Not The Weekly Mailbag: Some Perspective
By Andy Singer
Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong, AP PHOTO
I hinted at it in last week’s mailbag, but I think that when a season ends, it is really important to take a deep breath so that both positive and negative emotions don’t lead to sweeping, harsh conclusions about the state of a team. On the one hand, that’s almost impossible to do in a season as unprecedented as 2020, but on the other hand, it makes perspective that much more important. Before I go any further, yes, I was crushed in a way I didn’t see coming at the end of Game 5 of the ALDS. In the immediacy of the moment, I had all kinds of opinions about roster’s construction, the ways in which Boone did (or didn’t) manage the lineup, and the fundamental lapses that seemed to doom the Yankees at crucial moments. I wanted so badly to be mad that the Yanks were going home early again in 2020. After all, 2020 was supposed to be the Yankees’ year, now that Cashman had finally snagged his white whale in Gerrit Cole.
You know what, though? Once I slept it off, I wasn’t mad. I thought back to what I felt like in March, April, May, and June, when I continued to write about baseball and the Yankees multiple times per week without any real hope that baseball in any form would return in 2020. More to the point, I watched as a pandemic ravaged the world around me, taking daily norms, people, and any sense of normalcy away from all of us. In trying times, baseball has always been one of my most cherished escapes, and I admit to feeling a bit hopeless that I would see it anytime soon in any form other than tossing a ball into my own mitt.
Even when baseball’s return was announced, baseball did its best to ruin it for the fans with a drawn out, messy, and very public labor dispute that was at best petty, and at worst totally unnecessary and damaging to the sport’s image. Despite the strange rule changes, the limited number of games, the animosity between owners and players, and the lack of fans in the stands, I found a way to get excited for Opening Day in July. I treated Opening Day like it was the World Series, as it just felt good to see high level baseball and the team I’ve loved since seemingly birth.
As long ago as it seems, even that joy was fleeting, as teams quickly saw games cancelled due to positive tests for COVID-19 among players and staff. The Yankees, in particular, were affected with multiple cancellations early in the season due to infections on teams the Yanks were set to play. In the last week of July/first week of August, I had real doubts that even a 60-game season would be completed.
Thankfully, I was wrong. The Yankees, and MLB baseball more generally, was here to stay throughout the summer and now the fall. The peaks and valleys of a typical baseball season were compressed into 2.5 months, so I think we can all be excused if we needed a few extra antacids throughout the season.
In light of all of that, I am just thankful for the existence of a season at all. Having the Yankees back gave me some small sense of normalcy and comfort during some truly difficult times. In that context, this season was a success. Was the Yankees’ season a success? Again, context is key.
The Yankees looked like a juggernaut prior to the start of the 2020 season. Gerrit Cole was the 1A to Luis Severino’s 1B. Masahiro Tanaka would be a 4th starter. The Yankees were bringing back a nearly identical bullpen to the one that in 2019 was one of the best in baseball, and there was hope that some of the kids could add additional firepower to the proceedings. The Yankees looked as though they had an embarrassment of riches at the plate, with Judge and Stanton healthy, a young stud in Torres anchoring the infield, the steady jack-of-all-trades presence of DJLM, the grizzled veteran in Brett Gardner, and a bench that looked as good as some team’s starters.
So, what happened? 2/3 of the top starters on the team were hurt basically all year. One of the Yankees’ best bullpen arms, Tommy Kahnle, blew out his elbow. Judge and Stanton dealt with minor injuries that would have been pinpricks in a normal season, but proved to be significant losses in a short season. We saw significant underperformance by Torres, Sanchez, Ottavino, and even Brett Gardner. The vaunted bench turned out to be flawed, with Tauchman coming back to earth both offensively and defensively, Mike Ford couldn’t get going at the plate, and Miguel Andujar couldn’t be trusted to play anywhere on the field defensively.
Realistically, that is a lot for a team to overcome in a mere 60 games. The team with whom the Yankees played the Rays in the ALDS was not the team the Yankees constructed in the offseason. Before we judge that a complete re-tooling is necessary a la the George Steinbrenner days viewing the season itself in the proper context is essential. Among the factors working against the Yankees this year, in addition to what I noted above:
Spring Training was stopped abruptly as players were in their final ramp-up face for the season, then sent home with little-to-no access to team facilities until the 2 week ramp up to the season in July. For one, players are creatures of routine, and the loss of that routine affects everyone differently, some more negatively than others. Secondly, players nursing injuries, working on mechanical adjustments, or even just players trying to maintain their mechanics, lost the ability to work with team staff during this long shutdown. Many players likely came back with hitches or imperfect mechanical differences in their mannerisms that wouldn’t have occurred under the watchful eye of coaches and scouts, while players with injuries likely had their recoveries hindered by lack of access to team facilities.
The Yankees were shutdown mid-season multiple times. For one, this led to many off-days early in the season, making it harder for the players to find a groove. More importantly though, it led to a sprint for the last 35 games of the season, during which the Yankees had almost no off days. Despite a short season, I think fatigue and lack of routine were real problems for this team throughout the year.
The inherent weirdness that comes from small sample sizes must be acknowledged. What would Torres and Judge have done had they been able to sit a bit longer on the IL? Would they have eventually “played to the back of their baseball cards?” I think that’s highly likely. With more development time this year, Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt may have earned the trust to throw more important innings both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Overall, I think that the Yankees would have been far closer in the AL East with an extra 100 or so games.
None of this means that I don’t think that the Yankees have flaws – of course they do. All teams do. I also believe some changes can and should be made. We have a long offseason to talk about all of those items. Very soon, you’ll see my thoughts about:
The starting rotation
Free agent pitchers, catchers, and left handed hitters
What to do with Gary Sanchez?
Players ready to graduate from the farm
Shaping the bench
Fixing the bullpen
And much more!
For now though, as much as I wanted the Yankees to win a championship in 2020, I’m glad the season happened, and I still believe that the Yankees are close to a championship. I consider the fact that the Yankees played at all a win.
The mailbag will be back next week, and all offseason. Send in your questions about baseball, the Yankees, the hot stove, prospects, and anything else to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com, and I’ll answer 3-5 questions each week.