"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Unbelievables


Think back to spring training and those lovely days of innocence when all things seemed possible for these New York Yankees. Raise your hand if you thought that the first week of August might see Brett Gardner leading the Yankees in all three slash categories and just one off the team lead in RBIs? Who thought Dellin Betances would emerge as one of the most dominant pitchers in the league, or that he would team with David Robertson to form perhaps the most formidable eight-nine combination the Yankees have had in more than a decade? And even if you had wanted to imagine the loss of 80% of the Opening Day starting rotation, who ever could have dreamed that the team would not just stay afloat but even contend in the American League East?

No one in his or her right mind would ever have predicted any of that nonsense, but all of it has come to pass, largely because of the work of general manager Brian Cashman, who has done some of his finest work this season in cobbling together something that doesn’t remotely resemble the powerhouse teams we’ve grown used to seeing in this Derek Jeter era but still might send the Captain out with one more playoff appearance.

How good has Cashman been? More big names than usual exchanged jerseys in the days leading up to last week’s trading deadline, but the Yankees either chose not to get involved or failed to take advantage of the free for all. We’ll never know if the Yankees ever had a shot at Jon Lester or David Price (probably not) or if they even came close to getting Marlon Byrd, but look at the small pieces that they were able to acquire. Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, and Martín Prado were all in the lineup against the Red Sox on Sunday night, and each player makes the Yankees marginally better than they were a few weeks ago. Cashman didn’t add a frontline starter, but he did get Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano and dip into the minors for Shane Greene. Those three don’t look like Lester, Price, and Jon Lackey, but they don’t look much like Vidal Núño or Chase Whitley, either. (Okay, maybe there are some similarities there, but let’s keep this positive.)

But here’s the point. When the Yankees opened this series against the Red Sox, just hours after the Boston Fire Sale saw management jettison their top three starters and one of their best bullpen arms, I felt that anything less than a sweep would be a disappointment for the Yankees. After Esmile Rogers (!), Betances, and Robertson shut down the Sox over the last five innings (no hits, two walks) and allowed the Yankee bats (!) to pound their way back into the game before Gardner rocked a homer that would be the deciding run in an 8-7 win, I changed my mind.

With contributions from their 2014 MVP (Gardner, 3 for 4, 2B, HR, 3 RBIs), a cast-off from Toronto (Esmil Rogers, 3 IP, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 K), and a player the Red Sox gave away as an afterthought (Drew, 2 for 4, 2B, 4 RBIs), this game seemed like a microcosm of the Yankees’ entire season. Yes, I had expected a sweep, but when you look at this lineup and rotation, you realize that maybe it doesn’t make sense even to expect a single win, let alone three in a row. These Yankees have no right to be winning games, and no right to be in the playoff hunt, but there they are.

These Yankees are the Unbelievables.

[Photo Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images]

Categories:  1: Featured  Game Recap  Hank Waddles  Yankees

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1 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 4, 2014 9:04 am

The Unbelievability of this team's recent success is that it came against the reigning champs, or whatever's left of them.
A very satisfying, and much needed series victory here thanks to some dreadful Red Sox pitching.
Now let's see how unbelievable The Unbelievables are against the Tigers aces. I'm afraid the results will be quite believable, and predictable.
I'm not down on this team, mind you. I'm not an Unbeliever. I think they can make the playoffs, and beyond that, we know anything's possible.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 4, 2014 9:24 am

Man, last night had all the makings of one of those classic, awful, Yankee-Sox slugfests. Then after the 5th inning, they woke up and remembered it was 2014 and nobody scored another run.

3 coleman42   ~  Aug 4, 2014 9:33 am

Well said, Hank. You too, Sliced and Alex. Think positive

4 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 4, 2014 9:39 am

Well, we know the reality. They are fighting for a second wild card and a tough one-game playoff out in California. But stranger things have happened. We've got to figure that the Yanks will continue to break our balls this summer but who knows? They might make it and wouldn't that be fun?

5 Jon DeRosa   ~  Aug 4, 2014 9:54 am

Thanks for the recap Hank, could not see the end of this one and was thrilled to find out they won a tough one.

One quibble. The closer on this team is not named Mariano Rivera, so there's no way this 8-9 combo is more formidable than one that includes Mo. I'm not just being sentimental. Depending on the way we define "formidable" I'd say this is something along the lines of the 5th or 6th best tandem of the last decade.

6 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 10:18 am

[0] but all of it has come to pass, largely because of the work of general manager Brian Cashman, who has done some of his finest work this season in cobbling together something that doesn’t remotely resemble the powerhouse teams we’ve grown used to seeing...

Hmmm....maybe, maybe not. After yesterday's win, the little better than .500 Yankees (56-53) have a pythagorean record of 51-58. Cashman's legacy for this season is putting together a team that doesn't score much at all and is a touch better than average in preventing runs and by rights should be closer to last place in the division. If anyone should be credited for fine work in getting the team to a record so far above expected, it would be Girardi not Cashman. Or it's dumb luck.

7 Jon DeRosa   ~  Aug 4, 2014 10:28 am

Hard to compare Joba 2007, which was the best reliever I've ever seen other Mariano in the Postseason and the full season guys, but taking formidable to mean "hardest to beat" instead of "most valuable", I'd go:

2011, 2005, 2009, 2007, 2008, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2010, 2006

In 2011, D-Rob had a 1.08 ERA and 100 Ks. In 2009, we had Hughes go nuts in the bullpen. In 2007 JOBA and 2008 Joba. 2005 is a sneaky one, but Gordon and Mo combined for 159 (!) innings and Mariano was stellar and Gordon very good.

Also working against the 2014 boys is that hitters stopped hitting and they get a lot less creidt for these low ERAs.

If you want to just look at value you could bump these guys up a few notches as Betances has shouldered a huge workload compared to other relievers.

8 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2014 10:50 am

[6] 57-53, thank you very much.

I thought Hank's point was that they're doing unbelievably well given that they lost four out of five starters to injury. I mean, unless you blame Cashman for that.

9 rbj   ~  Aug 4, 2014 11:00 am

Fell asleep well before the end of the game, nice to wake up to a victory.

And the water ban has been lifted! Still going to flush my system and wait a day until using the tap water.

10 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2014 11:19 am

ExSox report:
John Lackey 7 IP, 2 R, for a 3-2 win against the Brewers.
Jake Peavey: retired first 19 Mets, 0 R in 7 IP, but the Mets went on to beat the Giants.
I guess everyone knows Lester gave up 3 in 7 for the W in his Oakland debut.

11 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 11:35 am

[8] They are doing well all things considered, but that (I think) is more on Girardi than Cashman, who constructed a pretty mediocre ball club going into the season, even before injuries popped up.

For what it's worth, do I blame Cashman for the injuries? Of course not. However, he did decide to anchor the staff with CC "degenerative knee condition and decreasing velocity" Sabathia and Hiroki "I'm 39 y.o." Kuroda and Michael "How many years removed from surgery?" Pineda, while at the same time hoping to get a lot of mileage from Mark "wrist injury" Teixeira and Carlos "No Knees" Beltran.

That the staff (and position players) have lost a lot of player-gams to injuries is not all that surprising.

12 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2014 12:16 pm

But, uh, Kuroda is fine, and Tanaka, Pineda and Nova are young. If the team had lost Sabathia only, they'd be a much better team (than they are in fact, I mean).

Teixeira and Beltran aren't injured, but they are obviously declining; I'm pretty sure that didn't blindside Cashman, though.

13 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 12:55 pm

[12] Yes Kuroda is fine. You miss my point. Cashman built the team around an aging core, including bringing in a few more old players players. Among the young players expected to play a big role was Pineda, whose injuries this year should not surprise anyone. That the team was hit with so many injuries is not a shock. They got lucky with Kuroda, but unlucky with Tanaka. CC was predictable enough, as was Pineda. Teixeira has already been injured this season. Beltran, from my understanding, has been partially hobbled as well, no? Neither comes as a shock. That's the team Cashman built.

That they are winning more games than one would predict based on their runs scored and allowed, then, should be credited to Cashman, or to luck. That they are still "in it" should be credited to Selig, who pushed for a second wild card.

14 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 1:21 pm

All this being said, as of today the Gardner deal looks fargin' genius---notch one for Cashman there.

15 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2014 1:30 pm

That three young pitchers are injured is indeed a shock. Of course, everyone told Cashman that Kuroda was going to be injured, so that's not a shock. Or anyway it wouldn't be if it happened. But it didn't.

I don't know why you think it was predictable that Pineda would be injured. I don't think it was predictable at all.

I also think it's mysterious that you believe they're in the race for the second wildcard slot but not for the division. Those are only 1.5 games apart.

16 Jon DeRosa   ~  Aug 4, 2014 1:42 pm

[15] I think you misread that. The Yanks are 5 games behind the O's, 5 in the loss column. They are 1.5 games behind the Jays, 0 in the loss column.

17 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2014 1:46 pm

Oh, you're right, Jon, I didn't process it correctly.

18 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 2:02 pm

[15] You're being wilfully obtuse. Yes, the team has suffered some injuries, some of the unpredictable (losing some young pitchers). But every team suffers injuries every year. The Yankees, as I see it, increased their chances of losing player-games to injury by building a team around aging players and players who have missed significant time in recent years with injury, namely: CC, Kuroda, and Pineda (really, you weren't surprised Pineda got hurt? I'm surprised he appears so close to coming back) in the rotation, Jeter, Roberts and Teixera in the IF, and Beltran as an OF option. Once could also argue that Ellsbury is injury prone.

And look, 6 out of those 8 have been injured this year.

So, I'm not going to credit Cashman for building a team that's hanging' in it despite all of the injuries. Rather, this team is hangin' in it despite Cashman building a team that was likely to suffer lots of injuries. For that, I credit Girdardi if anyone.

As for the pennant race, they are five games back from the division lead. While such a lead is not insurmountable, historically it is quite difficult to overcome with only 50 or so games remaining. In fact, as of today, baseball prospectus gives the Yankees only an 11% chance to win the division. They are nine back in the loss column for the first WC, which will go to either Oakland of LAA barring catastrophic collapse.

19 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 2:13 pm

[18] To continue, focusing on Pineda:

I don't know why you think it was predictable that Pineda would be injured. I don't think it was predictable at all.

Already in 2012, Jay Jaffe wrote an article for baseball prospectus arguing that the chances Pineda would return from a torn labrum and have success anywhere near what he enjoyed before was very slim (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=16634).

One comparison is Annibal Sanchez, who lost most of two seasons to the inury and surgey and recovery, and the *following* season lost another half year to shoulder strain, presumably related to his initial injury. The Yankees have been cautious with Pineda, but it's not really all that surprising that he would have some sort of set back this year, his first time back in the bigs in two seasons.

20 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2014 2:38 pm

Oh, it's not willful! I'm involuntarily obtuse, I assure you.

Six of eight of the players you named have been injured, but my point is that two other starting pitchers have been injured too. Seriously, if you have two 30something pitchers and three mid-twenties pitchers as your starting five, and someone tells you, "This is madness, Brian, you have to expect that four of them will be injured," you should suspect the person is nuts.

I don't think Jaffe says the chance that Pineda would avoid injury this year was slim. He says the prospects are 'sobering'. Pineda pitched very well in the games he did play, so it's not as if the surgery wrecked his delivery or anything like that. Sanchez recovered and pitched extremely well, so if he's the most comparable that should be encouraging.
Anyway, I certainly agree that the chance of a pitcher getting injured given that he was injured the previous year is higher than the chance for an average pitcher. But it's hardly "predictable". That's like saying it's predictable that David Ortiz will get a hit when he comes up in a game-on-the-line situation. It might seem like it's almost bound to happen, but in fact it's pretty unlikely!

21 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 3:32 pm

[20] Seriously, if you have two 30something pitchers and three mid-twenties pitchers as your starting five, and someone tells you, "This is madness, Brian, you have to expect that four of them will be injured," you should suspect the person is nuts.

Again, it depends who those pitchers are. I would have put it to Cashman something like this:

"This is madness, Brian. You have A 30+ year old power pitcher with annually diminished velocity and a degenerative knee condition coming off a terrible season as your #1 starter and expected innings eater, you have a 39 y.o. starter who has been great the last two years but also faded badly last year slated as your #2, you have an unknown entity in Tanaka penciled in at #3, you have a guy who has missed two seasons to injury slated as the #4/5 and the mercurial Ivan Nova as the other back end starter.

There is a really good chance that CC is going to be ineffective and probably get injured, and it's a gamble to lean heavily on Kuroda. There is a very good chance that Pineda will injure himself in his first time back from serious serious surgery, even assuming he can be effective. That's three major injury risks beyond the usual risk of injury that pitchers face, plus the uncertainty of Tanaka coming from Japan (is he Yu Darvish or will his transition go less smoothly, especially give the much heavier workload in MLB compared to the Japanese leagues)."

Put that way, four injuries to the starting five is certainly unlucky, but maybe only one injury more than what might have been expected, given the composition of the staff this year.

22 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2014 4:43 pm

Okay, I mean, I just think that's the wrong assessment. The expectation of the 'injuries' variable couldn't possibly be 3. Even for Pineda I think (based on another Baseball Prospectus article) it should be about .32. Expected values are additive, so the expected number of injuries is the sum of the chances of injuries to each. Must be between 1 and 2, closer to 1.

23 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 6:04 pm

[22] Fair enough. I guess I'm just a pessemist, but you knew that already!

24 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 6:06 pm

[22] And "degenerative knee" must raise the injury expectation for that individual, no?

25 RIYank   ~  Aug 4, 2014 6:21 pm

[24] I think CC must have had the highest expected injury number, actually.

26 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 6:21 pm

[22] Wait a minute, I just re-read that baseball prosepctus article on injuries. According to the author (Russell Carleton), a major predictor of a picher getting an injury in a given season is not only if he had an injury in the previous season, but also if he had an injury two seasons before.

So wouldn't you have to add those expected values into your equation as well? Ivan Nova was injured in 2012 and 2013 (though the injuries were minor), CC was injured in 2013 (and has a degenerative condition), Pineda was seriously injured in 2012, Phelps was injured in 2013, Tanaka had a shoulder injury in 2012 (if I read correctly). It seems to me that the cumulative chances for injury to the staff this year were higher than you estimated.

27 monkeypants   ~  Aug 4, 2014 6:21 pm

[25] Indeed!

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