"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: postmortem

Extra Credit

I left two grades out of my post from this morning. Here they are:

Joe Girardi, Manager

Girardi has impressed me in a number of ways this season. Starting with instantly rewarding Nick Swisher’s hot start with more playing time, Girardi has done an excellent job of rewarding performance with playing time throughout his roster. When Brett Gardner stumbled and Melky Cabrera got hot, Girardi didn’t hesitate to invert the roles of his two center fielders. Angel Berroa may have been on the roster for far too long, but Girardi barely used him, quickly recognizing Ramiro Peña’s superior skill set and rewarding the rookie with opportunities commensurate to his performance. Similarly, when catchers Kevin Cash and Francisco Cervelli were called up within three days of each other following injuries to Jorge Posada and Jose Molina, Girardi didn’t simply default to Cash as the starter because of his major league experience (which includes a .186/.248/.287 career batting line). Rather, he again favored talent over experience, making Cervelli the starter, and was rewarded for it. Girardi excelled at this in his bullpen usage last year, and has done it again this year, letting Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves, and now Phil Hughes pitch their way to high-leverage duty while casting aside more experienced arms in Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez.

Of course, managers manage people and not just teams, so there have been a couple of cases in which Girardi has persisted with a player in a role beyond the point at which the media and fans thought was appropriate. Specifically, Girardi put Brian Bruney right back into his eighth-inning role after Bruney was activated from the DL for the second time and stuck with Robinson Cano batting fifth behind Alex Rodriguez through a considerable slump with runners in scoring position. In both cases, Girardi was showing some necessary faith in those players, but not so much that he didn’t eventually move Bruney into the middle innings and Cano down in the order.

Girardi also deserves credit for lightening up this season after receiving poor marks for his militaristic approach to last year’s team. Starting with a spring training team field trip to a pool hall conceived by the skipper, this year’s Yankees team has been one of the loosest and most colorful in recent memory, from Nick Swisher’s iPod, to A.J. Burnett’s cream pies, to the post-game championship belt (donated by Jerry Lawler), to the Mariano Rivera-judged kangaroo court.

Still, Girardi continues to have a blind spot when it comes to the fragility of his players. Though he seems to have discontinued his practice of lying to the media about his players’ health, he initially failed to follow the doctor’s orders to give Alex Rodriguez proper rest following the third baseman’s return from hip surgery, and has too often overextended CC Sabathia beyond the big man’s effectiveness. Fortunately, CC’s pitch counts haven’t been dangerous (he has reached 120 pitches just twice, tellingly both times in Yankee losses), and Rodriguez has responded incredibly to having some regular rest of late. Still, taking those kind of chances with the team’s top assets early in the season is more than just obstinate, it’s potentially disastrous for the organization. Given Girardi’s injury blind spot, I wonder to what degree his approach is to blame for the fact that both Cody Ransom and Brian Bruney tried to cover up injuries to the detriment of the team.


Yankee Stadium 2.0

Prior to Opening Day, my objections to the new Yankee Stadium were sentimental, political, financial, historical, and aesthetic. Then the thing opened and turned out to be a giant Homermobile. Worse, it had a significant, detrimental effect on the game being played on the field. Though it feels cavernous to fans, it plays like a bandbox and has been host to many game-changing pop-fly home runs. Just look at the pitching staff’s splits:

Home: 4.80 ERA, 1.45 HR/9, 3.86 BB/9
Road: 4.32 ERA, 1.11 HR/9, 3.57 BB/9

Compare that to last year’s splits:

Home: 4.11 ERA, 0.83 HR/9, 3.10 BB/9
Road: 4.46 ERA, 0.96 HR/9, 3.01 BB/9

That is by far the most significant aspect of the new park, but beyond the way it plays, all of my preseason objections still hold. The best seats in the house have been half empty or worse because of their exorbitant price. The massive new scoreboards are poorly organized, making it unnecessarily difficult to catch any pertinent information with a quick glance away from the action. It’s gaudy, cacophonous, somehow looks cheap despite its billion-dollar price tag, caters primarily to luxury clients, has compromised the quality of the games being played on its field, and was utterly unnecessary in the first place.


Straight A’s In Love

With the Yankees getting the extra off-day today, I thought I’d take a quick spin through the roster and assign some haphazard and utterly meaningless grades for the first-half. I’m sure the commenters will have a ball with this one . . .

Mark Teixeira, 1B
.275/.378/.535, 21 HR, 63 RBI; -1.8 UZR

Tex is a career .288/.378/.540 hitter, so that line is right on target, and he’s a career .303/.390/.574 hitter in the second half, so he’s actually ahead of his usual pace. I’m suspicious of that poor UZR rating; Tex had a 10.4 UZR last year. I expect his fielding stats will even out in the second half.

Robinson Cano, 2B
.308/.341/.490, 24 2B, 13 HR, 17 BB; 0.1 UZR

How has Cano’s comeback season gone? In 2007 he hit .306/.353/.488 with a career-high 41 doubles, and 19 homers. He’s right on target to match or surpass those figures this year. His defense hasn’t rebounded all the way to his +11.3 performance in ’07, but it’s come up to average after dropping to -8.0 last year. As devastating as Cano’s collapse was to last year’s club, his rebound has been that important to this year’s Yankees.

Derek Jeter, SS
.321/.396/.461, 56 R, 10 HR, 17 SB (85%); 0.5 UZR

Age appeared to be sapping the Captain’s power and speed in 2008, but his performance in the first half this year has made his ’08 season seem more like a fluke than a trend. His 17 steals are already his most since 2006. His ten homers put him on pace for his highest total since 2005. Of course, the new stadium is largely responsible for the latter (Jeter’s hit just two taters and slugged .415 on the road), but the rest of his game has been as good on the road as at home, if not better. At age 35, he’s third among major league shortstops in VORP, behind only 25-year-old superstar Hanley Ramirez and Jason Bartlett’s fluky first half.

Alex Rodriguez, 3B
.256/.411/.548, 17 HR, 50 RBI; -4.3 UZR

Rodriguez missed the first month of the season due to hip surgery. Then his manager failed to obey his doctor’s orders and give him the requisite days off, prompting a wicked slump (.159/.312/.286 over 19 games). And still Rodriguez’s numbers are right back where they belong. Ignore that average, it’s coming up, and look at the on-base percentage, which is a whopping 155 points higher and consider that Alex has walked ten more times than he’s struck out thus far this season after having never walked more than he’s struckout before in his major league career. Rodriguez’s hip has hindered his speed (just three steals, though in only three attempts), but his defense is coming around. All things considered, it’s been another strong season.


2008 Postmortem: What Went Wrong?

“What went wrong?” seems like a natural question given the fact that the Yankees’ 13-year streak of playoff appearances came to an end this season, but before we begin to sus out the answer to that inquiry, it’s worth asking, “How wrong did things go?” The answer might surprise those Yankee fans who had become spoiled by a playoff streak that was nearly as old as this fall’s high school freshmen.

To begin with, the Yankees had the fourth best record in the American League this year. Their 89-73 mark was a half-game better than that of the AL Central champion White Sox, who needed a tie-breaking 163rd game to pick up their 89th win. Over in the NL, just three teams won more than the Yankees’ 89 games. Joe Torre’s Dodgers, who took their skipper past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004, won just 84 games while playing in a division in which the other four teams had a combined .449 winning percentage. By comparison, the four non-Yankee teams in the AL East had a combined .535 winning percentage. Here are the aggregate winning percentages of each of baseball’s six divisions:

.535 AL East*
.515 NL Central
.501 AL Central
.490 NL East
.487 AL West
.463 NL West

*not including the Yankees’ .549

Playing in a division in which just one team had a winning percentage below .531, the Yankees had the toughest row to hoe in all of baseball in 2008. Even so, they performed at a 90-win pace against their own division—40-32 (.555)—splitting their season series against the Red Sox and Blue Jays and going 11-7 against both the Orioles and the pennant-winning Tampa Bay Rays. The Yanks were even better in interleague play (.556), and against the AL West (.563) despite once again struggling against the Angels, and stayed above .500 against the AL Central (.525). They had just two losing months all year, combining to be just three games below .500 in April and August, and played .582 ball after the All-Star break (a 94-win pace over a full season).

In fact, for all of the injuries and disappointing performances from young players that they endured this year, the Yankees won just five fewer games than in 2007 and actually won two more games than the 2000 Yankees, the last Bomber squad to win the World Series. Then again, that 2000 team was the only Torre-era Yankee team to win fewer than 92 games, and with the Rays having finally arrived atop the AL East, even 92 wins is unlikely to return the Yankees to the playoffs any time soon. Still, when asking what went wrong, it’s worth noting that, while the 2008 Yankees failed to live up to the standards of the franchise’s 13-year playoff streak, they didn’t miss by that much.


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