Archive for Rants

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

The whole “Robinson Cano is lazy because he doesn’t run out ground balls” thing has been beaten into the ground and I really hoped we would never hear about it again once he signed with the Mariners, but apparently that is not the case. Over the weekend, hitting coach Kevin Long declined to take the high road when asked about Robbie’s tendency to jog to first. From John Harper:

“If somebody told me I was a dog,’’ Long said here Sunday, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.’’

“We all talked to him,’’ Long said. “I’m pretty sure [Derek Jeter] talked to him a number of times. Even if you run at 80%, no one’s going to say anything. But when you jog down the line, even if it doesn’t come into play 98% of the time, it creates a perception.”

“But he just wouldn’t make that choice to run hard all the time. The reasons aren’t going to make sense. He might say his legs didn’t feel good, or he was playing every day and needed to save his energy. To me there was no acceptable answer.’’

Joe Girardi was asked about Long’s comments yesterday and the interview was ended abruptly by the team’s public relations people according to Brendan Kuty, so this is a thing now. Everyone is talking about the hitting coach trashing the former star player when they should be talking about bullpen sessions and batting practice and how great everyone looks. It’s an unnecessary distraction.

Regardless of how true any of this is — we all know Robbie doesn’t run hard to first — Long was wrong to talk about it publicly. Doesn’t matter that Cano is no longer on the team and frankly that only makes it worse in my opinion. This is like the Red Sox talking about Terry Francona’s use of pain medication after he was let go*. Criticizing a former player after he leaves town is the ultimate low blow.

* Joe thinks Dan Duquette’s comments about Roger Clemens entering the “twilight of his career” are a more appropriate comparison. I agree.

On Tuesday, new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon defended his new star and fired back at Long. From Jerry Crasnick:

“Last time I checked, I didn’t know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees,” McClendon told ESPN.com. “That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I’m sure Joe [Girardi] feels the same way. He’s concerned with his team and what they’re doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing.

“I’m a little surprised that Kevin Long is the spokesman for the New York Yankees. I wonder if he had any problems with Robbie when he wrote that book (“Cage Rat”) proclaiming himself as the guru of hitting.”

The Yankees spent all winter talking about their “family” and the importance of having strong character guys in the clubhouse whenever they signed a new free agent. That shouldn’t stop at the players. Long is a high-profile member of the organization and he threw a former player — a former member of the “family” — under the bus on his way out of town. It was a classless move and everything the Yankees claim not to be. Dan Martin says Long has already reached out to Cano to offer an apology, but at this point the damage has been done. This became something when it should have stayed nothing.

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Pretty sure we've used all the Tanaka images in the Getty archives (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Pretty sure we’ve used all the Tanaka images in the Getty archives (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

“I believe we need another starter.”

Yankees fans know this, but it still felt good to hear it from ownership. Had the Yankees planned to pick from scrapheap options, Hal Steinbrenner might have said something else. I think our young guys are up to the task, he might have said. Instead he came right out and acknowledged the need for another starter.

By “another starter,” Steinbrenner does not necessarily refer to Tanaka. He could refer to Paul Maholm, Joe Saunders, or even Johan Santana: low-cost guys who could provide the team a few alternatives to in-house candidates.

But after hearing such a proclamation from the owner himself, are fans really going to accept one of those retreads? Chances are fans wouldn’t accept one of those retreads even absent Steinbrenner’s statement. We’ll be even less accepting given his overt praise of Tanaka. “This is a great, young pitcher. I’m sure he’ll come here and do great things with someone.”

So do whatever it takes to sign him.

It is absolutely clear to everyone, from the casual fan who tuned out after the Beltran signing to ownership itself, that the current crop of starters won’t get the Yankees through the 2014 season. Supplementing that crew with a few back-end, at best, pitchers and minor league signings will not change the scenario much. They need Tanaka, Jimenez, Garza, or (shudders) Santana.

Perhaps Steinbrenner is just trying to keep expectations low with his “we’ll see what happens.” It certainly seems as though at least one Yankees official is trying to tamp expectations: “Just because he had great success over there doesn’t mean he’s going to be lights out here. We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s not like he’s a sure-fire thing. I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced.”

There is a certain necessity in keeping expectations low. Many teams remain interested in Tanaka, so the Yankees are anything but guaranteed to sign him. They’d clearly like to, and if forced to interpret Steinbrenner’s remarks I’d say that they’ll go pretty far in their efforts to obtain his services. But if a team like the Cubs blows them out of the water, they need to cover themselves. And so we get Steinbrenner hedging a bit, and we get anonymous officials trying to lower the bar.

Don’t let this game of expectations confuse the reality, though. The Yankees absolutely need Tanaka. If they don’t land him, they’re almost forced to try for one of the remaining trio. Anything else would, put a serious damper on an otherwise solid off-season, as a rival official said.

“If you don’t get Tanaka, it kind of nullifies some of what you’ve added to the offense.”

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BooneNo.jpg PhillipsNo.jpg (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

BooneNo.jpg PhillipsNo.jpg (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

No. That is the only appropriate reaction to any suggestion that the Yankees should trade for Brandon Phillips in the event that Robinson Cano signs elsewhere. It might make sense in a superficial way. Phillips plays second base! He’s viewed as a very good player! He’d instantly fit into the Yankees lineup!

Please, take a moment to review the pertinent information. The case for Phillips isn’t nearly as compelling as his reputation might suggest.

He’s not a very good hitter

Despite his reputation, Phillips has been decidedly average during his career, a 96 OPS+ in his 12-year career. Granted, the first four years came in Cleveland, where he performed poorly, to be kind. Even if you lop off those years, he has a career 100 OPS+ — exactly average.

It seems Phillips’s reputation stems from the power he generated early in his career, and the outstanding season he produced in 2011. His 30-homer season in 2007 certainly stands out, as do his 88 homers from 2006 through 2009. Unfortunately, his power has taken a bit of a dip, as he’s hit 72 homers in the four years that followed (the most recent four years).

In 2011 Phillips enjoy by far and wide the best season of his career, a 118 OPS+. Yet it appears that almost the entire difference between his 2011 and the rest of his career rests entirely in batting average. His walk rate and power were nearly identical to his 2010 campaign. The difference was that he hit .300 (.322 BABIP). For his career he is a .271 hitter (.291 BABIP).

Signs of decline

It’s easy to forget, but Phillips turned 32 last season. Granted, he’s right on the edge of the cutoff — had he been born three days later, 2013 would have been his age-31 season. The fact remains that he’ll turn 33 in 2014, and his contract (more on that later) runs through his age-36 season. As you might imagine, decline is a serious concern.

In making points against re-signing Robinson Cano, many commentators have noted the poor aging curve for second basemen. The thing with aging curves is that they take the aggregate of a very large sample. While that has use when evaluating average players — average, as in Brandon Phillips — it’s not so good at projecting outliers. Given his production and durability to date, Cano certainly appears more an outlier than an average 2B.

Phillips, on the other hand, saw his power take a dip after his 20-homer season in 2009, hitting 18 in each of the last four years. That might not seem so bad, until you compound that with a decline in the number of doubles he’s hit*. His walk rate did rise from 2012 to 2013, but it’s still lower than the 6.5 percent rate he produced from 2008 through 2011. What was once a pretty good bat might not be a good one any longer.

*He hit 38, a career high, in 2011, after hitting 33 in 2010. Going from a career high 38 to 30, and then to 24 in 2013 isn’t necessarily decline. But it looks more that way when you eliminate the outlier and see that he’s gone from 33 to 30 to 24 from 2010 to 2013, minus 2011.

That contract!

Despite his pretty average bat, Phillips managed to cash in on his career year, signing a six-year, $72.5 million contract with the Reds. That contract runs through 2017 and still has $50 million remaining on it. That’s a huge chunk of change for a 33-year-old average player. People already love talking about how much the Ellsbury contract will hurt in 2020. I imagine the Phillips contract will hurt just as bad, if not worse, in 2017, and the Yankees aren’t even the ones who signed him to that deal.

Speaking of him signing that deal, he came to terms with the Reds just five days after teammate Joey Votto secured a 10-year, $225 million extension (which goes into effect starting this year). A little more than a year later he complained about how the Reds handled the situation — that is, he complained that they gave Votto, a superstar, his money before they gave Phillips, an average hitter coming off a career year, his. Yet he signed the deal anyway, probably because he knew that if he produced another average year in 2012, which he did, he wouldn’t get nearly that kind of money.

Given the current state of free agent contracts, perhaps Phillips’s isn’t among the worst in the game. But he’s still being paid like a very good player, when in fact he is average.

For Gardner?

In the wake of the Ellsbury signing, I’ve seen more than one person suggest that trading Brett Gardner for Phillips makes sense. As I outline above, that’s not a great deal for the Yankees based on Phillips alone. But did you know that Gardner and Phillips share similar career numbers? Did you know that they have nearly identical OPS+s in the last four years (Gardner is a single point ahead, actually)?

Gardner will likely make half of what Phillips earns this year. I’m willing to bet that the Yankees can sign Gardner to a four-year deal worth less than the $39 million Phillips is owed in the final three years of his deal. True, there is something to be said about positional need. There is also something to be said about value. In the next four years I’m willing to wager that Gardner is worth every bit as much as Phillips, both at the plate and in the field. Add in a substantially lower contract, and it’s a no-brainer.

To give up anything of value for Phillips, without getting back about half of his contract, is sheer lunacy. The Yankees might, in the near future, have a need at second base. They’d be better off handing the position to Kelly Johnson. Hell, they’d be infinitely better off signing Omar Infante, who will be far cheaper than Phillips, to fill the role. Infante is also an average hitter.

Phillips has name value, no doubt. But the Yankees have added plenty of that this off-season. Do they really need to give up real, live baseball players for Brandon Phillips, an average hitter who is paid like a very good one? Paying for their own free agents is one thing. Paying for the mistakes of other teams? Only if it comes with a pot sweetener. Something tells me that’s not the mindset the Reds have in a potential Phillips deal.

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Yesterday sucked SUCKED! An 18 inning loss is grueling enough in its own right, never mind the not-so-insignificant matter of the offense seemingly going on long term hiatus. I think Mike’s rant yesterday was a very candid reflection of how a lot of us (including myself) feel after watching some of these excruciating losses too – and frankly, there was a lot of truth in what he wrote. With that being said, and maybe this is just me optimistically rationalizing, I think a few points have to considered in addition to what was said. So…here goes.

The offseason was awful. I didn’t feel particularly confident with any of the moves that they made other than the re-signing of Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda. Downgrading Nick Swisher for Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki (each for two years no less) also hurt quite a bit. However, I think it’s important to remember that while those two have been big contributors to the outfield’s woes, they are not the complete cause for this situation. While Mike interpreted the offseason as NY hubris, I see it as more of the culmination of frugality and unfortunate circumstance.

Curtis Granderson’s injuries were both fluky and that put the team in a difficult spot. It’s tough to stomach both OF corner spots being offensive voids; realistically, it probably should have only been one spot that made us cringe. The offense would be more tolerable as a whole, if some of these guys were used as they were intended to be – in other words, as situational hitters coming off the bench…not starters. Eventually, Grandy will return and his presence in the lineup can’t be overstated. He hits for power and offers a middle of the lineup bat that the team sorely needs. We’re seeing some of these guys become exposed. I give Brian Cashman the benefit of the doubt when I say they were never intended to be used as they are now.

The same argument can be made for Kevin Youkilis and Lyle Overbay. Youkilis was a super expensive health liability from day one designed to replace another super expensive health liability – he was also a sheer desperation move. And while Overbay has been performing admirably, he’s not Mark Teixeira nor will he ever be. Teixeira’s injury was unexpected, as was the timing of Alex Rodriguez’s second hip surgery. Even if the team had wanted to find an adequate replacement for both, it would have been difficult due to the timing of the injuries themselves. The point here is that while the offseason was awful in hindsight, that outcome was partially unavoidable I think. Frankly, a team cannot survive long-term when so many starters are on the DL. High impact players are just not in great supply on the free agent market, and trading for them is a bear. Fortunately, reinforcements are on the way as these guys recover and one can only hope they’ll be effective upon return.

I don’t really want to spend too much time discussing the farm system because I think that’s a pretty complicated topic – one that most certainly deserves its own post. I will say this though. The team hasn’t had an opportunity to acquire a ton of super high-end talent in the draft because they win a ton and those picks really don’t fall that far down the food chain. One can make the argument that the team hasn’t maximized the draft picks it has had, or that it hasn’t developed those players as well as they could. I won’t argue either of those points. What I can say though, is that prospects fail way more often than they succeed, and on some level, it makes sense to me that team hasn’t reaped the benefits of internal replacements as much as one would hope. Having a “Core Four” come up through the system is insanely difficult and insanely rare. I’d assume fans of most other teams are probably saying the same thing about their organization’s prospect failure rate too.

While the Yankees haven’t had too many game-changing prospects (we’re talking first round top ten talent, they have found a lot of guys who have tangibly helped the team. You’re seeing it right now on the pitching side of things. Warren was magnificent last night. Phelps has been great. I think Claiborne has been really fun to watch. And guys like Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, Jesus Montero (who was a headliner in the Minors mind you) have helped the team in a big way via the trade (I’m assuming Michael Pineda eventually contributes – go ahead, and call me an optimist). Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are topics of perpetual disagreement, but it’s inarguable that they are big league talent. Hughes can probably slot into the rotation right now for A LOT of teams and Chamberlain is a very good reliever. Not every pitcher can or will be Felix Hernandez or Mariano Rivera. That doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable in their own right though.

Do we have the best farm system? Absolutely not. Do we have one that is able to help the Big League squad overall? I contend that we do. It just may not be as much as we would like. But who knows, maybe some of these young players coming up through the system will become the next great name to wear pinstripes. I for one am really excited about Rafael DePaula and Gary Sanchez. Despite some drab numbers, I am also a huge fan of Mason Williams. These guys have the potential to be really helpful.

I do believe Mike’s post was spot on when he said the team lacks direction. It is hazy, at least to us. We don’t know the Steinbrenner’s agenda with certainty, nor do we know Cashman’s master plan to keep the team in contention assuming he has one. And this team may not be a championship caliber team. Frankly, I’m not sure any of that matters though, at least for the time being.

The idea shouldn’t necessarily be to win the championship every year because that’s an absolutely unattainable objective and a ludicrous measuring stick. The goal should be for the team to put its self in the position to win a championship every year. And the first step of giving the team a chance to win it all is to contend in their division and ultimately reach the playoffs. They are currently in contention — and I don’t expect that to change — and they can reach the playoffs (especially now with two wild card spots). It sucks watching the team lose, but perspective helps mitigate the nausea.

Are the Yankees the best team in the American League East? Right now, no. Are they the second? Quite possibly. Look around at their competition. They’re all flawed too; Ken Singleton did a nice job summarizing those weaknesses the other day. Are they better than the Tigers or the A’s? Probably not at this point. Are they better than the teams vying for a Wild Card spot in those divisions. I think so. We’ve seen what happens in the playoffs. Games are not played out as planned on paper and the damn San Francisco Giants end up winning it all. Get to the playoffs, and worry about the rest when the time comes. For what it’s worth, at least the Yankees have the pitching to give them a chance when it counts.

I was in the camp that was hoping the team could simply stay afloat while it weathered the injury-bug storm. They have done this, mostly admirably. They aren’t bludgeoning teams and they aren’t the dominant force that they have been in years past. But they are still around and better then much of their competition in the league. Ultimately, the team will need to decide how it’s planning on handling the austerity budget topic. It will have to carefully trapeze through the challenge of staying competitive perennially while simultaneously retooling. Given some of the terrible contracts already in the books, maybe they ultimately turn into the Phillies or the Angels as Mike cautions. Right now, though, I think this team still has plenty of opportunity to have a successful season and we shouldn’t write the future off quite yet either.

/optimistic_rationalization

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This is the boiling point.

The Yankees didn’t just lose Thursday afternoon/night’s 18-inning marathon with the Athletics because they couldn’t buy a hit after the first inning. They also lost because they half-assed their way through an offseason in which they deemed it acceptable to downgrade all over the field despite a) winning the division by the skin of their teeth last year, and b) knowing it was very likely going to be Mariano Rivera‘s final season. Real nice going away present. That surfboard the A’s gave him today was more respectful.

New York has done a real good job of finding veteran complementary pieces on low-risk, short-term deals in recent years, but this winter it became their primary team-building strategy. It’s all they did. Best of all, they started giving some of those retreads multi-year contracts and assuming a whole bunch of risk. Vernon Wells has sucked SUCKED for the last two years and five of the last seven, but apparently the magic of the pinstripes was supposed to bring his bat back from the dead. He and Ichiro were expected to form some kind of Frankenstein corner outfield monster that defied age and hit like it was 2005. That was their strategy. A real Major League team did this.

Best of all, they’re paying those two wastes of a roster spot — not to mention Kevin Youkilis, what a gem of a signing that has been — a combined $26M through next year, when they’re trying to cut payroll below the luxury tax threshold for no other reason than to save the Steinbrenners some money. Want to slash payroll and line your pockets? Fine. But don’t talk to me like I’m idiot and say you’re committed to building a “championship-caliber” team and you signed “three of the best free agents” over the winter. Get bent. At least speak the truth, then maybe your five-year old Stadium won’t be half-empty and the YES Network’s ratings won’t be in the toilet.

Of course, the team’s reliance on over-the-hill has-beens could have been mitigated if the farm system Brian Cashman has been talking about since getting his “autonomy” in 2005 actually produced a competent everyday player once in a while. Eduardo Nunez? Frankie Cervelli? lol. I’m sure Zoilo Almonte will come ride in on a white horse to save the day. The Yankees have done a fine job talking the talk when it comes to building from within and developing their own players, but they’ve fallen flat on their face when it comes to walking the walk. Outside of the Mariners, I’m not sure any team has gotten less from more out of their farm system than New York in recent years.

The Yankees lost on Thursday because they’re desperate. Desperate to hold onto the last glimmer of success from the dynasty years and afraid (unable?) to adapt and move forward with a new chapter in franchise history. Now they’re left with this laughable relic of a roster that is caught between being not truly good enough to contend and not bad enough to completely tear down and rebuild. It’s a very dangerous place to be, just ask the Phillies.

The Athletics swept the Yankees this series because they are the much better team, from top to bottom. Now the Bombers will go to Anaheim to face an Angels team that should serve as a scary warning should they not wise up and improve the way they go about building the club. The decision to willfully downgrade the roster this winter was a disgusting display of arrogance and cockiness from a team that claims it wants to give its fans a contender every year. Actions speak louder than words, and the actions say the club lacks direction.

/rant

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(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

In 2007, Vernon Wells became something of a punchline. In his first season after signing a seven-year, $126 million extension with the Blue Jays, he hit just .245/.304/.402. That 85 OPS+ was a far cry from the performances that earned him the extension: a 118 OPS+ in the previous four years. The mockery came to us all too easily.

(Also in 2007: the first time I can remember the “your name’s Vernon” chants in the bleachers. Then again, that was my first year sitting in the bleachers with any frequency.)

After that stumbling block of a 2007 season, Wells came back to produce a 123 OPS+ in 2008, and then a 125 OPS+ in 2010, with an 86 OPS+ in 2009 causing further mockery. Normally it’s not necessary to run down a player’s performance like this, since we can all load up Baseball Reference. But it seems that people have completely forgotten about Wells’s positive contributions and mock only the mediocre and poor ones.

Why shouldn’t we hate the Vernon Wells trade and the $13 million it will cost the Yankees? There are quite a few reasons.

The Yanks are paying $13 million for good reason. The most common reaction I saw to the Yankees picking up $13 million of Wells’s contract: “He wouldn’t get that on the free agent market.” Of course he wouldn’t. He’s also not a free agent. But given his performances the last two years, how did the Angels get the Yankees to pay even $13 million? The answer lies in the distribution.

According to NYDN’s Mark Feinsand, the payments break down in the Yankees’ favor. The Angels will cover $9 million this year, leaving the Yankees on the hook for $12 million. That means the Angels will cover $20 million in 2014, leaving the Yankees to cover just $1 million. It gets better, though: because Wells’s average annual value is $18 million, the Yankees will actually get a $2 million luxury tax credit next year. So yes, taking on $13 million is too much, but it’s what the Yankees had to take in order to get the Angels to cover $20 million next year. It seems like a positive on the whole.

Platoon potential. The Yankees have a weakness against left-handed pitching, especially from the get-go. The addition of Youkilis could help, but he alone will not replace the production of Russell Martin and Nick Swisher against lefties. With Teixeira and Jeter out to start the year, they’re even more vulnerable. For his part, Wells did crush lefties in 2011, to the tune of a .851 OPS — and he was generally terrible that year. For his career he shows much stronger numbers against LHP, so he could help fortify that all-lefty outfield.

He’s healthy for now. After his abysmal 2007, Wells underwent surgery on his shoulder. Who knows how long that was bothering him during the season — he actually produced a .910 OPS in April and had dropped all the way to .735 by the end of May. After his poor 2009 he underwent wrist surgery and came back to produce a quality 2010 season. In 2011 and 2012 he missed 84 combined games with various injuries. Perhaps he can still produce league average numbers in a full, healthy season.

Whenever a team takes a risk on a player, the big qualifier is always whether he will prevent the teams from making other moves in the future. If the $12 million hit the Yankees take this year prevents them from making an upgrade at the deadline, then it’s easy to pan the deal. But in 2014 the deal will actually improve their budget situation. Combined with his platoon potential and his production when healthy, this could turn into a positive for the Yankees.

Seeing those positives is difficult at this point, given Wells’s recent history. On the whole, the trade isn’t likely to work out. There’s just too much working against the 34-year-old Wells at this point in his career. But there are some things to like about this trade. If they can squeeze a few quality months out of him, then it should work out just fine. It’s not like he’s replacing world beaters in Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco.

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If you waded into the RAB comments a month ago, you’d have thought the Yankees were on their way from first to last. It wasn’t just limited to this site, of course; Yankees fans everywhere complained that this team was done, that they had no chance, that it was obvious to anyone who knew anything about baseball that they were going to miss the playoffs.

Yet here we sit, the Yankees taking a much-needed three-day vacation after having secured the best record in the American League. Funny how that works out: the team that was the best for more than two-thirds of the season ended the season on top, despite hitting a rough patch.

Apologies to those of you who didn’t lose your cool. There were undoubtedly a number of fans who remained levelheaded, and many of them frequent RAB. I’m sure your lives were much more pleasant from August 16 through September 11, when the Yankees went 9-15 and saw a six-game lead turn into a tie for first.

Don’t get me wrong: that time was no fun. But it involved a series of events over which we had no control. While we do get invested in the sport — some of us more than is healthy — it’s sheer insanity to let it affect other facets of your life. The fact that the Yankees had played so well up to that point — they had the best record in the AL by 2.5 games — should have bought them a little slack as they hit a rough patch. That they were missing some key players, including their ace and two middle of the order hitters, should have bought them even more.

Honestly, it was relatively easy to weather this storm. All you need to do is fine something else remotely interesting to take your mind off matters. I suggest some of the more blatant trolls on RAB try this. Not only will you feel better in the head, but you’ll be much more pleasant in the comments sections. We’d all appreciate that.

Read a book. It’s the great cure for nearly any stressful situation. Just find a book, any book, and start reading. I guarantee it’ll help you get over your favorite baseball team losing a few games. You might even learn something in the process. Plus, you could uncover some lines that prove prophetic.

“The Yankees cannot lose.”

“But I fear the Indians of Cleveland.”

“Have faith in the Yankees my son. Think of the great DiMaggio.”

“In the American League it is the Yankees as I said,” the old man said happily.

“They lost today,” the boy told him.

“That means nothing. The great DiMaggio is himself again.”

- Ernest Hemingway, Old Man and the Sea

I imagine the last part of that conversation coming on Saturday, after the loss to Toronto, only replacing DiMaggio with Cano.

Immerse yourself in another hobby or — gasp — work. When the Yankees were losing games it actually became easier to focus on work. Yeah, weird, right? But without the pressing need to finish by 7 so I could flip on the game, it became easier to sit down and really dig deep into something. I got to test out an all-in-one PC from Lenovo, which was fun as anything. I also got to some serious writing, which is typically quite difficult during baseball season. But it could have been building model solar systems, cracking passwords, or any number of hobbies.

Remember the past. You don’t even have to look to previous seasons to see how a team can wax and wane during a season. The Yankees went 11-15 from April 24 through May 21 before going 25-7 from the 22nd through June 27th.

Do — anything, really. Sorry for coming off as condescending, but it’s really straight forward stuff. If the Yankees bother you that much, turn your attention elsewhere. They’ll be there when you get back. It doesn’t make you a bad fan to turn it off when it makes you upset. What makes you a bad fan is watching, getting mad, and making a fool of yourself in front of others. Sure, it might just be an internet message board or social media service, but you’re still acting the fool. To me that’s far more egregious than turning away and avoiding those ill feelings.

As we’d say back in the olden days:

/rant

Honestly, the past few days have been quite wonderful. They’ve been somewhat stressful, because there remained the chance the Yankees would play the play-in-game, or even a playoff for the AL East crown. But that’s just part of baseball’s normal excitement. Plus, when Raul Ibanez hit that homer in the bottom of the ninth, was there any doubt left in your mind that they’d take the AL East?

It was a rough month in the middle there, for sure. There’s nothing not frustrating about a 9-15 stretch that eliminates a six-game lead. But that doesn’t invalidate the previous 114 games, nor does it mean the slide will continue for the final 21 games of the season. And, of course, the Yankees went 16-5 in those final 21, which brought their final record closely in line with the .592 winning percentage they had before the collapse began.

Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. It’s baseball. It happens.

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Sep
05

The 27-Game Season

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(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

One-hundred and thirty-five games into the season, the Yankees are right back where they started on Opening Day following last night’s loss to the Rays. They’re tied atop the AL East with the Orioles while Tampa looms just two back in the loss column, meaning the only thing left this season is a four-week mad dash to the finish line. A new 27-game season.

“It doesn’t (feel any different having a lead in the division or being tied),” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game, which is typical manager-speak. Of course it feels different having a lead than not, these guys aren’t robots. “When you look at it, you have to play good baseball. If you want to get in the playoffs, you have to play good baseball. And we’ve got [27 games left], and we have to play good.”

As ridiculous as this sounds, the best possible way the Yankees can view their current situation is as a fresh start. The once ten-game division lead is already blown and there’s no going back in time to get it back. They’re actually lucky they blew this thing with 27 games left, because at least now they have time to reclaim the division lead. The Red Sox and Braves had no such luck last year. The Yankees have to look at this as “alright, we’re all 0-0 and the best team over the next 27 games will win it.” What more could they possibly do? I don’t see any other way to look at it.

Oh, and you know what the most messed up part of this is? Driving back to my hotel from Tropicana Field last night, I felt relieved. Relieved they blew this lead. How ridiculous is that? Relieved. The Yankees have been playing so poorly for such a long time that blowing the division lead felt inevitable. Maybe it would happen today, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. Who knows. It felt like it was only a matter of time before it happened and I guess I was relieved that the wait was finally over. Remember back when you were a kid and you had to get up in front of the class to make a presentation, and how you were all nervous beforehand but felt great afterwards because it was over with? Kinda like that. The collapse part is done, now they can try to rebuild.

Anyway, the Yankees made their bed by playing sub-.500 ball since the All-Star break, so now instead of coasting to the finish line and making sure everyone is well prepared for the postseason, the playoffs basically start today. Tonight is Game One of a best-of-27 series … well, it doesn’t really work like that. But you get the point. The Yankees blew their nice cushy lead and they should be embarrassed by their play. I can’t imagine an athlete feeling any other way after a stretch like this. The season isn’t over though, there is still 16.7% of the schedule remaining and that has be the team’s focus. Looking back at what’s already happened will only doom them further.

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The Yankees slogged through yet another one-run loss last night, their eighth such defeat during this 6-12 stretch that dates back to the start of the West Coast trip in Oakland. They went from having a 13-9 record in one-run games to a 13-17 record in the span of two weeks. It’s unbelievable how they continue to fall short in tight games like this, it really is. I suppose the good news is that they haven’t been getting blown out of the water during this ugly 18-game stretch, but that really doesn’t make me feel any better.

Rather than put together an organized, reasonable, and well-thought-out post on the Yankees’ struggles, I’m just going to riff a bit. This seems more therapeutic.

* While the Yankees are busy embarrassing themselves in one-run games, the friggin’ Orioles are now 23-6 (!) in those affairs following last night’s extra-innings win. They’ve won a dozen straight extra-inning games, dating back to their first home series of the season when the Yankees beat them in extras twice. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s just good timing, maybe they’re just oh so clutch, but whatever it is it sure is annoying. At some point the other shoe will drop, and hopefully it will happen before next season.

* You know what else is annoying? The Yankees’ pitchers seem to give back every run the offense gives them in the span of an inning these days. Phil Hughes did it last night, Ivan Nova did it the night before, Nova did it again in spectacular fashion in his last start before that … the whole “shutdown innings” thing seems to have gone out the window. This has become one unwelcome habit. Maintaining a lead for more than one inning should not feel like a miracle.

* Last night’s start notwithstanding, Hughes has pitched pretty well for the last three months or so. I’m going to have a little more on him later today at some point, but for now I’m just going to post a slightly scary graph…

That is Phil’s strikeout rate as the season has progressed, and as you can see it’s been trending downward. I didn’t expect him to flirt with a whiff-per-inning all season, but after last night’s showing he’s down to 7.66 K/9 (20.0 K%). It wasn’t that long ago that he was among the AL’s top five with a 4.00 K/BB ratio, but it’s now down to a still strong 3.61. It keeps going down though.

* The Yankees have absolutely missed Alex Rodriguez, who even in his declining state serves as a steady contributor in the middle of the lineup. But did you know that during his absence, a span of 12 games, the replacement third basemen have hit a combined .359/.409/.744 with four homers? Obviously it’s a small sample, but damn. That’s pretty awesome. Only problem is that most of the other positions are hitting like they’re blindfolded.

* Eric wrote about this last week, but I can’t help but look around the league at the trade deadline. Every other AL contender — the Angels, Rangers, Tigers, and White Sox — all improved themselves in significant ways via trade. The Yankees got Casey McGehee and the reanimated corpse of Ichiro Suzuki. I despise the whole “the best trade they could make is getting their own players back and healthy” idea, it seems to lazy. I want to think that 40-year-old Andy Pettitte will come back to reinforce the pitching staff and that 37-year-old A-Rod to will return to anchor the lineup, but I just don’t buy it. Settling for Ichiro may hurt more than it helps.

* I think my ideal lineup right now would have a top five of Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson. The more I think about Granderson leading off the less I like it only because his power is wasted with Ichiro and the catcher batting ahead of him. Plus it’s not like Curtis has been doing a great job of getting on-base himself these last few weeks. The lineup doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but I am a fan of tinkering. It could mean a lot in an individual game.

* Of course, my proposed top of the lineup means a whole bunch of lefties will be stacked in the lower third, and the baseball universe might collapse upon itself if that happens. Seriously though, who cares? With McGehee, Andruw Jones, and Jayson Nix, the Yankees have right-handed pinch-hitters aplenty on the bench. Having a strong group of reserves is only an advantage if you’re willing to use them liberally.

* The lead in the division is down to five games in the loss column over Baltimore, the smallest it’s been since the end of June. Five games is a scary number because it seems so small compared to the nine and ten-game leads New York held a few weeks ago, but five games is pretty significant. Do you know when the Yankees held their first five-game lead last year? September 19th, after their 152nd game of the season. The magic number to clinch the division is just 49. Losing 12 of 18 and still being able to have a lead that size is pretty awesome … if that’s the right word.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Yankees are overly reliant on the homerun. They’ve hit a MLB-best 115 dingers through their first 72 games, the most homers through that many games in franchise history. Something like 52% of their runs this season has scored via the long ball, by far the most in the majors. They hit three more last night in their third straight win. New York lives and dies by the homer right now and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

I’m pretty sure the Yankees are the only club capable of making people try to spin hitting so many homers into a bad thing. There’s a lot of anti-Yankee stuff out there — I’d venture to say more than every other team combined — because hey, lots of people hate the Yankees and that stuff sells. I know all about the utter lack of hitting with runners in scoring position — .220/.326/.394 after a 1-for-3 effort last night — but we’re talking about 26% of their total plate appearances this season. That other 74% counts as well, and the Yankees do more damage in those situations than any other team in baseball.

Remember, “scoring position” is a cookie cutter definition applied to all players and teams. It refers to plate appearances when there is a runner on second and/or third and while that’s useful to a certain extent, the Yankees also have runners in scoring position when there’s a guy on first or even when the bases are empty. They have a roster full of power hitters and on most nights, have about eight guys in the lineup capable of putting the run on the board by themselves with one swing. Power is becoming harder to find these days and the Yankees have enough to spare.

At some point, the team’s .229 (!) BABIP with men in scoring position (the cookie cutter kind) will correct and that .220 batting average will climb. Most of the time saying BABIP will regress to some mean is lazy, because there can be some very real explanations for why someone’s rate will fluctuate from year-to-year or even month-to-month. The Yankees are nearly 30 points (!) below the second lowest team and about 70 (!!!) points away from the AL average though. Some of those guys are definitely pressing in those spots and it’s hurting the quality of their contact, but they’ve also been quite unlikely in those spots as a team. I mean really unlikely. Even getting up to a .250 BABIP with men in scoring position is going to turn a powerhouse offense into a juggernaut.

People like to say that you can’t really on the homer against quality pitching in the postseason but the Yankees have already hung 5+ runs on the likes of Johan Santana, Justin Verlander (twice), Jamie Shields (twice), David Price, and R.A. Dickey this year. Heck, last year in the ALDS they scored 12 runs in 18.2 innings off Verlander and Doug Fister. When a good pitcher makes a mistake, you have to make them pay. A walk and three singles to score two runs against a top guy just doesn’t happen. They’re great pitchers because they don’t allow extended rallies.

It’s June, and literally nothing that happens in June will tell you anything about what will happen in October. There’s still more than half a season to play and something like 20% of the roster will turn over between now and October, if not more. Hopefully the Yankees will start hitting with men in scoring position soon, but the reason they have the best record in baseball right now is because they hit the ball out of park and get quality pitching just about every night. That’s the formula every team tries to follow and the Yankees have done it better than anyone this year. Embrace the homers and don’t sweat the RISPFAIL just yet. This is a legitimately great team that still has room to improve.

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