Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Rest of 2008

Curt Schilling called Yankee fans "miserable" and for once in his life, Mr. Schilling may be right. This year has, indeed, been a miserable one for Yankee fans, what with struggling till mid-June to get over .500, injuries, false starts and consistent inconsistency. A season of constant struggle, never quite clicking, and seemingly everyone getting hurt or underperforming. A blah season.

Before the season started, I called 2008 a "correction year" for the Yankees, and by that I meant, it was a year where a bunch of older players with bad contracts limping to the end of their Yankee career would be playing with a bunch of young kids trying to prove themselves in the rotation and bullpen. Overall, it was going to be a painful year as old legs got swept away while young ones endured the pains of learning how to play in the majors.

I had no idea how right I'd be. The old legs (and arms) not only grew tired, they completely failed as Posada, Matsui, Petitte and Damon all spent significant time on IR with injuries to their aging bodies or hogged the DH when they couldn't play the field. And when the youngsters weren't going through the normal growing pains, they were on the DL with injuries of their own.

However, the major problem wasn't the injuries, it was the team itself. In short, there was no ability or reliable way to generate runs on offense, and no consistent ability to shut down the other teams on defense—either with pitching or in the field.

Let's take offense first. In short, the Yankees were built to hit home runs, which is fine if you can hit them on a regular basis. However, if you can't, you need another way to generate runs. Play some sort of small ball—dash and pick up a run here and there. And the Yankees can't do that. They are a station to station team that tends to clog the basepaths when they actually can get on base. What they can't do is take the extra base on a hit to right field; they are not a threat to sneak a bunt to get on first, and unless their name is Damon or Abreu (when healthy), they are not a threat to steal anything.

To prove my point, here are some numbers: Despite the fact that the Yankees are 7th in the AL in runs, they have scored 3 or less runs in a game over 60 times this season—this means they score them in bunches; i.e. home runs. And both the Angels and Rays have more stolen bases than the Yankees, with Tampa having almost 30 more stolen bases this season. And while Tampa and L.A. have almost the same runs scored as the Yankees, their output has been much more consistent (there's that word again). In short they don't score 16 runs one night and then 3 over the next four nights.

As for the pitching, any casual Yankee fan knows that there was no way to predict what you would get on a given night. Yes, there were injuries, but even before the injuries came, the Yankees staff seemed a mish-mash and a prayer. And now at the end of the season, we see that the 2008 Yankees staff gave up 4.59 R/G while Tampa and LA gave up 4.04 and 4.22 respectively. Consistent hitting and reliable pitching—that's why the Angels and the Rays are in the lead and the Yankee aren't.

And then there's the defense. Derek Jeter, after doing stretching and agility drills in the offseason improved his defense to be ranked 23rd among shortstops in the league in the Bill James plus/minus ratings. What that means is that, next year, Jeter will be 35 and among the lower quarter of defensive shortstops. Not good, but it gets worse. Giambi ranks 29th among first basemen, but will hopefully be gone next year. Next up, Cano, who ranks 29th among second basemen and shows no sign of improving; Bobby Abreu, who may be kept for next year ranks 33rd among right fielders—mostly for avoiding the wall at all costs. Rodriguez is 16th among third basemen — just average. And you don't have to tell any Yankee fan about Johnny Damon's chicken arm out in left field. Which, when combined means the Yankees don't help their pitchers all that much.

What this all means for the 2008 Yankees, is that, yeah, it's over. That said, why aren't they playing the kids more? Checking last night's box score...you had Damon in center and Giambi on first. And why the heck is Abreu in right instead of Justin Christian or Brett Gardner? Why isn't Shelly Duncan on first base for the next three weeks or Juan Miranda? Heck, why not throw Francisco Cervelli behind the plate and Austin Jackson out in center? Why not spend the next three weeks seeing what you have in the minors? What can hurt at this point? You've already lost with Giambi and Damon, so let's see what Duncan and Gardner can do with consistent time—and show Jackson and Miranda what it takes to play in New York. The Yankees have thrown a young pitcher or two out there recently (Aceves and Coke, mostly), but that was largely out of necessity. Can you really send Rasner (5.43 ERA) and Ponson (6.03 ERA) out there any more and charge fans $200 for two tickets?

It's a simple game plan for the rest of 2008—but one the Yankees haven't had to do in a long time. Usually at this time of year, they are fighting for playoff position and getting their rotation in order.But they have three weeks to learn the plan; empty the farm system, see what you've got and prepare for next season. Trust me guys—you'll be glad you did. Or at least, it can't hurt any. So do it.

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