criticism, but it was never expressed correctly. Obviously hitting homers is the best possible team a thing could do, but the Yankees lacked the diversity to score in other ways.”

    Yeah, there is a kernel of truth to it–the problem is, many of the people who have been pushing that line this year are ESPNtards and former managers who don’t blink when a team bunts in the 2nd inning. There is a middle ground–you can have a team that rallies for runs without homers. The Yanks did it for almost 20 years.

  • jesse

    I remember in 2005 the MSM liked to think that the White Sox were a small ball team. They won the World Series that year but they had two guys (Konerko-40 and Dye-31) who hit 30+ dingers and as a team they hit the fifth most homers in MLB. Also, they were middle-of-the-pack in terms of sac bunting.

    Anyway, I don’t really like the “small ball approach” in general, but if the guys like Ichiro, Martin, and Stewart–who are basically auto-outs these days–bunt then I guess I’m fine with it.

  • Tony

    Interesting that your little inset photo for “The Yankees and Small Ball” is Brett Gardner. Say no more.

    • Yankee in CT

      Well said.

  • Srgt Desmond Wasnaski

    I’m with the folks here who believe the offense is in a slump. 2 months or 2 days- it’s a slump. But I also believe the team has fundamental issues with situation hitting because of personnel and approach factors. What’s worse, slumps and bad fundamentals in September are catastrophic; requiring a team to diversify and adapt. They can’t get runners to 3rd with any regularity and are heavily exposed to strike out pitchers because of a general inability to play an in the park game. Watch that annoyance Madden’s team. They H&R, get the runner over by grounder or by hitting the ball to the gaps. The yanks simply can’t do it. Whether it’s the personnel or management is irrelevant. They simply don’t do it. How about stealing. Was thrilled to see nooney take off the other night. Why no Jeter or Ichiro? What ever happened to Ichiro’s alleged speed? Did the walk across the Safeco rob him of his legs? Again, it’s the approach taken. Loved how madden called a steal 2 batters after the first runner was CS. When was the last time the yanks pulled that off?

    All said…it’s too late to change what we have. We make it or break it with the team we have. I think they make the playoffs but are 1 & done for sure. Note how these last 5 games have that playoff feel? Not just because they’re important games but because the class of pitchers has them playing much like an October game. Minimal offense is the name of the game. Hence the need to diversify.

    Finally…let’s start thinking about retooling what we have for next season. I have a thought about trading Grandy for youth, moving Gardy to CF, picking up a Homer happy OR fleet FA leftfielder (not hard to find) and teaching Nunee to play Right Field. He’s got the legs and the arm to excel. He’ll also be less exposed in an easier RF to play. Worst case, they keep Grandy for ’13, let him strike out 300x, hit 40 HRs (which will start to decline in a long term deal BTW) and immediately become the fastest OF in the league. Then in 14, Mason Williams gets his chance to take over CF or LF as skills present.

    I’ll stop there…what are your thoughts about retooling in 13 and 14?

  • OMG! Bagels!

    shouldn’t they have been talking about it before now?