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Hot Stove History: A Look at the Best and Worst Moves the Yankees Didn’t Make

If Bobby Grich had signed with the Yankees, Reggie Jackson's star would have never made it to New York.

If Bobby Grich had signed with the Yankees, Reggie Jackson’s star would have never made it to New York.

Sometimes, the best trades or free agent signings are the ones a team doesn’t make. Many Yankee fans seem to feel that way about the team’s decision to let Robinson Cano head west to Seattle. Is that wishful thinking? Perhaps, but considering the team’s eager willingness to trade him earlier in his career, such an outcome would be par for the course.

What about the flip side? When it comes to transactions not made, is relief really more common than regret? Or, are opportunities lost just as impactful as serendipitous gains? Since the advent of free agency in 1976, no team has been more active on the open market than the Yankees, so there are plenty of case studies to consider. Listed below are some of the higher profile transactions that the team seriously considered, but never made, accompanied by alternatives that were implemented, when applicable, and an evaluation of how the net result influenced the course of franchise history.

1976: Yankees pursue free agent Bobby Grich, but settle on Reggie Jackson as a consolation.

Background: Baseball’s first free agents were subject to a very different system than today. Instead of simply hitting the open market, players filing for free agency would enter what was known as a re-entry draft. Teams would then select players in a pre-determined order, much like the amateur draft, but instead of acquiring exclusivity, they would simply be granted the right to negotiate. Because only 12 teams could select any one potential free agent, the draft process effectively cut the player’s market in half. In addition, individual teams could only sign two net new free agents (i.e., if a team lost a free agent, it could sign three). These limitations were intended to limit competition for players, but they wound up constraining supply more than limiting demand. Exponentially higher salaries were the result.

Fresh off a World Series sweep at the hands of the Reds, the Yankees entered the winter seeking a player who could put them over the top. As it turned out, Reggie Jackson fit the bill perfectly, but he wasn’t the Yankees’ first choice. When it came time to make their first selection in the re-entry draft, the Bronx Bombers went with Orioles’ gold glove 2B Bobby Grich (Jackson was selected sixth, but that was partly due to the relative lack of interest from teams who knew they would not be able to sign him). The only problem for the Yankees was Grich was intent of playing close to his home in Long Beach. So, when Grich reached an accord with the California Angels, the Yankees shifted their focus to Jackson and signed him shortly thereafter.

Outcome: In five years with the Yankees, Jackson was the straw the stirred the drink. From 1977 to 1981, the right fielder posted an OPS+ of 148 and was a key contributor to two World Championships, including being named MVP of the Fall Classic in 1977.

Over the span, Bobby Grich was equally impressive with the Angels, compiling an OPS+ of 128 and playing strong defense at second base. In 1979, Grich also helped the Angels win their first division title.

Verdict: Although the Yankees very well might have enjoyed similar success with Grich, it’s hard to imagine the second baseman (who would have played short stop for the Yankees) providing more value than Jackson. Also, when you consider the contributions of Willie Randolph and Bucky Dent during the five years in question, it seems clear that the Yankees’ plan B in 1976 turned out to be the best course of action.

1982: Sign Floyd Bannister, trade Ron Guidry to Texas for Buddy Bell, or Ron Guidry or Dave Righetti to Kansas City for George Brett, and deal Graig Nettles to San Diego for a minor leaguer (the quality of which would depend on how much of Nettles’ $500,000 salary the Yankees were willing to eat)

1983 almost had Brett in pinstripes instead of pine tar?

1983 almost had Brett in pinstripes instead of pine tar?

Background: After a disappointing fifth place finish in 1982, the Yankees were looking to shake things up in the offseason, with Floyd Bannister being the linchpin to a series of dramatic moves. The Mariners’ 27-year old lefty was coming off a season in which he led the league in strikeouts, making him one of the most coveted players in the re-entry draft. If the Bronx Bombers were able to sign Bannister, news reports suggested they would then flip Guidry or Righetti for either Bell or Brett and jettison Nettles for a minor leaguer.

Considering all of the moving pieces involved, it’s hard to know whether the Yankees could have executed the plan, but it was all made moot when Bannister signed with the White Sox. So, instead of the exciting chain of events that might otherwise have unfolded, the Yankees’ winter shopping consisted of signing Don Baylor and Steve Kemp.

Outcome: Over the term of his five year deal with the White Sox, Bannister proved to be a solid contributor, (200 innings in all but one season; ERA+ of 107), but hardly the cornerstone of a rebuilding process.  Both Guidry and Righetti proved to be more valuable pitchers over the span, albeit not by much.

It’s hard to believe Brett was really available. However, if the Yankees failed to do everything in their power to obtain him, it was a big mistake as the third baseman posted an OPS+ of 148 from 1983 to 1987 and remained one of the best players in the game throughout the rest of the decade. Although a more modest performer with an OPS+ of 108, Bell would have also represented a big upgrade for the Yankees, who wound up losing Nettles via free agency after the following season. It would take nearly a decade for the Yankees to acquire another third baseman of similar stature.

Verdict: In just about any iteration, the Yankees would have benefitted greatly from this deal. The acquisition of Bell would have more than offset the downgrade from Guidry to Bannister, while the idea of Brett in pinstripes seems as cataclysmic now as it must have then. Was such a deal really on the table? If so, the Yankees’ failure to consummate it qualifies as one of the team’s worst non-moves.

1985: Trade Don Baylor for Carlton Fisk

Background: In 1985, Carlton Fisk posted career highs in home runs and RBIs, but the White Sox were not eager to sign their 37-year old catcher to a long-term deal. Instead, they worked out a sign and trade with the Yankees, whereby Chicago would ink Fisk to a new deal and then flip him to the Bronx Bombers for disgruntled DH Don Baylor. However, Baylor had a no-trade clause, and he wouldn’t waive it unless Chicago sweetened the deal. Team co-owner Eddie Einhorn angrily balked at the request, proclaiming, “Let him stay with the Yankees”.

Baylor did stay with the Yankees, but only for another month, at which time he was dealt to the Red Sox for Mike Easler. Fisk’s staying power was much greater. Not only did the catcher sign a new two-year deal that offseason, but he remained with the White Sox for the final eight years of his career.

Outcome: Baylor had a solid year for the Red Sox in 1986 and provided above average offense over the next two, but the Yankees made out better with Easler. However, over the longer term, Fisk would have proven to be a better replacement. Despite having the worst season of his career in 1986, Fisk posted an OPS+ of 112 over the next five campaigns, which easily dwarfed the Yankees’ output from their catchers over that span.

Verdict: Assuming the Yankees had kept Fisk for more than two years, they would have easily come out the victor if Baylor had agreed to waive his no trade clause. Would Fisk’s production and leadership have made a difference on Yankee teams that came up short from 1986 to 1988? We’ll never know, but the value he provided at a very weak position for the Yankees would have made the team even more competitive during those years.

1986: Sign any or all of the following free agents: Tim Raines, Jack Morris and Andre Dawson

Jack Morris offered his services to the Yankees in 1986. They said no.

Jack Morris offered his services to the Yankees in 1986. They said no.

Background: During the winter of 1985, many of the best players in the game filed for free agency, but strangely, they attracted little interest around the league. Nearly every free agent that off season not only ended up re-signing with their current team, but they did so at terms well below recent norms. The same situation arose in 1986, but this time players were even more desperate to drum up a market. Jack Morris, then regarded as one of the best pitchers in the game, was so exasperated by the process that he offered his services to a list of five teams headed by the Yankees. Every single one turned him down without even discussing the terms. Morris was eventually forced to accept the Tigers’ offer of arbitration.

Tim Raines and Andre Dawson ran into the same difficulties as Morris, but the Expos’ outfielders didn’t relent as easily. Each outfielder refused to accept arbitration or re-sign with Montreal by the January 7 deadline, making them ineligible to return to the team until May 1. Faced with the prospect of not playing for a month, Dawson practically gave the Cubs a blank contract with his signature on it. Meanwhile, Raines waited patiently for another team to show interest. None ever did, and the outfielder was back in Montreal when the calendar turned to May.

Outcome: Raines, Dawson and Morris all had stellar seasons in 1987, and the two outfielders remained very productive for several years thereafter. However, it wouldn’t have taken a long-term deal to sign either or all three. By simply offering fair market value, the Yankees could have added as many as three All Stars to a team that won 90 games in 1986.

Verdict: By colluding with other teams to depress player salaries, the Yankees forfeited a chance to improve their team and prolonged a postseason drought that would last another eight years. The organization’s short sightedness also exposed the league to a costly lawsuit settlement and years of labor acrimony. Considering all the downside to saving a few extra dollars, the winter of collusion is the most glaring example of the worst moves being the ones you don’t make.

1992: Sign Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux

Background: The previous four seasons had been among the worst in Yankees’ history. After the suspension of owner George Steinbrenner, the team had retrenched and embarked upon a rebuilding process that was just starting to yield dividends. So, with the Boss on his way back from exile, and the Yankees’ farm system stocked with the talent, the team planned a master stroke. That winter, the free agent market was headlined by one of the best pitchers and hitters in the game…players who seemed destined to rank among the all-time greats.

The Yankees aggressively courted Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux, but GM Gene Michael couldn’t reel in either. Bonds’ contract demands, particularly his insistence on more than five years, proved too rich for the Yankees, while Maddux took less money to play in Atlanta. As a result, the team was forced to explore other options, which turned out to be Wade Boggs and Jimmy Key.

Outcome: Boggs and Key proved to be valuable consolation prizes, and were important contributors when the Yankees won the World Series in 1996, but Bonds and Maddux each continued on their paths toward immortality and, in the case of the former, infamy.

Verdict: If the Yankees had been able to sign either or both, it stands to reason that their ascendency toward the top of the baseball world would have been expedited. Having said that, it’s hard to imagine the team being more successful from that point forward, so, even though the franchise would have been given a boost in the early part of the decade, most Yankee fans probably wouldn’t want to change how the rest of it unfolded.

1998: Sign Albert Belle; let Bernie Williams go

Background: The Yankees had just completed one of the greatest seasons in baseball history, and Bernie Williams was at the forefront. That year, Williams won the batting title, gold glove, and posted the league’s second highest OPS+ at 160. It was the perfect time to be a free agent.

The Yankees initial offer to Williams was for five years and $37.5 million (eventually raised to $60 million), but the center fielder wanted something closer to seven years and $90 million. The gap was so wide, the team prepared to move on by courting Albert Belle, the only player in the A.L. with an OPS+ higher than Williams in 1998. Then, the Red Sox stepped into the fray, offering Williams the terms he wanted. Around the same time, the Orioles trumped the Yankees’ offer for Belle, so now even their backup plan was on shaky grounds. For whom would the team up the ante?

Before agreeing to the Red Sox offer, Williams made a last ditch effort to keep his pinstripes by calling George Steinbrenner directly. By the end of the call, the Yankees essentially matched the Red Sox offer, keeping Williams in the Bronx for seven more years.

Outcome: Williams was an elite performer for the first four years of his new deal, and over the full term provided value commensurate with his salary. The center fielder was also a key part of two more World Series victories and ended his career as one of the most prolific post season performers in baseball history. Meanwhile, Belle, who signed with the Orioles for five years and $65 million, had a very strong 1999 campaign, but only played two more years because of a debilitating hip injury.

Verdict: It’s a good thing the Yankees didn’t put plan B into action. The loss of Williams’ consistent excellence over the next four years, and the likelihood of Belle’s chronic hip flaring up in the Bronx, would have removed a pillar from the Yankees’ dynasty and, perhaps, caused it to fall much sooner.

This example most closely resembles the Yankees’ recent decision to effectively replace Robinson Cano with Jacoby Ellsbury (or Carlos Beltran). Interestingly, if the Yankees had increased their last offer to Cano in line with the bump given to Williams (approximately 40% in years and total value), the terms would have matched Seattle’s. However, this time, no phone call was made, and, considering the Yankees’ posture, it probably wouldn’t have been well received anyway. Now, the Yankees have to hope they can replace Cano’s remarkable consistency, which was also a hallmark of Williams.

2003: Claim Manny Ramirez from irrevocable waivers

Background: Manny Ramirez was an extremely productive member of the Red Sox’ lineup, but his mercurial behavior often left the team exasperated. So, after a crushing loss to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS, the Red Sox determined it was time to go in another direction, which meant shedding the remaining four years of Ramirez’ contract. To bring that about, Boston placed Ramirez on irrevocable waivers, essentially making him available to any team who was willing to pay the slugger $20 million per year.

Outcome: No one claimed Ramirez, who posted an OPS+ of 149 over the next four seasons and played a vital role in two World Series victories for the long suffering Boston franchise. Although the Red Sox relationship with Ramirez ended acrimoniously, they didn’t part company until 2008, when the Red Sox extended his contract by picking up one of the two team options attached to the original deal.

Verdict: The Yankees’ failure to claim Ramirez was mitigated by the signing of Gary Sheffield, who essentially matched the Red Sox slugger at half the cost in 2004 and 2005. However, Ramirez had greater staying power, and, by plucking him from Boston, the Yankees would have benefited from removing one of their chief tormenters from a bitter rival. On the whole, the Yankees would have been a better team with Ramirez during the four years that remained on his deal, and their relative supremacy over the Red Sox would have likely been extended.

2004: Sign Carlos Beltran instead of trading for Randy Johnson

Will the second time be a charm for the Yankees and Beltran?

Will the second time be a charm for the Yankees and Beltran?

Background: The Yankees were hoping to wash away the bitter taste of their collapse in the ALCS with a big acquisition in the off season, and two long coveted players just so happened to be available that winter. However, the team decided that it could only afford to add one, so the Bronx Bombers passed on Carlos Beltran, who offered the team a discount, in favor of trading for Randy Johnson.

Outcome: In 2005, Randy Johnson was the anchor of an otherwise shaky rotation, and his 5-0 record against the Red Sox turned out to be a crucial reason why the Yankees bested their rival for the division title. After that season, however, the Big Unit petered out in pinstripes and was traded back to the Diamondbacks one year later. In contrast, Beltran posted an OPS+ of 130 over the seven years of the deal he signed with the Mets, although two seasons were cut short by injury.

Verdict: Although Beltran provided much more value than Johnson, in 2005, the Big Unit helped the Yankees rebound from their ALCS collapse. Also, Johnny Damon, whom the Yankees likely would not have signed with Beltran in the fold, helped make up some of the void left in centerfield. On the whole, however, it’s hard to argue that the Yankees wouldn’t have been better off with Beltran. Brian Cashman is undoubtedly hoping that the same is true this time around, making the Yankees recent acquisition of the switch hitter a case of better late than never.

2007: Trade for Johan Santana

Background: It had been seven years since the Yankees last won the World Series, and the team’s lackluster starting pitching was the main culprit. So, with the Twins dangling Johan Santana, it seemed a certainty that the Yankees would backup the truck for the talented left hander. Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, and Austin Jackson were all coveted by the Twins, and it was reported that the Yankees would have to part with at least three to make a deal. That price proved to be too steep, especially considering some of the concerns the team had about Santana’s durability. So, instead of trading for the ace they so desperately needed, the Yankees allowed the Mets to swoop in and claim that winter’s biggest prize.

Outcome: After the 2008 season, it looked as if the Yankees had blundered badly. Santana finished third in the NL Cy Young race, while the Bronx Bombers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. However, Santana began to regress and never again threw 200 innings in a season. In addition, all of the players on the Twins wish list contributed in varying degrees (either in pinstripes or as a trade chip) to the Yankees’ future success.

Verdict: Passing on Santana proved to be the right decision, regardless of the package sent to Minnesota, although including Cano in the deal would have been catastrophic. By keeping all of their prospects and signing a healthier ace the following season, the Yankees quickly rebounded in 2009, winning their 27th World Championship with Sabathia, Cabrera, Cano, Hughes, and Chamberlain all playing a key role.

2010: Sign Cliff Lee

Background: The Yankees tried to acquire Cliff Lee at the 2010 trading deadline, but the deal fell through when David Adams’ medical report revealed a red flag. The Yankees weren’t willing to amend the deal, so the Mariners traded Lee to Texas instead. After watching Lee dominate them in that year’s ALCS, the Yankees were determined to sign the lefty during the off season. However, Lee was more interested in beating the pinstripes than wearing them, so he took less money to join the Phillies.

Outcome: In the three years since signing the deal, Lee has remained one of the best pitchers in baseball, posting an ERA+ of 139 in over 660 innings. Not only would he have made the Yankees a better team during that period, but the left hander would also fill the void in the team’s starting rotation that remains today.

Verdict: Because Lee turned down the Yankees, the team can’t be blamed for inaction. However, had the club been willing to sweeten its offer to the Mariners during the 2010 season, he may have been more amenable to remaining in the Bronx that off season. As a result, that initial reticence has become a source of regret for Yankee fans, and, perhaps, Brian Cashman as well.

Say It Ain’t So; Did Yankees Really Want Robbie Cano?

A $240 million smile. (Photo: AP)

A $240 million smile. (Photo: AP)

When Brian Cashman said “everyone is replaceable”, he wasn’t kidding. Less than 12 hours after Robinson Cano spurned the pinstripes for the “greener” pasture of Seattle, the Bronx Bombers welcomed Carlos Beltran into the fold. Easy come, easy go.

Yankee fans may have been floored by Cano’s decision to accept a 10-year, $240 million “partnership” with the Seattle Mariners, but the organization certainly wasn’t. Judging by the alacrity to replace him, it seems as if the Bronx Bombers knew what was coming. In fact, their inflexibility with Cano pretty much dictated the sequence of events. Was it a case of the Yankees prudently devising and implementing a contingency plan, or did the franchise actually prefer Plan B from the outset?

Did the Yankees really want Cano? There are 160 million reasons why that might seem like a silly question, but the organization’s posture toward Cano suggests they may have made him an offer he had to refuse. From day one of the off season, the Yankees saturated the media with statements about how much the team would not  pay Cano. By drawing a line in the sand, the organization appeared more interested in backing into an exit strategy than moving forward with productive negotiations. And, if any went on behind the scenes, no one was telling, which seems doubtful considering how public the process became.

Even before the Mariners jumped into the fray, the Yankees jeopardized their own offer to Cano by giving the same deal to Jacoby Ellsbury. Did the Yankees really think the Red Sox All Star was an equal to the homegrown Cano? It’s hard to imagine so, but even if their internal projections bucked the conventional wisdom, they had to know Cano would think otherwise. Either way, by announcing the Ellsbury deal before at least attempting an aggressive push for Cano, the Yankees were effectively sandbagging their offer. What’s more, by outbidding the Mariners for Ellsbury, the Yankees were creating a rival for Cano. In a sense, the signing of Ellsbury all but marked the end of Cano’s time in pinstripes. So, when the Mariners came calling, it’s no surprise the second baseman was eager to listen.

When you consider the $80 million difference between the two offers (which doesn’t take into account the tax advantage of playing in Washington state), it’s impossible to argue that the Yankees were competitive in the process. Ironically, Cano will likely be branded a greedy trader for taking the extra money, when it reality that exorbitant sum should be regarded as a symbol of his loyalty. After all, the Mariners would not have blown the Yankees’ offer out of the water if they didn’t have to. Seattle paid a very high price to lure Cano away from his obvious preference, and, for some reason, the Bronx Bombers made little effort to discourage him. By all accounts, Cano was willing to give the Yankees a discount, but the team didn’t seem interested in finding out exactly what it was.

Yankees’ Payroll as a Percentage of Team Revenue

Source: Cots Contracts (opening day payroll) and Forbes (estimated revenue)

Regardless of the Yankees eagerness to retain Cano, there’s still the question of whether they made the right decision to let him go. A surprising number of Yankee fans have looked past Cano’s production and legacy and instead celebrated the move as a sound financial decision. Who knew so many of the team’s followers had so much concern for Hal Steinbrenner’s profit margin? Chalk that up to the Yankees’ constant talk about cost cutting. Instead of holding the franchise up to standards of the past, fans have begun to think of the team’s payroll as a zero sum game. As a result, Beltran is being accepted as a suitable, cheaper alternative to Cano, instead of a complement, as would normally have been the case. Incredibly, the Yankees have created an environment in which payroll reductions are viewed as increases, and the team’s profit margin is viewed by some fans as being more important than its winning percentage. And yet, the Yankees’ ability to spend doesn’t justify every big contract, especially one as large as Cano’s.

Conventional wisdom now dictates that all long-term deals are bad, especially for players already on the north side of 30. In the case of the 31-year old Cano, a 10-year deal looks particularly onerous. There’s no way the All Star second baseman will come close to earning his $24 million salary in the 2020s, the argument goes, so how can a team make such a short-sighted commitment? This logic seems reasonable, but it is mitigated by three factors routinely overlooked: (1) excess return at the beginning of a contract can offset deficits at the end; (2) money has time value; and (3) player costs are subject to inflation.

Can Cano maintain his production for three more years? If so, according to fangraphs.com, he will be worth $90 million, or $18 million above is annual salary. If he has seasons similar to 2012, the surplus would rise to $33 million. There’s no guarantee the second baseman won’t begin an immediate decline, but chances are he’ll provide excess value over the first half of his contract that would offset at least some of the likely drain toward the end of the deal.

Another important consideration of any long-term deal is present value. It’s natural to look at Cano’s $24 million salary in today’s dollars, but money has time value. More specifically, under typical economic conditions, a dollar in hand is worth more than at any point in the future. How does that impact Cano’s contract? The chart below provides a full picture, but in 2023, for example, the second baseman’s salary will be equivalent to about $15.5 million in current terms.

Present Value Depiction of Robinson Cano’s New Contract

Note: Present Value is based on AAV of contract discounted back by 5% (1% + 30 Year Treasury Rate), with payments assumed as a lump sum on first day of each year  and discount rate compounded annually (this actually overstates the present value). Inflation adjustment is a further 3.55% discount based on average annual salary increase between 2003 and 2012. For example, the chart says that in 2013, Cano’s $24 million salary is worth $15.5 million in today’s dollars, and that based on rising cost structure, paying someone $15.5 million current dollars in 2023 would be like a $11.3 million payment today. 

Between 2003 and 2012, the average salary in major league baseball rose from $2.3 million to $3.2 million. If similar growth is applied to Cano’s contract, his $15.5 million present value salary in 2023 would be similar to paying a player $11.3 million today. If Cano only has to be worth around $11 million in 2023, not $24 million, and you consider the surplus he may provide in the early years of the deal, all of a sudden what seems like a burdensome arrangement becomes fair value.

But, what about the luxury cap? Inflation and time value mean nothing to baseball’s tax man. Even though Cano’s outer years may be worth less in today’s dollars, a team will still be on the hook for a $24 million AAV in 2014. For the Yankees, that’s particularly onerous because, even with an Arod suspension, the team is all but assured of paying the luxury tax once again. However, it’s hard to say the team was motivated by this factor when their top offer had an AAV just below the $24 million figure that will be assigned to the Mariners. And, if Cano had accepted a $10-20 million discount to return to the Bronx, the AAV of a 10-year deal would actually be worth less than the $160 million offer made by the Yankees (the difference becomes greater if the team’s reported willingness to go as high as $175 million over seven years is true).

At the risk of getting bogged down with financial minutia, the math illustrates that long-term deals are not as burdensome as often portrayed. This realization leads back to the original question. Did the Yankees really want Cano? If the financial implications are not so prohibitive, shouldn’t the team have been more aggressive? And, if so, what explains the team’s lukewarm courtship?

Do the Yankees believe Cano is a candidate for a rapid decline? Did they infer from his relationship with Jay Z that baseball was no longer a priority? Was a lack of hustle and work ethic an underlying concern? What about Cano’s close friendship with Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera? Perhaps a PED undercurrent made the Yankees more cautious. It’s easy to throw out conspiracy theories, but a more logical explanation might actually come back to finances.

Instead of being concerned about how much Cano was going to cost, it could be the team was worried about how money they could make off his star power. In an ironic twist, the Yankees may not have been scared away by the prospect of Cano becoming Arod. Their greater concern may have been Cano’s inability to match Rodriguez as a drawing card. Winning is the ultimate lure, and Cano helps in that regard more than most, but the Yankees’ brand also relies heavily on big names. So, without the extra bang for their buck, the organization may have decided Cano wasn’t worth the price. And, if the Yankees were acting from a financial standpoint, their motivation may have been governed more by marketing than payroll reduction, although the latter was certainly a bonus.

Life goes on for the Yankees. Just as Cano isn’t greedy, they aren’t cheap. However, Yankee fans have every right to question whether the team’s commitment to winning has taken a step back in favor of profit maximization. It’s one thing to build an occasional winner on a more defined budget, but when the mandate is perennial success, a lot more risks have to be taken. The Yankees passed up on a big one yesterday, and, it could turn out that they dodged a bullet. What is certain, however, is they have forfeited any chance at a big reward.

One final note is a personal one, but I hope it’s a consideration shared by many Yankee fans. Cano’s departure transcends win-loss rates and profit margin. It also impacts the team’s legacy. There will be no tearful goodbye to Cano in 10 years. By then, his time as a Yankee will have faded into distant memory. Instead of being the heir apparent to Derek Jeter, that royal line will now lay dormant. That might not seem important to some (including Cano), but having the opportunity to watch great players over their entire careers has been an important part of being a Yankee fan and integral to the franchise’s lore. It could be that the organization perceived a lack of connection between Cano and the fans, but nonetheless, the second baseman would have added to the franchise’s pantheon of all-time greats. Now, they’ll have to share Cano with Seattle.

Color By Numbers: Rivalry Reversals

Youk a Yank? Why not? (Photo: Getty Images)

Will there be a serenade of “Yoooouk” or a cascade of “boos” when Kevin Youkilis makes his Yankee Stadium debut in pinstripes? Judging by the initial response to the trade, the reaction might be somewhat mixed, especially with the Red Sox in town for Opening Day. Considering Youkilis’ infamous past as a Yankee killer, even those willing to welcome him into fold might still be susceptible to a flashback, particularly if they imbibed a little too much before the game.

In the 112 year history of both organization, 219 players have appeared in at least one game for both the Yankees and the Red Sox. However, Youkilis migration to the Bronx isn’t a run of the mill rivalry crossover. With a bWAR of 29.5 while in Boston, the former All Star ranks 20th on the Red Sox all-time list for hitters. So, when Youkilis steps into the box on Opening Day, many in the crowd will likely do a double take, and not just because the third baseman will be without his signature facial hair.

Red Sox Standouts Who Became Yankees

Just missed: Duffy Lewis, who compiled 19.8 WAR with the Red Sox from 1910 to 1917, played for the Yankees from 1919 to 1920. Bill Monbouquette, who compiled 19.8 WAR with the Red Sox from 1958 to 1965, played for the Yankees from 1967 to 1968.

Note: Includes players who compiled 20 WAR or more with the Red Sox before joining the Yankees. Babe Ruth’s WAR includes totals as a pitcher and position player.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

By joining the Yankees, Youkilis becomes only the fifth Red Sox player to don the pinstripes after compiling at least 20 WAR in Boston. Babe Ruth was the first person to crossover, and since the Bambino helped build the Yankees into the most successful franchise in sports, the flow of talent between the two teams has usually benefited the Bronx Bombers. Although it would be almost 60 years before another Red Sox legend made his way to the Bronx, the two recent transfers since Luis Tiant’s short stint with the Yankees in 1979-1980 also had a major impact.

Like Youkilis, Wade Boggs was a mid-30s third baseman when he joined the Yankees after having a down year. However, Boggs rejuvenated his career in pinstripes, batting over .300 in four of five seasons to go along with an OPS+ of 112. Soon after Boggs departed the Bronx, Roger Clemens joined the Yankees. After the 1996 season, the Red Sox had also given up on the Rocket, claiming he was in the twilight of his career, but instead Clemens responded with two Cy Young seasons in Toronto. Following his stint with the Blue Jays, Clemens spent five years in pinstripes tormenting his former team by not only winning two World Series rings, but adding another Cy Young while on the “downside”.

Yankees Standouts Who Became Red Sox

Just missed: David Cone, who compiled 19.1 WAR with the Yankees from 1995 t0 2000, played for the Red Sox in 2001.

Note: Includes players who compiled 20 WAR or more with the Yankees before joining the Red Sox.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Red Sox have actually had more 20-plus WAR Yankees join their ranks than vice versa, but the contributions of those players were relatively insignificant. On offense, Ben Chapman, Elston Howard, and Rickey Henderson were all former All Stars in pinstripes who wound up playing for the Red Sox, but neither made much of an impact in Boston. Among pitchers, Jack Chesbro made his Hall of Fame bones with the Yankees, but ended his career by pitching six innings for the Red Sox. Herb Pennock, who actually had an undistinguished start to his career with the Athletics and Red Sox, was another successful pinstriped hurler who pitched his last season in Boston. Finally, Ray Caldwell cobbled together a competent 12 years with the Yankees, but also found his way to Boston before retiring as a Cleveland Indian.

Even if Yankee fans don’t warm up to him at first, Youkilis can still win their affection by making a contribution in line with the other former Red Sox who wound up wearing the pinstripes. Of course, if he struggles in the Bronx, the denizens of Yankee Stadium won’t hesitate to voice their displeasure. In that regard, however, Youkilis does have one distinct advantage. Even if the crowd showers him with “boos”, he can always pretend their singing his last name.

Color By Numbers: Managerial Sequels

The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least that seems to be the case in Toronto. Earlier in the week, the Blue Jays hired, or, more precisely, re-hired John Gibbons as manager. The former catcher had previously piloted the team from 2005 until the middle of 2008, when he was replaced by Cito Gaston, who was also making an encore appearance in Toronto.

When Gibbons manages on Opening Day, he will become the 32nd manager to begin two non-consecutive seasons at the helm of the same team (although believed to be exhaustive, this count is the result of a manual review of every team’s managerial history and, therefore, subject to an omission).  This list, which would double if it included skippers who served on an interim basis at various points in the season, can be further whittled down by excluding those who had a consecutive tenure interrupted by health concerns (Birdie Tebbetts, Mickey Cochrane, Chuck Dressen, and Buck Rodgers), suspension (Leo Durocher) and ordinary shuffling of player/managers (John Morrill and Fred Tenney). The resultant list of 25 represents less than 4% of the 676 managers who have donned a major league uniform (or a suit, in the case of Connie Mack), putting Gibbons in select company.

Manager Sequels, 1876-2013

Note: Terms refer to the number of tenures that included at least one Opening Day (i.e., manager started the season), and which was non-consecutive. Years refer to the entire period of the tenure, including mid-season stints and with no distinction made for absences due to extenuating circumstances.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Before the Blue Jays made a habit of recycling managers, the last skipper to give an encore for the same organization was Bobby Cox, which is appropriate considering he also served as manager in Toronto in between his two stints at the helm of the Atlanta Braves. GM Alex Anthopoulos is probably hoping Gibbons’ return to the Blue Jays will be just as successful as Cox’ re-emergence in Atlanta. After an undistinguished run as manager from 1978 to 1981, Cox led the Braves to a first place finish in 14 of the 20 seasons during his second stint. Who said sequels are never better than the original?

Unfortunately, most managerial homecomings haven’t been very pleasant, regardless of stature. Two of the most successful managers of their era, Earl Weaver and Billy Martin, were both unable to rekindle their magic after leaving the helm of the Orioles and Yankees, respectively. Weaver’s return to Baltimore in 1985, three years removed from a 15-year run that landed him in the Hall of Fame, proved disappointing as the fiery skipper ended his career with a last place finish in 1986. During the same period, Martin was reprising his role as Yankees’ manager for the fifth time overall and third at the beginning of a non-consecutive season, joining Bucky Harris (Senators), Danny Murtaugh (Pirates) and Charlie Grimm (Cubs) as the only skippers to prove the third time is a charm (or, perhaps, not).

Harris also has the distinction of being one of two managers to have an encore with two different organizations. In addition to his three stints with the Senators, Harris, who managed five different teams and 4,410 games during his 29-year career, also led the Detroit Tigers from 1929-33 and 1955-1956. Billy Southworth’s happy return occurred with the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Braves, but the circumstances behind each was very different. His reappearance with the Cardinals from 1940-1945 came 11 years after a brief stint as player/manager, whereas his return to the Braves came after a brief hiatus brought about by rumors of heavy drinking and a player revolt. Southworth, who took over as Braves’ manager in 1946, handed over the reigns to Johnny Cooney more than halfway through the 1949 season, but snatched them back in 1950 before finally relinquishing control in 1951.

The 22 years between Bucky Harris’ two stints as manager of the Tigers also distinguishes the Hall of Fame manager from his peers. The only other skipper with a gap of at least 20 years before returning to the same organization is Yogi Berra, who took over as manager of the Yankees in 1984, two decades after being fired following a pennant winning season in 1964. Despite an improved finish in 1984, Berra was again quickly dismissed only 16 games into the 1985 season. The Yankees’ hasty handling of Berra for a second time prompted another long separation, this time self-imposed, between the Hall of Famer and the franchise with which he won 10 World Series.

During his first go-round as manager in Toronto, John Gibbons had his share of dust-ups, but also enjoyed relative success, including an 87-win, second-place finish in 2006 that remains as the franchise’s best performance in nearly 15 years. So, although very few managers have had much success returning to their old haunts, maybe Gibbons’ second chance in Toronto will prove to be an exception? After all, if any city should know how to make a sequel, it’s the town that gave us Police Academy.

Color by Numbers: The Cys Have It

It’s an overused cliché, but true nonetheless. You can’t predict baseball. After all, before the season, who could have forecast Barry Zito as the San Francisco Giants’ game 1 starter in the World Series? And, even if someone did strike gold with such a bold prediction, could they have also imagined he would outclass Justin Verlander?

Zito’s victory over Verlander in a duel of past Cy Young award winners at the World Series was remarkable enough. However, the relief appearance of another award winner made Wednesday’s confluence of Cy Youngs unprecedented in the history of the Fall Classic.
World Series ERAs by Cy Young Winners (Relievers)
Note: Shaded pitchers were primarily starters.
Note: Does not include relief appearances and starts made by the pitcher in seasons before winning the Cy Young award. Included are appearances in the same season as the pitcher’s first Cy Young.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

When Tim Lincecum entered in the sixth inning of the Giants’ game 1 victory, he became only the 14th Cy Young award winner to come out of the bullpen in a World Series game (played in either the same season as winning the first award, or seasons thereafter). Lincecum also became only the eighth Cy Young winner to appear in relief during the World Series after spending most of his career has a starter. The two most recent examples should be familiar to Yankee fans. In game seven of the 2001 World Series, Randy Johnson pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 and earned the victory when the Diamondbacks rallied to beat the Yankees and Mariano Rivera. In the previous Fall Classic, the Yankees were the beneficiary of clutch relieving by a former Cy Young starter when David Cone retired Mike Piazza to end the fifth inning of the Subway Series’ fourth game.

Lincecum’s outing was distinguished even further by the man he was replacing.  Not since Jim Palmer replaced Mike Flanagan in the third game of the 1983 World Series had one Cy Young relieved another in the World Series. In fact, the Cy Young tag team was only the second such instance in the entire history of the Fall Classic. However, what made the parade of hardware recipients even more extraordinary was the order in which the two pitchers appeared. Before the start of the season, such an arrangement would have been unfathomable, but baseball’s fickleness was on display as the formerly heralded Lincecum took the ball from the much maligned Zito, and together, the two beat a pitcher widely considered to be the best in the game. Bruce Bochy couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

Color By Numbers: Has Yanks’ Offense Really Been THAT Bad?

Despite historic postseason performances from Raul Ibanez and CC Sabathia, the Yankees find themselves on the brink of being swept in the ALCS.

How would you describe the Yankees’ offense this postseason? Awful? Atrocious? Abominable? Arod? How about Above Average? Believe it or not, the Yankees’ postseason line of .200/.265/.317 adds up to an OPS that is a tick above the American League’s combined output of .573.

2012 American League Postseason Statistics

Tigers 8 279 28 0.254 0.303 0.351 0.655
Yankees 8 290 21 0.200 0.265 0.317 0.582
A.L. Avg. 0.222 0.276 0.297 0.573
Rangers 1 34 1 0.265 0.306 0.265 0.570
Athletics 5 155 11 0.194 0.269 0.284 0.553
Orioles 6 215 15 0.195 0.236 0.270 0.506

Source: ESPN.com

On an individual basis, the Yankees can actually boast having three of the league’s best hitters in terms of postseason OPS. Among all players with at least 10 plate appearances in October, Raul Ibanez’ OPS of 1.308 is easily the best mark. And, ironically, it doesn’t even begin to explain just how impactful he has been this October. In addition to Ibanez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have also earned a place atop of the A.L.’s postseason leader board, albeit at much more modest rates of production.

Top-10 A.L. 2012 Postseason Performers, By OPS

Raul Ibanez 7 24 0.350 0.458 0.850 1.308
Robert Andino 6 13 0.417 0.417 0.500 0.917
Derek Jeter 6 30 0.333 0.379 0.444 0.824
Ryan Flaherty 4 11 0.273 0.273 0.545 0.818
Delmon Young 8 32 0.267 0.313 0.500 0.813
Mark Teixeira 8 36 0.310 0.444 0.345 0.789
Nate McLouth 6 28 0.308 0.321 0.462 0.783
Miguel Cabrera 8 36 0.290 0.389 0.387 0.776
Yoenis Cespedes 5 21 0.316 0.381 0.368 0.749
Ichiro Suzuki 8 39 0.297 0.316 0.432 0.748

Note: Minimum of 10 plate appearances.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Unfortunately for the Bronx Bombers, the standout performances by Ibanez, Jeter, and Teixeira have been canceled out by the rest of the lineup. Six other regulars in the team’s postseason lineup have posted an OPS below the league average, including five players with a rate below .426. Although Alex Rodriguez has received the brunt of the criticism for the team’s offensive struggles, his OPS of .333 actually ranks higher than two other teammates. Robinson Cano’s microscopic line of .083/.108/.139 in 37 plate appearances is easily the most shocking performance of the postseason, but the most amusing line belongs to Eric Chavez. In 14 plate appearances as Arod’s replacement, the lefty swinging third baseman has produced absolutely nothing.

Bottom-10 A.L. 2012 Postseason Performers, By OPS

Curtis Granderson 8 32 0.103 0.188 0.207 0.394
Mark Reynolds 6 25 0.136 0.240 0.136 0.376
Matt Wieters 6 26 0.125 0.192 0.167 0.359
Alex Rodriguez 6 25 0.130 0.200 0.130 0.330
Jim Thome 4 16 0.133 0.188 0.133 0.321
Gerald Laird 3 10 0.111 0.200 0.111 0.311
Robinson Cano 8 37 0.083 0.108 0.139 0.247
Derek Norris 5 12 0.083 0.083 0.083 0.167
Adam Jones 6 27 0.077 0.074 0.077 0.151
Eric Chavez 5 14 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000

Note: Minimum of 10 plate appearances.
Source: baseball-reference.com

There’s no consolation knowing that the Yankees’ offense has been as good, or as bad, as the rest of the league, but it does provide some perspective. Granted, the Bronx Bombers weren’t put together to be just an average offense, but the degree to which the league’s hitters have struggled, or pitchers have excelled, does mitigate some of the lineup’s culpability. Scapegoats are a postseason essential, but before leading too many to the slaughter, fans, and team executives, would be wise to look at the big picture first.

Backs Against the Wall

The Yankees need another big game from CC Sabathia to avoid embarrassment of an ALCS sweep. (Photo: AP)

If the Yankees had brought tonight’s starting lineup on the road in Spring Training, the other team might have complained to the commissioner. It wasn’t March and the Tigers weren’t complaining.  With the season hanging in the balance, the Yankees were playing a pivotal postseason game against the best pitcher in baseball with a batting order no one could have imagined even one week ago.

It probably didn’t matter whom the Yankees sent to the plate against Justin Verlander, who, despite struggling with his command in the middle innings, limited the Bronx Bombers to two hits, both by Ichiro, over the first eight innings. Any other time, the potent Yankees offense would have made the Cy Young pay for falling behind in the count, but not this postseason.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Phil Hughes couldn’t match zeroes with Verlander. In fact, he didn’t even make it out of the fourth inning. After allowing a solo homer to Delmon Young in the top of the frame, Hughes pulled up lame with a sore lower back and then departed. Over the next six innings, the bullpen did its best to keep the game close, but a double by Miguel Cabrera in the fifth, which perhaps should have been caught by Curtis Granderson, increased the Tigers lead to 2-0. It might as well have been 20-0.

The ninth inning began with all the inspiration of a trip to the gallows. Then, Eduardo Nunez had what Verlander called one of the best at bats he had ever seen. After fouling off six pitches, including a slider, fastball, and change-up, Derek Jeter’s replacement did his best impression of the Captain, golfing a curveball over the left field fence. Maybe a reprieve was in the offing?

Brett Gardner followed Nunez’ battle with one of his own, but after eight pitches, the speedster grounded back to the mound. Although he didn’t reach base, Gardner’s at bat sent Verlander to the dugout and gave the Yankees two chances to tie the game off Phil Coke. They almost made the most of it.

Ichiro greeted Coke with a ground out, but then Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano singled, the latter breaking his nightmarish 0-29 slide in the postseason, setting the stage for Raul Ibanez. Could he do it again? Should he have even been given the chance?

In the regular season, Ibanez hit an abysmal .197/.246/.246 against southpaws, so, once again, under normal conditions, Girardi probably would have used a pinch hitter. However, nothing has been normal this October. Despite having Alex Rodriguez on the bench, Girardi eschewed the opportunity to use one of the league’s best hitters against lefties, something he had done in the ALDS as well. So, while the Tigers pitching coach went over Ibanez’ scouting report with Coke, Arod made no movement toward the bat rack. In fact, he didn’t even take off his sweatshirt. Undoubtedly, a soap opera to be continued, but at the moment, the Yankees had a bigger drama to attend.

Ibanez battled Coke to a full count, but what little life the Yankees had left was dashed by a curve ball down in the zone. The DH had a good swing, but came up empty, just like most of his teammates have for the entire postseason. A victory could have turned the series on its head, but instead, the Yankees find themselves on the precipice of a series sweep. Every Yankee fan knows only one baseball team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in a best of seven series. Can the 2012 Bronx Bombers make it two? Before even beginning to consider that possibility, let’s see the Yankees score a run.

Color by Numbers: Raul Be Seeing Two

(Source: Al Bello/Getty Images North America)

Raul Ibanez spent the regular season compiling big hits, but he saved his most spectacular heroics for October. Now, he stands among the Yankees’ legion of immortals as one of the most clutch performers in the franchise’s postseason history.

The Yankees have had no shortage of October heroes, but with two mighty blows, Ibanez thrust his name to the top of the list. By homering to tie the game in the ninth and then following up with a walk-off encore in the 12th inning, Ibanez racked up the highest cumulative Win Probability Added (WPA) in the team’s postseason history, surpassing Charlie Keller’s clutch hitting in game four of the 1941 World Series. In addition, Ibanez’ epic performance also cracked the top-five for all of baseball, and made the 40-year old slugger the first player to hit a homerun in both the ninth inning and extra innings of the same postseason game.

Top-10 Postseason WPA, Yankees and MLB

Source: Baseball-reference.com

In addition to rescuing the Yankees from a pivotal game-three defeat, Ibanez also saved Joe Girardi from having to face intense scrutiny for using him as a pinch hitter for Alex Rodriguez. In addition, Arod was able to spend the post game magnanimously applauding his teammate instead of having to answer unfair questions about his perceived inability to produce in the postseason. Of course, the irony is that if there was one man in the clubhouse who knew exactly how Ibanez felt, it was Rodriguez.

Before Ibanez’ game-tying homerun in the ninth inning, the last hitter to erase a postseason deficit in his team’s final turn was, you guessed it, Alex Rodriguez. In 2009, Arod actually accomplished the rare feat on two occasions: the first against Joe Nathan in game two of the ALDS and the second against Brian Fuentes in game two of the ALCS. Only 32 postseason home runs have helped a team tie or take the lead when trailing in the ninth inning or later, and Johnny Bench and Arod are the only players to do it twice.

Yankees’ Top-10 Postseason Hits, by WPA

Source: Baseball-reference.com

It amusing to note that Rodriguez has compiled three of the top-10 WPA ratings in the Yankees long and illustrious postseason history (he also owns the highest WPA in the franchise’s regular season history). Although his struggles in the current ALDS are undeniable, the relentless characterization of Arod as an unclutch performer remains one of the great mysteries of irrational fandom. Fortunately, Joe Girardi isn’t as fickle as far too many Yankee fans. If he was, Raul Ibanez, who batted .057 in 60 plate appearances over a 24-game span at the end of the season, probably wouldn’t even be on the postseason roster. That’s something to think about the next time you feel the urge to overreact to a small sample.

Color By Numbers: Historical Look at 2012 Postseason Participants

Thanks to the new dual wild card format, 10 teams have a chance at making it to the World Series. Of course, by late Friday evening, two clubs will already be making plans for next season. In any event, listed below is a breakdown of the playoff history for each team who will be vying for the 2012 MLB championship.

Historical Post Season Records

Source: Baseball-reference.com

From a historical perspective, this postseason resembles a roundup of the usual suspects. Five of the top six franchises in terms of playoff appearances are represented this October, including the Yankees, who will be making their 51st run at a championship. Among teams who entered the season with 20 or more playoff appearances, only the Dodgers and Red Sox failed to join the party. In addition to being long time October combatants, most of these postseason regulars have also been recent participants, with all but the Athletics having made a prior playoff appearance within the last two years.

Grouped together in the middle of the October roll call are the Tigers, Reds, and Orioles, three teams that have had varying degrees of more limited playoff exposure. Although Detroit has only made the postseason in three of the past 25 years, this season marks the first consecutive playoff appearance since 1935, when Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg lead the Tigers to the championship. Cincinnati’s N.L. Central crown marks the franchise’s fourth October appearance since the last days of the Big Red Machine in 1979, but the team can boast two division titles in the last four years. Finally, the Orioles are not only making their first playoff appearance in 15 years, but also coming off their first winning regular season over the same span.

At the bottom of the totem pole is the Nationals, who are making only the second playoff appearance in franchise history and first since the strike shortened 1981 season when the team played in Montreal. What’s more, Washington D.C. will be hosting playoff baseball for the first time since the 1933 World Series.

The Texas Rangers contributed to Washington’s thirst for October baseball when the team played as the Senators from 1961 to 1971. Since its inception, the franchise has now made the playoffs only six times, but this year marks the third consecutive season of October action in Arlington. Of course, after blowing a big division lead, the two-time defending A.L. champs may not feel as is they’ve made the postseason until (and if) they advance to the ALDS against the Yankees.

Longest Championship Droughts, By Team (30 Years or Longer)

Source: baseball-reference.com

There are several intriguing World Series match-ups that could result from the field of playoff participants. The Yankees versus Cardinals would feature a showdown between each league’s most successful franchise, while a match-up between the Yankees and Giants would provide a historical nod to the glory days of baseball in New York. If the Nationals and Rangers square off, it would ensure the first championship for one of the franchises. Between them, the two teams currently have 92 fruitless seasons (only three Fall Classics have featured two teams with a longer combined dry spell), so if they meet in the World Series, one of the longest current droughts would come to an end. The Nationals versus Orioles would constitute a very unlikely “Battle of the Beltway”, while the Athletics and Giants would reprise the “BART Series”. However it shakes out, if October turns out to be as exciting as September, baseball fans are in for quite a treat.

[Featured Image: Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America]

We Interrupt This Pennant Race…

Photo: AP

The Yankees took a break from the chaotic American League playoff race with a leisurely 5-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. In a game played with as much intensity and crowd interest as you’d expect in the early Spring, the Yankees frittered away an opportunity to take a two game lead in the A.L. East.

Considering the lopsided pitching matchup, the Yankees seemed to be playing from behind before the first pitch. Unfortunately, Ivan Nova did little to dispel that impression. The right hander allowed a two-run homer in the third and two-run double in fifth, which not only put his team behind 4-0, but also set a new franchise record for most extra bases hits allowed in a season. The 87 extra base hits allowed by Nova surpassed Andy Hawkins’ previous record of 86, which was set in 1989. Needless to say, that’s not the kind of anchor the Yankees were hoping Nova would become.

To be fair, it probably wouldn’t have mattered whom the Yankees pitched because Brandon Morrow continued his string of dominance over the Bronx Bombers in Toronto by throwing seven shutout innings. In five career starts against the Yankees at Rogers Centre, the hard throwing righty is now 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA in 34 2/3 innings. Maybe by throwing Nova to the wolf, there was a method to Girardi’s madness after all?

Although Morrow was efficient, he wasn’t overpowering. In fact, the Yankees had a base runner in every inning but the second, but could never break through against the right hander. For the most part, Morrow seemed to bear down with runners on base, but in the fourth inning, he needed a great running catch by left fielder Anthony Gose to escape unscathed.  Otherwise, it was lackluster performance by the Yankee bats, who were shutout for the sixth time this season.

With a one game lead and six remaining, the conclusion to this season promises to be memorable. Unfortunately, a very forgettable game got in the way. Then again, if the Yankees lose the division by that game, it could be the one that haunts them.

Color By Numbers: Winning Seasons Are Forever?

The American National Game of Baseball, 1866, Currier & Ives lithograph depicting Elysian Fields, Hoboken, New Jersey

After 14 straight losing seasons, the Baltimore Orioles finally clinched a winning campaign earlier in the week. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are sitting on 19 consecutive campaigns below .500, are desperately trying to do the same. Each team’s long run of futility has drawn a lot of attention, but on the flip side, the Yankees’ string of winning seasons has gone unnoticed.

Longest Consecutive Winning Season Streaks, By Franchise

Note: Data is as of 2011; blue bars represent NL; red bars represent AL.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Most people take the Yankees’ success for granted, but with another winning season in the bag, the team now has 20 straight years with an above .500 record. During that span, the Bronx Bombers have compiled a regular season winning percentage of nearly .600 to complement five championships, seven AL pennants, and 12 division titles. The team’s recent struggles heading down the stretch in 2012 have obscured the franchise’s impressive run, but, nonetheless, the Yankees remain in the midst of a golden age.

The Yankees’ current stretch of 20 consecutive winning seasons is the second longest streak of its kind in baseball history. However, it’s a distant second. From 1926 to 1964, the Bronx Bombers reeled off 39 straight winning campaigns, including 18 championships, 25 pennants, and a victory in over 62% of all regular season games. No wonder the Yankees easily lead the majors with the highest percentage of winning seasons.

Winning Season Rates, By Franchise

Note: Includes 2012 season as of September 18, 2012.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Aside from the Yankees’ two winning season streaks of 39 and 20, the Baltimore Orioles boast the next longest stretch, which lasted for 18 seasons from 1968 to 1985. The best run put forth by a National League team is shared by the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. The Braves enjoyed 15 straight winning seasons from 1991 to 2005, while the Cardinals run lasted from 1939 to 1953.

Current Season Streaks, By Franchise

Note: Data is as of 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Among active streaks, the Yankees’ 20-year run is now double the combined total of the next two closest teams because the runner-up Red Sox’ 14 seasons in a row was snapped just two years short of the franchise record. The Cardinals and Rays, who each enter today’s action with 79 victories, are working toward five straight winning seasons, while the Rangers, Giants, and Braves have already notched their fourth consecutive above .500 campaign (with the Tigers also knocking on the door). Meanwhile, should the Pirates join the Orioles on the winning side of the equation, the Royals will take over the lead for the longest streak of losing seasons with nine.

Will this be the year the Pirates finally join the ranks of the winners? How much longer can the Yankees keep their current streak intact? When each team started their current streaks in 1993, the Yankees were coming off their franchise-high fourth straight losing season, while the Pirates were riding three consecutive division titles. In other words, the fortunes of any franchise can turn suddenly, so if there’s one lesson to be learned, fans should never take their team’s achievements for granted. Diamonds may be forever, but in baseball, success on the diamond is not.

Color By Numbers: One, Two, Three Strikes…

Without much fanfare, Curtis Granderson established a new single season franchise record for most strikeouts by a Yankee batter. Ironically, Granderson’s 170th strikeout came against Aaron Cook, whose 1.98 K/9 rate is the lowest among all pitchers with at least 80 innings. Otherwise, the centerfielder’s prolific accumulation of strikeouts hasn’t been surprising. After all, the record he broke was his own.

Most Strikeouts, Total and Rate, in Yankee History, Since 1901

Note: Qualified seasons only for rate list.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

In addition to holding the new Yankee record for most strikeouts, Granderson’s K rate of 28.4% also ranks first among all qualified seasons in franchise history, surpassing the previous high of 26.3% set by Jesse Barfield in 1990. However, the left handed slugger hasn’t been the only Yankee with a propensity for striking out. Nick Swisher’s rate of 23.5% would also rank among the top 10, and as a team, the Bronx Bombers have struck out more frequently than at any point in their long history.

Yankees’ K Rate (Offense), Since 1901

Note: Rate is a percentage of plate appearances.
Source: fangraphs.com 

The Yankees’ record setting strikeout pace extends to both sides of the ball. The pitching staff’s 8.17 strikeouts per nine innings currently represent the highest total in franchise history, besting the 7.85 figure posted in 2001. Although no pitchers are in line to break a record on their own, C.C. Sabathia’s K/9 rate of 8.82 is good for fourth on the team’s all-time list (qualified seasons only).

Yankees’ K Rate (Pitching), Since 1901

Note: Rate is per nine innings.
Source: fangraphs.com

Strikeouts have not only been popular in the Bronx, but across the major leagues as well. In fact, the league-wide K rates this season have been the highest recorded since 1901. Since the early 1980s, strike outs have been on gradual increase throughout the game, but that trend has accelerated in the last five years. As a result, the Yankees’ record setting rates don’t really stand out when compared to the league leaders. On offense, the Bronx Bombers actually have struck out below the MLB average of 19.7%, leading to a ranking in the bottom third of the lead. On the pitching side, the Yankees do rank third in the American League and sixth in the majors, but the team’s punch out percentage isn’t far above the norm.

Historical Strikeouts Rates (Offense), Since 1913

Source: fangraphs.com

Historical Strikeouts Rates (Pitching), Since 1901

Source: fangraphs.com

There are lots of theories that could explain the accelerating increase in strikeouts. PED withdrawal, a new crop of young, strong-armed pitchers, umpire evaluation technology that has forced an expansion in the strike zone, and bullpen specialization are theories that either by themselves or in conjuction could be responsible for the upward trend. Regardless of the reason, baseball is the midst of the golden age of the strikeout, so players like Curtis Granderson shouldn’t hang their heads in shame. Besides, nothing beats a nice cool breeze in the summer anyway.

Color By Numbers: Front Runners

A lot of attention has been paid to the Bronx Bombers nose dive in the A.L. East, and with good reason. By allowing a 10-game advantage to disappear, the 2012 Yankees became only the second team in franchise history to fritter away a double-digit lead. However, as they enter a crucial four-game series in Baltimore, the pinstripes remain front runners. Considering all the hysteria, it’s easy to over look the fact that the team remains in first place, but, even amid a collapse, that’s exactly where the Yankees have resided for most of the season.

Yankee fans, and the organization itself, are a little spoiled. Since its inception in 1901, the franchise has spent over 6,200 days in first place, or nearly 36% of all game dates. That figure jumps up to 42% going back to 1923, when the team migrated to theBronx. So, if the Yankee Universe treats having a lead as a birthright, well, who can blame them?

Distribution of Yankees’ Standings Position, 1901-Present

Note: Based on position at the end of game dates only (i.e., off days excluded). Includes five last place finishes. 1981 finish is based on total record from both season halves.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankees are guaranteed to spend at least one more day atop the division, which would give the team a longer stint in that position than nine other seasons that ended with a first place finish (excluding 1994). Of course, unless the Yankees hold the top spot on the final day of the season, the longevity of their lead won’t matter. Once again, however, history is on the side of the Bronx Bombers, as only two other teams in franchise history spent more days in first place (1924 and 2010) without sealing the deal.

Days Spent in First Place, Per Season Since 1901

Note: Based on position at the end of game dates only (i.e., off days excluded).Years with no days in first place omitted. Red bars indicate seasons in which the Yankees finished in first place.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankees have spent at least one day in first place in 93 of 112 seasons, and at least 100 days leading the division in 29 campaigns. Interestingly, despite occupying the top spot so often, the 1927 Yankees are the only team in franchise history to hold a lead from wire-to-wire. On the other end of the spectrum, the 1978 and 2005 Bronx Bombers were the only first place finishers to spend less than 20% of the year looking down at the competition. And, on each occasion, the Red Sox were the team the Yankees caught from behind.

After holding a double-digit lead, a one-game edge almost feels like being behind. However, the rest of the division is still chasing the Yankees, who have historically been at their best when leading the pack. With only 26 games remaining, the marathon has now become a sprint. Will the 2012 Yankees be able to maintain their position as front runners, or suffer the fate of a pacemaker? Let the pennant race begin.

Color By Numbers: Stingy Rays Pitching Casts Shadow Over Yanks Lead

In what direction are the Yankees headed? (Photo: danheller.com)

Here come the Rays. A little over one month ago, the Yankees had a whole lot of daylight between their division perch and second place, but after a 15-18 stretch, the shadow of the next closest competitor has finally caught up. Since July 18, the Bronx Bombers have seen Tampa Bay close the gap from 10.5 games to only three. Is it time to panic yet?

The Yankees’ recent struggles have been somewhat enigmatic. During the team’s 33-game slump, they have actually outscored their opponents by 17 runs, but have come up just short in many close games. Considering the injuries and difficult schedule during the period, there’s every reason to believe the team will pick up the pace heading down the stretch. But, will it be enough to hold off the hard charging Rays?

When the Rays were 10.5 games behind the Yankees on July 18, they didn’t look like a team capable of going on a run because of their depleted offense. Even now, after a 22-10 stretch, the lineup still seems too thin for a contender. However, it isn’t with the bats that the Rays have jumped right back into the race. Instead, Tampa has pitched its way to within three games of the Yankees.

Since falling behind by double digits in the division, the Rays’ pitching staff has allowed an astoundingly low 67 runs, or 2.1 per game, including only five games in which the opposition scored more than three. How significant is that accomplishment? All three 30-game periods encompassed by the last 32 contests represent the lowest run totals allowed for that duration in 2012. What’s more, the 63 runs allowed by the Rays in the 30 games from July 19 to August 20 represent one of the stingiest stretches in recent baseball history.

Fewest Runs Allowed in a 30-Game Period, Post DH ERA (1973-Present)

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Since 1901, there have only been 241 30-game periods (for perspective, there are 3,990 such segments in a single 162 game major league season) during which a team allowed fewer runs than the 63 recently surrendered by the Rays’ pitching staff. However, of that total, 224 occurred during the dead ball era. Since 1920, there have only been 17 periods of 30 games (13 belonging to the 1968 Indians) featuring fewer runs allowed than the Rays’ best mark this season. Adding to the impressiveness of the accomplishment, only three periods have taken place during the DH era, and all of those invovled National League teams.

Considering how historically dominant the Rays’ pitching staff has been, do the Yankees even stand a chance of holding them off? As mentioned above, the Rays, who are averaging a subpar 4.23 runs per game, remain offensively challenged. In their last 10 losses, the pitching staff has only allowed 27 runs, and in their last four defeats, the opposition only dented the plate six times combined. Apparently, the only lineup that can stop the Rays’ pitching staff is their own.

Based on run differential, the Rays’ recent stinginess should have netted about 26 wins during the last 32 games. Had they been able to meet that expectation, Tampa, and not New York, would be listed first in the standing this morning. Will the Rays eventually come to regret leaving those extra wins on the table? If the team’s pitchers can continue to mow down the American League, it probably won’t matter how much their lineup scores. However, if the rotation and bullpen regress below historic levels of run prevention, their offense may not be able to compensate.

One of the luxuries of a big lead is it allows team to withstand the hard charge of a stalker. Because of how well the Yankees played over the first 100 games, they’ve been able to remain ahead of the pack despite a stumble entering the turn at the top of the stretch. However, what had been shaping up as a victory lap in September now promises to be a thrilling race. The Rays pitching staff is doing its part to close the gap. Now, it’s up to the Yankees to find another gear as well. Luckily for the Bronx Bombers, next up on the schedule is the Cleveland Indians, who are the in the midst of allowing over 187 runs in their last 30 games (6.23 runs per game). How does that stand up to history? That’s a story for another day.

East Beats West Again

One-run games haven’t been kind to the Yankees. So, when they failed to add an insurance run with two on and no outs in the bottom of the eighth, Joe Girardi may have developed a lump in his throat. Then, when an Eric Chavez throwing error, which was actually a missed call by the first base umpire, prolonged the game with two outs in the top of the ninth, the Yankees’ skipper probably swallowed hard once again. Instead of being bad omens, however, these unfortunate late game developments only delayed what turned out to be the Bronx Bombers’ eighth straight home victory against the Texas Rangers. Considering the almost two hours spent waiting for the rain to stop, it was a small price to pay.

The Yankees 3-2 victory not only pushed the team’s record in one-run games to 15-17, but also marked their second consecutive victory when scoring three or fewer runs. Before the series, the Yankees had the second lowest winning percentage in the A.L. when scoring three or fewer, while the Rangers had the best mark when allowing no more than that many, so maybe the team’s luck in low scoring games is starting to change? Or, maybe the Yankees are just getting outstanding starting pitching?

Following the lead of David Phelps and Hiroki Kuroda, Freddy Garcia kept the Rangers off the board until the fourth inning, extending a string of 19 consecutive innings in which Texas failed to score. However, that came to an immediate halt when Josh Hamilton hit a laser shot into the right field second deck. Ironically, it was the first regular season Yankee Stadium home run ever hit by the Rangers’ center fielder, whose home run derby performance in the Bronx remains legend. And, Hamilton must have enjoyed the trip around the bases because in the sixth inning he followed it up a 450-foot blast deep into the bleachers.

Hamilton’s two solo homers chipped away at the Yankees’ 3-0 advantage, which was built in the bottom of the third inning. For the third straight game, Nick Swisher gave the Yankees their first lead of the game, but instead of a home run, the first baseman dunked a double down the left field line that scored Jayson Nix. A sacrifice fly by Curtis Granderson and two-out RBI single by the white hot Eric Chavez, who went 3 for 3, capped the scoring in the inning and, as it turned out, the game.

Aside from the long balls, Garcia allowed only two other hits in 6 2/3 innings before giving way to the trio of Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, who collectively retired all but one of the hitters (the aforementioned error/bad call) they faced. As a staff, the Yankees have only allowed four runs in three games to a team that entered the series averaging five, so, needless to say, the starters and bullpen have both been equal to the challenge presented by the reigning American League champs.

Will the struggling Ivan Nova be able to take the baton in tomorrow’s matinee? Either way, the Bronx Bombers have made an early statement and, perhaps, reasserted themselves as the team to beat in the American League.

Color by Numbers: Beware of Yankee Killers

Miguel Cabrera has been a one-man wrecking crew against the Yankees this season. In 39 plate appearances, the third baseman has cranked out 5 home runs and 11 RBI to go along with a scary slash line of .314/.385/.857. Among players with at least 20 times to the plate against the Yankees, Cabrera’s OPS ranks fourth this season, which has led some to suggest Joe Girardi should put up four fingers every time he comes to bat. Unfortunately, following him in the lineup is Prince Fielder, whose OPS against the Bronx Bombers isn’t that far behind. For Yankees’ pitchers, at least, the season series against the Tigers can’t end soon enough.

Top-10 OPS vs. Yankees, 2012

Note: Based on minimum of 20 plate appearances.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

After the Yankees were shutdown by Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander within three days, many lamented the team’s perceived inability to hit great pitchers. However, based solely on observation, it seems as if great hitters have caused a much greater problem. It’s difficult to test such a hypothesis because of the subjective criteria involved, but we can give it a try anyway.

Top-10 Hitters in the American League (2010-Present) vs. Yankees in 2012

Note: Top hitters based on OPS since 2010 and a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances. Robin Cano excluded.
tOPS+ is OPS of this split relative to the player’s overall OPS, with variance from OBP and SLG determined separately and added together.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Using OPS+ over the past two-plus seasons as a gauge, the Yankees record against the 10 best hitters in the American League is presented above. Not surprisingly, Cabrera ranks as the best hitter in the game, so the Yankees have not been his only victim. However, Cabrera has posted an OPS versus New York that is 46% higher than his season rate, which is in line with the premium he has enjoyed over the Yankees for his entire career.

As great as Cabrera has been against the Yankees, his performance is pedestrian compared to David Ortiz, who is batting an astounding .619 against the pinstripes. In much smaller samples, Evan Longoria and Jose Bautista have exceeded their typical production by an even greater percentage than Ortiz, but based on the number of at bats, Big Papi has been hands down the most deadly offensive weapon used against the Yankees this season.

Although most of the top-10 hitters have managed to exceed their already high baseline against the Yankees, Josh Hamilton, Billy Butler, and Mike Napoli have all been below par. Keep in mind, however, that the samples for Hamilton and Napoli are very small, so the Yankees shouldn’t enter next week’s four game showdown against Texas with a false sense of security.

Top-10 OPS vs. Yankees, 1988-Present

Note: Based on minimum of 200 plate appearances.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Fans who are one generation older probably immediately think of Edgar Martinez when it comes to ranking top Yankee killers from the recent past. However, the Mariners’ DH only ranks ninth in OPS against the pinstripes, and his .965 rate versus the Yankees is only marginally better than his career output. Instead, one of his former teammates owns the distinction of being the most prolific tormentor of the Yankees over the past 25 years. You may have a heard of him…his name is Alex Rodriguez. In 372 plate appearances versus New York, Arod’s 1.037 OPS ranks just ahead of Manny Ramirez (who had more than twice as many chances). Maybe that’s why some Yankee fans still refuse to accept him?

Confirming our earlier suspicion, the Yankees do seem to have trouble with great hitters. Of the 10 hitters with the highest OPS against them since 1988, nine were All Stars and at least six have borderline or better Hall of Fame credentials. Then, there is Geronimo Berroa. The journeyman outfielder was a solid player for 11 seasons, but his career OPS of .798 belied the monster he was against the Yankees. In 244 plate appearances, Berroa’s line of .328/.430/.598 added up to an OPS that was 56% better than his career rate. In particular, Berroa enjoyed facing Andy Pettitte, against whom he compiled an OPS of 1.317 in 29 plate appearances. Perhaps the most resounding evidence of his Yankee domination, however, is his .896 OPS against the immortal Mariano Rivera (the 17th highest rate by any player with at least 14 PAs against the great closer).

By the end of the next season, Miguel Cabrera should have enough plate appearances to take his place among the top Yankee killers of recent vintage as presented in the chart above. Of course, if the Yankees can finally find a way to get him out, maybe his OPS won’t be high enough to qualify? That’s probably wishful thinking, but for one more game this afternoon, is it too much to ask for an 0-4?

Color By Numbers: One-Hit Wonder

Photo: AP

Ichiro Suzuki has been a Yankee for only nine games, but the future Hall of Famer is already approaching a franchise record. With a safety in every ballgame since joining the team, Suzuki is one series away from matching the longest hitting streak by a player beginning his pinstriped career.

Longest Hitting Streaks to Begin Yankee Career, Since 1918

Source: baseball-reference.com

OK, fine, not all hitting streaks are created equal. Even though Ichiro has matched Nick Swisher’s nine straight games, his OPS during that span has been but a fraction. Whereas Swisher pounded out 13 hits and four homers, while driving in 11 runs, by comparison, Ichiro has managed only one hit per game, including seven singles and no walks. As a result, the outfielder has posted a paltry OPS of .631, which is actually lower than his season rate of 0.641. Although hitting streaks tend to be noteworthy regardless of the underlying production, Ichiro’s string of nine straight games has disguised some of the early disappointment regarding his initial offensive contribution.

If Ichiro extends his “one-a-day” hitting streak to 10, he’ll not only inch closer to Don Slaught’s record of 12 straight games with a hit to begin a Yankee career, but also tie five others for the longest string of one-hit games in franchise history. The most recent player to accomplish the task was Steve Sax in 1990, but the most productive vitamin-style streak was turned in by Hall of Famer Joe Gordon, who made the most of his 10 hits by knocking in 11 runs to go along with an OPS of 1.075.

Longest One-A-Day Hitting Streaks in Yankees’ History, Since 1918

Source: baseball-reference.com

Should Ichiro surpass the quintet of Yankees’ one-hit masters, he can then set his sights on Ted Sizemore, who recorded exactly one safety in 16 straight games in June 1975 while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Over that span, the middle infielder compiled an OPS of 0.621, which although far from impressive, represented an improvement over the 0.597 rate that he posted for the entire season. As evidenced by the chart below, the list of players with the longest one-a-day hitting streaks doesn’t read like a “Who’s Who”, so, even if it means a hitless game, Ichiro might be better off not joining it.

Longest One-A-Day Hitting Streaks in MLB History, Since 1918

Source: baseball-reference.com

When the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki, there was some hope that the 38-year old would be re-energized by the trade and turn back the clock for a month or two. Although history suggests that’s not likely, there’s still time for Ichiro to fulfill that expectation. However, in order to do so, he’ll need more than one hit per game. Then again, vitamins are often taken to restore youth, so maybe there’s a method to Ichiro’s one-a-day streak?

Color By Numbers: Yankee, Go West

It was almost the West Coast trip from hell. After dropping five of six in Oakland and Seattle, not to mention losing Alex Rodriguez to a broken hand, the Yankees were poised for another defeat on Wednesday afternoon. However, Jayson Nix’ bases clearing double in the eighth inning wiped away a 2-1 deficit, and with it, some of the sting of a difficult road trip.

If not for Nix’ heroics, the Yankees would have recorded their second lowest winning percentage on any West Coast trip of at least six games. By squeaking out a win, the Bronx Bombers also nudged their all-time record in the Pacific timezone to just over .500 at 385-384.  Although Yankees’ fans are seldom satisfied with mediocrity, that record might come as a pleasant surprise because trips out West have always seemed to have more than their share of misadventures.

Winning Percentage Distribution of Yankees’ West Coast Trips, 1968 to 2012

Note: Includes trips involving two or more cities.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankees’ first regular season game on the West Coast took place on May 5, 1961, when the Bronx Bombers traveled across the country to face the expansion Los Angeles Angels. Media accounts expected the Yankees to romp over the Angels, especially considering the friendly confines of Wrigley Field (there was one in Los Angeles too). Although the AP compared the mighty Yankees’ visit to “letting a channel swimmer work out in bath tub”, Casey’s crew wound up losing two of three in the series and six of nine against the Angels in Los Angeles overall.

Since the Angels joined the American League, the Yankees have played 769 games in the Pacific Time Zone as part of 126 distinct trips. Until the Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968, visits to the West Coast were basically three game stopovers amid longer road trips that included cities like Cleveland, Minnesota, and Kansas City. Then, when the Pilots landed in Seattle for the 1969 season, the jaunt became a lengthy swings up or down the coast. In 1970, East Coast teams were given a bit of a reprieve when the Pilots relocated to Milwaukee, but the three-city circuit became a staple when the Mariners joined the A.L. in 1977.

With Seattle back in business, the three-city trip along the Pacific became a rite of passage for A.L. teams until the next round of expansion in 1998. Since that time, the Yankees have only made one trip covering all three cities. In fact, with the exception of the nine-game jaunt in May 2011, last week’s seven-game trip out West was as long as any other from the past 14 seasons.

Yankees’ Winning Percentage on the West Coast, by Decade, 1961 to 2012

Note: Includes all games played in the Pacific timezone.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

So, if this most recent West Coast swing almost qualified as the second worst in Yankees’ history, what was the worst? On May 23, 1995, the Yankees, who trailed the Red Sox by 1.5 games at the time, lost the first game of a three-city tour in a 10-0 blowout at the hands of Chuck Finley and the Angels. However, there was a silver lining, albeit one that wouldn’t pay off until the following year. In need of a spot starter, the Yankees promoted a skinny Panamanian kid named Mariano Rivera. Although the loss presaged the kind of trip the Yankees would have, Rivera’s debut turned out to be the more important omen.

The Yankees wound up losing the first five games of the trip before finally getting a win in Oakland behind, you guessed it, Rivera, who, this time, allowed only one run over 5 1/3 innings (the losing pitcher was present day Yankees’ bullpen coach Mike Harkey). Unfortunately, the losing resumed as the Yankees were swept in three games at the Kingdome. By the time the Bronx Bombers limped onto the plane to head back home, the team had dropped seven games behind the Red Sox.

Incredibly, the Yankees followed up the disastrous trip to the West Coast with another epic failure when the team returned in August. This time, the Yankees eked out one more victory to finish the 10-game trip at 2-8. Combined with the three losses the team suffered to the Mariners in the ALDS, the Yankees ended 1995 with 3 wins against 19 defeats on the banks of the Pacific.

Yankees’ Worst West Coast Trip: May 23-31, 1995

Note: Based on winning percentage; minimum six games.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

One season before the Yankees’ nightmarish Western experience in 1995, the team compiled its most glorious visit to Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle. Following the All Star Break in 1994, the Yankees opened up the second half in the Kingdome, and, for eight innings, looked headed for defeat. Trailing 8-6 in the ninth, the Yankees’ rallied for seven runs and then seemingly never stopped scoring after that. In total, the Bronx Bombers scored 90 runs on the 10-game trip, culminating in Don Mattingly’s first and only pinch hit home run, which helped the Yankees erase another ninth inning deficit in the final game of the trip. The 9-1 stretch allowed the Yankees to build a 5 1/2 game lead in the A.L. East, putting the team in line for its first full season division title since 1980. However, it was all for naught. Less than three weeks later, the players went on strike and the season never resumed.

Yankees’ Best West Coast Trip: July 14-24, 1994

Note: Based on winning percentage; minimum six games.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Color By Numbers: March of Youth?

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper pictured together at the 2012 All Star Game (Photo: SI).

The All Star Game is usually a showcase for baseball’s most established veteran superstars, but even with the presence of iconic players like Derek Jeter, Justin Verlander, and David Ortiz, most of the focus during this year’s Midseason Classic seemed to be on the game’s two youngest players. Beyond celebrating the obvious talents of the Angels’ Mike Trout and Nationals’ Bryce Harper, however, was the sentiment that the two phenoms represented a youthful resurgence brought about by steroid withdrawal. Although that line of reasoning fits nicely into the anti-steroid narrative,  is baseball really undergoing a transition to younger players?

Distribution of Major League Debut Ages, by Decade

Note: Total includes all players who debuted at the age of 21 or younger. Team Seasons is the sum of all teams in each year.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Because Harper and Trout are so immensely talented, it is easy to see why their presence would overshadow the underlying trend. Since the 1970s, position players have been promoted at an increasingly older age, while younger pitchers have debuted at a steady rate. Even the most recent data falls in line with these trends. It might seem like Trout and Harper are leading the march of youth, but aside from the Nationals’ rookie, only five (four pitchers and one hitter) other players below the age of 22 have made their major league debut in 2012.

Distribution of Call-Ups, by Month

Note: Includes all players who debuted at the age of 21 or younger.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

With over one half the season remaining, it’s possible that 2012 could wind up yielding a bumper crop of young talent, but it’s worth noting that over the last 20 years, the number of prospects promoted in the second half, and particularly in September, has declined significantly. Instead of the traditional practice of giving young players a chance to experience the majors at the end of each season, teams are now allowing the arbitration clock to determine promotions. As a result, players with the potential to impact the pennant race are being called up in the middle of the season (usually in mid-June to July, when they can’t accrue enough service time to shave a year off team control), or not at all.

Average Major League Baseball Player Ages

Note: Graph is not a time series, but rather an average age sampling from the start of each decade compared to 2012.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Even though the number of active 40-somethings has been on the decline, baseball is still an “older” man’s game when compared to the past. The arrivals of Harper and Trout have certainly been exciting developments, but what makes each player so special is more their talent than their tender age. Granted, the combination of Trout’s and Harper’s youth and ability make them a particularly dynamic duo, but baseball fans shouldn’t expect too many similar cases to emerge in the near future.

Color By Numbers: Tales from the Road

The Yankees finally found a cure for TB. After losing nine straight games at Tropicana Field in Tampa (OK fine, St. Petersburg), the Bronx Bombers finally broke the schneid on Robinson Cano’s game winning two-run single with the bases loaded. If not for Cano’s timely hit (and Kyle Farnsworth’s four consecutive walks), the Yankees, who have seemingly saved their worst baseball for the unfriendly confines of the dome, would have recorded their seventh double-digit losing streak at a road stadium.

Yankees’ Longest Losing Streaks at a Road Stadium, Since 1918

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Even though the Yankees probably weren’t heart broken about the three game sweep in Tampa that occurred at the end of last season, the nine game skid was still the longest in any one road ballpark since the Bronx Bombers went winless in 15 straight games at Arlington Stadium from 1989 to 1991. Unfortunately, the Texas heat wasn’t the only thing that caused the Yankees to wilt during that span. Over the same period, the Yankees dropped 10 consecutive games to the Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Of course, during that period, the Yankees didn’t have much luck beating the Bash Brothers, or anyone for that matter. From 1989 to 1991, the team’s .437 winning percentage was the fifth lowest of any three-year span in franchise history and the worst since 1913-1915.

Yankees’ 15 Game Losing Streak at Arlington Stadium, 1989 to 1991

Source: Baseball-reference.com

As you’d expect from a team with the highest road winning percentage in baseball, the Yankees have had more double-digit road ballpark winning streaks than losing skids.  The all-time high run of 13 straight victories dates back to 1939-1940 against the hapless St. Louis Browns at Sportsman’s Park, but the most recent double-digit streak was also deep in the heart of Texas, as the Yankees reeled off 10 straight victories versus the Rangers from 2005 to 2007. That mark, as well as the all-time franchise record for most wins in a single road ballpark, could be in jeopardy later this month when the Yankees visit Oakland. The last time the Bronx Bombers lost at the Athletics’ home field was on April 22, 2010, the same day that Alex Rodriguez violated the sanctity of Dallas Braden’s mound. Since then, the Yankees have won nine straight victories in “the 209”, and could tie the current longest streak of 13 road ballpark wins with a four game sweep in the teams’ final series in two weeks.

Yankees’ Longest Winning Streaks at a Road Stadium, Since 1918

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver