9/10/09

Why Your Team Will Blow it in the Playoffs: New York Yankees

Well, it appears that just about all the playoff spots are decided.  Per the excellent coolstandings.com, no team among the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Angels, Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Rockies have a great shot of making the playoffs - barring a miraculous late season run, or the Rangers gelling together despite injuries and making good on their 36% chance of sneaking into the playoffs.  

Now, this lack of drama is no fun at all in September, and it's nigh-unacceptable in the playoffs.  So rather than just let things play out like they will, which is to say "predictably," we're going to try to throw a wrench into the hopes and dreams of fans of each of the aforementioned playoff probables.  Because none of them are the Braves.  AND SO: onward with the hating.  First up: the New York Yankees, team with the best record in baseball and one of the easier teams to hate.  

Why They're Great: Offense

The Yankee offense is spectacularly talented.  Led by A-Rod, Jeter, and Teixeira, at least eight, and usually all nine, of their lineup regulars post above-average wOBA marks.  Jeter in any other year would have a great MVP candidacy, A-Rod is performing above expectations after hip surgery, and Teixeira has been a good middle of the order force.  But the players surrounding them have been meeting and/or exceeding expectations as well.  Johnny Damon's found the fountain of youth, Nick Swisher's broken out the slugging stick (though only four of his dongers this year have been at home; how bizarre eh?), Jorge Posada has rebounded from injury better than we expected, Robby Cano is flashing talent again, and Hideki Matsui's knees are allowing him to play well as a DH.  And they're also scoring 5.72 runs per game, which is the best mark in MLB.  This is a team without a real hole when they're at the plate; opposing pitchers beware.  

But Wait a Minute!

Do you really trust this team's pitching?  We mean, REALLY trust it? It's great that they brought in CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, whether or not CC has been worth the record contract they gave him.  Both have been very helpful in getting them to where they are today.  And of course there's Mariano lurking in the back of the pen, having one of the best seasons of his career.  But let's look at the bigger picture here.  What exactly are the Yankees going to be working with this postseason?

SP CC Sabathia

SP A.J. Burnett

SP Andy Pettitte

SP ...Joba? Sergio Mitre? Not Sergio Mitre, right? They wouldn't do that...would they?

Now, before we continue, let's just say this: we put little stock in past playoff performances.  They are, to us, blown way out of proportion and seem to us - detached, coldhearted, and stat-minded as we are - to be more a function of small sample size than any special ability to bear down in clutch situations.  That said...here's CC in the playoffs.






YearTmSeriesOppERAGSIPHERBBSOWHIPH/9BB/9SO/9
2001CLEALDSSEA3.0016.062551.8339.07.57.5
2007CLEALDSNYY5.4015.043652.0007.210.89.0
2007CLEALCSBOS10.45210.11712792.32314.86.17.8
2008MILNLDSPHI12.2713.265452.72714.79.812.3
3 Seasons (4 Series)7.92525.0332222242.20011.97.98.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/10/2009.


Well, that...um...speaks for itself.  Let's move on to noted headcase A.J. Burnett!  And, further, let's ignore that he's got exactly three (3) seasons of 200+ IP.  And that two (2) of those came in contract years.  And that, for what it's worth, he's never pitched in the postseason (we confess to being surprised at this point).  Let's now imagine that everything people say about pitching in the postseason is true, and, moreover, that pitching in New York in the postseason is as nerve-wracking and spine-tingling and testicle-testing as they say.  Is A.J. Burnett a guy you want running out there twice in a seven-game series?  We're not sayin'...we're just sayin'.

So how about Andy Pettitte?  He's got that veteran presence, that cool, calm demeanor that people love to talk about, right?  He's been there before, he's seen it all, he can bring a level head to the clubhouse, blah blah blah.  Here's the thing about Pettitte.  He's 37.  Over the last four years, he's pretty well established what he is at this point - a slightly above league average (105 ERA+, 1.41 WHIP) pitcher.  And you know what?  That's actually good enough when you've got a team that hits like the Yankees do.  And Pettitte's been super durable throughout his career, so who knows if the age will affect him.  So overall, Pettitte is actually in pretty good shape, but since this is the time for vitriol...he's old and doesn't have his best stuff anymore.  So there.

This fourth spot is where things get interesting.  We have to assume the Yanks'll start Joba there, but...honestly, would you feel comfortable betting so much as fifty cents on how they'll use him the next time he heads out to the mound?  The Joba Rules or whatever are absurd, and left Keith Law saying that Joba "looked like he didn't know if he was coming or going" out on the mound.  You expect a guy who's had his head toyed with by the Yankees for the last three years to be in good shape to pitch for them in the playoffs?  Or that he'll actually, yknow, be good?  It's worth mentioning a fact that gets lost in all the talk about the Joba Rules - he's posting the worst K/9, BB/9, HR/9, H/9, WHIP, and BAA rates of his career.  In fact, he's just not been very good at all this season.  A 4.45 ERA and 100 ERA+ aren't the stuff letters home are made of.  And what if they decide to turn his starts into the three-inning disappearing acts we've been seeing of late?  Does that mean Sergio Mitre will actually be taking the ball in high-leverage situations for multiple innings?  For a team that's spending $200 million on payroll?  We don't even need to pile on here...the guy's posting a 7.02 ERA.  That'll have to speak for itself.  

Oh, and the bullpen?  Rivera is beyond reproach.  Phil Hughes has been excellent, though we still think he should be a starter.  Alfredo Aceves has been good, posting a nifty 2.39 WXRL.  And Phil Coke has been a serviceable lefty.  But beyond those four guys, well, there's not a lot of talent here.  And depending on how scared they are of Rivera's injury problems, however minor they may be, he may be limited exclusively to one-inning duty.  Which means that you've now got three guys handling all the significant bullpen innings that are being left behind by a rotation that will be of questionable efficacy.  All we're saying is...we hope these guys are ready to try to hit their way into November.


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