Yankees Trimester Grades Are In

Greetings! When last we met, I was whining about the opulence and inaccessibility of [new] Yankee Stadium, and though it has pained me to be missing-in-action since January, I have been a bit busy with this and that. But enough about me! Let’s get right down to it, shall we?

Amazingly, we have already reached the one-third mark of the 2012 season – it seems like just yesterday that Michael Pineda was being touted as an ace-in-waiting – and your New York Yankees (30-24) are just 1/2 game back of the AL East Division leading Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. Wait a second, it is June and the O’s are in first place? Yup, that Showalter-remakes-franchise-gets-fired-and-team-wins-World-Series-in-subsequent-season plan is right on track!

Despite an uneven start to the ’12 campaign, at best, things are certainly looking up of late for the Bombers, who are 7-3 over their last ten games. The Yankees are also an encouraging (and division-leading) +30 in run differential and their offense, though clearly not yet firing on all cylinders, has improved to 8th in Major League Baseball in runs scored (256), 4th in OBP (.338) and 3rd in SLG (.456). The Yankee pitching staff has also failed to meet expectations, but the degree of disappointment is markedly greater. New York pitching ranks 25th of 30 in batting average allowed and quality starts, 28th in home runs and total bases allowed and their team ERA (3.99) is good for just 16th in all of baseball.

All in all, things could be a lot worse for New York given the club’s proclivity for ineptitude when hitting with runners in scoring position (.220, 27th-worst in the Majors). They have also sustained numerous injuries to key personnel, but simply put, when a franchise has as much depth and as many resources as do the Yankees, they need their best players – their most well-compensated, too – to produce with greater consistency.

And now, the grades:

THE BATS

MARK TEIXEIRA:

(.247 AVG | 9 HR | 32 RBI | .313 OBP | 25 SO | 1.000 FPCT)

When it comes to the 32-year-old Teixeira, the legacy of his Yankee tenure will always be colored by the 2009 World Championship. He remains a premier defender, a tireless worker and a clubhouse leader, but there is no denying that the progression, or lack thereof, of his offense is alarming, to say the least. Mark’s OBP has declined steady since his 2009 Bronx-arrival, and this season he’s getting on base almost 18% less often than he has during his career. Sure, he’s striking out less (he’s on pace for just 78 whiffs, which would be his lowest full season total ever), but he simply just doesn’t take walks anymore. His .762 OPS is anemic. And when it comes to hitting away from the defensive shift deployed by every opposing manager, Teixeira is positively maddening in his approach. Yes, the Yankees can live with a 1B giving them league-average offensive production – and stellar glove-work; he hasn’t made an error this season – but that is not what Teix was brought here for. He was brought here to be a run-producer and middle-of-the-order cog.

ROBINSON CANO:

(.290 AVG | 60 H | 8 HR | 24 RBI | 19 2B | .840 OPS )

Apparently Cano really likes him some month of May. The Yankee second baseman certainly flowered (.312, 7HR, 19 RBI, .970 OPS) after a lackluster April that had some wondering if he’d found a replacement for Melky Cabrera to join him in da club. Look, what can you really say about Robbie that isn’t obvious to anyone who watches him with regularity? The man is a singular talent, capable of greatness in every fielding opportunity and during every at-bat. What remains lacking in his game, however, is that degree of absolute care and focus throughout all 9 innings. There are ABs that make you scratch your head – especially the situational ones, or ones where he bails a pitcher out – and call into question whether Cano’s ceiling will ultimately be limited by what resides between his ears. Still, if you’re biggest problem is being better than 99% of your contemporaries while seemingly exerting just 75% of your effort, I guess you’re doing okay in life.

DEREK JETER:

(52 GS | .336 AVG | 75 H | 6 HR | 5 SB | 19 2B | .846 OPS)

“I’ll have what he’s having!” Admittedly, during the first half of last season, I thought Derek Jeter was done. I thought that the Yankees had foolishly negotiated against themselves during that acrimonious contract squabble and that both sides would regret the deal. I thought that to give a 96-year-old shortstop with diminishing skills a three year contract (with a player option for a fourth) was borderline insane and mostly unjustifiable from a baseball standpoint. Well, I guess I was wrong. Quite simply, the man is cyborg, living tissue over metal endoskeleton. He is on pace for 225 hits this season, which would set a new career-high, and though he doesn’t get to as many balls at SS as he used to, you just feel secure knowing he’s out there. Sure, there may still be some that are opposed to men wearing a Jeter jersey on account of all that matinee idol business, but whatever, I just ordered mine. In pink.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ:

(.279 AVG | 9 HR | 22 RBI | 6 SB, 0 CS | 46 SO | .806 OPS)

If I would have told you that ARod would hit .314 for a month and only tally 8 RBI over the same stretch, you would have told me that I was crazy, right? Well, that was the new Mr. May’s recent production, and as we watch this once epic talent slide further and further into an abyss of mediocrity, I can’t help but wonder if he might retire (2015?) before his ridiculous contract ends in order to save himself the embarrassment of lacing ‘em up for a fan base that won’t hesitate to let him know how overpaid he is. His OPS has been falling steadily for years, but nowadays there is but an occasional display of the ability that propelled him to GOAT-debate-status. And yes, I get that he’s an above average defender and a student of the game who virtually always makes the right decisions on the field, but he’s on pace for a career-high 144 SOs, and it won’t be long before the “he has to cheat now to make up for lost bat speed” talks becomes pervasive. The Yankees don’t need Alex to be what he was – lord knows they can absorb his meager salary-to-production ratio – but they do need him to be more than marginally better than average.

NICK SWISHER:

(.249 AVG | 8 HR | 34 RBI | .310 OBP | 16 BB | 42 SO)

Swisher has been close to a true-three-outcome player (HR, BB or SO) for most of his career, but this season has been an extremely odd one for the Yankee right fielder in that his ability or willingness to take a walk has seemingly evaporated overnight. On pace for just 48 bases-on-balls, Swish’s OPS is suffering mightily as a result (.759 in 2012 versus .824 for his career). As a right-handed hitter, Nick has been positively dreadful, hitting just .191 over 47 ABs, which is surprising when you consider that he had produced a .288/.417/.888 triple slash rate from the right side from 2099-2011. This is the final year of Swisher’s contract – the Yankees exercised their club option for $10.25M for 2012 – and it is anyone’s guess whether he will be back next season, but he will be 32-years-old this November and surely will seek that last big money contract. The stats tell me that Swisher is not a top-50 Major League outfielder (at least thus far this season), but perhaps brighter days lie ahead.

CURTIS GRANDERSON:

(.259 AVG | 17 HR | 39 R | 33 RBI | .542 SLG | 62 SO)

There was a once a time when a great many baseball writers – some of whom are my colleagues here at RAB – said that the Yankees erred by acquiring Granderson. They said he couldn’t hit lefty-pitching (he can, he’s actually been better against lefties this year), they said he struck out too much (he does, but his power makes up for it) and they said he wasn’t patient enough (he is, he’s on pace for a career-best 90 walks). Seriously, has Yankee GM Brian Cashman made a better trade during his Bronx-tenure than the one he made for Granderson? In fact, where would the Yankees be without their reliable center fielder? They’d be trailing the Red Sox in the AL East cellar, that’s where.

BRETT GARDNER:

(28 AB)

That damned Gardner! If only he would have taken better care of his elbow. (In fairness, I am unable to chose INC as part of this ultra-sophisticated grading system.) Okay, okay, so Brett has been injured all season, having played in just nine games and amassing just 28 at-bats. Word on the street is that he is close to returning to the club – he went 0-for-5 in an extended spring training game yesterday. The Yankee left fielder’s return will be a welcome one for the Bombers, who never expected to have to rely so heavily on on their bench players to fill the void. One can only assume that Gardner’s presence, particularly his disruptive presence on the base paths, will be beneficial to the lineup’s ability to produce with RISP.

RAÚL IBAÑEZ:

(43 GP | .252 AVG | 9 HR | 33 RBI | .510 SLG | 1.000 FPCT)

Much like Jerry Seinfield once posited on salsa, I think people just like to say Ibañez. In fact, The Most Interesting Man in the World’s first word was Ibañez (he was 4-minutes-old, true story). When the Yankees signed Ibañez, I really wondered what they were thinking given that the journeyman outfielder/DH would not be allowed to sport his trademark soul patch, which everyone knew had been the source of his power. Facial hair aside, he has been a revelation for New York, especially in light of Gardner’s injury and the need for him to play virtually everyday. Originally brought in to platoon with Andruw Jones at the DH-slot, Ibañez has been one of the rare bright spots on a roster mostly devoid of big hits thus far this season, as evidenced by those 9 HR in 149 ABs.

RUSSELL MARTIN:

(.211 AVG | 5 HR | 16 RBI | 28:25 K:H | 22 SBA, 7 CS | 4 PB)

Meh.

THE STARTERS

C.C. SABATHIA:

(7-2 | 78.1 IP | 3.68 ERA | 1.24 WHIP | 74 K | .246 BAA)

Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel like I am wanting more from Sabathia. Even when he’s winning 20 games a season, you rarely get the sense that he is dominating out there. Yes, he’s undoubtedly a top-20 starter in terms of production, and he always keeps the Yankees in games, even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, but Sabathia largely mirrors the Yankees as a whole in that he dominates the teams he is supposed to, but is fairly inconsistent against top-notch opposition. From 2009 to 2011, Sabathia’s ERA versus Boston (4.27), Texas (4.26) and DET (3.95) contrast unfavorably with his work against BAL (2.99), KC (2.38) and SEA (1.75). Look, no one wouldn’t be happy to have the Big Fella leading their staff, but for what New York is paying him – and what he pulled with the opt-out – more is expected.

HIROKI KURODA:

(4-6 | 68.1 IP | 3.82 ERA | 1.35 WHIP | 41 K | 22 BB | .269 BAA)

Hiroki Kuroda can be a really good pitcher sometimes. Hiroki Kuroda can also be a really bad pitcher sometimes, too. And therein lies the problem. Over his last ten starts, he has held the opposition to 3 runs or less eight times, which is pretty remarkable for a guy who is pitching in the American League for the first time in his career. Then again, in those other two starts, he gave up 13 runs and looked fairly over-matched in the process. Kuroda can definitely win 15 games for the Yankees, and it is obvious watching him that he has a mastery over a veritable arsenal of weapons at his disposal. What we don’t know is how a guy like Kuroda will fare during the playoffs – should the Yankees qualify for the postseason – since he has only three career postseason starts.

ANDY PETTITTE:

(3-2 | 2.78 ERA | 1.01 WHIP | .225 BAA | 7:32 BB:K)

I don’t know if Pettitte “misremembered” how old he is, but oh, my! Not only is Andy pitching like he never took a year off, somehow, inexplicably, he is pitching better than he has at any point since his 2005 campaign in Houston when he put up a 2.39 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Sure, he was snorting human growth hormone off Roger Clemens’ butt cheeks back then, but still, this is unprecedented stuff from #46 right now. It is highly unlikely that Pettitte can maintain this degree of excellence all season, but even with a regression, his steady presence and veteran leadership cannot be diminished. It would be wise for Girardi to monitor Pettitte’s innings so that the lefty remains healthy, but if Andy can keep mixing up his pitches as effectively as he has thus far, there is no reason why he cannot win more often that he loses as well as maintain solid peripherals along the way.

PHIL HUGHES:

(5-5 | 61.2 IP | 4.96 ERA | 1.35 WHIP | 57 K | .268 BAA)

Back when Hughes was rumored to be the centerpiece of a proposed deal with Twins in exchange for Johan Santana, I swore to anyone who would listen that I was prepared to renounce my loyalty to the franchise if the deal was consummated. Never in my lifetime had a [potential] homegrown-ace actually been on the cusp of promotion to the Majors – O Brien Taylor, Where Art Thou – and I was steadfast, having seen Hughes pitch in the minors, that he must be deemed untouchable. And when his 2007 no-hit bid against the Rangers at Arlington was broken up by a pulled hamstring, I felt vindicated by my feelings about the then can’t miss prospect. But oh, how times have changed. While Phil has been better of late, he has given up 13 HRs already this season and he doesn’t miss many bats when he has two strikes on hitters. Hughes will never be the guy I thought he was, but if he can keep the ball in the park, he has a decent chance to help fulfill to the Yankees’ playoff aspirations.

IVAN NOVA:

(6-2 | 62.2 IP | 5.60 ERA | 1.58 WHIP | 79 H | 13 HR | .313 BAA)

What a weird season “Supernova” is having. On one hand, he’s striking guys out with greater frequency than he did during his rookie season, but he also allowing an inordinate number of hits (many of them of the long-ball-variety), especially in crucial game situations. Sophomore slumps are one thing, and it certainly doesn’t appear to be the stuff, but perhaps this is a case of early career success breeding complacency and a lack of focus. The Yankees rarely suffer fools for any length of time, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nova sent down to AAA if he doesn’t quickly show signs of improvement. The tools are there, the moxie is there, but unless something is going on off the field that we don’t know about, there is simply no justification for his performance other than growing pains.

THE PEN

RAFAEL SORIANO:

(7 S | 1.89 ERA |1.89 WHIP)

When the Yankees Randy Levine signed Soriano to that outrageous contract to be a setup man, who woulda thunk we would later see the great Mariano Rivera sidelined by a wrecked knee and his protege, David Robertson, disabled by a sore ribcage? So now Soriano, previously a very accomplished closer in his own right, has been thrust back into the stopper role, and despite far too many walks per inning pitched, and he’s done a fine job for the Bombers. It is fair to wonder why Soriano couldn’t be this effective as a setup man, but in fairness to him, he did say all along that he was much more comfortable closing. Don’t be surprised if Soriano parlays a solid 2012 closing gig into a new contract, too; hopefully with another club as D-Rob is Mo’s organizational heir-apparent, anyway.

DAVID ROBERTSON:

(14.1 IP |2.51 ERA | 1.19 ERA| 24 K)

Anointed by Joe Girardi as Mariano’s successor following the latter’s season-ending injury, Robertson was enjoying a fine start to the 2012 season before being sidelined by a nagging injury of his own. There is no doubt that he can handle the closing role, but I would have preferred to see Soriano get first crack at the job, mostly because following in Rivera’s footsteps is something of a can’t-win proposition. D-Rob is expected back from the disabled list in just over a week, and the formidable Yankee bullpen will become that much more difficult for the opposition to contend with. One thing to keep an eye on: Robertson (sample size notwithstanding) had seemed to improve on keeping men from reaching base against him in the early going, which was really his only bugaboo in 2011.

THE REST:

The Yankees’ bullpen-ERA is 2.78, 5th-best in the Majors. Sweet! Also, the law firm Logan, Wade, Phelps and Rapada, LLC has hired Moshe Mandel as a litigation associate, so there’s that.

THE BENCH

ANDRUW JONES:

(.230 AVG | 5 HR in 73 ABs | 11 RBI)

Remember those California Raisin claymation commercials back in the eighties? Yeah, that’s what I think of every time I see Andruw’s permi-smile saunter to the plate, too.

THE REST:

Is it wrong of me to hope that ARod decides to go backpacking in Europe for a month or two so that Eric Chavez can play everyday? Yeah, his body probably wouldn’t hold up, but whatever, man-crush or not, I just like watching him hit.

MANAGEMENT

JOE GIRARDI:

If we are to judge Joltin’ Joe Girardio solely on the team’s record, he’d probably be in danger of flunking given the team’s payroll. But the standings don’t tell the whole story, as Girardi has steered the ship through injury-plagued waters in spite of a lineup that has largely failed to play to the back of its collective baseball cards. With Joe, what you see is what you get: a mind-numbing reliance on the numbers and an uncanny feel for how to manage a bullpen. That Girardi seems to have taken a page out of Tom Coughlin’s chill-the-f*ck-out book in recent years speaks volumes about his adaptability and his understanding of what a manager in this town must do to avoid being caught in the media’s or the fans’ cross-hairs. It’s all about the pitching, stupid; we know this, but if the lineup does it part – and recent signs suggest they will – Girardi will once again lead the Pinstripes to the postseason, and his job will remain secure.

BRIAN CASHMAN:

In truth, C.R.E.A.M.’s off-season blueprint didn’t go exactly according to plan, now did it? What with the loss of Mariano to KC’s warning track lip, the loss of Joba Chamberlain to Tampa’s finest tramps (the jumping kind, not the Daryl Strawberry late-night kind) and the aforementioned Pineda’s wrecked pitching shoulder, most other GMs would have closed up shop already. Obviously Ibañez has been a coup, but the jury is still out on Kuroda and it is fair to question why Cashman did not pursue Carlos Beltran, who (again) wanted to be a Yankee in the off-season. Many have also lamented the incredible success of Melky Cabrera for the San Francisco Giants, but the Yankees had determined that they were committed to Gardner well before Melky was traded to Atlanta for Javier Vazquez 2.0.

This Yankee team has some legitimate questions – namely the depth of its starting pitching and outfield – so it will be interesting to see what Mr. Stealthmode himself pursues on the trade market as July rapidly approaches. One thing is for certain: never assume anything with Cashman. He has proven time and time again that he will not hesitate to make the moves that no one saw coming, and generally, he has hit more than he has missed.

Agree? Disagree? That’s what the comments section is for. Have at it, Hosses and Hossettes!

***

Follow me, @BronXoo on Twitter, or else!

Un-Occupy Yankee Stadium

Another off-season, another winter-in-stealth for Brian Cashman.

Amazingly, this time the Yankee GM’s intentions were so cleverly shrouded, even prying eyes were thrown off the scent. The surprising additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki “Don’t Call Me Karaoke” Kuroda have undoubtedly solidified what was an extremely suspect Yankee rotation, but in the process, the moves also inadvertently reignited my long-simmering internal debate over what it means to be a Yankee fan.

Allow me to explain.

The funny thing about political movements is that they sometimes affect bystanders in ways their founders never expected. The Boston Tea Party started out – I think – as a symbolic protest against chai tea lattés, and ended up as a precursor to the American Revolution. The present-day Tea Party exists to restore our “freedoms” – whatever that means – but somewhere along the way it has morphed into a caricature of itself. Now, we have Occupy [Location Anywhere], an ideology best known to date for its way-too-public bowel movements. Yet despite the inherently unattractive nature of anything political, OWS has been successful insofar as it has encouraged widespread debate over the status quo.

Which brings us to my dirty little secret: I am a lifelong New York Yankee fan whose loyalty may be waning.

Make no mistake: I am was the genuine article. Born and raised in the Bronx – like my parents before me – the Bombers are literally my hometown team. I grew up learning about baseball in the shadow of the elevated 4-train on Jerome Ave., where my father owned and operated a sporting goods store for almost 25 years. Everyone had an opinion about the Yankees in those days, too; whether it was the NYPD beat cop (who wasn’t patrolling, exactly), the sanitation guy (who swore Dallas Green was a communist), or the Albanians manning the pizzeria next door. There were no such things as OBP, fWAR, or strand rate – at least, not that we had ever heard of. Like politics, baseball, too, was simpler back then.

My mom was also a diehard. She sat in the old Yankee Stadium right field bleachers on October 1, 1961, when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season HR record. My grandfather took her to the ballpark that day, and though he’s been gone for a decade, I fondly recall him lamenting that he wasn’t just an inch or two taller, lest that historic ball would have been his.

2009 was my last year as a season ticket holder, but I have attended countless games in my life, both at home and on the road. I saw Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield play together. I repeatedly shook my head during Greg Maddux’s 84-pitch three-hitter that felt like it took less than an hour to complete. I stared, mouth agape, when the hardest ball I’ve ever seen hit was blasted by Jim Thome off an incredulous David Cone in Game 6 of the 1998 ALCS. I feared for my safety when David Justice took the immortal Arthur Rhodes deep in Game 6 of 2000 ALCS and the old Stadium literally shook beneath my feet. I taunted Mets fans on the way out of Shea after the World Series Game 5 clincher that same year.  I saw (and heard) Josh Hamilton put on the greatest display of power ever witnessed during the 2008 Home Run Derby. I attended the first exhibition game ever played in the new place.  I was there for the first regular-season game ever played there, too. And I lost my voice cheering as Mariano Rivera locked down Game 6 of the World Series against the Phillies in 2009. Oh, and I write for this site – though not nearly as often or as well as my colleagues – so I feel somewhat entitled to espouse my views. But really, it’s not about me so much as it is about the franchise itself.

In fairness, the club and its owners have generously delivered seven World Championships in my lifetime. And counting. As far as professional sports teams go, the Pinstripes are the crème de la crème, the best of the best, they’re as good as it gets. It’s been said before, but the Yankees really are are the one-percent.

And therein lies the problem.

The organization’s pinstriped-mantra decries anything short of a championship as an abject failure. It is a proclamation that stirs emotions and sells ticket-packages based on the Steinbrenners’ commitment to perennially field a competitive stacked product. But the edict also breeds an atmosphere where cash is king, and the opportunity to be a Yankee fan has become more privilege than right.

Maybe it’s because I have my own son now, or maybe it’s because these times require each of us to engage in a certain degree of frugality, but I’ve run out of reasons excuses to defend the Bombers’ excesses. There was a time when I could easily parry attacks over the Yankee-payroll or the club’s ubiquitous involvement in the signing of and/or trade for every available player. I once justified my team’s muscular roster with bulletproof one-liners like “the Yankees are good for the game” or “large market teams are entitled to their large market payrolls.” Now, more often than not, I wonder “how much is enough?”

I can’t be the only one who feels this way, either. Something has changed at the intersection of River Ave. and 161st. St., and it’s not just the newly-minted billion-dollar cathedral that I’m talking about – although that’s a big part of it.

According to last year’s Forbes valuation, the Yankees generated $325 million in revenue from regular-season tickets and luxury suites in 2010 alone. The wildly successful YES Network, now a seminal blueprint for every other team, bolstered that take with over $400 million. Sure, the team carries significant debt in connection with the stadium’s construction, but when you factor in corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing revenue from MLB.com and apparel sales, the Yankees are literally swimming in cashish.

Please understand; I don’t begrudge capitalism. Baseball is a business now — there’s no going back — and the powers that be are simply charging what the market will bear. Sadly, that market is alienating the very people who made going to the Stadium an irreplaceable experience. Just because the Yankees inject a significant percentage of their profit into the roster, that shouldn’t mean that Delta-Suites-this and Audi-Club-that is any more vital to the franchise than the “real” fan. Would you believe that during last year’s ALDS against the Detroit Tigers, I was actually told to sit down with two strikes on an opposing hitter during an elimination game. Shirley, you can’t be serious?!

So forgive me for evaluating my loyalties, but maybe the place where I grew up on baseball is already gone. And consider giving me a pass for conflating the issues, but the rise of the Yankee “Empire” and the deterioration of my nostalgia is interconnected.

As far as the here and now, Cashman had to deal a homegrown impact-bat in Jesus Montero because the starting rotation lacked any semblance of depth. This, despite the conventional-wisdom that the farm system is purportedly flush with talented arms. And why? Because those high-ceiling pitchers are not yet Major League ready, and god forbid the franchise scuffles a bit every fifth year or so. There is no margin for error, no room for debate, and no excuse for failure. I get it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, and it certainly doesn’t make it right (for the record, I think Michael Pineda will do very well here).

In the end, we are left with impossible-to-meet expectations, extraordinary team-spending and increasingly disproportionate fan-pricing. Yankee fans have become accustomed to spoiled by winning, so much so that waiting on young talent is a virtual Yankee-impossibility. But in this win-at-all-costs world, when, exactly, will I again get to root for an underdog team? How about a scrappy one? Will I ever again see the kind of serendipity and karma that so gloriously enshrouded the 1996 Yankees? And even if it does – kinda-sorta like it did in 2009 – will I even care?

Despite my introspection, there is probably “99%” of me that still bleeds pinstripes. I just hope that when the day arrives for me to bring my boy to the House That A-Rod Built, the sushi is fresh.

***

For those who may not be aware, I am extremely fortunate to now be covering the New York Knicks for The Journal News. You can read my work here, and I would be honored to earn your Twitter follow (@LoHudKnicks) as well. If you despise basketball, you can still get your snark on with a more well-rounded version me, @BronXoo.

Special thanks to Jonah Kaner, aka @TheKnicksWall, for the fantastic OYS graphic above.

Cashman’s Offseason Blueprint Revealed

RIVER AVENUE BLUES EXCLUSIVE!

Late last night we acquired copies of New York Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman‘s private and confidential 2011-’12 offseason plan. The content of these highly-sensitive documents have never made public before now. Many Bothans died to bring us this information.

(click images to enlarge)

As you can plainly see, Cashman has a solid plan in place, and if he’s successful in its execution, the Yankees seem likely to win at least 145 games in 2012. In fairness, I don’t give this blueprint better than a 25% chance of happening, but if confirmation was ever needed on just how wily Cashman is, mission accomplished. He can plan my castle onslaught any day.

Oh, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, every 10th follower wins an iPad!

Looking Back. Looking Forward.

Every other week, Jamie O’Grady channels the 2005-version of Michael Kay by “Looking Back. Looking Forward.to get you caught up on what just was, and what soon will be with the New York Yankees.

LOOKING BACK: So what did you miss?

By now you’ve probably seen or read the accounts of Major League Baseball’s Game 162-madness on Wednesday night. With each League’s Wild Card up for grabs – and four teams (Boston, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Atlanta) vying for the two remaining postseason slots – a confluence of improbability, fate and justice occurred, the likes of which none of us are likely to again witness in our lifetimes.

Which got me to (gasp) thinking…

For some time now, we’ve been hearing that the National Football League has usurped MLB as the most popular sport in the land. The numbers back it up, too, as last year was the first time that a prime time World Series game failed to draw as many viewers as an NFL game being broadcast concurrently. Heck, even I was watching the Saints beat the Steelers on Monday Night Football instead of the 2010 Fall Classic. In fairness, the 2009 Yankees-Phillies match-up did beat MNF head-to-head just one year earlier, but the overall trend is indisputable and likely irreversible. Or is it?

There is simply no way that the NFL (and it’s wimpy 16-game schedule) is able to replicate what can happen at the end of MLB’s six-month regular season. Wednesday’s penultimate games had it all: comebacks with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning(s); players once buried on the bench, or better yet, just called up from the minors, making the unlikeliest of heroic contributions; and season’s fates hinging and turning on seemingly innocuous base-running blunders and pitching substitutions. It was all on display.

In a 15-minute span late Wednesday night, a virtually infinite amount of 2011 pitches, swings and managerial moves came to a head in one glorious and riveting crescendo. These games served as irrefutable evidence that Major League Baseball remains both viable and formidable, and I encourage everyone to stop comparing and contrasting America’s pastime with its worthy pigskin-obsession. Both are amazing, in very different ways.

Besides, football could never have produced a fantasy outcome like this one (achieved by my 12th-year keeper squad on the last day of the season):

What we learned:

9/16 – 9/18 @ TOR I could tease Blue Jays fans about another hapless campaign by their franchise, but I’d actually have to find a Blue Jays fan first. Surely, that would be a fruitless exercise, but this Toronto season-postmortem by Bruce Arthur is a must-read for any baseball fan. On a personal note, I’d like to wish Brandon Morrow – he of the 11-11 record, 4.72 ERA and incongruous 10.2 k/9 – a joyous off-season. Despite his best efforts to repeatedly submarine my fantasy team, I emerged victorious nonetheless. Also, nice job by 1996 Cy Young Award thief winner, Pat Hentgen, as bullpen coach for the Blue Jays this year; he showed great poise in using the bullpen phone. Oh, and Cy Young runner-up Andy Pettitte? Busy somewhere in the greater Houston area, misremembering to count his $125,332,416 in career earnings. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3) (Actual: NYY lose 2-of-3)

9/19 v. MINWay back in 2006 – I still had thick, lustrous hair back then – I wrote on MLB.com that fantasy owners should say more yes on Morneau. Sadly, it might soon be time for the Twins to say “no mas” on the former AL-MVP, whose 2011 season was somehow worse than his lost 2010 campaign was. Look, concussions are no laughing matter – unless you’re Gary Busey – but when you hit four home runs in 264 at-bats, it’s something of a red-flag for management. I like Morneau, and Canadian-born ballplayers sure are awesome, eh, but small-market teams like Minnesota can’t afford to swing-and-miss on big-ticket items. A free agent after the 2013 season, Morneau’s days with the Twins may be numbered. (Prediction: NYY win makeup game) (Actual: NYY win makeup game)

9/20 – 9/22 v. TAMIf there’s one thing you can predict in baseball (and there really isn’t, Suzyn), it is that doubleheaders can never, ever be swept. And so the when the Yankees clinched the AL East by winning two games in one day, it was yet another sign that the Apocalypse is nigh. By the way, you might recall that in my last piece, I advised you to keep an eye on young Tampa whipper-snapper, Matt Moore. Well, I probably should have told you to keep both of your eyes on him. 11 Ks in five innings in his first Major League start? That’s almost Strasbergian. Should be awesome watching him confound New York for the next six years until we buy him. (Prediction: NYY split 4-game series) (Actual: NYY win 3-of-4)

9/23 – 9/25 v. BOSEarly this morning came word from Ken Rosenthal that Terry Francona will not be retained by the Red Sox. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Clay Buchholz didn’t throw a pitch after June 16. Kevin Youkilis compiled 40 at-bats after August 17. John Lackey had the worst statistical season by a Red Sox pitcher in franchise history. Carl Crawford signed a 7-year, $142m contract to impersonate a 37-year-old Johnny Damon. Tim Wakefield started 23 games. David Ortiz totaled one home run and eight RBI during the month of September. Yeah, like I said, that makes a lot of sense. Don’t get me wrong, Boston endured an epic meltdown this season, and Francona’s lack of leadership didn’t help matters, but you can’t just part ways with the guy that brought you two World Championships after a century of futility. It’s just too bad Ozzie Guillen decided to go to the Florida Miami Marlins. Just imagine the post-game press conferences that coulda been. Hilarity would have ensued. (Prediction: NYY lose 2-of-3) (Actual: NYY win 2-of-3)

9/26 – 9/28 @ TAMAnd speaking of the Red Sox, I don’t want to hear any complaining about Joe Girardi‘s management of the team during this series, as the great Harvey Araton of the New York Times wondered on Thursday. You see, the Yankees achieved this little thing called “winning their division,” but by doing so, afforded themselves the luxury of resting key veteran players and aligning their pitching staff as they saw fit. Make no mistake, the Yankees played these games to win, even if their A-lineup wasn’t present for all three games. Boston has no one to blame but themselves, and maybe Mark Wahlberg, who the universe seems hellbent on blessing with every success possible. So take that, Marky Mark, Ben Affleck, et. al. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3) (Actual: NYY get swept)

LOOKING FORWARD: What can’t you miss?

Well, duh, there’s a baseball game scheduled for tonight at the big ballpark in the Bronx. If you’re so inclined, tickets can still be had via StubHub for as little as $60.00. Sure, you’ll need binoculars to spot little Brett Gardner, but at least you’ll be in the building.

What we expect to learn:

Folks a lot smarter than me have got the ALDS preview thoroughly covered here at RAB, so I’ll be brief:

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that beating the Tigers starts and ends with beating Justin Verlander. Sure, the Yankee staff must pay close attention to both Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez – .374, 10 home runs in just 107 at-bats and 17 career-homers, respectively, against New York), and Doug Fister (he barely knew her!) has been pitching like Tom Seaver of late (8-1, 1.79 ERA since being acquired by the Tigers mid-season), but the prohibitive Cy Young Award favorite and likely MVP-winning Verlander is the key chess piece for Detroit.

Amazingly, the fearsome Yankee lineup fared quite well versus the Tiger-ace in 2011, as Verlander compiled a mortal 4.50 ERA in two starts, both no-decisions. Additionally, New York worked 8 walks in 12 innings against the righty, a formula they’ll need to repeat in the ALDS in order to get his pitch-count up as quickly as possible.

Oh, by the way, the Yankees have their own ace, CC Sabathia, but there are red flags abound. If Sabathia’s 2.64 September strikeout/walk ratio and career 4.66 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in the postseason weren’t enough to make you worry, he’s also sporting a no-so-nifty 4.54 career-ERA and 15-12 career-record against Detroit.

In the end, I suspect the ghosts will be joined by mystique and aura once again during the ALDS, and the Yankee lineup will bail out their suspect starting pitching. Combine their offense with David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, and there’s reason to believe.

Having already proven myself inept in the prediction business, there’s no reason to stop now.

YANKEES IN FIVE

And that’s all she wrote. I’ll see you back here throughout the playoffs, unless you follow me on Twitter, in which case I’ll see you every five seconds or so.

Looking Back. Looking Forward.

Every other week, Jamie O’Grady channels the 2005-version of Michael Kay by “Looking Back. Looking Forward.to get you caught up on what just was, and what soon will be with the New York Yankees.

LOOKING BACK: So what did you miss?

One of my favorite movies of all-time is undoubtedly Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day.” In the moviefilm, an immortal Phil Connors – slowly realizing that he’s reliving the same day over and over – advises the innkeeper that the “chance of departure is around 80%…75-80.”

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with a supposedly Yankee-centric column, but there’s an obvious connection here to the total disaster which is Mr. Allen James Burnett. We already know that watching AJ pitch feels like deja vu all over again, yet despite only marginally improved results of late, the likelihood that Burnett is kept off the postseason roster feels much like Connors’ chances of leaving Punxsutawney without running into Ned Ryerson. Not. Gonna. Happen.

Wanna put the oft-ridiculed Yankee hurler’s 2011 statistics into some perspective? Check out this most recent 16-start sample size:

You don’t have to be John Sterling to recognize Starter B; he’s the aforementioned AJ Burnett. Player A? None other than Javier Vazquez. Yes, that Javier Vazquez. Really, is there any greater insult than being told “Dude, your ERA is like 4 runs higher than Javy Vazquez‘s, Bruh!” (UPDATE: Cy Vaz tossed a 5-hit shutout Friday night)

And no, despite my Burnetterrific frustration, I’m not planning on bathing with my toaster oven anytime soon.

Where in the world is Alex Rodriguez? Since returning from the disabled list on August 21, ARod has compiled just 36 at-bats (with two home runs), putting an exclamation point on his injury-riddled and disappointing 2011 campaign. Surely, $25m+ doesn’t go as far as it used to, what with the economy and all, but come on.

He’s allegedly still battling the worst jammed thumb in history, and his impending return to the lineup tonight – though welcome – doesn’t leave a ton of games for him to get his act together for the postseason.

Seriously, does anyone remember the ARod who closed April on pace for .290/41/146 this season? Yeah, neither does Cameron Diaz, apparently. I’m not judging, by the way. Perhaps ditching that insanely hot “distraction” will pay immediate Jeterian dividends.

Oh, some guy named Mariano crossed the 600-save threshold. And some guy named Jesus saved the franchise. We all just better pray that Joe Girardi doesn’t ask Montero to sacrifice himself. The worldwide religious implications are enough to make one’s head explode.

What we learned:

9/02 – 9/04 v. TOR I keep waiting for a NY Post headline which reads Ivan the Terrible, but Yankee phenom Ivan Nova just won’t allow it. He continues to lead all big-league rookies with 15 wins, and he hasn’t suffered a loss since way back on June 3. Nova is 7-0 since rejoining the club on July 31, and his 3.32 ERA over that time is actually much less impressive than his 1.14 WHIP (1.37 for his career) over the same span. Nova may not be able to retain his newfound-poise in a playoff atmosphere, but there’s no doubt his pure stuff is good enough to go head-to-head against almost any other AL team’s No. 2 starter. Prediction: NYY sweep series) (Actual: NYY sweep series)

9/05 – 9/08 @ BALWhat a disappointment. It took Jesus Montero all of four Major League contests to hit two home runs in one game, which puts him just 66 games behind Babe Ruth for the all-time Yankee lead in multi-HR efforts. I’m guessin’ the son of God will catch the Babe sometime in 2013. Scott Proctor made his first appearance as a Yankee since July 23, 2007. Predictably, he served up a long ball. I hadn’t been this excited to hear the name Proctor on TV since he and Lt. Harris were slow dancing at the Blue Oyster Bar. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (Prediction: NYY win 3-of-4) (Actual: NYY split series)

9/09 – 9/11 @ LAASomewhat lost amidst the local joy surrounding Boston’s injury-induced September-meltdown is the fact that the Yankees remain particularly vulnerable against certain other potential playoff-opponents. Case in point: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County, California, U.S.A., Earth, Milky Way. Now just three games back of the AL West-leading Texas Rangers, the Angels – and their dominant 1-2 punch in Weaver/Haren – would be a lethal Yankee opponent in the ALDS. The Detroit Tigers – even with Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera & Co. – would be a better match-up for the Bombers. You might even be surprised to learn that Verlander is just 4-3 with a 3.97 ERA lifetime versus New York. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3) (Actual: NYY lose 2-of-3)

9/12 – 9/14 @ SEADon’t look now, but Phil Hughes (5-5) has held opponents to two earned runs or less in six of his last eight starts. He even managed to best the mighty King Felix in a Yankee win which saw Chris Dickerson take Hernandez deep for his first Major League home run. Dickerson can now retire tomorrow and still pick up chicks at will, although not at the Blue Oyster Bar. Not to be outdone by the aforementioned Montero, oft-hyped Yankee catching prospect Austin Romine collected his first big-league hit. At first glance, he looks very comfortable behind the plate. (Prediction: NYY sweep series) (Actual: NYY win 2-of-3)

LOOKING FORWARD: What can’t you miss?

Entering play tonight, Baseball Prospectus has the Yankees at 100% likely to make the playoffs (92% to win the AL East), so the remaining 14 regular season games are largely irrelevant aside from playoff seeding and setting up the starting rotation for the American League Divisional Series. What’s most important for New York over the next two weeks is the health and performance of ARod, who despite his 2011 disappearing act, remains an absolutely critical factor for the club’s chances at making the World Series.

It’s been readily apparent since Spring Training that the Yankee rotation was not going to be a team-strength, but even with the losses of Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano, and Damaso Marte, the bullpen has been nothing short of dominant. In particular, David Robertson (1.15 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 95K/62IP) has had the kind of season that makes you wonder if Mariano Rivera‘s eventual replacement has been here all along.

And so it remains that formula – CC Sabathia, an elite offense, and a lock-down bullpen – which Brian Cashman hopes New York can ride all the way to its 28th World Championship.

What we expect to learn:

9/16 – 9/18 @ TOR I really miss the original Blue Jay uniforms. Those badboys were awesome. Not much else to espouse about our friends from north of the border. They’re sporting a pedestrian 75-74 record, which makes sense given their above average lineup and well below average pitching staff. Ultimately, the Jays won’t be making any noise in the division until they find themselves an ace – no, not you, Brandon Morrow – and a closer who brings more to the table than a really questionable neck tattoo. I actually feel for the baseball fans in Toronto; to see your franchise trade away Doc Halladay and still support the team? That’s commendable. And stupid. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3)

9/19 v. MINLooking for a sign that the Apocalypse is upon us? Well, for the first time in about 68 years, the Yankees will not be facing the Twins in the playoffs, which is probably a good thing for residents of St. Paul, considering the fact that New York seemingly never loses to Minnesota in the postseason. That said, I will miss seeing Joe Mauer’s abnormally girthy sideburns in October. (Prediction: NYY win makeup game)

9/20 – 9/22 v. TAMHoly shizah, these are not your father’s Devil Rays! While the Red Sox have been imploding, the Rays have exploded, winning 9-of-12 and amazingly creeping to within three games of Boston in the AL Wild Card race. Make no mistake, despite losing half their roster in free agency, Tampa’s farm system is extremely well-stocked, particularly in the pitching department. Widely hailed as baseball’s best pitching prospect, Matt Moore was recently called up to bolster Tampa’s pen over the final 15 games. Keep an eye on him during this series, you’ll be seeing him torment the Yankees for many years to come. (Prediction: NYY split 4-game series)

9/23 – 9/25 v. BOSBoston closer Jonathan Papelbon has not had a save opportunity since August 18, almost one month ago! Daniel Bard, the usually dominant Red Sox setup man, has compiled a 17.36 ERA and 2.35 WHIP thus far in September. Kevin Youklis is hitting .197 with two homers since August 1. In short, the team that everyone picked to win the division has utterly collapsed due to a combination of bad play, untimely injuries, and bunch of games against really good clubs. Might we hear some completely unjustified “Fire Tito” chants in Fenway Park before the season ends?  (Prediction: NYY lose 2-of-3)

9/26 – 9/28 @ TAMThere’s only so much I can say about the Rays in one column, but I happen to like Joe Maddon’s glasses. Also, BJ Upton needs a new batting stance. Every time I see his weirdo ankle-shimmy I want to throw something at the television. Finally, what is up with having actual stingrays in an aquarium at the ballpark? Didn’t we learn anything from the untimely death of Steve Irwin? Call me crazy, but when I attend a baseball game, the closest I want to come to sea life is plunking down $20 for mediocre sushi at Yankee Stadium. (Prediction: NYY win 2-of-3)

Next stop…

 

 

 

 

And that’s all she wrote. I’ll see you back here in a fortnight, unless you follow me on Twitter, in which case I’ll see you every five seconds or so.