What happened to the Yankees?
Beautiful on the outside, flawed on the inside: thus was the state of the New York Yankees when, approximately six weeks ago, they possessed the lead in their division by ten games and the best record in major league baseball. Most people anticipated an easy road to the play offs and possible World Series aspirations; however, I was not one of them. It seemed to me as if the Yankees were facing weaknesses in more than one area, too many in fact to be simply addressed by a trade or two. Injuries aside, this team has struggled mightily over the last month and a half, and as of today they are tied for first place with the Baltimore orioles. It deeply hurts me, both as a lifelong Yankees fan and as an eternal optimist, to admit that this collapse did not shock me in the least.
It is evident that there are three reasons, beyond the plethora of player injuries, why the Yankees are losing so many games.
1. Problems with RISP:
The Yankees are rarely able to bring home runners in scoring position (RISP, which is a real statistic). In other words, when there is a player who is on second or third base, the Yankees struggle to either move him over or produce a hit so that he can score. Looking at the statistics at the end of June, when the Yankees were at the top of their division, shows that their batting average with runners in scoring position was .218. (Slightly over one hit for every 5 at bats.) The team’s .218 batting average with runners in scoring position ranks as the second worst franchise mark since 1952, only two points better than the 1967 club, which lost 90 games. Even through the end of August, with the bases loaded the team average was a pathetic .211. In one of the most recent games, the team was only 3 for 17 with runners in scoring position and this is fairly typical for the Yankees. I would like to point out; however, that this team deserves credit for at least creating so many opportunities for runs, and ideally a shift in our hitting strategy would resolve this issue. Unfortunately, there is another problem which must be addressed regarding offense.
2. Overly reliant on hitting home runs:
The Yankees place too much importance on hitting home runs. Often it feels as if the Yankees are simply swinging for the fences and trying to do too much. While it is a fact that this team leads the major leagues currently with two hundred and four home runs, during many games I get the sense that this is the only way the Yankees know how to score runs. Most nights, the emphasis on the long ball turns out to be our primary or only source of offense, like in a recent game where the only two runs were due to Robinson Cano’s home run. While I commend the Yankees on their incredible power, I sincerely hope they consider playing more
Finally, my third reason for this collapse relates to pitching.
3. Pitching problems:
Considering that Andy Pettitte has been on the disabled list for the past two months, it seems that besides Sabathea and Kuroda, the Yankees’ pitching is extremely inconsistent. (Pettitte has been a lifelong favorite of mine, therefore his injury this season was quite a painfully shocking surprise.) To their credit, this team has held it together thus far, but stats don’t lie. The ERA of the Yankees pitchers is 14th in the American League, or essentially at the bottom. Their bullpen ERA, on the other hand, is seventh in the A.L.,which is proof of at least somewhat solid relief pitching. Again, this problem is a solvable one and I still believe that the Yankees can do so. At the same time, I also recall seeing these same issues in June and July, so I’m not surprised at all right now.
To be clear, the 2012 New York Yankees WILL win their division and make the play offs. Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Mark Teixeira: these five key players have been injured this season, with all but the last missing a large number of games. Nevertheless, look at the standings and the Yankees are still tied for first place! However, without addressing these three problems which I have discussed, I doubt they will go very far and it hurts me to say this. I’ve been a fan of the Yankees since way before their 1996 World Series victory, which was followed by an onslaught of “band wagon fans” who only cared because the team was good. What strikes me about the five World Series teams in my lifetime was their resilience: they possessed an energy and ability to almost always come back and win games. The Yankees would rally: even if the pitching was bad, they would find ways to win which mostly did not arise due to home runs. If this current team were to adopt that type of philosophy, the road to the World Series would be wide open. Bottom line: