Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Getting Tough

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Yankees responding to losing a hard fought series against Tampa Bay. They have not, going 6-8 since losing the rubber game of that series, making them 6-9 in August. DV talked about in the comments section last week that it seemed like the Yankees were going to go on one of those stretches where you could not gain ground on them. Not true. While the comeback win that directly fueled that comment was typical of one of those Yankees stretches, they have left the door wide open for both the division and the Wild Card. The only reason Tampa Bay and Boston aren't gaining much ground, if any, is because they are playing similarly poorly.

The biggest concern for the Yankees right now, and the biggest cause of this mediocre play, is the lack of consistently tough offensive performances. Now, they lead the majors in runs, so obviously they don't have a problem compared to the average team. But we have reached a point in the season where comparisons to the average team are borderline irrelevant. The standard the Yankees should be compared to is that of a World Series winning caliber team.

Right now, there offense is not able to get there every night. DV talked about the Yankees execution of a gameplan last week. And that is right on point. They are able to do so often, and that is why they lead the majors in runs. But then they take games, bunches of games, completely off. Not just in terms of performance, which is going to happen. But in terms of focus, in terms of grinding, in terms of toughness. It's one thing to hit one night and not the next. It's an entirely different thing to be able to execute a particular approach one night and not the next. A little over a week ago they made John Lackey and Josh Beckett look like minor leaguers on back to back nights, and a few nights later worked Cliff Lee, got into the Texas bullpen, and staged a major comeback win. Then they scored 4 runs, 3 runs, 0 runs, and 1 run in four of their next five games against Kansas City and Detroit, looking mostly lethargic.

There are acute examples of a lack of execution of a gameplan and approach within these games, like Jorge Posada swinging at the first two pitches - and grounding out - when Jose Valverde had just walked Robinson Cano on 4 pitches to leadoff the 9th inning, with the Yankees down 3 runs. If it's a tie, one run, or two run game I like the first pitch swinging there. Chances are pretty good a pitcher will try to get a fastball over to start a count after walking the prior batter on three pitches. Good time to look for a cookie and try to tie or win the game with one swing. But down three with one on? Take a strike. This type of stuff is confusing standing on its own, but compared to how machine-like this offense can look when it is focused and is executing a gameplan, it's even more confusing. Again, variations in performance are expected. Execution in terms of approach and gameplan should be more consistent for a team with the talent and aspirations of this one.

What execution of approach and gameplan come down to at the end of the day are toughness. Nine individuals committing to a gameplan and trusting each other to stick to it and believe in it equally. Not taking at bats off. Not taking entire games off. Not taking entire stretches of games off. Grinding every single at bat no matter what the score. Playing with a little lack of offensive focus is somewhat more understandable when you've clinched the division or a playoff spot in September. Not when you're tied for the division lead in mid-August. That's how the Yankees offense has looked lately. The performance doesn't have to be there, because that will come from a lineup this talented if the approach is there. What this team needs to do right now is improve the consistency with which they bring a good approach up and down the lineup. That's what wins in big spots in September, October, and November.


The GM said...

Pat speaks. He told me he was available to write something, and I asked him if this was his equivalent of showing up in Toronto before the All-Star Break. Hopefully this post was outlined on note cards before it was delivered.

Anonymous said...


First of all, are we sure that Josh Beckett and John Lackey aren't minor leaguers? We may need to delve further into that type of discussion, because to look at their statistics they look a lot like a couple of AA pitchers in way over their heads. Of course, there is one set of numbers that is very major league--their salaries.

As for the Yankees, your points about their offense are all legitimate and relevant. Granted I haven't seen them play since the Sox series, but I was very surprised to see the score "KC 1 NY 0" and other similar scores. But with all that in mind the most important point you made is one that was almost a throwaway remark--that while the Yankees have scuffled lately, so too have the Sox and Rays. And while the spotty play may ultimately affect whether they win the division, it will not affect a playoff spot as it appears that the Sox have missed their opportunity.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Pat and Gunn,

Good commentary here on the Red Sox - their opportunity was there but it was pissed away by their alleged major leaguers, NOT their minor leaguers.

I haven't taken a close look at the Yankees' results (other than W or L, of course). Are they falling into the misleading "Lorenz Curve" trap that late-2000s Red Sox teams were falling into. Some of those teams (probably an exaggerated figure because I'm not going into the HYD archives on my lunch break) scored 40% of their runs in 15% of their games. That is to say, they score 10-15 runs a game in 10% of their games, and score 1-4 runs in the other 90%. Not sure if the Yankees are doing this, but it wouldn't surprise me if they are getting results like this.

TimC said...

I miss the applications of the Lorenz Curve on HYD baseball.

From my point of the recent struggles of Tampa and NY give the Sox an opportunity if they bring their brooms with them for the games remaining against them. But, anything outside of that should seal their fate.