Postgame Spread
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Friday, October 20, 2006

Yankees offense TOO good for the postseason?    

An interesting comment from Bill Simmons' most recent mailbag:

[Blah blah blah Piniella bad, firing Torre stupid]...But my buddy JackO (diehard Yankee fan) claims that Torre lost the respect of the team, that the Yankees turned into a passive, business-like team of rich guys who didn't get along, didn't retaliate whenever pitchers threw at their guys or took Jeter out at second base and didn't seem to have any real sense of urgency. I countered that there's something to all of that, but you win in October with good starting pitching, a deep bullpen and clutch hitting; if those three things aren't happening at the same time, it doesn't matter how much money you spent on the team.

Anyway, out of all the Yankee fans I heard from, the most rational argument came from Jonathan T., who sent along the following post-mortem:

"In 1996-2000, it wasn't just that they had great chemistry (which they did), they didn't have nearly as much offensive talent so they were forced to play true October baseball. The current Yankee lineup isn't built for the postseason. You just can't rely on three-run homers with the great pitching in the playoffs, while you can in much of the regular season (especially playing Tampa and Baltimore 38 times). With a great set of contact hitters and speed guys --Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Melky, Cano -- this team should be hit-and-running, stealing at every opportunity, taking extra bases, bunting, etc. However, with power hitters like Sheffield and A-Rod clogging up the end of the lineup (such as Game 4, when A-Rod hit eighth), they can't. There is actually TOO MUCH talent. Are you honestly going to bunt with runners on first and second and no one out with the 25-million-dollar man up? Of course not. But if former eighth-place-hitter Scott Brosius is up, it's a no-brainer. So it's not just their lack of chemistry but the fact that playoff teams thrive off role players. Even if you take a loaded team like the Mets, they still have guys like Endy Chavez, Jose Valentin and Paul Lo Duca. Baseball front offices, regardless of the payroll, should build their teams like baseball teams, not fantasy baseball teams."

I've been starting to think there's something to the opinion of this "JackO", as you guys know, but I also think the real key is Simmons' retort (with mandated caution regarding the notion of clutch). Yankee problems are pitching and defense (two very related problems for the Yankees especially, though each is significant in isolation as well). There may also be a number of other things going on, but pitching is by far the most important, then defense, then whatever weird clubhouse politics and chokeritis or whatever.

That said, the email that Simmons quotes is kind of interesting. I think he's waayyy overstating the importance of small ball (look how many runs the Tigers scored in their wins), but still...well, lets see here. In playoff losses beginning in 2004 (when I believe the current era of Yankee failure began though it may have been '03 against the Marlins or even '02 I suppose), the number of runs the Yankees gave up in each loss:

8 (vs. DET)
6 (vs. DET)
4 (vs. DET)*
5 (vs. ANA)**
11 (vs. ANA)
5 (vs. ANA)**
10 (vs. BOS)
4 (vs. BOS)***
5 (vs. BOS)***
6 (vs. BOS)***
2 (vs. MIN)****

* 4-3 loss. This presents an interesting case because if the Yankees had been able to pull out this game, the chances that the rest of the series had gone the way it did are very very small, in my opinion. Could more small ball have helped? Sound off in the comments.

** 5-3 losses. You could argue this is another case, but I'm going to call it a push. As far as I'm concerned, there's no conclusions that can be drawn from this, except to point out that they gave up 5+ runs to a terrible offensive team in all three of those losses, including that 11 point game. Ugh. Small ball being able to help or not, Yankee pitching sucks.

*** Boston series madness. Clearly a whole lot of other shit was going on here, like Foulke pitching as well as anyone in any single postseason ever, the biggest choke ever, etc. Still, while it's hard for me to say, being able to eek out a single extra-innings run could have meant the series. I'm not sure small ball would have helped them, but I could see someone making the case effectively. Thoughts?

**** 0-2 loss to the best pitcher in baseball pitching his best...you could include this I guess, but I'm not inclined to believe they could have scored those runs by small ball either. It hardly matters since they won the series anyway.

Conclusion: Maybe there's something to all this, but it's also easy enough to describe it all in terms of Yankees pitching pretty much sucking. And I think the Yankees continued perceived need for proven commodities is going to continue to hurt them here. There's so much wear-and-tear on arms by the time they are made available to the Yankees from other teams...I don't see this getting much better. Although, future signings will almost certainly not work out as badly as Pavano or Wright, so they may be able to win anyway. Still, a potentially major drawback to not be able to build pitching from within because of this fear of non-proven players.

And in case this doesn't sate your thirst for Yankees-related schadenfreude, there's this thread about trading A-Rod to the Cubs. It's annoying here and there, but fun speculation too, and I learned a few things I think. Enjoy.

5 Comments:

  • One problem:
    Um, the Yankees played a hell of a lot of small ball this year.
    In fact, they were third in all of baseball (NL included) in stolen bases. And oh, by the way, they were also second in SB%, which indicates that they pick their spots well, unlike, say, SB team leader Anaheim, which was third to last in SB%. Oh, by the way, the Yankees stole more than 2x the # of bases as Detroit Slow-as-a-Rock City. Now, it's entirely true that those SBs came mostly without mashers Sheffield and Matsui in the lineup. I'd be interested to see the stats on their SB and other small ball stats once Sheff and Godzilla came back, to see if it really was just a decision made due to the weaker lineup, and also to see postseason stats to see whether Torre had a knee-jerk reaction towards being more conservative. Given their (in my mind) history of playing a ton of small ball in the postseason, i doubt it. Plus any analysis of post post-sheff/matsui return + playoffs is going to suffer from really small sample size.

    My analysis-- Yes, the yankees at times sit back and wait for the three run homer, but I think that's only with regard to being ultra patient at the plate, and drawing walks a la Oakland. In close games, however, they typically get very aggressive on the bases. I don't think this has changed in the playoffs, but don't have any numbers to back it up.

    More importantly, yeah... THE PROBLEM IS THE PITCHING STAFF. This lineup will score some runs if managed by a chimp with a banana and an innertube.

    By Blogger Alex, at 9:52 AM  

  • OK, Simmons knows dick about baseball. I thought it before, but I'm more confident now. I'll stick to the NBA stuff.

    So, having said that, I'll defer to firejoemorgan.com who gave Simmons and his email informant a little less benefit of the doubt than I did, first here and then here.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 4:29 PM  

  • glad you found that. i was preparing a tirade very similar, and now i don't have to.

    By Blogger Alex, at 9:16 PM  

  • I don't know: I think the email kind of has a point. Not the role-players-are-better-than-a-lineup-of-stars point or the too-much-offense point. Those are silly for the reasons Lehr and Mr. Angry Blogger pointed out. And clearly, pitching is the biggest concern. I do think though it's generally a good thing to have flexibility and athleticism in the post-season. The Yankees didn't have a ton of that, as far as I could tell. From my uneducated, unresearched, perspective, they don't have a lot of guys that take away outs on defense, or avoid outs/gain extra bases on offense when big hits aren't coming. I think, in general, you don't want to rely on one hitter or one pitcher, you don't want to rely on offense or defense, you don't want to rely on one type of offense -- the more avenues you have to victory, the better. I guess that's the non-controversial, watered-down version.

    By Blogger chas, at 12:57 AM  

  • Granted, you want to be able to win in as many ways possible.
    But offensively, I think they're fully able to do that.
    You have Damon, Jeet, and Abreu at the top of the order, taking pitches, stealing bases, hitting and running, etc.. and punishing any pitcher not on the top of his game w/legitimate power to drive mistake pitches. You've got mashers in the middle, and you've got a free swinger wild card (Cano) at the bottom of the order. Seems like good balance to me.

    Obviously, their defense is shitty, but I'm still not convinced that the gains represented by spectacular defense are worth the likely hit you take at the plate with those guys.

    By Blogger Alex, at 12:02 PM  

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