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The Drawing Board

Ed Botti

2020. What a year. I for one cannot wait for 2021 to get here, and normally I savor every single summer and fall day. Not this year. 2020, please leave and don’t let the door hit you on the way out!



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New Year.JPG

Photo by Taidgh Barron/NY Post

I cannot wait for the opening notes of auld lang syne to fill my speakers!

I have to admit as a Yankee fan who very rarely misses a pitch over an entire 162 game season, 2020 just never had that singular feel to it. You know, that feeling of hope and anticipation when spring training breaks, and the guys show up on a cold Bronx afternoon with great sun tans and we sit back and think to ourselves, “summer is coming, I can’t wait”!

It didn’t happen this year, and we dealt with it hoping it would eventually rise up out of the ashes. But in reality, even though we dealt with it, the truth could not be hidden. 2020 was the baseball version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, in my opinion.

When I watched the games this year, believe me I tried, but they seemed like just a continuous loop of exhibition games. Not a real game, and not a real season.

During all of the mistakes and errors I saw during this season, somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking, “They will work them out before they break camp”, only to catch myself and remember, camp was broken in July. “

But regardless of how I feel, they were real games, and it was a real season. 2020 counts. What you see is what you get.



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cashman.JPG

Photo by Charles Wenzelberg

From the onset of Cashman drafting the architectural drawings of the team this past winter, one critical and foundational decision was foolishly made. One that impacted nearly every single game of this weird 60 game season.

Didi Gregorius was not extended the qualifying offer and signed a one year deal to play in Philly. The Yankees grand plan was that they already had the shortstop of the future at a bargain rate; 23 year old Gleyber Torres.

So they sacrificed Didi, saved the $16 Million it would have cost, moved Gleyber to shortstop, filled his role at second with a gold glove by installing DJ LeMahieu as the everyday second baseman (no complaints whatsoever with DJ—he is a player) and off to the races they went.

The bad calculus on the part of professor Cashman is that not only did it offset the lefty righty balance in the batting order, but Gleyber Torres is not a shortstop. We see that in almost every single game in 2020. Worse, I think Gleyber knows it, and now it has impacted his bat.

Do not interpret this article as condemnation of Gleyber Torres. He is the building block of this team. This is written from heart, to limb, to pen.

Getting back to the balance of the lineup, Cashman is the only Yankee GM I can remember that does not build his team around the dimensions of the field. He does not think lefties are an advantage to a team that plays 81 games in Yankee Stadium.

When Gene Michael took over as GM in 1990, he was on the old Mike and the Mad Dog show, and I remember it like it was yesterday, he told them that the Yankees need to be more left handed. That led to Jimmy Key, Jim Abbott, Wade Boggs, and Paul O’Neill becoming Yankees.

Cashman does not see it that way. That is a problem.

Getting back to Gleyber, he is an above average, or even better, second basemen. One that I think was still growing into the position. There was nothing wrong with him owning that position for the next 15 years, and watching him become the premier offensive second baseman in MLB.

There have been others like Gleyber in recent years where their teams were totally content and happy leaving them at second base; Ryne Sandberg, Jeff Kent, Robbie Alomar and Carlos Baerga to name a few. All great second basement with great bats.

Did their GMs feel the need to move them to shortstop and risk damaging their careers?

That would be a flat out no. They were too valuable.

Playing shortstop and playing second base involve two completely different skill sets. Yes, a ground ball is still a ground ball, but it ends there.

The footwork, instincts, athleticism and arm strength are completely different. Just because you can catch a grounder at second base and throw the runner out, does not translate to doing the same physical movements required from 45 feet or so further away. It’s night and day.

Trust me, I know personally. It’s very humbling.



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gleyber fielding.JPG

Photo by Corey Sipkin

Even on the routine plays Gleyber makes at shortstop, you can see the subtle labors he has with footwork and delivery of the ball. Additionally, his feet are typically not in the right position turning a double play or even when he covers second on a stolen base.

Can he learn to adjust? Of course he can to a degree, he is a professional athlete. But why go there in the first place? It’s too important of a position. He’s too important of a player.

If you follow other teams in MLB and study their tendencies and valuations of players, it is inconsistent to think that Theo Epstein (Cubs President) actually projected Gleyber to be a shortstop at the MLB level. He was moved to the Yankees (Aroldis Chapman trade) because they had Addison Russell (second base), not because they had Javier Baez (shortstop). He was not going to play shortstop at Wrigley Field.

Ask yourself this question, just because Clint Frazier can catch a fly ball in a corner outfield position and has decent speed, would you make him the center fielder next year? I wouldn’t.

Why?

Because a completely different skill set is required. You can say what you want about Aaron Hicks (and I have been critical of him) but he is a center fielder. He possesses the skill set. It’s almost a natural instinct.

Shortstop is the center fielder of the infield.

Cashman (and maybe some of us) got spoiled over the last 24 years or so watching Derek Jeter and then Didi Gregorius handle the position so well. The reality is that it’s not that easy, and not everyone can handle it. You just can’t plug someone in at the Major League level and expect elite performance at that position.

Not only does it not work, it’s unfair to the player to think it will.

It brings to mind how they treated Joba Chamberlain. Many in baseball circles will tell you that they ruined him by shifting him from starter to relief over and over. I am in that camp.

At some point in time, especially with the modern athlete, you have to take into consideration the mental aspect of moving a player to a position where he is not comfortable or confident.

Not everyone is DJ LeMahieu from the perspective of versatility.

To me, I do not see a lot of confidence in Gleyber in 2020, and it has now affected him offensively. I blame that on the struggles brought on by his position change.

Just like Sandberg, Kent, Alomar and Baerga before him, he is too valuable to fool around with.

I bring this up on the eve of the MLB playoffs because the Yankee defense is a serious concern, and worse, it’s not the only serious concern.

Errors are part of the game, and they always will be. I am not going to suggest that the defense we saw on Thursday and Friday (8 errors) are a microcosm of the season. They weren’t. But they were glaring from this perspective; not only did they make 8 errors, they also did not execute basic fundamental plays (not shown in the box score as an error) at rate inconsistent with a championship caliber team.

That is the result of a lack of focus and discipline.

You cannot give up extra bases or allow extra outs to teams in the playoffs. If you think I am being overly judicious, all you have to do is go back and watch how the Yankees beat the 1996 Braves in games 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the World Series. The Braves made mistakes, and the Yankees cashed almost every single one in. The Yankees, they did not make many mistakes, if any at all.

That is how you win.

On the line going into last week’s Blue Jay series, where they lost 3 out of 4 games, was home field advantage. Their play trying to secure the home field was disappointing and troublesome, not just from a defensive perspective.

What was troublesome?

In case you have not seen the pattern, here it is. Against second division teams with pitching staffs loaded with pitchers that probably should still be in the Eastern League or retired, the Yankee crush them. Then, right on cue we get to hear Michael Kay and Bob Lorenz on YES force feed us the importance of exit velocity & launch angle, as if they have stock in the copy rights of these new terms.

It’s gotten to the point of being an insult to our intelligence.

What they fail to either understand, or communicate to the millions of YES viewers, is that exit velocity, launch angle and a token will get you on the subway (yes, I used tokens). In fact, they are damaging the game by trying to convince an entire new generation of fans that attempting to hit the ball to Staten Island on every swing is the right way to play.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Does anyone really get excited to watch a 9 inning game with a combined 25 strike outs, in hope of seeing a ball or two land in the bleachers?

That mindset has manifested itself into the front office of the Yankees, and we no longer see many of the players actually playing the game. It has become a home run derby for many to many (not all).

Modern analytical actuarial analysts employed throughout MLB mistakenly believe they can change the baseball formula. They cannot, and they should not even try.

There is so much more this game has to offer.

What is interesting to me is that some of the lower budget teams that cannot afford the Giancarlo Stantons of the world have realized that they can compete with the “big boys” by playing fundamental style baseball. Just take a look at Cleveland, Tampa, and Oakland.

They exploit every weakness their opponents have with pitching, defense and traditional run production. Yes, they do hit home runs, that’s a great part of the game, but they do not rely on them to win.

They use the fundamentals of the game, and they beat the guys looking for a hanging slider more times than not.

Interestingly enough, back in the early 1980’s when Billy Martin was managing the A’s, the media named their style of play “Billy Ball”. Billy Ball was just an aggressive style of fundamental baseball, forced errors and timely hitting.

When interviewed once, Billy Martin stated “there is no such thing as Billy Ball, it’s called Yankee Baseball taught to me by Casey Stengel”.

How times have changed.

The 2020 Yankees, well I think we all know their offensive approach, just ask Michael Kay.

Do any of us feel confident facing off against any of them in this post season? Maybe you do, and that’s great. My feeling is that the Yanks leave themselves exposed by being too one dimensional on offense, have self-inflicted weaknesses on defense, and are not always focused and disciplined.

Having said all of that, I think they will walk right through the White Sox, if they get lucky enough to play them in round one. If they draw the Indians, they probably will be favored, but to win they will need to eliminate the mistakes .

After that, they will need to ratchet up the focus and discipline to an even higher level. But after watching 60 games, I am not so sure they will be able to do so.

Either way, I am still looking forward to New Year’s Eve!!

Stay tuned!

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