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Out of the Slump?

Ed Botti

More than any other sport, Baseball is game loaded with quotes, unwritten rules, traditions and adages.

Today, we take a look at how some of them relate to the 2020 Yankees.

An old adage I always liked goes, “you are never as good as you look when you’re winning, or as bad as you look when you’re losing”.

What that really means is; it’s a long season, you have to let it play out. They play almost every day for 6 months (2 months this year). This isn’t football where they play 16 games. In baseball 16 games is slightly more than a home stand.

Another one I like and always use each spring when the season kicks off (and I try to make my preseason predictions) is “each team is going to win 60 games and lose 60 games, what they do with the other 42 games decides their fate” (by the way all my Met fan friends and relatives crushed me when I said they’d be lucky to win 28 games in 2020). I stand by that!

In this shortened season, the “other 42 “equals only 16 -17 games.

So now that it appears that the Yankees may have come out of their 20 game or so funk, and just ran off 5 straight wins, I thought we take a deeper dive into the whole “you’re not as good as you look when you’re winning or as bad as you look when your losing” and the “other 42” theories.

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Photo by Robert Sabo

In complete contrast to these theories, I present to you 2020.

Many people, before any of us here at Start Spreading the News used it, have said “baseball is a marathon, not a sprint” and that could not have been more accurate.

When that wise statement was made (I have no idea who first coined it) MLB played anywhere from 154 to 162 games per season.

But as we know 2020 is a different animal.

In 2020, you divided that by 3, and hit the starting blocks.

So getting too high or too low after a week or two is quite understandable in 2020, but it does go against the grain of all of things baseball.

I’m not complaining, just pointing out a fact. Take that as you will.

A perfect case in point is this past Saturday. Five short days before, if I were to tell you that the Yankees played the Orioles and made 3 errors, went 0 – 8 with runners in scoring position and scored 2 runs in 10 innings, we would have all thought “here we go again, the same old Yankees. Fire that hitting coach”!

However, there is another old adage that makes a lot of sense “momentum is your next day’s starting pitcher”.

While the Yankee offensive futility was on display Saturday, Yankee pitching went 10 innings allowed 4 hits, striking out 12 and walking 1.

And now many say “all is well”!

It doesn’t quite work that way.

As Luke Voit said “This game is like riding a surfing wave,” “There’s going to be ups and downs of it. Eventually stuff will go your way”.

Saturday’s game is one of the games I would put in the “other 42 Games” category. A game they could have easily lost, but didn’t.

All of you that read my articles here on SSTN know that I am a stickler for fundamentals. I am not impressed by this new version of our game. I believe a baseball game is a grind, and rarely settled simply by a swing or two, it’s much more fluid. There is much more involved. Things lead to those one or two swings. They are not mutually exclusive.

What the 5-15 slump did however, is emphasize some important flaws or weaknesses that are characteristic to this team’s make up.

One of the biggest weaknesses on this team is basic fundamentals. Hitting behind runners, taking the extra base, managing each at bat based on the circumstance of the game, throwing to the right bases, blocking balls in the dirt and running hard until someone yells “OUT”. All overlooked now by anyone with a microphone, it seems. But nonetheless critical components to the “other 42 games”.

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Photo by Frank Franklin II—AP

As I laid out here 2 weeks ago, in 2019 the Yankees hit 306 home runs in 6,243 at bats. On the surface, that is impressive. Something to generate all sorts of talk on the radio, and sell many many t-shirts and put many fannies in the seats (as George Steinbrenner stated). But in reality, that’s 4.9% of the at bats. Not exactly overwhelming odds. But 306 home runs will definitely win you 60 games, probably many more. But what happens in those “other 42 games”, are what actually matter.

What are those other 42 games? Games played against other team’s aces. Tight games. Extra-inning games. Games where key players are hurt. Games where the pitching staff needs a rest. In other words, the toughest games. The games that test your strength and stamina.

Just like the games played in October.

Those games require a mastery of the fundamentals. A good jab and footwork always scores points. Without the good jab and footwork, you are just a bar room brawler, not a real boxer. A bar room brawler will always get picked apart and worn down by a real boxer.

But in 2020, here we are each day and night watching Gary Sanchez spend almost every single precious at bat going for the knockout and trying to hit the ball onto the Grand Concourse. In 118 at bats, he has 15 hits, 7 of which are home runs. That means he is hitting .127. He also has 54 strike outs (that’s 46% of the time for those of you keeping score at home).

Baseball’s version of a bar room brawler.

That can’t happen if this team is going to do anything this October or any other October in the foreseeable future. He has to change his approach, or he has to change his address. It’s one or the other time in the Bronx. I am pulling for approach. This has gone on too long. It should have been addressed in 2018. I am fairly sure it was on the the top of Girardi’s list before he was “not retained” as Manager in 2017 (and many speculate his tough love approach to Sanchez was a big factor in that decision). How did that work out?.

Health, for whatever reason over the last couple of seasons, has become an issue with this club. Most notably, injuries to Stanton and Judge. We can all debate the training programs that they may use, the new training staff, the excessive soft tissue injuries, etc.

At the end of the day, these two players have to stay on the field. It’s hard to believe this but since 2018 they have been on the field together 130 games out of a possible 370 games. That is 35% of Yankee games played. In those games, the Yankees are 86-44.

Enough said. It’s not his fault, but figure it out, Eric Cressey!

Payroll flexibility is also an issue on this team. Yes, I know the Yankees can print money. But even the Yankees have a limit. Some of the longer term contracts on this team have become an albatross around their neck.

Don’t believe for a moment that Cashman not making any moves at all on August 31 had anything to do with player availability, and not to do with the budget.

Extending the injury prone light hitting Aaron Hicks was a mistake. You would have thought they learned their lesson with Jacoby Ellsbury. No, Hicks has 5 more years after 2020 on the books.

You don’t hear this too often, but Aaron Hicks is a lifetime .234 hitter. That is not a typo. Why would anyone give a .234 hitter a 7 year extension?

But, they nit picked Didi Gregorius, who signed a one year deal in Philly and they let Austin Romine leave for a fraction of the Hicks money. Let this roll around in your head, Chad Curtis was a lifetime .265 hitter, Rickey Ledee was a .243 lifetime hitter, Cameron Maybin .256. The point is, why spend all that money on an often injured, soft hitting defensive outfielder? They are not exactly hard to find.

The good thing, he does have a movable contract. Let’s see what happens this winter.

Giancarlo Stanton is signed through 2028 with an average annual value of $28.77 Million. Do we need to say anything else? I will, it was a bad trade from the beginning. A trade that will haunt them for years to come, as no other team will likely want him and that salary commitment.

Yes, he did hit 38 home runs in 2018, and he also hit .238 with 1 home run and 1 RBI in the 2018 playoffs and has missed almost all of 2019 and 2020.

One can only imagine what else they could have done this year with that same $28.77 million (prorated)!

These two contracts alone impact many important decisions going forward regarding extensions and new player acquisition.

They are going to have to invest in the starting rotation before 2021 rolls around and DJ is a free agent.

Shortstop is another area of concern. Gleyber Torres is a generational type of player. A player to build around. But, he is not a shortstop. He does not have the range, footwork or arm. He is a second baseman, and a very good one. Ditto for DJ LeMahieu, although DJ is much more versatile and can play the corner infield positions. So, the Yankees have 2 second baseman that both deserve to play every day. As a result, one of them (Gleyber) will always be out of position, weakening their defense, and in those “other 42 games” that matters big time.

Which brings us right back to Giancarlo Stanton and extending this analysis to the “what if”. Hindsight being 20-20 (I am being very kind to Cashman), if they did not make that trade and assume that massive payroll hit, we could have Didi at Short, DJ at first, Gleyber at second, Gio at third, and Voit at DH, with about $12 million in surplus for in season use.

Not a bad infield and DH.

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Associated Press

Additionally, that would have opened the door for Clint Frazier to play, because when Stanton (and Judge) come back, Frazier will be grabbing some pine. It’s a numbers game, and there just aren’t enough positions to go around when Stanton returns. That’s too bad, because he has shown the maturity of going down to the minors and overcoming his defensive weaknesses and developing better plate discipline. He is now a major league ready player with great potential. I hope they can be creative and figure out ways to get him at bats. He’s earned it, and he brings a different dynamic to the game.

Remember folks, long before the Stanton trade, when the Yankees traded Andrew Miller to Cleveland in 2016, the centerpiece of the trade was Frazier. It was envisioned by the Yankee brass that he would be an everyday outfielder. And then, Cashman was conned by Jeter, and brought in Stanton, ditching that whole plan.

Looking down the road in the above scenario, if they did decide to move on from Didi in a year or two that would have given them the flexibility of bringing in Frankie Lindor as Gleyber’s middle infield partner.

But they do not have that flexibility. It was traded to Miami.

So, this team does have its challenges, just like every other team. Some are self-inflicted, some are correctable, and some we have to live with.

All of them effect the “other 42 games” in one way or another.

But at the end of the day, the 5 game win streak is great and they played a solid game in the final game to sweep the Orioles on Sunday. But keep in mind, you are never as good as you look when you’re winning, or as bad as you look when you’re losing.

October is right around the corner, and most likely the 2020 Yankees will be a given a puncher’s chance to do something special.

We all want to see them face off against the Rays and Houston, and settle the score.

Not to sound like a broken record, but a big factor in settling matters on the field will be based on the execution of the fundamentals, not just swinging for the fences.

Let’s see if they have that discipline.


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