"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: william juliano

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.

I’m a Mook? What’s a Youk?

Our man William thinks Napoli and Youk are the mooks for the Yanks.

Drawing by Moebius.

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: 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

Hey, Look at That Shot

Our man William gives us more Donnie Baseball Goodness.

[Painting by Dave Pucciarelli]

Color By Numbers: Kryptonite and Spinach

Superman had his kryptonite. Mariano Rivera had Edgar Martinez.  In 23 plate appearances against the immortal closer, the Mariners’ prolific DH batted an incredible .579/.652/1.053. When there’s a clash of the titans, someone has to win, and in this rare instance, the great Rivera was usually on the wrong side of the battle.

If Martinez was Rivera’s kryptonite, Ray Durham was his spinach. In 26 plate appearances against the closer, the former All Star 2B never got a hit. Although extreme in his level of futility, Durham has plenty of company among hitters who have been dominated by Rivera. Over 40% of the 83 players with at least 15 plate appearances against the all-time saves leader have posted an OPS below .600, so, just like a real life superhero, the Yankees closer is accustomed to getting his man.

Kryptonite and Spinach for a Selection of Top Pitchers
Note: Based on hitters with a minimum of 25 plate appearances (15 PAs for Rivera) against each starter. Includes post season results.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The chart above lists the five hitters with the most and least success (i.e., the kryptonite and spinach) against Rivera as well as a selection of top starting pitchers from both the present and past. As you can see, the chief nemeses for an elite pitcher are often hitters of equal renown. For example, Bob Feller had Ted Williams, Randy Johnson had Albert Pujols, and Sandy Koufax was made human when facing the immortal trio of Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Willie Mays. However, there are some anomalies, such as Steve Ontiveros’ success against Tom Seaver. In 28 plate appearances, the former corner infielder for the Giants and Cubs, who had a career OPS of .731, managed to more than double that rate when facing Tom Terrific. The same relationship also existed between Greg Maddux and Javier Valentin, a light hitting catcher who somehow managed to solve the riddle of the Braves’ right hander.

The Seaver/Ontiveros and Madduz/Valentin pairings are probably the most surprising from the chart above, but that doesn’t mean the other elite pitchers haven’t had their share of unlikely antagonists. Marco Scutaro has been one of Rivera’s more frequent tormenters, while teammate CC Sabathia has found Rod Barajas to be one of his toughest outs. Two light hitting infielders, Jose Lopez and David Eckstein, have given Roy Hallday headaches, while Jerry Hairston Jr. is on a very small list of hitters who had Pedro Martinez’ number. Very few pitchers have been more intimidating than Bob Gibson, but that didn’t stop one of the worst hitters in baseball history from dominating the right hander. No hitter with at least 4,750 plate appearances has an OPS+ lower than Tim Foli’s 64, yet, somehow the journeyman managed to bat .483/.516/.586 against Gibson. Not to be outdone, Neifi Pérez, who matched Foli’s infamy by posting an OPS+ of 64 in over 5,500 plate appearances, also picked on one of the game’s greatest pitchers. In 42 plate appearances against Randy Johnson, Pérez raised his game exponentially, batting .333/.333/.619 against the Big Unit.

Unlikely Antagonists

Note: Hitters selected based on a combination of plate appearances and OPS+. Includes post season results.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The chart below displays the distribution of OPS rates compiled by batters with a minimum number of plate appearances against our selection of great pitchers (see note for explanation of criteria used).  Rivera and Clemens are the only two pitchers from the group to keep a hitter under an OPS of .100, while Clemens also scored the lowest percentage of hitters who racked up an OPS over 1.000. Among the starters, only Pedro matched Rivera in terms of the number of hitters with an OPS against below .700; Tim Lincecum is the leader of the actives. Finally, all but Feller, Sabathia, and Hernandez have more “blue” than “red” on their charts, but it should be noted that trio pitched more seasons in a higher run environment than all others but Rivera and Halladay.

“OPS Against” Distribution for Select Group of Top Starters

Note: Based on hitters with a minimum of 25 plate appearances (15 PAs for Rivera) against each starter. Also, a 7% OPS adjustment (based on a crude comparison of league OPS in the different eras) was used to approximate the lower run environment that existed during the careers of Seaver, Ford, Gibson, and Koufax. Includes post season results.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

A Payroll Odyssey

Over at the Captain’s Blog, William Juliano explains what this 2014 payroll tax business is all about and I, for one, am grateful.

[Photo Credit: Alice Kokaine]

Color By Numbers: International Pastime

Baseball used to be just the National Pastime, but now, America’s greatest game belongs to the world. Official Opening Day rosters haven’t been decided upon yet, but there’s a good chance the percentage of players born outside the United States could top 30% for the first time in history, further cementing baseball as the most diverse of the three major American sports (if Canadian and U.S. players are considered “domestic”, baseball’s international participation is  also greater than the NHL’s).

Comparison of International Participation Among Major Sports

Note: For NHL, domestic includes the U.S. and Canada.
Source: baseball-reference.com (2011); profootball-reference.com (2011-12); NHL.com (2010-11); rpiratings.com (NBA: 2011-12)

For much of its first 100 years, baseball was mostly composed of American born players. However, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, that started to change. Soon after Robinson’s debut, an increasing number of international players, particularly those hailing from Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, began filtering into the league. As a result, the percentage of foreign born players increased from 3.6% in 1947 to 9.0% in 1961, the first year of expansion.

Domestic vs. International Participation in MLB, 1901 to 2011

Note: Data is not continuous, but based on five-year segments.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

With more teams came the need for a deeper talent pool, so over the next decade, international participation continued to trend up, reaching 12.5% by 1976, even though the number of Cuban born players was significantly curtailed by Fidel Castro’s revolution. Filling the void left by the absence of Cuban players was an influx of talent from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic as well as even greater participation from Mexico and Puerto Rico.

For the next 10 years, the number of international players remained stagnant. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was also the first decade of free agency. With a ready of supply of proven major league talent now regularly available, perhaps teams became less inclined to spend on international scouting? Whatever the reason, the number of foreign born players began to increase again in the mid-1980s, right around the time free agent salaries began to skyrocket. Since that point, the trend toward greater diversity has continued unabated.

Percentage of International Players, By Country

Note: Data is not continuous, but based on five-year segments. Percentages are based on international segment only.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

In 2010, the international presence in the major leagues peaked at 28.2% (the all-time high based on Opening Day rosters was 29.2% in 2005). Considering the increasing number of high profile international free agent signings and gradual development of foreign born prospects, both of those rates could be eclipsed in 2012, but for how much longer will the trend continue?

One of the key components of baseball’s new CBA is a provision that effectively creates a salary cap for amateur international free agent signings. Although not as extreme as folding foreign born amateurs into the Rule IV draft, this new system could have similar effects. In particular, there has been concern expressed about whether budgetary restrictions placed on international signings will discourage teams from investing overseas (i.e., why fund an academy if the ability to sign the prospects is limited?). Worth noting in relation to this concern is that since Puerto Rican players were added to the draft in 1990, the number of major leaguers hailing from the island has declined from 3.4% of all players and 24.3% of international players to 2.2% and 8%, respectively, in 2011. Needless to say, if a similar effect results from the new CBA, the percentage of foreign born players in the majors could reverse course.

Not only has there been a significant increase in the number of international players, but baseball has also experienced demographic shifts within the domestic population. For the first 30 years of the modern major leagues, the Rust Belt contributed the highest percentage of players, with Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and New York leading the way. By the 1930s, however, warmer weather states like California and Texas, which not coincidentally hosted some of the best minor leagues circuits in the country, began to take over.

Domestic Participation in MLB, 1901-2011

Note: Data is not continuous, but based on five-year segments.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Baseball’s state demographics remained relatively stable from the 1930s to the 1960s, at which point the number of players hailing from California and abroad began to take its toll on the rest of the country. More recently, however, the Golden State’s share of the player population has started to abate, dropping from nearly 25% in the mid-1980s to the current rate of 16.1%. This decline allowed the number of foreign born players to surpass the individual rates of every state for the first time in 1996.

Over the past five years, there has been an uptick in the percentage of players born in Texas and Florida, which seems like a trend that will continue. On the other hand, every other state now falls below the 3% level, meaning nearly one in two American born players is a native son of California, Texas, or Florida. Of course, it should be noted that those states have three of the four highest populations, but even on a per capita basis, they rank among the leaders.

Per Capita Domestic Participation in MLB, Top- and Bottom-10, 2011

Source: Baseball-reference.com and 2010 U.S. Census data

Despite the increased concentration among domestic players, baseball’s international presence has fueled its unprecedented diversity. This melting pot has been a recipe for success, not only on the field, but in the board room as well. So, the next time someone tries to argue that baseball is no longer the National Pastime, just smile and nod your head. They’re right. Baseball is now the International Pastime.

Color By Numbers: Will Youth Serve the Yankees?

Now that A.J Burnett has been forced to walk the plank, the 2012 Yankees’ starting rotation has begun to take its final shape. Although Joe Girardi has promised a battle between the veteran Freddy Garcia and one-time top prospect Phil Hughes for the fifth slot, the young right hander seems to have the inside track. Then again, Hughes isn’t really that young any more, at least not by the standards of the Yankees’ 2012 rotation.

If Phil Hughes breaks camp as the fifth starter, he’ll no longer be the baby of the staff. Along with Ivan Nova (25) and Michael Pineda (23), Hughes would give the Yankees three starters no older than 26, providing a youthful complement to the 31-year old CC Sabathia and 37-year old Hiroki Kuroda. At an average age of 28.4, the 2012 rotation would represent the team’s youngest starting staff since 1995 and fourth youngest in the last 30 seasons.

Average Age* of New York Yankees’ Starters, 1901-2011

*A weighted average based on the number of innings pitched as a starter only.
Note: Red data points indicate years the Yankees won the World Series.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Sometimes the best laid plans go astray, so there’s no guarantee that the Yankees’ rotation will retain its youthful appearance throughout the entire season. After all, in 111 years, the Yankees have only had 25 pitchers start at least 30 games before their age-27 season, so, it would be remarkable if the team had three in 2012. Should Pineda, Hughes, and Nova all reach that plateau, however, it would be only the second time in franchise history that a trio of young pitchers accomplished the feat. The only other occasion took place in 1966, when Al Downing, Fritz Peterson, and Mel Stottlemyre combined to start 97 games. However, that group went a dismal 34-42, and the team lost 89 games. So, needless to say, Brian Cashman is probably banking on greater success from his trio of young starters.

Total Number of Starts by Yankees’ Pitchers Age-26 and Under, 1901-2011

Note: Red data points indicate years the Yankees won the World Series.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The chance of Hughes, Nova, and Pineda all surpassing 30 games started is probably slim, but even if the barometer is lowered to 25, the 2012 rotation would still become only the sixth in franchise history to have three pitchers age-26 or younger qualify. What’s more, with at least 75 starts from the baby faced trio, you’d have to go all the way back to 1982 to find another season in which more games were started by pitchers no older than 26 years.

For most of the past decade, the advanced age of the Yankees’ rotation has been looked upon as a concern, but the team has enjoyed considerable success with older starting pitchers. In fact, in 2008, the only recent season in which the Yankees failed to make the playoffs, the team tried to inject youth into the rotation with Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy (Joba Chamberlain joined the starting staff in June), but a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness limited the trio to only 29 starts. That’s why there should be at least a little trepidation about entering this season with such an inexperienced rotation. Although the potential in the Yankees’ young starting staff is encouraging (not only for this season, but beyond), the promise of youth is often broken. Besides, at the end of the season, the only stat that will count is the number of wins, not how games are started by the youngest members of the rotation.

I Came in the Door

Take a trip back to the Yankees spring training camp in 1986 with our man William Juliano.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver