Yankees Perspectives – The New Way To Build A Dynasty
by Paul Semendinger (August 24, 2020)
I will be honest (because I always am, even when I am wrong)…
I celebrated when the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton.
I was also thrilled when the Yankees acquired James Paxton.
And there were others too…
Often times when the Yankees go out and make the big trade or sign the big-time player, I am overjoyed. I always want the Yankees to get the best talent and acquire the best players. And when the Yankees get their next great player, I tend to look at that player with rose-colored glasses and hope. I often look to the good stats the player has accumulated while discounting the less-than-good as visions of championships dance in my head.
One aspect of the Yankees’ new business model that it has taken me a long time to accept (and I’m not sure I fully do yet, or ever will) is their more frugal approach to dealing with free agents and trade targets. The Yankees used to be in on every big player. If the talented player was available, the Yankees were interested. The goal was simple – bring the best players to the Bronx and win, win, win.
When those players didn’t pan out, the Yankees would often use their resources to find another solution. They did not seem as married to disappointing stars. Even if they had to give them away and pay their salary, if a player didn’t make it in New York, more often than not, he was gone. The Yankees used their wealth to overcome and fix their mistakes.
For better, or worse (and it really depends on so much – the model described above worked very well for long periods of time, but also also led to some down periods in Yankees history as well) the Yankees do not follow that model as much any longer. For every Gerrit Cole they sign and every Giancarlo Stanton they trade for, they let a Bryce Harper and a Justin Verlander go by.
The Yankees of today, more than ever, seem to try to find the diamond in the rough – the emerging superstar and get that player just before he breaks out. Aaron Hicks, Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, and Luke Voit are some current examples. It is fun when the non-superstar comes in and becomes a hero. Being able to do this again and again and again is one of Brian Cashman’s greatest strengths.
But today I am talking superstars.
I want to focus on the one simple statistic they need to look at, very carefully, going forward when seeking to acquire the best players. This is a statistic the Yankees do not always look at – and the results of that neglect have been what has been causing them so much angst in recent years as player after player misses time due to injuries and various ailments.
This statistic (if one can even call it a statistic), is the one I believe that will make the difference as they seek to build their next dynasty…
Before I give the stat, let’s look at some superstar players and this specific statistic followed by their bWAR over a specific period of time.
Player A – 12, 39, 46, 17, 88, 43, 3 (35.4) bWAR = 35.7 (or 5.1)
Player B – 23, 44, 62, 9, 15, 51, 3 (29.5) bWAR = 27.5 (or 4.21)
Player C – 6, 80, 0, 5, 6, 0 (16.1) bWAR = 34.1 (or 5.68)
Player D – 4, 3, 4, 19 (7.5) bWAR = 23.6 (or 5.9)
Player E – 17, 4, 9, 26, 12 (13.6) bWAR = 39.5 (or 7.9)
Now that I have everyone confused (by design), let me explain…
The first numbers are the total amount of games missed per season once the player became a starting position player in the big leagues.
The second number, in parenthesis, is the average number of games that player missed per season to that point (I simply averaged the numbers in the list.)
The bWAR number is that player’s bWAR over that period.
The second number in parenthesis (for example, “or 5.9”) is that player’s average seasonal WAR over that same period.
It is clear that all of these players are premier talents. Any team would want them. They all command (or will command) huge dollars.
All of these players were traded or signed as big time free agents in recent years. They are all also roughly same age (or were) at the time of their trade or free agency (or both). One player on this list hasn’t been traded or signed to a big free agent contract yet.
Care to guess who each of these players are?
Player A – Giancarlo Stanton
Player B – Bryce Harper
Player C – Manny Machado
Player D – Francisco Lindor
Player E – Mookie Betts
These are five of the biggest names in the sport today. Let’s also add Aaron Judge to the mix:
Aaron Judge – 7, 50, 60 (39) bWAR = 19.4 (or 6.4)
If I were a general manager operating with a (big) budget and the current Yankee philosophy, and I had the opportunity to acquire each (or any) of these players based upon the numbers above (which were their exact stats when they were traded or signed as free agents) I would make the following decisions on whether or not to acquire each of these players (absent of any character issues or whatever. I am just looking at the numbers):
Giancarlo Stanton – NO
Bryce Harper – NO
Manny Machado – YES
Francisco Lindor – YES
Mookie Betts – YES
Aaron Judge – NO
It comes down to a simple reality. Great players are great, but great players only help teams win games when they are playing. A great player does not help a team win when he’s on the bench.
Any long term reader of this blog knows that I absolutely wanted Bryce Harper on the Yankees. I also wasn’t a big Manny Machado proponent. This formula changes that.
All things being equal, I just wouldn’t seek to acquire Harper given this look. His “missed game average” is also skewed down because in the last year before free agency, he only missed three games. Harper is a great talent, but he didn’t play regularly enough to warrant the huge investment to get him.
This same formula cautions the Yankees against offering a long-term extension or contract to Aaron Judge.
When the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton, many (including me) tried to argue away his injury history. “They were fluke injuries,” we said. (And they, for the most part, were… but they indicated a trend.) The warning signs were there. Stanton’s injury history was a caution flag saying “Stay Away.”
Players don’t tend to miss fewer games as they age, they tend to miss more. If a player is having injuries that cause him to miss games in his younger years, that trend will probably not change, and will probably only get worse, as he ages.
Great players are only great and helping their teams win when they play.
The current Yankees have been very fortunate in that their replacement players (thus far) have over-performed typical replacement player levels. That a testament to the team’s depth, but it won’t always be that way. Teams just can’t stockpile that kind of depth long-term and they also just can’t keep finding “plus” players in under-the-radar deals. Again, the Yankees are fortunate right now in that those things have happened. Brian Cashman is an outstanding General Manager.
The statistic, the most important statistic, when looking to sign or trade for a superstar player is games played (or conversely games missed). If a player has a history of injuries and of missing time, no matter what the excuse or reasons, the smart general manager reads the warning signs and does not take the plunge.
That would be my model going forward.
The Yankees should spend big to get the best players, but only get the best players who have demonstrated an ability to stay on the field. There is no guarantee that those players will stay healthy, but there is a better chance they will than the other players who have a long history of missing games.
A great player is only great when he is playing…
Postscript – This same logic holds true for pitchers. This is why Gerrit Cole was a great signing. Hie pitches. Cole gets deep into games and he stays on rotation. The same cannot be said for James Paxton. His injury history was a huge warning flag. The fact that he’s been hurt in his two years as a Yankee is no surprise when looking at his games pitched (and games missed) totals.