Monday, May 19, 2008


Over the last decade, one of the great revolutions in Major League Baseball, and all professional sports for that matter, has arisen in front-office personnel. The Ivy League statistical prodigy has dispossessed the former professional athlete. While corporate financial models and Wall Street metrics increasingly shape team's decisions, strategies, and worldview.

So perhaps, it's fitting in assessing the Yankees' progress through the long, arduous trial of a six month season to borrow a corporate index: the Quarterly Report. A 162-game season, after all, divides almost evenly by four. And with the Yankees' having played just over 40 games, at this writing, their season warrants one.

What label then to affix the Yankees' First Quarter of 20 wins and 24 losses that has them languishing the AL East cellar? "Mediocrity Incarnate" or "A Gentlemen's 'C', as in Cashman's Comeuppance". Or perhaps, resuming the Wall Street metaphor, perhaps, we should call the New York Yankees: "Bear Stearns"

So much for the promise that Girardi's rigorous Spring Training would forestall yet another lackluster start. Thus far, the 2008 season mirrors the 2007 one. In fact, on May 22, 2007, just after the conclusion of the 2007 Subway Series' first installment, the New York Yankees were 20-24, the very record they possess following 2008's first Subway Series' finale.

The salient difference: in 2007, the Yankees were 10.5 games out of first place, 9 games in the loss column. In 2008, the Yankees are only 6 games out of first place, 5 games in the loss column. On the one hand, this should console fans because less distance separates them from 1st place. On the other hand, it should cause them chagrin. Greater parity in the league means the climb upward will prove more difficult.

2007 REDUX?

Indeed, the 20-24 record doesn't exhaust the parallels. Both '07 and '08 teams have sustained injuries to key players that stunted their potential and marred their performance.

In 2007, recall, the Yankees pitching staff bore the brunt of the Baseball's Gods curse. Wang and Mussina had stints on the DL. Pavano and Rasner were lost for the season. Karstens and Hughes each missed two to three months. The Scranton shuttle shufffled Wright, Clippard, DeSalvo, and Igawa into and out of the rotation. Indeed, between Opening Day and May 30, 2007, the Yankees resorted to 11 different pitchers to start games.

In 2008, by contrast, the injuries largely have beset the lineup. A-Rod has missed 20 of their first 44 games (45%); Posada, 25 of the 44 or (59%) of the season. While Hughes, again, will miss 2 to 3 months of the season, but he wasn't pitching too well anyway. And Rasner, thus far, has shown he, at least, can shoulder Hughes' innings.

The real setback in 2008 has been the injuries to the lineup. Still, can the combined loss of just two hitters account for the Yankees' current offensive inepitude? (After all, didn't the 2005 team lose Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui early in the season and prosper nonetheless.) Well, yes.
  • Through 44 in 2007, the Yankees had scored 236.
  • Through 44 games in 2008, the Yankees have scored 179.
  • Percentage Decline = 24%
In 2007, A-Rod accounted for 17% of the Yankees' runs (RC= 166, Yankees total runs = 968); Posada, 12 % (117 of 968).

In 2008, Morgan Ensberg and Jose Molina, the Yankees primary two replacements for A-Rod and Posada, have RC totals in 2008 of 4 and 5 respectively (or 2 to 3 percent).

Accordingly, the loss of A-Rod and Posada (-29%), in conjunction with the negligible production the Yankees have received from their replacements (+4%), would account for the approximately 25% drop in the Yankees' offensive production.

What about the pitching staff? With the exception of Phil Hughes, the Baseball Gods, mercifully, have spared the starting rotation from rehearsal of 2007. Still, 2008 starters hardly have distinguished themselves either.
  • Through 44 games in 2007, the Yankees allowed 209 runs
  • Through 44 games in 2008, the Yankees have allowed 197.

Considering that in 2007, Wang and Mussina each spent time on the DL in April and May and the likes of Wright, DeSalvo, Clippard and Igawa started many of those games, by comparison, the 2008 Runs Allowed totals look especially alarming.

  • Through 44 games, 2008 Yankees pitching staff = 4.48 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
  • Through 44 games, 2007 Yankees pitching staff = 4.74 ERA, 1.42 WHIP

To do full justice to the 2008 pitch staff, however, would necessitate evaluating the bullpen and starters separately. The bullpen in 2008, does not in anyway resemble the tattered, feckless group that characterized the 2007 bullpen until Joba's arrival.

  • 2008: Yankees starters have a 5.04 ERA over 234 IP-- avg. = 5.31 IP/G (44 games)
  • 2008: Yankees bullpen has a 3.62 ERA, over 151.2 IP.

Compare 2007's totals by season's end.

  • 2007: Yankees starters had 4.57 ERA over 921 IPs-- avg. = 5.68 IP/G (162 games)
  • 2007: Yankees reliever had 4.37 ERA over 529.2 IP

The stats would seem to prove what even the casual observer of the 2008 team's pitching staff, no doubt, already has concluded. The bullpen has improved. The starting pitching, on the other hand, despite all the injuries it sustained in 2007, hasn't performed much better this season.

Evidently, Cashman's much-ballyhooed re-investment in the farm system is still years away from paying dividends in the starting rotation. As this writer has observed before, young starting pitching often takes years to blossom. The problem is that the Yankees' aging lineup doesn't have many years before it withers. Indeed, Giambi and Damon already bear its marks.


So does the Yankees trajectory of 2007-- a woeful 1st Quarter that preceded a 94-win season-- bode well for the 2008 team? Not exactly.

In 2007, the Yankees' dramatic resurrection stemmed from a tender 2nd half schedule. At the 2007 All-Star Break, the Yankees were 43-43. After it, the Yankees went 51-25, by feeding on the AL's carrion, KC, Tampa, Chicago, Baltimore. What's more, they only had to travel once to the West Coast and only had to play but 3 games there (against Anaheim).

The second half of the Yankees schedule in 2008 greatly exceeds 2007's in difficulty, perhaps by mulitple orders of magnitude. They Yankees have to travel twice to the West Coast-- twice, in fact, in a matter of only 4 weeks (August 8th and again September 5th). Meanwhile, on those two trips, they have to play their bete noire, Anaheim, 6 times. What's more each trip's travel schedule will prove exacting in itself. The first trip to Anaheim comes in between two series West of the Mississippi, preceded in Texas, culminated in Minnesota. The second trip takes the Yankees from a 7:00pm game on September 4th in Tampa 3,000 miles across the Continent to play a night game on September 5th in Seattle.

Overall, after the '08 All-Star break, the Yankees have to play their nemesis, Anaheim, a total of 10 times. (They also have 9 games againt Boston.)

The other reason why the Yankees cannot expect to repeat 2007's formula for success is because the AL is simply more competitive this season; the AL East, especially so.

In the 2007, against non-AL East opponents the Yankees posted winning records against the following teams:

  • 9-1 against KC
  • 6-0 against Cleveland
  • 5-1 against Texas;
  • 5-2 against Minnesota
  • 6-4 against the White Sox

The Yankees' record against the AL East in 2007:

  • 10-8 Boston
  • 10-8 Toronto
  • 9-9 Baltimore
  • 10-8 Tampa

The Yankees will hard-pressed to duplicate this success in 2008. They already have lost 4 of 6 to Cleveland, 2 of 3 against KC and Baltimore, and are 1-4 against Detroit.


Given the difficulty of the Yankees' second-half schedule, if they expect to reverse 2008's inauspicious beginning, they have to do so immediately. They cannot afford to finish with a .500 record at the All-Star break and expect to win 51 games following it. The fate of their season hinges on the present, with their performance over the next 6 six weeks deciding its outcome.

The 2007's schedule post-All Star break remission occurs this year in June. Between tomorrow and the July 4th weekend, when the Yankees next play the Red Sox, the Yankees schedule lightens considerably. Over the next 42 games (23 of them at-home), the Yankees play these opponents the following number of games:

  • Baltimore- 6 times
  • Texas-- 3 times
  • Houston- 3 times
  • San Diego- 3 times
  • Pittsburgh- 3 times
  • Cincinatti-- 3 times
  • Mets- 4 times
  • Minn- 4 times
  • KC-- 4 times
  • Toronto- 3 times
  • Seattle-- 3 times
  • Oakland- 3 times

With A-Rod returning tomorrow and Posada, sometime in early June, the Yankees have no excuse for not playing well over .500 baseball for this stretch. A record of 28-17-- hardly a quixotic expecation-- would reverse their fortunes, return them to respectability, and fortify their confidence for the challenges that await them in July and beyond.

28-17 would make them 48-41 overall. And with parity prevailing throughout the AL, 48-41 would enable the Yankees to rehearse their 2007 trajectory, rising from the dead to assume their rightful position in the playoff race and to become the contenders they are.

But be warned. Karl Marx once observed, History always repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Indeed, what could be more tragic than laughter in the Bronx?

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