Great to Good (The Root of the Frustration of the 2018 Yankees)

It seem this year that there have been two main camps of fans of the 2018 Yankees. In one camp are the fans that point to the Yankees’ record (“They have as many wins as last year’s team”, “If not for the Red Sox, they’d be the best team in baseball,” etc…) and feel that the criticisms of the 2018 Yankees are unfounded. These fans also tend to point to the injuries to Aaron Judge, Aroldis Chapman, Gary Sanchez, Jordan Montgomery, and others as reasons why the Yankees might not be quite living up to expectations. “Imagine if we had those players,” they say, “The Yankees would be even better.”

And you know what, in many ways they are right, at least with the facts about the wins and the injuries. The 2018 Yankees have suffered key injuries to cornerstone players and they do have a lot of wins.

Still, there are the fans that have been critical of the 2018 Yankees. These fans feel that this team has under performed. There is a general perception that the team plays sloppy baseball, that (among other things) they don’t have energy, that many players don’t seem to care, and that the manager does not have the skills or the fire to get this team going. In fact, in Sunday’s New York Daily News, Bob Raissman asks “How much longer can Aaron Boone get away with spinning his positive take on the stumbling Yankees?” Not to be outdone, Bill Madden, suggests that Aaron Boone should be the one blamed if the Yankees don’t secure home field for the Wild Card Game.

Who is right? Is anyone right? Since the team does have an excellent record, is the criticism of the team even fair?

As one who has been critically honest about this team, I believe that the criticisms have been fair. I think this is because of the following reasons:

People Expected More Out of This Team

The 2017 Yankees came within one game of the World Series. Following that, the team added MVP Giancarlo Stanton and some solid parts like Brandon Drury and Neil Walker to solidify areas of concern. There was a true feeling that the 2018 Yankees were designed to dominate baseball. The new era of Yankee superiority was supposed to begin this year.

Baseball writers across the country predicted that the Yankees would win the American League East. (A list of just some of these predication can be found at the end of this post.) The talk was that a legendary era was beginning. The days of Ruth/Gehrig and Mantle/Maris were evoked and talked about - a lot.

This was a team that was predicted to be a ton of fun to watch. Home runs were going to be flying out of stadiums on a daily basis as the Yankees marched on to October.

The fact that this hasn’t happened has been a cause of frustration. While the team has hit a ton of homers, they have also been shut down far too often. It is rare that the Yankees have won big. Even when they win, it’s not been easy.

Through June 21, The Yankees Set A High Bar That They Have Failed To Live Up To

On June 21, the Yankees were 50-22 having just gone through a 41-13 stretch. This team was other-worldly. The team was on pace to win 112 games. All looked glorious and wonderful in the Bronx.

The problem is that since that high point, the Yankees have been only 41-35. That pace equates to an 87 win season over 162 games.

While it may have been unreasonable for the Yankees to continue to play at a pace that would get them more than 110 wins, the summer months have not been kind to this team. It’s no fun watching a team that was supposed to be great playing to a .539 winning percentage over a period of (almost) three months.

In addition, this was supposed to be the easy part of the Yankees schedule. These last months were when they were really supposed to dominate. The fact that they didn’t and they looked bad against inferior teams adds to the frustration people that feel about this team.

On top of which, as the pennant race has heated up, the Yankees have played even worse. Since August 27, the Yankees are 8-11. This type of play does not inspire confidence. It only creates frustration.

The Young Core Players Were Supposed To Take a Step Forward This Year - And They Haven’t

Correct me if I am wrong, but one of the supposed reasons for letting Joe Girardi go was the fact that the Yankees didn’t feel he was a good manager for a team of young budding stars. There was a sense (in spite of the fact that Girardi had a history of getting a great deal out of young players) that these players needed a manager with a different approach. Enter - Aaron Boone.

With this as the philosophy, there was the expectation that the Yankees young core would have taken huge steps forward. Even if the Yankees weren’t going to win the World Series, this was supposed to be the year that the young star players became unquestioned stars. The core was to be solidified in 2018.

Instead, absent of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, most of the young players (for various reasons) have regressed. It is my contention that rather than having exclamation marks heading into the 2019 season, the young core will instead have more question marks. It is difficult to name even one young player from 2017 or before that progressed this year.

It seems that Joe Girardi got more out of the kids than Aaron Boone has.

Along the same lines, it’s hard to find a veteran on this team that has performed better this year.

It seems Joe Girardi got more out of everyone than Aaron Boone has.

That’s frustrating.

Might Boone, after his first year, get more out of the players in 2019 and beyond? Of course. He might become the greatest manager ever. But, remember, when he was hired, it was not with the expectation that this was a year for him to slowly grow. Yankees fans were told he was ready to take this team from where they were and bring them forward.

The Yankees slogan for 2018 wasn’t, “Come Grow With Us and Wait Until 2019.” It was “We Are Ready Now.”

The fact that there have been so many growing pains (which we all expected - that was why so many experts did not feel that this was the type of team to hand over to a manager with no coaching or managerial experience anywhere) has been frustrating.

In sports, when the golden opportunity is there in front of you, you need to grab it, not take a step backwards. In regard to the players’ and the team’s development, 2018 was a step backwards.

There Does Not Seem To Be Any Urgency

In too many post game interviews with too many players, and the manager, even after tough losses, the reaction seems to be one of lethargy or acceptance. We do not hear a lot of “We will get them tomorrow, there is no quit in us.” Instead we get comments like, “I’m just happy to be playing,” “The hits didn’t fall,” “That’s the way the ball bounces,” “In spite of my performance, I’m a great pitcher,” and “We had good swings, the results will come.”

Fans want the players to care. They want to see fire and emotion. They want to see players that seem invested in winning and being great. We have not seen that, not nearly enough, this season.

Along with this, all too often, we have seen a lack of hustle on the field from a variety of players, not just the one who takes a lot of the blame. We see careless errors and poor fundamentals. Maybe these have happened as often this year as in the past, but it doesn’t seem that way and I don’t know of any database that documents poor fundamentals in run downs, players throwing to the wrong bases, pitchers doing poor jobs holding runners, base running blunders, and more.

I can say this, when a player goes all out and makes an error, even a mental error, fans are forgiving. Fans get frustrated when players perform with a more lackadaisical style and then make errors. In those situations it seems as though the players don’t care. That’s the vibe. Is it correct? I don’t know, but that’s the vibe this team has given to so many.

For me, I’d rather see a bad team play good baseball (and lose) than a good team play bad baseball (and win).

The Players Seemed To Have More Fun in 2017 Than 2018

Building on the previous point, just watching the players’ body language and their reactions on the bench, it doesn’t seem that even they are having fun. Is it because they are more laid back? It is because the manager doesn’t have the same intensity? I don’t know, but when the players are fired up, as the 2017 team was, the fans get fired up as well. How often has this team been fired up?

A Main Goal for 2018 Seemed To Be Getting Under The Luxury Tax

There is a strong sense that the Yankees waited too long to address key areas (beginning last winter with some potential trades for pitchers that might have solidified the starting rotation) and throughout the season to get cheaper players or no players at all, even at critical times, if it meant crossing the luxury tax limit. Fans have heard about the luxury tax for years and years now. Getting under that threshold has been the team’s number one goal, not necessarily winning, and that is frustrating. The message seems to have be, “If we can win while staying under the tax, that’s great, but if it takes going over the tax to win, we’d rather stay under the tax.”

Now, if this resetting of the tax was designed to get the team primed for signing the big free agents of the 2018-19 off season, I think fans will be forgiving, but if it was just to save money for the owners, I am very certain the fans will not be so forgiving.

Fans of the Yankees expect teams that win. In spite of all the talk of success, the Yankees of the 2000’s have not been great, and since 2009 have really been less than stellar. In fact, the Yankees might be facing their first decade since before Babe Ruth without a World Series appearance. The Yankees fan base has been very (very) patient. There was a real sense that that patience would be rewarded in 2018.

For a team that sells it self on a winning tradition, there has been far too little winning in recent years.

Many fans invest their savings, their time, and their emotions into the Yankees…they expect the same in return. That’s also been part of the expectation of being a Yankees fan and not the fan of a small-market team or a small-market mentality team. This is the New York Yankees we are talking about.

I ran the following a short while ago, but it bears to be repeated:

The Yankees have not been to a World Series since 2009.  Since 2001, they have won just one World Series.  One World Championship in 18 years is not great.  It's just not.  Absolutely not.  Also, if the Yankees don't make the World Series this year and next year, they will have have failed to reach the World Series in a calendar decade (2010-2019) for the first time since before Babe Ruth.  Here's a quick re-cap of the Yankees' World Series appearances by decade:

  • 1920-1929= 6 times

  • 1930-1939= 5 times

  • 1940-1949= 5 times

  • 1950-1959= 8 times

  • 1960-1969= 5 times

  • 1970-1979= 3 times

  • 1980-1989= 1 time

  • 1990-1999 = 3 times

  • 2000-2009= 4 times

  • 2010-present= 0 times

Since the 2013 season, the Yankees have been in the post season a grand total of two times.  Two (2015 - a Wild Card loss and last year).  This is success?  The Yankee brand, the Yankee image, the Yankee mystique, and all of that was not built on the results of the last five or six years.  The Yankees pride themselves and market themselves on championships.  In recent years (really since 2001), there have been far too few of them.  

Now, We Might Remember All Of This Differently If…

Now, if the Yankees storm through the playoffs, we will remember all of this differently. History will tell the story of how this team came together at just the right moment, in spite of the doubts, and pulled off what they were capable of and what all the players and manger knew would happen.

And if that happens, that’ll be super. A long, fun, and successful post season would be great.

But the fans that have been critical this season point to the above, and more, and because of all this, don’t feel very optimistic about the Yankees’ chances this post season.

In the end, coming from where they were a year ago, and then with Giancarlo Stanton being brought in, if they lose in the Wild Card Game, or they have a poor post season, the 2018 season will have to be considered a disappointment.

Many fans are bracing for this.

This is where the frustration comes from.

***

Preseason predictions from many (this is an incomplete list) who believed the Yankees would finish in first place:

ESPN polled 29 Baseball Experts. 21 of the them (72%) picked the Yankees to finish in first place.
http://www.espn.com/mlb/sto...

At FanGraphs, 31 of their 40 staff members (77%) predicted the Yankees would win the AL East:
https://www.fangraphs.com/b...

Baseball America predicted that the Yankees would end up in first place.
https://www.baseballamerica...

At the NY Post, 5 of their 7 baseball writers (Joel Sherman, Mike Vaccaro, Kevin Kernan, George A. King III, and Dan Martin) predicted the Yankees would be in first place in the AL East:
https://nypost.com/2018/03/...

At the NY Daily News, 4 of their 5 writers had the Yankees predicted to finish in first place:
http://www.nydailynews.com/...

Tyler Kepner of the NY TImes predicted the Yankees finishing in first place:
https://www.nytimes.com/201...

At The Sporting News, all four of their baseball writers said that the Yankees would finish in first place:
http://www.sportingnews.com...

Grant Brisbee at SB Nation, had the Yankees finishing in first place in the A.L. East 
https://www.sbnation.com/a/...

Joel Rueter of Bleacher Report had the Yankees finishing in...first place:
https://bleacherreport.com/...

Michael Baumann of The Ringer projected the Yankees as the #2 team (behind the Astros) in their Pre-Season Power Ranking (which makes them a first place in the AL East finisher):
https://www.theringer.com/m...

5 of the 7 writers for the USA Today had the Yankees winning the AL East:
https://www.usatoday.com/st...

Joe Horvath of Fox Sports had the Yankees winning the AL East:
https://www.foxsports.com/s...

Joe Giglio (nj.com) had the Yankees in first place:
https://www.nj.com/sports/i...

The list goes on…