What Went Wrong: 4-5-6 Hitters In The ALDS

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

That's all she wrote. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Yankees somewhat surprisingly won 97 games during the regular season and finished with the best record in the American League, but they lost three of five to the Tigers in the ALDS to end their season. They outscored Detroit 28-17 during the five-game set, showing that when faced with a small sample, it’s not about how many runs you score, but when you score them. The Yankees posted the lowest ERA (3.27) among the eight teams during the LDS round, but they lost the three games by a total of four runs.

A number of things will typically go wrong whenever a team loses a playoff series, but nothing went more wrong for the Yankees than their supposed heart of the order. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, otherwise known as the 4-5-6 hitters, went a combined 9-for-55 with two doubles, one homer, seven walks, and 16 strikeouts. That works out to a .164/.266/.255 batting line and a .243 wOBA. All the other Yankees in the series combined to hit .305/.386/.466, roughly a .378 wOBA. It seemed like every time the Yankees had something cooking on offense, these three would come to the plate and almost immediately put out the fire for Detroit.

To get an idea of how awful A-Rod, Tex, and Swish were during the ALDS, just look at the players around them. Robinson Cano, who hit third in front of them, reached base nine times in the five games but scored just two runs, when he drove himself in on a pair of homeruns. Jorge Posada, who hit seventh behind them, had a monster ALDS (six hits and four walks), but he drove in a total of zero runs because no one was on base in front of him. The 4-5-6 hitters went a combined 1-for-13 with two walks and five strikeouts with runners in scoring position, and the most damning instance of their RISPFAIL came in the seventh inning of Game Five. With the bases loaded and one out, A-Rod struck out, Teixeira walks, and Swisher struck out to end the threat. It was the last time the Yankees would make any kind of sustained rally on the season.

The Yankees didn’t lose to the Tigers in the ALDS solely because of A-Rod, Teixeira, and Swisher, but they were certainly a significant contributor to the series loss. When your third, fourth, and fifth best hitters in the regular season (by wOBA) combine to hit like the corpse of Chone Figgins in the postseason, it’s going to be really tough to advance. Quality pitching, which the Yankees generally received in the ALDS, can only take you so far.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 10th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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Going to war with the A-Rod you have

When I walked by the newstand on Saturday morning, the cover of the Daily News caught my eye. On Friday, one day after the Yanks’ crushing loss to an inferior Tigers’ team in Game 5 of the ALDS, the esteemed paper polled its reactionary readers about the future of the Yankees. Who should stay, who should go, who should bear the weight of the world — or at least the ALDS loss — on his shoulder?

The answer, of course, was A-Rod. It always is A-Rod. It always has been, and it always will be. As of now, 69 percent of poll respondents say the Yanks should dump A-Rod. That’s actually down from upwards of 75 percent earlier this weekend. Time heals all wounds or something.

This need to lay the blame on someone for the ALDS loss is both obviously New York and entirely frustrating. The Yankees lost the ALDS due to a confluence of factors. Joe Torre in the Commissioner’s Office couldn’t read a weather forecast on Friday before Game 1, the Yanks couldn’t score off of Max Scherzer in Game 2, CC couldn’t control the strike zone during Games 3 or 5, and the team failed to get that one big hit that would have put them over the top on Thursday. Along the way, their 4, 5 and 6 hitters did absolutely nothing with the bat, and despite hot series, Robinson Cano scored no runs via anything other than his own home runs and Jorge Posada had no RBIs despite going 6 for 14.

Still, it’s A-Rod the Choker, A-Rod the guy who did this rather than the guy who blasted a Joe Nathan offering deep into the night in October 2009. It was A-Rod who went just 2 for 18, offering up a close replica of his 1 for 14 showing in 2006 against the Tigers. He struck out with the bases loaded, and he struck out to end the Yanks’ season.

By no stretch do I think A-Rod had a good ALDS. He made a few nice plays in the field but couldn’t get his groove back at the plate. For Alex, in fact, that was a theme this August and September. After starting the year at .295/.366/.485 through mid-July, A-Rod found himself on a 27-home run pace when he had to undergo knee surgery. In his first game back in late August, he jammed his thumb, and played just 19 games the rest of the way. In 84 plate appearances, he hit just .191/.345/.353 with three long balls as he battled aches and pains.

Had Joe Girardi bumped him out of the four spot during the playoffs, he would have a legitimate reason for doing so. The A-Rod the Yanks had in October wasn’t the A-Rod the Yanks had in May or June. But Girardi was far more willing to be flexible — almost too flexible — with the bullpen and not flexible enough with the lineup. Brett Gardner and his hot bat were minimized in the nine spot, Jorge Posada knocked the ball around hitting behind some cold bats and A-Rod hit fourth as though it were inscribed on stone tablets as the 11th Commandment. Thou shalt bat A-Rod fourth no matter his health.

What makes the Daily News poll somewhat less outrageous though is the hidden nugget of truth in it. The Yanks probably can’t dump A-Rod; after all he has no-trade protection in his contract. But if the Yankees had their druthers, they wouldn’t have A-Rod under contract for the next six years and owed $143 million to boot. A-Rod will be a fine third baseman for the next three years or so, but after that, things could get ugly as his decline continues. Already, New York sports media folk write about Jesus Montero and the DH as though he’s hogging A-Rod’s eventual position and will have to be traded for it. Talk about shooting off your nose to spite your face.

Basically, then, we as Yankee fans are stuck with A-Rod. He’s our problem when he struggles; he’s our superstar when he drops A-bombs into the left field bleachers. Blemishes and all though, A-Rod ain’t going anywhere before 2017, no matter how hard the Yankees try. We can learn to like it or boo him for the next half a decade. We’re going to war with the A-Rod we have and not the A-Rod we might want or wish to have at a later time. No amount of ALDS struggles or reactionary polls will change that.

Open Thread: ALCS Rained Out

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Apparently the baseball gods don’t only hate the Yankees after all. After sitting through two lengthy rain delays in the fifth inning last night, the Rangers and Tigers saw Game Two of their ALCS matchup postponed due to rain tonight. The game will be made up at 4pm ET tomorrow afternoon. To make matters worse for Detroit, they lost Magglio Ordonez due to an ankle injury and will have to replace him on the roster. They were already without Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young, and will be down to an outfield of Ryan Raburn, Austin Jackson, and Don Kelly. Yikes.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. The late football game is the Packers at the Falcons (8:20pm ET on NBC), which might actually be watchable. Talk about whatever you want here, anything goes.

Phelps debuts in the desert

Francisco Gil has been suspended for the first 50 games of next season, likely due to some banned substance issue. The 22-year-old righty can charitably be described as a fringe prospect, but he’s a useful organization arm capable of soaking up whatever innings the prospects leave behind.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (7-3 loss to Scottsdale) Friday’s game
Corban Joseph, 2B: 1 for 4
Rob Segedin, LF: 0 for 4, 3 K – ouch

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (5-4 loss to Scottsdale) Saturday’s game
David Phelps, RHP: 3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2-2 GB/FB – 29 of 48 pitches were strikes (60.4%) … I don’t know if there’s a pitch count, but starters are limited to just five innings a start out here
Chase Whitley, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 4-1 GB/FB – a dozen of his 19 pitches were strikes (63.2%)
Dan Burawa, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 1-1 GB/FB – eight of his 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%)
Preston Claiborne, RHP:1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-1 GB/FB – ten of 15 pitches were strikes

It’s worth noting that Ronnie Mustelier has not played since leaving a game in the fourth inning earlier this week. No idea what’s up. Also, they don’t play on Sunday’s in the AzFL. Must be nice. Rosters for the various Latin America winter leagues are not out yet either, and probably won’t be for a few weeks.