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Who’s Saving the Yankees’ Season While All Their Old Men Are Out? An Old Man, Naturally

Nice quip from David Letterman last night: “Martha Stewart says she wants to meet a rich man between the age of 50 and 70. Why doesn’t she just date a New York Yankee?”

Indeed. And the subs that the Yankees have brought in to get them through a period of recovery from injuries are as old as the guys they’re replacing. Travis Hafner, for instance, who was acquired as a free agent on February , will turn 36 on June 3. A Cleveland Indian for 10 of his 11 major league seasons after playing a few games for the Texas Rangers in 2002, he’s a perfect example of how lucky the Yankees have been this season.

Going into tonight’s game with the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium they are 17-10, trailing only the equally surprising Boston Red Sox in the AL East by 2 ½ games.

And it’s all about home runs. The Yankees, despite the loss of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to injury and Nick Swisher and Russell Martin to other teams, are leading the American League in home field home runs at 21. Hafner, who has been DH in 22 of the Yankees’ 27 games, has hit 4 of his 6 home runs, all 3 of his doubles, and his only triple at Yankee Stadium.

It’s likely the Yankees will dump most of their new-old replacements when the old-old players come back, but Hafner might be worth keeping. From 2004 to 2007, among hitters in both leagues, in more than 2000 plate appearances he was 4th with a .976 OBP (On Base plus Slugging Percentage). He averaged 32 homers, 100 RBIs and a .286 BA. In 2005 and 2006, hit 75 home runs and drove in 225 runs and was one of the best left-handed sluggers in the league. Then a list of injuries too long to go into overtook him; since 2007 he has played in more than 100 games only once, 118 in 2010), and hit only 56 of his career 207 homers. So far this year, though: no injuries.

If Pronk, as his teammates at Cleveland called him for the way the ball sounded when it connected with his bat, can keep from getting hurt, the Yankees’ season might continue to be as good as it’s been so far. And, who knows? Martha Stewart (who, after all, used to baby sit for Yogi and Carmen Barra) might be watching from the box seats. Note to Martha Stewart: Pronk is back.

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A-Rod’s Not the Yankees’ Only Playoff Goat

I’ve always resisted the idea that clutch hitting exists, I guess because I don’t like the notion that baseball is something more than a game — that it brings out something heroic in an athlete.

I pretty much agree with Bill James’s early assessment on the topic, which was that what a batter hits in so-called “clutch” situations is close to what he hits in all other situations — and that if this wasn’t obvious, it’s merely because there hadn’t been enough of a sampling. In other words, if Willie Mays never hit a home run in 21 World Series games it was simply luck of the draw. Given, say, another two World Series and another 10 or 12 games, if he batted another 40 times and hit, say, six home runs, then he’d have 7 home runs in 114 at-bats, which would be almost the same ratio as his regular season average.

It’s unsettling to watch baseball as long as I have and suddenly have to entertain an entirely new concept, but after watching the Yankees play like deer caught in the headlights in game after game, I’m beginning to think I was wrong about clutch hitting. Or at least wrong about clutch hitting as it manifests itself in the postseason, which is about as clutch as I can think of.

Alex Rodriguez, of course, is taking the major share of the flak for his failure to deliver against the Orioles and now the Tigers, but it has seemed to me all along that Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira have been just as guilty, especially in this year’s postseason.

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I decided to look at the playoff batting record of all four men,
which turns out to be a total of 166 games and 618 at-bats — just a
little over one full season. That seemed like a pretty substantial
sampling, one that would give us an idea of whether they were really
suffering from a bad case of playoff nerves or whether their performance
was just a statistical aberration.

Well, I still don’t know which it is, but in the 618 at-bats that
these four have accumulated in postseason play, they have a total of 132
hits for a batting average of just .214, pretty crappy no matter how
you look at it. Nor was that batting average redeemed by much power:
just 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. If you had a player who, over a period of
about 160 games and 600 at-bats hit .214 with those kind of power
numbers, would you try to replace him? I would.

Oh, and by the way, in their postseason history Granderson, Cano, Swisher, and Teixeira have accumulated 140 strikeouts.

Here’s the kicker: the best of the bunch turns out to be Alex
Rodriguez. I was surprised, as I expected him to be much worse than the
others. But after Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Tigers, he had played in 74
postseason games and come to bat 272 times with 72 hits for a batting
average of .266 – modest, but way above that of Cano (.226), Granderson
(.242), Swisher (.167), or Teixeira (.227). A-Rod had, by the way, just
13 home runs and 41 RBIs. Projected over the same 618 postseason
at-bats as the other four had combined, he would probably have come up
with 30 home runs and 93 RBIs. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible,
and his numbers were made a whole lot worse by his dreadful hitting in
the last two weeks.

I’m still not sure I believe in clutch hitting or that the
postseasons of all five of the Yankees’ regular season big boppers
really reflects that they can’t hit in the clutch. But it certainly
doesn’t provide any evidence that they are clutch hitters. At the
least, though, it suggests that the dreadful batting performances we’ve
endured over the last seven games aren’t that much different than what
the five of them have done over their entire postseason careers. Think
about that.

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Yanks Split With Orioles; October Looking Bleak

However much relief Yankee fans feel after the split of the four-game series with the Orioles – and it was oh, so painfully close to being 3 of 4 for the Yanks – and however good it felt to finally see the Yanks cut loose for 13 runs on Sunday afternoon, it’s hard to come away with any sense of confidence.

Even if the Bombers hadn’t been hosed on the last call of Saturday’s game — and they were  (badly), with replays showing that Mark Teixiera was safe by at least a yard — and Alex Rodriguez had followed up with a hit, we’d still be waiting to hear if Tex was out for just six days or for the rest of the season after reinjuring a calf muscle in the game.

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Either way, the prospects don’t look very good for the Yankees, not
if getting to the World Series is the goal. In fact, they leave
Baltimore with more questions than answers. Given the state of the
rotation, the biggest questions has to be whether C.C. Sabathia finishes
as the ace.

Saturday’s performance was typical of the
mediocre-to-bad season that Sabathia has had since coming off the DL:
109 pitches got him only through 6.1 innings, and he gave up eight hits
and five runs, including three home runs. Worst of all, he failed to
hold on to the lead twice, which is the worst thing your number one
starter can do in a big September game.

With a second rate Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, who has now had two
mediocre outings in a row, is the closest thing the Yankees have to
an ace. In fact, Kuroda is the closest thing the Yankees have to a
seven-inning starter — Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia can scarcely reach
the 5th inning any more, and on Sunday Freddy wilted after just 3 1/3.

In other words, even if the Yankees somehow hold on to win the AL
East, there would seem to be no way they can get through the first round
without a strong return by Andy Pettitte (and the latest reports on him
are as uncertain as those on Teixiera).

Some other unanswered questions: Joba Chamberlain got the win Sunday
for pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings. But is there anyone who really
thinks that he’s anywhere near the Joba of a couple of years ago? Is
there anyone who has any confidence in him when the game is close?

Curtis Granderson drove in five runs yesterday, and in fact came off
the bench to do it. But does that mean he’s found his 2011 stroke? Or
is he the same baffling .230 hitter we’ve been watching all year? Is
Teixeira’s injury a double curse because now it outs Nick “0 for
September” Swisher in the lineup every day? Why did it take American
League pitchers so long to find out that Swisher, when batting
left-handed, can’t hit anything low and slow? And what reason would they
have, from here on in, to throw him anything else, especially with two
strikes?

To counter all of this bad news, the only thing the Yankees can offer
is that A-Rod, with a 13-game hitting streak, is probably swinging the
bat better than he has at any time this season. That and the slim hope
that the Orioles and Rays can wear each other down this week while the
Yankees try to fatten up their lead with the Red Sox. Still, it’s
beginning to seemlike we’re heading for one of those first-round-and-out
seasons.