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Yankees Perspectives: The Simple Reason Why The 1996-2000 Dynasty Was A Dynasty

by Paul Semendinger (August 23, 2020)

The simple reasons why the Yankees of the late 1990’s were so good can be summarized with a few obvious points:

The Yankees were very talented

Ownership and the front office were committed to spending whatever it took (in money or prospects) to bring in the best players

The players stayed healthy.

It is because of all three of those points, together, that the Yankees were able to win multiple championships. But the main reason why those teams won so often, and why this current team will not, lies in the third point.

Those players stayed healthy. The Yankees of today do not.

It’s that simple.

But, let me break this down to demonstrate this fact.

The core Yankees, the biggest position players on those teams of the late 1990s were Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez. If you had to break down the championship squads to the core players at the heart of those championships, it would be those four players. Other players came, and went, and many contributed, but Jeter, Williams, O’Neill, and Martinez were the big four. Those teams were built around them.

Knowing this, let’s take a look at some simple numbers:

Derek Jeter: 157, 159, 149, 158, 148

Bernie Williams: 143, 129, 128, 158, 141

Tino Martinez: 155, 158, 142, 159, 155

Paul O’Neill: 150, 149, 152, 153, 142

Those were the year-by-year games played for each of those players from 1996 through 2000.

Looking at these same numbers a different way:

Derek Jeter: With 771 total games played from 1996-2000, he appeared in 95.1% of all Yankees games played in that period.

Bernie Williams: 669 games (86.2%)

Tino Martinez: 769 games (94.9%)

Paul O’Neill: 746 games (92.0%)

In short, the core players on those championship teams stayed healthy and played the vast majority of the games.

Because these players were in the lineup every day, there was consistency. The Yankees didn’t need a “next man up” to play for significant periods to replace the big-time players. The replacement players, the one or two year wonders helped in other areas. They were not called on to fill-in for the core members of the team.

In short, the big-time players played.

That’s a huge reason why they won. It’s probably THE reason why those Yankees teams won.

(The next tier players; the players like Chuck Knoblauch (who appeared in 82.7% of the games played in this period), and Scott Brosius (86.4%), also stayed in the lineup.)

Now, let’s look at the current Yankee core players from 2018-2020:

Aaron Judge: 112, 102, 17 (out of 25)

Aaron Judge has appeared in 231 games from 2018 to today. That is just 66.1% of all the Yankees games played in this period. And, we cannot forget that had the 2020 season started on time, Judge would have missed most of the first half making that 66.1 percentage even smaller. Much smaller. If Judge missed the first half of 2020 (which is what would have probably occurred, his games played percentage drops to about 53.7%.

Giancarlo Stanton: 158, 18, 14

Giancarlo Stanton has appeared in just 190 games in this period. That is 54.4% of all Yankees games played.

Aaron Hicks: 137, 59, 21

Aaron Hicks tips the scales at 217 games played or 62.1%

And that is the difference, in a nutshell.

The Yankees of today, as great, talented, and fun as they are, just do not stay healthy. The core players of today just cannot stay on the field. (And it seems that their replacements and the secondary pieces also tends to get injured and miss time at a higher rate than the players on those 1996-2000 teams.)

This is this simple fact that is going to undermine the Yankees’ ability to build a championship dynasty.

(Quick note – the current Yankees as designed also rely a great deal on Gary Sanchez. They need him to be a core middle-of-the-lineup bat. Sanchez has also not stayed healthy. I didn’t add catchers into the first equation because their games played are always significantly below the players at other positions. Joe Girardi and Jorge Posada were not expected to carry the weight in the lineup that Gary Sanchez is supposed to today. Still, Girardi and then Posada were able to play in more games per season than Sanchez:

Joe Girardi:

1996 = appeared in 76.5% of all Yankees games

1997 = 69.1%

Jorge Posada:

1998 = 68.5%

1999 = 69.1%

2000 = 93.2%

Between 1996 and 2000, Girardi and Posada, played in 75.2% of all Yankees games.

Gary Sanchez:

2018 = 54.9%

2019 = 65.4%

The last two full seasons, Gary Sanchez has averaged playing in just 60.15% of all Yankees games.

Great players don’t play great when they’re not playing. It’s that simple.

The Yankees of today do not stay healthy. They are often hurt. They are out of the lineup too frequently to provide the level of consistency that is needed for a team to field a championship squad.

But, compounding that problem is the fact that the Yankees of today, also do not have a starting rotation that is durable.

While they had a somewhat rotating cast of pitchers, but the Yankees from 1996 to 2000 had a staff of starters that did two things better than the starters today. Those Yankees had starters that:

pitched every fifth day

pitched deeper into games (they did not barely make it through five innings)

The Yankees also don’t have that today.

Both of these teams had (or have) a collection of high quality starters. The difference is that the high quality starters from 1996-2000 pitched more often and pitched deeper into the games.

(Quick note – before a reader comments that the Yankees of today have such a great bullpen that they don’t need their starters to go deep, let me state that the same was true of those squads. The bullpens of that late 1990’s period were the precursor to today’s model. That model has not changed. The difference between those starting staffs and the ones of today are that the starters from 1996-2000 were able to get the team to their best relief pitchers. The starters today often do not.)

The difference in the strength, quality, and endurance of starting pitching between these two periods can be easily be contrasted by looking at these numbers:

Number of pitchers logging 170+ innings in a season (by year):

1996 = 3 (plus Jimmy Key pitched 169.1 innings)

1997 = 3

1998 = 4

1999 = 4 (plus Hideki Irabu pitched 169.1 innings)

2000 = 3

Let’s compare that to today:

2018 = 1

2019 = 1

There in lies the difference between the teams of the late 1990s and the Yankees of today and why those teams won multiple championships and why this team will not.

From 1996 to 2000, the star players stayed healthy, stayed in the lineup, played and

From 1996 to 2000, the top starters stayed healthy and pitched deeper into the games when taking their regular starts.

The current Yankees star players have not stayed healthy, they have not stayed in the line up, and have not played enough.

The current Yankees starting pitchers have not stayed healthy or pitched deep into games. (This fact obviously excludes Gerrit Cole which is why it was so important for the Yankees to acquire him and why he is big part of the long-term answer.)

The facts are the facts. This current Yankees team, as constructed, is not built to win for a sustained period. At all.

It’s not because of heart or talent or ability… or any of that.

The Yankees of 1996-2000 won multiple championships because the players they relied on each year, played.

***

Next, tomorrow at 4:00 p.m., I’ll share my plan for actually building the next Yankees championship core. The key to building a championship comes down to one simple counting statistic.




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