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Mid-Season Analysis

Ed Botti, August 22, 2020

At the nearly half way point of this abbreviated 2020 season, the Yankee record stands at 16-9. Not too bad, you might say. But a closer look reveals a little different story. One that I wish I didn’t have to tell.

Take out the games against the completely decimated Red Sox, and the Yankees are 10-9 against teams with full major league rosters, not kids that should be in Pawtucket.

Not exactly dominant. Not exactly living up to their self-imposed expectations. Over a 162 game season, they are on pace for 91 wins. Not brutal, but hardly what we expected.

I understand that 25 games in a full season is not a good benchmark, but in a 60 game season it is a red flag.

In 2019 they were utterly decimated by injuries, and somehow managed to win 103 games.

Keep in mind, that 10 teams in 2019 lost 90 or more games, so there were a lot of “gimmes” on the table.

Since then they added a true ace to the rotation, and many of the injured players returned for a good stretch of the 16-9 record.

It was reasonable to expect similar or even better results than 2019, or am I being too bombastic?

Yes, the Yankees have had their share of injuries (more to come on that), but the replacements have been very good, as expected.

So, what is the problem? How can they simply be a step above mediocre for a 25 game stretch in a season that is only 60 games?

You won’t hear this on YES anytime soon but the facts are:

The Yankees are third in the league in home runs (and fighting very hard to be #1) but only 17th in the league in hits, 9th in runs and 19th in doubles.

This past week the Yankees faced off against the Tampa Bay Rays. The results were ugly. They lost all 3 games, and went a collective 1-21 with runners in scoring position.

Tampa, ended the series being 14th in the league in home runs, 12th in the league in hits and 2nd in runs and doubles.

Which tells you that one team relies heavily on the home run to score, while the other team does not.

Sound familiar?

Team pitching wise, they are very comparable. So how is it that a team with the 28th lowest payroll beat the team with the highest payroll in 5 out of 6 games?

https://www.spotrac.com/mlb/payroll/

Well for one, it doesn’t matter how much money you make when you compete, and two, it matters how you compete and how bad you want it.

Say what you will about Kevin Cash, and the Ray’s desire to pitch inside to the Yankee hitters and the brash statements they have been making. The fact is, the Rays make the most out of what they have, they improvise, and they play old fashioned hard ball.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Hitting behind runners, making productive outs, taking extra bases, throwing to the right base, knocking hitters off the plate, blocking balls in the dirt, sliding hard, running everything out, and hitting with runners in scoring position.



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Just solid fundamental baseball.

Nothing flashy, not too many poses for ESPN, lots of dirty uniforms, and none of them will likely be on the cover of a video game box. But they are winning and have been now since 2018 averaging 93 wins a season; barely making more than Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, as a team.

I doubt many people outside of Hillsborough County can even tell you who their starting catcher and first basemen are.

The Yankees on the other hand rely too much on the long ball. I am sorry to say it, but the series against the Rays is a microcosm of how the Yankee hit in the Playoffs.

In other words, how they hit against teams that can pitch.

You cannot play this game against talented pitchers relying on home runs to score. You will fail 5 out of 6 times if you do so. And that is exactly the Yankee record against the Rays so far.

Not having DJ in the lineup made it even worse because he is one of the few members of this team that plays the game the right way.

Unlike 2019 when DJ was there the whole season, they will not have similar success if he is out for any extended period in 2020.

I don’t blame the players necessarily, I believe they are being coached this way. I believe Aaron Boone bought into this system when he was offered the job as Manager by Brian Cashman.

Boone certainly didn’t play that way, neither did his father or grandfather, all major leaguers.



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Boone family.JPG

Photo by Mark Duncan, Associated Press

I would think that after 10 years of playoff futility and failure, Cashman and his staff would have seen that waiting for the long ball to win games against solid major league pitchers is wasted time.

Home runs for the most part come off of mistakes. Good pitchers limit their mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good home run. They are as exciting as it gets. But so is a short handed goal, and you don’t see NHL teams building their offence around power play defense just because it’s exciting.

Home runs are exciting, because they are somewhat rare and majestic. In 2019 the Yankees hit 306 home runs in 6,243 at bats. That’s 4.9% of the at bats.

Do you think I am exaggerating and overstating by using short handed goals as an example?

Shorthanded goals occurred in approximately 3.2% of power plays in 2019/2020.

Need more?

Arguable the greatest team of the modern era of baseball, the 1998 Yankees, hit 207 home runs and did not have a 30 home run player on the team.

How is that possible? They were talented players who played the game the right way.

So what exactly is going on in the other 95.1% of the at bats so far this season?

Ask Gary Sanchez and his launch angle approach. He may have the answer.

I’m not picking on Sanchez, I’m a fan, but his approach at the plate is brutal. Someone needs to correct it. But many, including myself, said that last year. So, apparently, they like his all or nothing approach, which is wasting his talent.

The point is, you can’t rely on an event that occurs 4.9% of the time.

When it happens, and it will a lot on this team, it’s icing on the cake, not the foundation if you want to win it all.

In the recent Tampa series, the opportunity to score presented itself 21 times in 3 games, and the Yankees executed one time. That is a recipe for being swept.

They were swept. Hardly a surprise to this viewer.

Not entirely due to 1-21, throw in the fact that they were out hustled, outplayed and out managed.

We all know it will take a complete disaster for the Yankees not to make the 2020 expanded playoffs, and they will probably be a 1 or 2 seed. But that is not good enough anymore. They were built to win it all, not just to be a playoff team and beat up on the second division teams in the league.

In order for the Yankees to turn this around, they have to change their approach. It’s easier said than done because of the approach that has been ingrained in them.

But if they don’t, we will see a repeat performance of 2018 and 2019 and Boone and Cashman looking at the camera in an empty Yankee stadium telling us “wait till next year”, as if we are all 1950’s Brooklyn Dodger fans.

The Yankees aren’t the only team with this approach by any stretch of the imagination, but it appears to me that they are intoxicated by the home run more so than any other team, including the Twins who out homered them by 1 last season.

You will see that the lower payroll teams in the league do not follow this formula, because they can’t afford the players that are capable of hitting many home runs. So what do they do? They play old fashioned hard ball, as we see with the Rays. The difference between the Rays and the other small market teams is managing and player development.

Need a little more? Put this into perspective.

The 2019 Nationals were 13th in the league with home runs (231) yet 6th in the league in runs (873) and won it all.

2018 Red Sox were 9th in the league in home runs (209) yet 1st in the league in runs (876) and won it all.

Skipping the cheating 2017 Asterisks, the 2016 Cubs were 13th in the league in home runs (199) yet 3rd in the league in runs (808) and won it all.

The 2015 Royals were 24th in the league with home runs (139) yet 7th in runs (724) and won it all.

Do you see a trend?

Creating runs wins because it could be done at a much higher percentage of the time than hitting home runs.

The popular and common rebuttal to this position is the blanket statement that “the game has changed”. I hear it all day long from WFAN talking heads who probably never had an at bat above little league or pony ball.

The game hasn’t changed, the game’s economic driving forces have changed, and now control the game. Just like the NBA and the massive amount of 3 point shots that are taken each game. Low percentage plays that sell at high rates.

The modern application of analytics and statistics are helpful to a degree, but statistics and analytics are like bikinis, they show a lot, but not everything.

So Boone and Cashman need to decide, do they want ratings or do they want championships? Because the current formula for ratings does not equate to championships.

1 for 21 in October means we all wait for February and pitchers and catchers to report to what we all hope will be a normal spring training. The talent level on this team is through the roof. The approach is the problem. It’s fixable.

Here’s hoping the two Mets that tested positive have a speedy recovery and get well soon

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