The Yankees finished this season with the fourth best record in the American League, but a strong September wouldn’t be enough to catapult them into the playoffs. Dealing with both the demands of high expectations and the need to focus on the farm system, 2008 was a quasi-rebuilding year in which the Yanks were expected to compete. But somewhere along the way, things went wrong, and the Yankees will be home on Wednesday while four other AL teams begin their quests for the World Series title.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll delve into what went wrong with the Yankees. From injuries to unmet expectations, this season had its fare share of problems. Today, the catchers take center stage.
In 2007, the Yankee catchers, led by a career year from Jorge Posada, were the league’s best. In 689 plate appearances, Yankee catchers hit .323/.396/.502 with 19 home runs and 100 RBIs. While Wil Nieves had little to contribute, Posada was an MVP candidate and midseason back-up replacement Jose Molina hit .323/.338/.446 in limited playing time.
From the start, though, 2008 would prove to be a far cry from 2007 for Yankee backstops. Jorge Posada injured his throwing arm on a throw on Opening Day, and he wouldn’t be able to shoulder the catching duties this year. While he attempted a mid-June comeback, Posada wasn’t up to the task. In July, he opted for season-ending surgery.
His replacements, while adequate as backups, were abysmal as starters. On the season, Yankee catchers hit .230/.290/.335 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs. In 2007, Yankee catchers were tops in the AL in OPS; in 2008, they were ranked 14th out of 14 teams, dead last in the Junior Circuit. None of the five other catchers the Yanks used this year could do much of anything, and it cost the team dearly.
From a statistical perspective, the Yanks’ playoff hopes were severely damaged by Jorge’s shoulder. He nailed down 26 win shares in 2007 and just five in 2008. Overall, Yankee catchers contributed 13 win shares in 2008 after putting up 29 in 2007. At three win shares per victory, that swing of 16 nearly accounts for the Yanks’ missing the playoffs by itself.
To drive the point home, none of the replacements for Jorge Posada put up a positive VORP this year. Of course, this begs the question of replacement level because the Yanks were, in effect, using replacement level players all year with little to no success.
Of course, we can’t expect a healthy Posada to have enjoyed yet another career year in 2008. He probably wasn’t going to duplicate that .338/.426/.543 line, but had Posada produced in line with his career .277/.380/.477 line, the Yanks still would have had the top-producing backstop in the AL. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been enough by itself to bring the Yanks to October, but it would have gone a long way toward closing that six-game gap.
In the end, we all love Jorge Posada, and in 2008, we saw firsthand what would happen if Posada were to miss a part of the season. Derek might be the leader of the team and A-Rod, for better or worse, its offensive heart, but when Jorge Posada went down with a season-ending injury, the Yanks’ October dreams went down with him.
During packing day at the Stadium today, Andy Pettitte stopped for a chat with the reporters. Pettitte hasn’t made a decision yet on 2009 and is still firmly on the fence. It sounds, however, that Mike Mussina may be retiring. I never thought I would want to welcome back Mussina over Pettitte, but after their respective 2008 campaigns, if I had to pick one, Moose would be my guy. For all this, the Yanks still plan to, somehow, add some experienced pitchers this off-season. Who those will be is anyone’s guess. · (24) ·
Baseball America‘s look into each league’s top 20 prospects continued today with the FSL. Tigers’ uberstud Rick Porcello predictably topped the list, and the only Yankees’ farmhand to make the cut was Zach McAllister at #20. High-A Tampa a prospect wasteland for most of the year, so it’s no surprise the list is short on Yanks’ prospects.
The Eastern League comes out tomorrow, however the list was already leaked. Austin Jackson comes it at #10 if the list is correct. We’ll find out tomorrow. · (7) ·
One of the larger issues the Yankees will have to deal with this off-season is what to do regarding the rotation next year, specifically with Joba Chamberlain. Hints and rumors abounded that the Yanks would employ a similar strategy as this year; that is, start him in the bullpen and transition him mid-year, so that he can stay under his innings cap. It seems the Yanks are believers in the 30-inning rule, so Joba would be limited to around 130 to 135 innings next year. Not exactly what you want from a front line starter.
Peter Abraham, writing in his paper, not on his blog, discussed the topic with Joe Girardi. It seems that the team might actually get creative with their use of Joba, rather than try for the simplest method of limiting his innings, which is what they did this year.
“Will the inning restrictions be there next year? Possibly,” Girardi said. “But he’s going to be a year stronger. He’s got 100 innings, and part of that was rehabbing a little bit. It’s something we’ll discuss.”
“There are a lot of different things where you can be creative,” Girardi said. “If you have depth in your rotation, (Chamberlain doesn’t) have to make 32 starts like everybody else. … You skip a start here, those type of things.”
That means having four other viable starters who can shoulder the load while Joba skips starts. It also means having a viable sixth option, since we know that injury can strike at any time. Just another sign that the Yankees will have a busy off-season in the pitching department.
Mariano Rivera will have arthroscopic shoulder surgery on Oct. 6, reports Tyler Kepner, to clear up some calcification in his throwing arm. Rivera, who had been throwing with shoulder pain all season, will be ready for Spring Training. My nagging thought: The Yanks doled out very large contracts last year to two players in their late 30s, and both suffered shoulder injuries this year. While Jorge Posada and Rivera both earned their deals and are, in a sense, getting paid for past accomplishments, I can’t imagine the Yanks will give out too many more of these long deals to older players. · (38) ·
Over the weekend, Tyler Kepner surveyed the scene for the Yankees. The team, he writes, has a lot of issues to address and a lot of questions to answer. While Kepner seems to think Cashman isn’t coming back, other sources claim he is. We’ll know soon as the Yanks start to pick up the pieces from a disappointing 2008 campaign.
Meanwhile, as we await news on Cashman, notice Kepner’s take on CC Sabathia. The Yankees seem rather pessimistic that they can convince Sabathia to come east and pitch in the AL. Plan A is looking rather unlikely right now. Money, though, can change everything. · (57) ·
So that’s it. Six months. 89 wins. Too many frustrating losses to count. Too many injuries to overcome.
When Jon Van Every, a 28-year-old non-prospect, lined a ball into right field to bring a merciful end to a meaningless game on a rainy Sunday night in September, the Yanks’ 2008 season came to an end. Off the field, the season was contentious. We’ve seen battles over the proper way to build a team and battles over the trades the team did and did not make. We’ve seen battles over the future of the team and battles over the past.
On the field, the season was a disappointment. While Phil Hughes left a sweet taste in our mouths this week in Toronto, between the two of them, Hughes and Ian Kennedy managed zero wins. A fluke injury to Chien-Ming Wang cost the Yankees a playoff berth, and a mid-August shelving of Joba Chamberlain pushed the Yanks towards irrelevancy. Jorge Posada went down on Opening Day and would never recovery. His replacements, as we’ll discover, weren’t up for the job — or any job really. Hideki Matsui‘s knee couldn’t withstand the pressure of a season, and while he’s heading for surgery, his health in 2009 is far from guaranteed.
Offensively, the team didn’t impress. Melky Cabrera had an All Star April and turned into a pumpkin on May 4. Between May 6 and August 13, the day he was finally sent back to AAA, Melky hit .225/.273/.279 over 322 plate appearances. Robinson Cano, picked to win the batting title by more than a few analysts this year, was nearly as bad. A late-season benching resulted in a final hot streak for Cano, and we were all left wondering what might have happened had the Yanks sat him down earlier in the season.
But for the downs, there were some ups. The Yanks’ bullpen solidified around a bunch of young power arms, and with more in the system, the days of running through relievers might be over. Joba Chamberlain outdueled Josh Beckett in Boston, and the future looks bright for that one.
The old man had his turn in the sun too. Mike Mussina, pitching in the twilight of his career, won 20 games for the first time ever and did so by winning his last three starts of the year. He pitched the last two with a sore right elbow, hurt when he took a line drive off of it early in the game in Toronto last week. It sounds like Mike may call it a career, and it’s been a great ride.
As 2008 draws to a close, the Yanks may be saying their good byes to a lot of long-term members of the team. We’ll know soon — perhaps today — if Brian Cashman is coming back. But we could be saying so long to Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte.
On a personal note, we’ve had over three million visitors since Spring Training, and we owe a huge thank you to everyone who comes here to read what we’re saying and just to chat about baseball every day. With the off-season upon us, we’re just getting started. The Yanks are bound to have an active off-season. They have holes to fill in their outfield; holes to fill in their infield; and holes to fill in their rotation. With money on hand and a new stadium rising in the Bronx, the team is going to be active on the free agent market, and we’ll be here reporting and analyzing everything that happens.
This has, for me, been quite a season. It’s been emotional as the Yanks closed out their stadium; it’s been fun as we’ve enjoyed baseball for baseball’s sake; and it’s been disappointing as the Yanks at the end of the year showed us what could have been had they played well. While the team will have to wait ’til next year, we just have to wait until Brian Cashman speaks. The fun of the season may be over, but who doesn’t love the Hot Stove League?
I’m going to hold another live chat sometime this week, probably mid-day Monday or Tuesday. I’ll post a reminder with a definite time once I get it figured out. Here’s the two previous chats if you want to see what’s up.
HWB Waikiki (7-2 loss to Honolulu)
Austin Romine: 0 for 4, 1 K – started behind the plate & batted 7th … he reached base on a fielding error by the shortstop … threw two would-be base stealers out, but one got in safe
Jeremy Bleich: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 3-2 GB/FB – picked a runner off first … 23 of 51 pitches were strikes (45.1%) … yeah, so he was having trouble throwing strikes … must be the time difference or something
The Arizona Fall League starts on October 7th.
So here we are folks, the last time we’ll get to see our beloved Bombers play until Spring Training starts in March. We’ll be around all winter of course, but baseball blogging just doesn’t have to same feel to it during the offseason. I’d much rather sit and bitch about pitching changes than trying to guess the next big signing, but eh, what can you do now.
Enjoy the last game.
1. Gardner, CF
2. Cano, 2B
3. Giambi, DH
4. Nady, LF
5. Pudge, C
6. Betemit, 3B
7. Ransom, SS
8. Melky, RF
9. Miranda, 1B
And on the mound in what I hope is that last time I ever see him in a Yankee uniform, Sidney Ponson.
Notes: If you didn’t listen to Moose’s postgame press conference, it certainly sounded like he was ready to hang’em up. What a career, we’re all lucky to have witnessed it.
What a way for Moose to end his season. Congrats on that 20th victory.