Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Change In Approach

In baseball I often try to look at the approach more than results. Obviously at the end of the day you need to have results; approach doesn't win games. But over a long season like baseball, a good approach will typically produce good results relative to the talent of the player/team on the aggregate. Baseball is the type of sport that a good approach will not always produce good results, as it's a game of failure. With that in mind, it's certainly a game where a bad approach will rarely produce good results.

I praised the Yankees early in the season for their approach, offensively, pitching the baseball, and defending. They seemed focused on every play, every game. The attention to detail, especially coming off of a World Series where a hangover would not be a total surprise (although it is not excusable), was incredible.

Some time in the last few weeks it was like a light switched and all of this changed. Not just for some players or one area of the team, for most players and most areas of the team. That is what has made this recent spell of mediocre baseball so frustrating to watch. As I mentioned earlier this week, it isn't the results, it was the way they were losing. You could say it was their approach.

For me, in any sport, a good approach on its most basic level boils down down to preparing and competing. The players/team that is more prepared and competes at a higher level usually wins games. Within reason of course. The Pirates could prepare more and compete harder than the Yankees, and they still wouldn't be a better team. But amongst teams of similar talent, it is my experience that preparation and competition are typically the biggest determining factors.

The Yankees level of preparation and competition, or should I say a lack thereof, for the last few weeks has been alarming. Two nights and an off day after letting Johan Santana basically dance through them on barely more than 10 pitches an inning, they let Scott Baker throw an even 50 pitches through 5 innings, allowing no runs. What, exactly, did they talk about preparing for that game Tuesday? Did they discuss the need to work counts and thus the starting pitcher? Grinding at bats from the first inning on through the whole game, not just the last two or three innings? Either the coaching staff isn't doing a good job preparing the players, or the players are not doing a good job taking the game plan and executing. Or in other words, competing.

They just won Game 1 (suspended from last night) 1-0. While the pitching approach has been better - Burnett and the bullpen were lights out - the offensive approach continued to be poor yet again after the poor approach in the first half of Game 1. Hopefully Game 2, even if it doesn't produce better results, will at least produce a better approach. Preparation and competition will eventually produce results, especially on a team this talented.


The GM said...

Looks like in Game 2, Liriano averaged 16 pitches per inning, giving up two runs over seven. I'd say that's pretty standard. It is not often to see someone so cranky after his team sweeps a doubleheader against a pretty sure-thing playoff team. But there's no reason a team like that should score four runs total in a doubleheader. Pitching bailed them out big time.

PF said...

to be fair, i wrote this after the first game ended. and i'm sort of glad i did, because even though getting 2 wins in 5 hours (obviously) makes you feel a lot better and maybe i wouldn't have been as likely to write something like this, pretty much everything i wrote still stands despite the wins. as you said, they just got bailed out by their pitching, as they have for most of the season. obviously some of the big names not hitting is a big reason for this, but as a buddy of mine mentioned the other day, you have to wonder if this team misses nick johnson more than we think. even when he's not hitting/producing, he usually gives you a tough at bat. missing that, and replacing him in a lineup with a bat that is likely far less tough in terms of grinding at bats, adds up over time. because again the problem is not just that the offense isn't producing, it's that they are letting starting pitchers get through them too quickly, preventing them from getting into opposition's bullpens, which has been their standard operating procedure, and one that has produced good results, for quite some time now. changing this approach should consequently change the results. they are intricately related.

the gm at work said...


I'm glad you brought up the Nick Johnson thing. For a very long time, the Yankees have been known for their plate patience. And since 2006, they've had one of the premier count-workers in our lifetimes in Johnny F. Damon. Johnson is almost in the same category. But do you think the fact that it's a team-wide problem now is related to not seeing Johnson do it? Could be. Watching a player like that work the count may inspire the rest of the lineup to similarly work, fouling pitches off until they get that pitch to hit.

You also have to take into consideration the way opponents have been pitching to Borasbot (not my term). Seeing that he has been god-awful in 2010, are pitchers pitching carefully to him anymore? If they're not pounding the strike zone, is Borasbot pressing and trying to hit bad pitches? Honestly, I don't know, as I've seen very limited Yankee action. But are pitchers pitching as conservatively to the Yankees as they have in past years? Or are they challenging the Yankees with the offense just failing to execute? You'd know more than me; I'm just throwing ideas out.

Patrick said...

some really good points there danno. i think there definitely is a little bit of a lack of "this is what we do" team mentality right now in terms of working counts. how much of that has to do with missing nick johnson, i don't know. but considering he is probably the biggest example of that kind of player, i'm sure it has some impact.

there is also no doubt that the underperformances are having a big impact right now. i'm sure part of that is that pitchers are attacking certain players a little bit more. but also those players are making outs not only earlier in counts, but more often. that's a big thing to remember here. it's not just P/PA for each hitter. it's players not getting on base enough. the less outs the make, the more pitches a pitcher has to use. just making less outs would go a long way towards solving this, ultimately creating more runs, which is the biggest goal.

finally, the injuries are the biggest issue. before the season we could have had a legitimate debate about which offense was better, 2009 or 2010 yankees. without posada, granderson, and johnson it's not even close. that's going to mean less pitches for pitchers, because they can attack more, because the replacement players aren't going to attack as much, and because the team is going to be making more outs. as they start to get these players back an improvement should be seen. if these returns to the lineup coincide with certain players (texeira, jeter, and to a lesser extent rodriguez) hitting closer to their career lines, this offense could be back in pretty good shape.