Friday, June 6, 2008

Next Year in the Bronx

A couple of months ago I called 2008 "a correction year" for the Yankees. A look around now shows that I was even more right than I knew.

A walk-off HR from Jason Zombie last night brought the Yankees to .500 and kept them from last place. 60 games into the season, they are 6 1/2 games out of first. They are 5 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

And after, taking this all in, I have this to say: part of me wants them to lose.

It's just a small part. But as I watch Yanks this year, I can't help escaping that they a poorly-constructed Frankenstein of a team, with Steinbrenner, his Tampa cronies and Brian Cashman each building a part of the team in a different vision, with the end result mish-mosh of talented players who don't compliment each other very well. A team that has some past their prime oldsters mixed with rushed rookies. A team paying over 200 million, but stuggling to .500. A completely average overpaid mismade team.

The late 90s Yanks were a team built from within (Posada, Jeter, Petitte, Bernie, Mariano, etc) who then went on the market and signed or traded for for low-risk, high-reward character-type players—Scott Brosius and Paul O'Neill, for example. If you take a look at the Tampa Bay Rays, you see a team built the same way. Their core are young guys from within, Carl Crawford, B.J Upton, James Shields, Evan Longoria, etc; then supplemented but smart, low-risk trades and signings—the best of these being the pickup of Troy Percival, who has not only solidified the pen, but has become a mentor for the young staff.

The Yanks are not that way—at least anymore. After 2001, Steinbrenner and his cronies went hog wild on the free agent market to the detriment of the farm system, signing Sheffield, Giambi, Randy Johnson, etc. During this period this time, not a lot of youngsters came up and filled in spots. Recently, we have Cano, Wang and Melky....but that's it. The rest of the team are aging and creaky guns-for-hire, like Damon, Abreu and Giambi.

Now the Yankees can pull it together and go on a 22 game winning streak. They are far too talented to count completely. Individually they have massive amounts of talent, however, if you watch them regularly, you see they just don't complement each other—which leads to bursts of offense, but as a whole, it isn't sustained.

For instance, as opposing teams have found out, the Yankees have a serious Achilles' Heel against lefties—they have a soft .260 BA against lefties (10th in the AL) and 119 strikeouts (3rd in the AL), as oppossed to batting .275 against righties (3rd in the AL) and dead last (which is good) in strikeouts against righties.

A reason for this—aside from the fact that Shelly Duncan's path to serious playing time is clogged by aging and broken vets, Damon, Giambi, Abreu and Matsui, all lefties, all free agent signings—was the signing of Sheffield. That offseason, Brian Cashman, as indeed most of the western world expected the Yankees to make a serious play for Vladimir Guerrero—the premier right-handed bat on the market. Indeed, Cashman had a handshake deal with Guerrero's agent. Alas, George Steinbrenner and his crew in Tampa did not agree. They had a dinner in Tampa where Sheffield lives and George took a shine to him, and signed the aging RF pretty much on the spot.

So how'd that work out/ Sheffield had some decent, though not great numbers the first two years in pinstripes. That is, until his again body broke down and his asshat of a personality drove him out of the Bronx after his 3rd year here. Guerrero, meanwhile batted roughly 30 points higher, had a much higher slugging percentage and OPS+. And, oh yeah, he won the MVP. Also, being 10 years younger, is still there in Anaheim. Gary Sheffield is gone. And done.

The Yanks are a Steinbrenner designed offense, which is to say, designed for the HRs. And if you are built that way, your offense is feast or famine. And they are. Another example: In 2000, the last year they won the Series, they were 3rd in the AL in walks. This year, so far, they are 10th. Also, they are a molassas-like 11th in stolen bases. Not surprisingly, Tampa is first in stolen bases. The Yanks have grounded into 55 rally-killing double-plays, roughly one a game. The Rays with their speed and ability to generate runs, has grounded into only 40. One more stat: The Yanks are back in the pack on defense in the AL, ranking 9th in assists (see also, "Damon's chicken-arm") and 7th in fielding percentage. Who's first in fielding percentage, you ask? Of course, the speedy young Rays.

To risk repetition, the Yanks are a poorly-constructed built team, built on individual stats and not cohesion. Not team play. If you look at the 1996 Yankees, the indiviual stats don't jump off the page, but they played well as a team, driving in runs in key situations. Making the sacrifice, taking the extra base They were able to do the small stuff. This team, is too bloated to notice the small stuff.

Of course, I want the Yankees to win. I want them to humiliate every team they play against, but speaking truly, a small part of me wants them to lose, so management is forced to blow up the team after this season. That means jettisoning Giambi, Abreu, Pavano, Farnsworth-less, Petitte, etc, recouping the compensatory picks, and starting fresh. With a team that's designed with one concept in mind, isn't overbloated with Zombies clogging the DH position because they can't field, or with broken outfielders past their prime, and can start looking like the those Yanks of 1996.

Or at least the Rays of today.


Pete S said...

I agree the Yankees were moving in the wrong direction for a while, but their pitching staff is getting younger every year. As these free agent contracts expire, the team will continue to get younger. I'm glad their are veterans on the pitching staff this year, because they have been holding the team together at this point, because Kennedy is not ready, Hughes is hurt, and Joba is just getting started. Mussina has been their best starter and Mariano has been his old nasty self. I think this is an exciting year, because the Yankees are transforming themselves back into a team with home grown young players contributing to the team's success (in theory). But it is a transition year.

The Rays have the advantage of picking at the very top of the draft every year. It had to pan out for them sooner or later. Teams like the Yankees never get that number 1 pick because of their sustained success.

P-Cat said...

I just don't understand all these people who are ready to give up on Kennedy, Hughes and even Joba (Ian O'Conner is already calling the move to the rotation a failure). Hank said in the beginning of this year that even he knows it's unrealistic for the Yanks to win every year; all I'm saying is I hope he doesn't try to trade the farm to try to win this year.