Predicting the 2012 Bullpen

Pretty sure I know when he's coming in.
(Photo Credit: Flickr user BrainNY08 via Creative Commons license)

I know, it’s early. But considering the internet is buzzing with excitement over Jamey Carroll, let’s talk about the Bombers.

One of the strengths of the 2011 Yankees was the bullpen. Even though the team signed a big-name, big-money arm to help in the later innings, the ‘pen in March was quite different from the way it ended up being in September and/or August. Baseball nerds talk a lot about the volatility of relievers, but it seemed that New York was extremely capable of figuring out how to put the pieces together in just the right way. The ERA of the bullpen in 2011 was 3.12, good for fourth in baseball, and topped by only hitting-depleted National League teams (Atlanta, San Diego, and San Francisco). They held opponents to a .239/.319/.358 with a 2.32 K/BB ratio. Last year’s bullpen craziness only prove the futility of predicting baseball, but I am going to do it anyway.

Helping me on this is knowing Girardi loves a good bullpen role. I can’t hold it against the guy: it makes for a great excuse when something goes wrong and eliminates most of the questions be asked about bringing in Robertson into a high-leverage situation in the fourth inning. Let’s say Girardi goes with a six-man bullpen broken up as follows: Closer, eighth inning guy (EIG), seventh inning guy (SIG), one LOOGY, a fireman, and a mop-up man/long reliever/spot starter.

I don’t think we need to discuss who comes in for the ninth inning, but it’s fun to talk about, so there’s this: Rivera continued to make time and opposing batters his bitches, putting up his usual ERA under two (1.91) for the fourth year in a row with a WHIP under one (third year in a row). He walked 8 unintentionally in 61 IP while striking out 60 with a FIP of 2.19. In the meantime, he broke the all-time saves record, cured the sick and opened the eyes of the blind. Just your usual year for the ERA+ leader min. 1000 IP.

It’s in the eighth inning that we begin to see a logjam. Even if we only talk about who will be on the 25-man to begin with, there’s still a conflict between Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Soriano is being paid the money of a closer ($11M in 2012) but he’s stuck as eighth inning guy for obvious reasons. Despite that, he put up his weakest year since 2002 with Seattle and was on the 60-day DL with shoulder soreness to boot. His career numbers are still great, even with his awful 2011, and he’s certainly capable of EIG duties.

Our other alternative is David Robertson. The man faces arbitration this offseason for the first time, but he’ll still be making relative peanuts ($1M-1.3M) to an organization like NYY. For every depressing note in Soriano’s year, there’s an amazing one for Robertson: His ERA+ for the season was 410, he struck out 100 in 66.2 IP, he gave up 8 ER all season, and he managed a k/9 of over 13. In 19 bases-loaded PA, he allowed one hit. In 127 high leverage PAs, he held hitters to a .129/.236/.171 slash line. He wears amazing high socks too.

If the bullpen is a year-to-year meritocracy, then Robertson obviously wins the EIG spot, of which he occupied for most of 2011 after Joba and Soriano went down. He was clearly the better of the two, despite his lack of closer experience, younger age and super cheap price tag. That being said, my gut feeling is that Soriano will probably start the year as the EIG simply because that is what he was signed to be. Robertson’s best role is probably high-leverage fireman, so it’s probably better for both of them if the eighth becomes Soriano’s.

If Soriano becomes EIG and Robertson takes the fireman spot, then that leaves Cory Wade (team control and not up for arbitration untll 2012-13 offseason) or Phil Hughes (if he doesn’t make the rotation) to man the seventh inning.

Having both a fireman and a seventh inning guy in a six-man bullpen means you’re probably going to only have one lefty, and everyone knows it’s gonna be Boone Logan. Despite generally being not that great – at times he was actually better against righties than lefties even though he’s considered a LOOGY – number 58 seems to show up at random times for match-ups. This is the reason he’ll show up in 2012: the lefty reliever free agent list. This is it: Darren Oliver, George Sherrill, Mike Gonzalez, J.C. Romero, Horacio Ramirez, Trevor Miller, John Grabow, Arthur Rhodes, and Damaso Marte. Thrilling, I know. Not only that, but the Yankees are a little empty in the farm for lefty relievers. Unless they’re making Banuelos a LOOGY (which would make me tear my ponytail out), the only vaguely prospect-ish possibility is Steve Garrison, who we saw briefly in pinstripes, or maybe even Shaeffer Hall. Though only having one lefty is risky, it gives Girardi the flexibility to have a fireman with his eighth and seventh inning guys, allowing Robertson to slot into his true role and letting the binder have a man for every inning.

The last spot left to be assigned in our hypothetical bullpen is the longman/mop-up guy. Last year, Hector Noesi was here, though it seems like there’s a definite possibility he will be in the rotation come 2012. AJ Burnett is a possibility, but given Cashman’s repeated statements that the man will be in the rotation, it’s unlikely. If Noesi does make the rotation, he might be taking Phil Hughes’ job, but I don’t the Yankees organization has given up on Hughes so much that they make him the mop-up guy.

The problem with being the mop-up guy is that the work is generally inconsistent and not good for a prospect. This is why Noesi occupied the spot rather than anyone else. Due to this, it’s hard to say exactly who could end up here. If Cashman wants to build from within (probably safer, given the inflated reliever market), he could pick out any of the AAA guys like Whelan, Kontos, or DJ Mitchell. There’s also the infinitely useful minor league deal to one of the hundreds of minor league free agents. Mitchell threw 161 IP of 3.18 ERA ball in Scranton, so he gets the spot for now.

Here are some possible combinations.

Hughes makes the rotation and Noesi doesn’t.
Closer: Rivera
EIG: Soriano
SIG: Wade
Fireman: Robertson
LOOGY: Logan
Mop-up: Noesi

Neither Hughes nor Noesi make the rotation.
Rivera
Soriano
Hughes
Robertson
Logan
Noesi

Hughes doesn’t make the rotation but Noesi does.
Rivera
Soriano
Hughes
Robertson
Logan
Mitchell

Both Hughes and Noesi make the rotation.
Rivera
Soriano
Wade
Robertson
Logan
Mitchell

As I said earlier, the thing abut bullpens is that they’re extremely chaotic. We know that Joba will be coming back soon, though we don’t know when, and we don’t whose job he’s taking. Alternately, Soriano could get injured, giving Joba his spot. Or, anyone else could get injured. That’s what relievers do. They get hurt and are randomly unpredictable. Besides Mo. Mo will be the best and unhurt forever and ever.

The Day After

Blowout Incoming....

Personally, a good blowout always gave me confidence. When you look at a team that absolutely goes to town on another team, it brings to mind the messiest intangible: momentum. In a sport where play goes uninterrupted during a game, like hockey or basketball, momentum makes a little more sense. But in baseball, pauses are routine, and what we may think of as momentum still has a lots of empty space. Even in a quicker sport, it’s hard to think momentum might work when a day goes by in between one game and the next.

When the Yankees gave the Tigers a proper whooping in game 4, there was a good feeling: the bats were alive. The hitters had their eyes on the ball. AJ Burnett had actually pitched a pretty decent game against a relatively decent lineup! The bullpen had done pretty well! How could anything go wrong? But then, a small part of me crept into my brain, thinking about a blowout the Yankees had given to Oakland, where they’d hit a record three grand slams. The next day was a seven-run loss to Baltimore. This got me thinking: was there a hangover effect involved in these blowout games? The Yankees have always been a heavy-slugging team, but maybe their collective arms (and bats) got tired after all those runs in one night. As I’d feared, the Yankees’ bats got quiet, and then went without much of a run-related peep into the dark night of the offseason.

For this experiment, we’ll assume that a “blowout” entails winning by 7+ runs. I’m using 7+ as my measure over Baseball Reference’s 5+, just because I feel like saying the Yankees blow the team out almost 20% of the time is a little absurd. I’ll ratchet up the amount of runs needed for a blowout to see if there is a certain amount of good pitching and hitting that makes a team tired for the next day. If you don’t like it, feel free to talk about how much you hate me in the comments.

Anyway, by the 7+ measure, the Yankees had 17 blowouts, the biggest being the Grand Slamorama against the A’s (22-9) and the smallest being an August game against Minnesota (8-1). After a blowout, the Yankees went 11-6, which says that even when the Yankees weren’t scoring a lot of runs, the pitchers were at least helping out. In the blowout games, the Yankees banged out 216 runs (average of 12.7 R/G), but in the game-afters, they only managed 84. I don’t think this is because they were tired, actually, but rather that it’s just really hard to score a lot of runs, even against a crappy team. The Yankees only managed to score 10+ runs in back-to-back games once, and both were blowouts. It was against the (sigh) AL Champion Texas Rangers on June 14th and 15th. Curiously enough, 84 runs over 17 games is about 4.8 runs/game, and Yankees averaged about 5.4 runs/game, and Yankees averaged about 5.5 runs/game over the 162 game season, so it is a little under, but not by much. On the hitting side, over an 162 game season, the Yankees had a 3.63 ERA (which is good for fourth in the AL, by the way). During blowouts, the pitching staff’s ERA actually went down (3.23), so there wasn’t any pitching to the score going on, at least in this sample. The hangover-over blowout effect looks just like another great example of confirmation bias and selective memory. We remember unusual events even if they’re uncommon, like blowing a team out and losing the next day, which the Yankees only did six times in an 162 game season.

Let’s bump it up. Let’s say it that you have to score 8 runs to have a blowout. In this case, the Yankees only had eleven blowouts. They scored 159 runs over these 11 games, bumping their average R/G up to 14.4 (!). After blowouts of 8 R+, they went 7-4, an almost identical win percentage to 7+. The Yankees pitching picked up a 3.81 ERA (all the runs were earned), slightly higher than their season norm. We’ll bump it up just one more, to 9+ runs equaling a blowout. This lowers the sample to seven games, and the Yankees scored 114 runs and averaged 16.2 runs per game, which is pretty awesome (even if it’s only a seven game sample). The pitching staff held opponents with a 4.71 ERA, which is significantly higher. Although you could argue there’s a pitching-to-the-score argument here with these two consecutive raises, I don’t think it’s that the score caused the bad pitching, I think it’s because you have to score a lot of runs to have that high an ERA and still lose. In other words, the bad score doesn’t cause the pitching, but the massive offense causes the bad pitching to be included in the winning numbers.

To keep the sample marginally sized, we’ll return to blowout = 7+ and throw down some more stats from that. The Yankees had all 17 of their 7+ run blowouts verses 10 teams, six of which were under .500 (MIN, SEA, CWS, BAL, OAK, and CLE). The Indians, Mariners, Twins and Rays were blown out by only 7 runs and were all blown out once. Not surprisingly, they had the most blowouts verses Baltimore (4) and (amusingly) the second-most vs Texas (3). The Yankees also blew out 3 other playoff teams (TBR, MIL, & TEX), and, to put the icing on the cake, Boston.

In conclusion, the Yankees score a lot of runs. I think we had a really good offensive club here, guys.

Did the Short Porch Sink the Yankees?

Amount of parks this is a home run in: 1.

The “too many homers” narrative was one of the most common ones to the plague the Yankees this year, staring from game 1 (home runs from Granderson and Teixeira) and dragging all the way through the season. The Yankees eventually finished first in home runs with 222 and second in total runs with 867, meaning that roughly 25% of all the runs the Yankees scored were via the longball. While this seems like a lot, the fightin’ Baltimore Showalters had 191 home runs and 708 runs, pulling almost 30% of their runs from dingers. I guess that’s what happens when you employ Mark Reynolds. Yankees fans have spent most of the year making fun of this narrative and defending the team from it.

However, it was the long ball that both carried and sunk the Yankees in this short series. The right field short porch that has been so constantly vilified (but only when the Yankees hit homers in there), allowed Delmon Young, Miguel Cabrera, and Don Kelly to launch it out of the park. Two of those homers, Kelly’s in game 5 and Cabrera’s in game 2 would help sink the Bombers entirely. According to Hit Tracker Online, Delmon Young’s homer in the first part of game 1 would have been a homer in only one park: you guessed it, New Yankee Stadium. Cabrera’s was a homer in only two, while Don Kelly’s would have gone out in five different stadiums. Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson (Game 2) both would have left the park in seven different stadiums, while Delmon Young (a la game 5), and Robinson Cano (both times) hit it big enough to go out in every park.

It would have been nice if the Yankees could have take advantage of their own homer-friendly park (and Derek Jeter certainly tried), but in lieu of that, a clutch hit would have helped, in either Comerica or New York. Could the Yankees not get the hits with runners in scoring position at the most unfortunate time this year?

Game 1

Yankees: 2-for-12 w/ RISP, one homer (Cano)
Tigers: 4-for-7 w/RISP, one homer (Young)

Yankee Stadium Specials: one (Detroit)
Yankee hits w/ RISP that weren’t homers: (2: Cano, Gardner)

Game 2

Yankees: 0-for-7 w/ RISP, two homers (Swisher, Granderson)
Tigers: 3-for-10 w/ RISP, one homer (Cabrera)

Yankee Stadium Specials: one (Detroit)
Yankee hits /w RISP that weren’t homers: 0

Game 5

Yankees: 2-for-9 w/ RISP, one homer Cano)
Tigers: 1-for-9 w/ RISP, two homers (Kelly, Young)

Yankee Stadium Specials: 0 (You could argue Don Kelly’s was, but I’m going to say no.)
Yankees hits with RISP that weren’t homers: 1 (Cano, though this did not score a run)

It’s morbidly entertaining to me to see that another team can take advantage of a stadium feature that the team was constructed to use for their advantage, and then use it to thoroughly beat the Yankees. I’m not complaining about the short porch, just saying that it helps and harms in equal measure. The two runs Cabrera scored in game 2 were all that decided the game, and the tentative YS Special of Don Kelly’s dinger decided the series in the end. Plus, in Yankee Stadium, the Yankees went a total of 4-for-28 with runners in scoring position with a bases loaded walk, with only one of those hits being a home run (Cano), and one of them not scoring a hit at all. That really says it all.


PS: Does anyone have an official qualifier for what makes a Yankee Stadium Special? Footage? Exact row?

The Most Clutch Hits of 2011

As the “too many homers” myth carried on through the season, it seemed like there were two things that this narrative suggested: the Yankees were a) unable to hit with runners in scoring position and b) the Yankees could only score was via home run (also c) that scoring via the dinger doesn’t work in the playoffs, but that’s an argument for another day). Now, the great thing about the season being wrapped up is that we have the entire season to look back on. We can compare predictions to what actually happened, we can figure out how certain moves worked out, and we can talk about the highlights of the season.

Like a good nerd living in my mom’s basement, I can’t simply be satisfied by separating the statistical highlights by WPA. That would be boring. Instead, I decided to separate the top five plays by leverage. For a quick and dirty definition, the leverage is how “clutch” the play is and is independent of the outcome; the WPA measure how valuable the hit or out was within the game. Therefore, a home run with two on and two out in the ninth has a much higher value/WPA than a single with two on and two out in the ninth, but the at-bat has the same leverage. This is also a interesting stat to measure the intensity of the situations relievers end up in (see my article on David Robertson earlier in the year), but that’s another story, maybe for tomorrow. I present to you, the top five highest-leveraged hits of the year. For reference, anything about 1.5 is considered “high leverage,” and anything above 3.0 is considered “very high leverage.” You can calculate your own leverage situations here.

T-1: May 11: Curtis Granderson’s RBI single in the bottom tenth off Joakim Soria: 6.05.

AJ Burnett went seven, er, strong innings, allowing only one run while walking six (!) and striking out five. David Robertson gave up a run (!!) in 0.2 IP, though he also struck out two. The game was tied going into the top of the tenth when Buddy Carlyle came in. A walk, a wild pitch, and a Frenchy double later, the Royals had the lead going into the bottom tenth. Ned Yost sent out Joakim Soria to close it out, but a walk and TWO!! bunts later, Russell Martin was standing at third looking to re-tie the game. Curtis Granderson, the man himself, drove him in, as a man with 100 RBIs and having the year that Grandy is having is wont to do. That retied the game.

Unfortunately, the Yankees lost the game in the eleventh thanks to an Eric Hosmer sacrifice fly. Bummer.

T-1: May 24: Curtis Granderson’s RBI single in the bottom ninth off Frank Francisco: 6.05

If I didn’t know better, I would say Curtis Granderson knows how to come up in a big spot.

CC Sabathia was busy throwing himself a complete game on a mere 103 pitches, but the 4 runs he had given up were just one more than the three from the combination of Rickey Romero (7 IP), Casey Janssen, and Marc Rzepczynski. Luckily, the Blue Jays decided for some absurd reason that the pretty crappy Frank Francisco was going to be their closer, and so it was up to him to protect a one run lead in the ninth. Jorge Posada banged a pinch-hit double, and Chris Dickerson ran for him. Jeter moved him to third with two outs and the Grandyman coming up. And, like clockwork, Granderson singled up the hole between first and second to tie the game up. I am personally all right with him coming up in important spots.

The Yankees then promptly won when Granderson stole second and Teixeira singled him home. By the way, the Jays weren’t playing the shift on Tex, and they might not have lost if they were.

3. July 18: Brett Gardner’s RBI single in the top of the eighth off Kyle Farnsworth: 5.41

Though the Yankees had taken an early lead, the ever, er, reliable AJ Burnett dug the Yankees into an early hole against the Rays’ rookie Alex Cobb. Luckily, Cobb came out in the fifth to be replaced by Joel Peralta and Cesar Ramos. Peralta started off the inning giving up a single to Cano and a walk to Swisher followed by an out to the pinch-hitting Andruw Jones, so Maddon pulled him for his closer, Kyle Farnsworth. With the Rays up 4-2, it was a save situation for the man who Yankees fans remembered extremely unkindly. With Tampa, however, Farnsworth had so far posted an impressive 1.86 ERA.

Lucky for the Yankees, Farnsworth had flashbacks to his Yankees years and allowed two straight singles, the first to Russell Martin to load the bases with one out, and the second to Brett Gardner, a clean single through the shortstop hole opened up by the bases being loaded. This brought the score up to 4-3.

The Yankees would tie the game on Eduardo Nunez’s groundout to short (which was only not a double play due to Gardner’s tough slide) and then win the game on a bases loaded walk from Alex Torres.

4. September 21: Jorge Posada’s RBI single in the bottom off the eighth off Brandon Gomes: 5.29

Here’s one everyone will remember. After struggling through a year in which he was relegated to DH, platooned, then benched, Joe Girardi gave Jorge Posada the chance to clinch the AL East title by pinch hitting him for Jesus Montero with the bases loaded. The game had been tied 2-2 up until this point, though Jake McGee had worked himself into a little jam with first and second and one out. Robbie was intentionally walked to load the bases and Maddon brought in Gomes.

Posada, of course, ripped a solid single into right, clinched the AL East, and proved that he is the most amazing no-catch all-hit super slow catcher/DH of all time. Yay for Jorge.

5. April 24: Russell Martin’s RBI single in the top of the eleventh off Jason Berken: 5.21

Jake Arrieta had allowed two runs in the first and a run in the fifth while Freddy Garcia through six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and two walks (and we all assumed it was just because it was the Orioles). Joba Chamberlain came in, gave up two runs, making it 3-2, and Mo blew the save while the Orioles bullpen held the Yankees scoreless (!). To extras!

Jason Berken came in in the eleventh inning and allowed a Cano double, and a Cano stolen base before striking out Swisher and intentionally walking Chavez. This brought Russell Martin to the plate. Keep in mind that, at this point in the season, Martin was batting .328 with an OPS of 1.099. In this particular game, he had four at-bats with only a walk to show for it. On his fifth at-bat, he lined a ball to Robert Andino, who airmailed a throw to Brian Roberts at second, letting the Yankees take the lead. This was very generously scored a hit, to say the least. Either way, Martin gets credit for the high-leverage hit, and the Yankees beat up on Berken a little more to win the game 6-3.

Leverage is the closest thing to measuring clutch that we have to measure: high leverage hits are more “clutch” than low-leverage ones. The problem is that part of leverage factors in the inning, and it seems like you should be able to be clutch in the second inning as much as you can in the eighth.

The Return of Big Bad Bartolo?

And the pitch.... (Photo used under Creative Commons License, by Flikr user dbfoto)

Seemingly lost in the fact that the Yankees lost last night – whether that’s due to an anemic offense against one of the better pitchers in the game or bad bullpen management – was the fact that Bartolo Colon went out there pitched his sizable butt off. Sadly, Jered Weaver also pitched his butt off, and it seems like success is based on percentage of butt pitched off, rather than objective size of butt. If objective butt size was the case, Weaver probably would have lost pretty badly to Bartolo. Regardless of butt proportion, this is probably the best start we’ve seen out of Colon since he pulled his hamstring on June 11th vs. Cleveland.

The pitching line tells the beginning of the story quite clearly: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. It’s an extremely good start, with the only blemish being Derek Jeter’s error and the lone walk to Bobby Abreu. During a long roadtrip, getting length like that is invaluable. To get a little nerdier, this game gave Colon his second-best game score since his hamstring injury (67), though his best game score post-injury (68) was against the Mets, so it shouldn’t really count at all. Another thing that it seemed Colon had remastered was his efficiency: in his outing, only three batters had at bats where they saw six pitches or more (two of them being hits), and the most pitches any hitter saw against Colon was seven (Mark Trumbo, who flew out). On the other side, Colon was able to deliver at-bats with three pitches or less to 17 of the 28 batters he faced. This allowed a man who hasn’t thrown this many innings since 2008 to get through seven complete frames on only 99 pitches, touching 90 twice in his last inning of work.

One of Colon’s biggest keys for success has been his two-seam fastball and its sharp movement that he uses to gather up called strikes. His previous start in Toronto, he threw 42 two-seam fastballs, which was the only pitch that he had a negative linear weight on during that game (-1.38). Yesterday in Anaheim, he threw 50 of them for a linear weight of -1.08, which while it was slightly less impressive than his previous start, it has been and continues to be significantly better than all his other pitches. A few starts ago when he bombed against Oakland, he threw only a handful of two-seamers, in contrast to how he usually uses the pitch as his bread-and-butter. It seems that, between yesterday and his start in Toronto, whatever confidence he may or may not have had in the pitch has certainly been replenished.

An additional reason for Colon’s success has been the massive amounts of called strikes that he’s gotten. His 27% called strike percentage is easily the highest in the league – behind him is Carlos Marmol with 23% and Kyle Lohse at 22%. Over the season, batters have began to try to adjust to this by at least taking hacks at his pitches and hoping they get something out of it or fouling them off in a two-strike count. Last night Colon’s five strikeouts skewed in the looking direction, but not heavily: three called verses two looking. However, even though batters are trying to get a handle on the sides of the zone, Colon is still beating them, especially on the inside to lefties/outside to righties:

?

Check that out. There’s 9 called strikes on that side of the plate, one hit, a few fouls and an out. On the other side, there’s three called strikes, mostly outs and a few foul balls as well. While Colon can still throw some considerable heat (especially considering his age, physical condition, and innings pitched), it’s location and precision that has made him into the successful pitcher he was last night.

While there are obviously concerns about Colon: innings, called strikes, his somewhat rotund form – these kinds of outings are the ones that settle those doubts in my mind. Regardless of the actual outcome of the game, there’s no denying that Colon put up a stellar start against an offense that, while not the most impressive, can certainly do some damage if they’re feeling up to it. It’s just bad luck on his part that he was matched up against Weaver, who dominated everyone except for one measly right-handed twenty-one year old. What’s that kid’s name? Oh, he’s probably not that important anyway. Either way, no matter what kind of opposition is planted in front of Bartolo Colon, it seems like when he’s getting his calls and his stuff is on, he can roll right on through them. With his pitches, I mean.

Breaking Down Curtis Granderson

Photo by Keith Allison via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

What makes Curtis Granderson so grand? I’ve broken it down below.

1. Struggling and overcoming constant cognitive dissonance that comes with “not being a home run hitter” verses either leading or being in second place in major league homers.

2. Eyes on the prize, whether it’s a homer, home plate, or a spelling bee championship.

3. Keeping himself healthy with a nutritious breakfast.

4. Comforted by knowing that even when he strikes out, he still is extremely fashionably accessorized.

5. New and improved swing, including Kevin Long’s No-Slip Grippy Glue on his hand.

6. Muscles, tendons and ligaments fortified and strengthened by rainbows.

7. Heart at least six sizes above a replacement baseball player’s heart.

8. Dirty uniform, which is a sign of true grit.

9. Fills his belly with comfort food with Martha Stewart (you can read all about this on Roar of the Tigers, a great Tigers blog).

10. Keeps his legs in shape by herding his blessing (which is a group) of unicorns.

11. High socks.

12. Invisible wings on his cleats for super fielding and super running. He gives them a break when he hits the dingers, though.

The Complete Team

Team Necessities. (Photo copyright Amanda Rykoff, on flckr)

Over the course of the season, we’ve seen that this Yankees team really has strong components, even if they don’t all work at the same time. They pitch pretty damn well, they hit just fine, they’re pretty strong defensively, and they have an amazing bullpen. And while the stats may back this up, what’s more important is that the Yankees have players that embody the concepts that make a team great. You can have a great FIP or wOBA, but who cares if your team isn’t filled with true ballplayers? Let’s break down the team and make sure that, along with the best run differential, the third best bullpen ERA, and the sixth best ERA as a team, the Yankees know how to play baseball.

A Team Leader

One of the most important parts of a team is having a leader that can accurately explain what your team is going through at any given time, push their own problems and accomplishments by the wayside, and really encompass what a team is all about. Luckily, the Yankees have been gifted in this area of team chemistry for a long time with Derek Jeter at the helm. Three thousand hits? Winning is more important. Horrible, ground ball-induced slump? Small stance changes. Red-hot streak? Trying to help the team. Even before his anointment as captain in 2003, Jeter has always lead the team. The other important thing is that Jeter bats leadoff. The only places a true leader can bat are leadoff and cleanup, which helps noble fans distinguish who is a real leader and who is faking it. You don’t want to be mislead by fake leaders such as Jason Varitek (bats 8th) or Chipper Jones (bats sixth). But Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia….those players can really carry a team to victory.

A Professional Hitter

Sure, some hitters can get on base, hit homers, see a lot of pitches or take walks. Sure, some hitters can spray hits everywhere or beat out infield singles. While these are moderately important traits for a hitter, the most important tool is the professional at-bat. You want a guy who goes up there, spits on his hands, kicks the dirt, and really gets into a batting stance. In that case, there’s only one player that really qualifies: Andruw Jones. You can tell, from his massive biceps to his amused smile, that he knows how to hit. He goes up there with his doctorate degree in “sitting dead-red,” and he swings the bat. And he really swings the bat! He is never cheated out of hits, which is one of the most important parts of being a professional hitter. Also, only a man who truly knew how to swing the bat could do this. I don’t see Brett Gardner putting homers in the third deck, all right?

A Proven Veteran

Six hundred plate appearances is a lot. That’s a lot of time to practice something you have to be good at. Multiply that by ten or fifteen years, and you’re talking about thousands and thousands of plate appearances. While some people might just have a knack for baseball the minute they hit the bigs, the more important thing is having a player who’s had more plate appearances than you can even count. You don’t even have to hit in most of them. The experience is all that counts, and the Yankees have plenty of experience. The most experienced member of the Yankees? Jorge Posada.

I’m not talking about this in number of actual plate appearances, even if he has the most (I’m not checking because this article isn’t about numbers), but in the way Posada has had almost an unfair amount of experience at the plate. Blowouts both ways, playoffs galore, every possible situation leverage-wise that you could think of – the man’s done it all in style. He’s the kind of guy who can share his knowledge on how to get hits in the clutch with the young core of the team. It’s insane to think he might be cut or left off the playoff roster. A resume like Posada’s is a necessity.

Getting dirty. Just the way he likes it. (Photo copyright Amanda Rykoff, on flickr)

A Gritty Grinder

You know what’s coming with this one, right? In every baseball game, there are times where nothing is more important than hustle and grit. A player with a lot of grit can make close plays, dive headfirst into first base, and isn’t afraid to get their uniform dirty with a steal. A grinder goes out there and plays every day, every inning, every at-bat as hard as they can, with an almost indescribable amount of ferocity.

It’s true that no player on the Yankees can match up to the absolute grittiness of Dustin Pedroia. There is no one better than him at playing every inning as hard as he can. Even those jumps before each play – what does that say about him? He’s ready. He’s ready for the line drive that jumps up on him, the diving catch and the dramatic double-play. There is no one in the history of baseball more ready than Pedroia.

That being said, the Yankees will have to settle for a fairly gritty man themselves: Brett Gardner. Even though his outfield station takes away from some of his grittiness, the way he plays practically makes it all back. Gardner makes every play interesting, from his on-the-run catches to his crazy dives. His real hustle, however, comes from the basepaths. THere is something to be said for the way he busts his ass to first base. There is even more to be said about his constant first base sliding. Why, only a person who really knew how to play the game would dive into first base. Additional speed? Momentum? Pfft! These are all things Gardner knows are less important than his incredible grittiness. His dirty uniform says it all: I move. I move fast. I play every inning as hard as I can. I am truly gritty.

I’m glad to see that this team has just as much (if not more) heart and soul than it has power numbers. From Posada’s sagedom to Jones’ at bats and Gardner’s hustle, there’s nothing we have to worry about in terms of the product on the field. Sure you could talk about the numbers – Granderson’s home runs, Cano’s batting average- but anyone could do that stuff. What’s valuable is our team plays the game the right way – and they certainly do.