10 January 2009

2008: Why We Lost

It's over. Finally. 2008 is nothing more than a fading memory.

2009 looks much more promising

We're set. The 2009 Yankees - barring a minor move here and there - are done throwing their weight and money around. The dust is settling and on first inspection we look much improved and much more of a complete team.

The bats we lost with the departures of Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi will be more than adequately replaced with the productions of Mark Teixiera, healthy contributions from Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, and a full season (possibly) from Xavier Nady.

Pitchers like Sidney Ponson, Darrell Rasner, Carl Pavano, Dan Geise, and Kei Igawa will not be needed to start 51 games due to the ineffectiveness and growing pains of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. The C.C. and A.J. signings more than bridge that gap. Full, healthy seasons from Wang and Joba could potentially provide a cushion for Alfredo Aceves, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, or even Phil Coke to emerge as the 5th starter. Not to mention, Andy Pettite may or may not exist as an option to add more experience and guaranteed innings to an already strong rotation.

The team defense is marginally improved with Teixeira now responsible for digging rushed and errant Jeterian and A-Roddian throws from the dirt. Anyone's better than Giambi in that respect. I do like our chances of pulling off a 3-6-3 double play though and runners on third won't automatically score on slow rollers hit to the right side anymore. So that's a plus. I also think the OF defense will be a tad better with Nady in RF, any combination of Gardner and Melky in CF, and Damon in LF.

But screw 2009. I need to know what the hell went so wrong in 2008 just so I have any chance of avoiding it this time around. Yeah, that's right, it's a top 10 list. I hope you like reading, cuz this one is going to be long, verbose, and cumbersome. Deal with it.

Top 10 Reasons the Yankees Lost in 2008

10. The Transition of Power - Although I hate to think about it, a lot of what the Yankees do is done for pure business reasons as opposed to pure baseball reasons. Take the free agent signing class of 2008 as an example. We locked up Jorge, Mo, and A-Rod -- 3 players past 30 -- for an incredibly large fee. Not many teams were interested in those players and few, if any, were interested in them at the prices we gave them.

Look, I'm not gonna say these were bad deals, but 4 years for a 36 year-old catcher just might be pushing it a tad. And in the 10 years A-Rod's in pinstripes, the brothers Steinbrenner will certainly make a good return on the investment, especially if he takes on Bonds HR crown, but 10 years is still a really, really long time to put up with Page 6 reports about A-Rod and an old lady who used to be Madonna.

When it was time for Big George to be put out to pasture, Hal and Hank, Hank for certain, needed some time to find their own voices and direction and in the meantime both needed to ensure it would be business as usual in the Bronx. So they pushed the envelope by hoping against hope that the big, bad 30+ Yankee offense would carry the young and inexperienced pitching staff over the hump. It didn't, obviously but there's 9 more reasons for that.

9. The F'n Attitude - Every year since 2003, they seem to get a worse and worse start out of the gate. It's a typical season when the Yankees are expected to make a big 2nd half push after the break. By and large they have -- except for 2008. As August came to a close the writing was pretty much on the wall that the playoffs were more of a crapshoot than reality. Which takes me back to the comments and quotes you hear from the high profile players as they languish in April, May, and June. I swear to God, if Jeter, A-Rod, or Damon even once says "it's early" in May when the team has a sub .500 record I'm going to lose it. These guys can't just turn it on anymore. There's no switch. The days of green pep pills and mysterious creams and clears you rub on your body to remove aches and pains are over. If you're over 35, you need to take a day off here and there. Hence the refrain of younger and more athletic you heard Cash chant this off-season. It's a young man's game again. And it's a beautiful thing if you live in Tampa, and pretty f'n ugly if you live in any of the 5 Burroughs.

8. Andy Pettite's 2nd Half - This was a killer. Especially when you take into consideration the fact that Andy Pettite is, historically, the most dominant 2nd half pitcher the game has ever seen. Add to that, the HGH mess he found himself in at the beginning of the season. It begs the question of "Just how good was this guy, anyway"?

For the record Andy delivered a piss poor 2nd half in 2008 going 4-7 with a 5.35 ERA. He also helped opposing batters reach lofty career highs with a .302 batting average against. For his career Andy is 112-51 with a .364 ERA. He used to shut teams down in the second half, holding opponents to a .265 avg. Not last year and because of that there may be no this year for Andy in NY.

Have fun in Houston, dick.

7. The Kids - Please believe me when I say that not getting Johan Santana was the best non-decision the Yankees front office never made. That being said, would've one f'n win been too much to ask? Seriously Ian. You too Phil.

As bad as Andy was in the second half, these 2 were certainly not world beaters by any stretch. I have all the faith in the world in both of them to be quality MLB arms. I just would've just much preferred going with Ponson and Rasner from day one. The simple truth is they weren't ready. It is evidenced in the fact that as bad as Ponson and Rasner were, and they were very, very bad, they were light years ahead of the gruesome twosome of Kennedy and Hughes.

Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano are in no way excused from this conversation. Both have come virtually out of nowhere to carve out spots with the club, yet neither is established enough to go through the motions and not play the game intelligently and correctly. Robby's slow starts need to end. Melky's got to grow within the game. Both are very young and have all the potential in the world. Cano is obviously the better of the two, but Melky has the ability to change a lot of minds as well.

Melky's bat was the only effective bat early in the season and he clearly got power happy when he hit .299 with 5 HRs in April. Joe had him batting all throughout the lineup early on and I don't think he kept his head. It's obvious when you look at the dwindling production from that point on. 5 HRs in April led to 3 HRs the rest of the way. 24 RBIs in April and May led to 13 RBIs the rest of the way.

It's all pretty much unfounded, hence the lack of links, but rumors circulated midseason in regard to both Melky and Cano's late nights. Bobbby Abreu was also recently cited in some places as a negative influence on the two young Latino players. We'll see....

6. Derek Jeter and his Mystery Wrist - On May 20th, 2008 Derek was hit on the wrist with a pitch. In true Jeterian form, he refused to sit over an extended period of time in favor of a better SS in Gonzalez. Was he hurt? Or is he a "gamer"? Numbers don't lie. Let's ask them.

Granted the numbers are slightly skewed to justify my point, but that's what I do sometimes. In May, June and July, Jeter hit a low, for him, .280 BA -- it dipped as low as .269 over that stretch as well. In August and September, a long enough time for any nagging wrist injury to heal, Jeter sweetly cherry-picked his way to a .343 avg. Just high enough to finish with a .300 batting average, in time to erase any lingering doubts over his contributions.

These facts are further compounded when you take into account what the guys between him were batting over that period. Damon hit .328 in May, June, and July and Abreu hit .294 over that 3 month period. Derek's team record of 20+ instances in which he hit into a double play looks all the more damning in this light if you ask me. Add to that the false "Captain" moniker he proudly cashes in on yet never seems to wear proudly or publically for that matter. Damon talks to the press. Posada makes the guys "Grind It" T-shirts. A-Rod takes all the heat. What the fuck does Derek do?

Lead by example? No thanks, we don't need that example much longer.

5. Jason Giambi and the 5 Hole - Each day Joe Girardi would release the lineup card, I'd cringe whenever I saw "Jason Giambi" listed after A-Rod.

Say what you want about the man's personality. He was generous, fun, silly, jovial, whatever -- he sucked for 7 long years in the Bronx and failed at the doing what we got him for: Continue the dominance from '96-'00, hit like an MVP, and deliver world championships. 20 mill plus a year for a player who injected his ass with steriods never fully came clean and forgot how to hit to the left side. Thanks, Jason. You'll never see me miss or cheer you.

In 2008, with runners in scoring position Jason Giambi delivered a .213 batting average with a .339 OBP. Rally Killer, thy name is Giambi. None of this guy's clutch stats were impressive last year. With 2 out and men in scoring position he hit .216 with a .356 OBP. After the 7th inning in close games Giambi stepped up and delivered a .155 avg with a .286 OBP.

Almost everyone blamed Melky's production last year but in those same clutch situations, the Melk-Man hit .22o with RISP and 2 out with a .328 OBP and he hit .298 with a .339 OBP in late inning, close game situations. At the very least, Melky delivered on his league minimum salary. The Giambino did not.

I will not miss John Sterling call him that either. Douche-chills.

4. Strategy, the Bench, Prima Donnas, and Pinch Running - Seriously. We mismanaged our way to several early losses last year. It took Jorge a month to realize he needed to go on the DL. Becasue of that we carried 3 catchers and were forced to pinch run guys like Shelley Duncan, Chad Moeller, and Jose Molina. Thinking about such instances still angers me.

I mentioned Jeter's wrist earlier, but his desire to play through obvious discomfort doesn't impress me. A hurt player needs to sit. It's that simple. It smacks of pure selfishness. I don't see a guy playing through pain as noble, I see it as a guy just trying to get his at-bats.

In another post I brought up the fact that the Yankees beat the Rays in head-to head games 11-7. We split our series with the Sox at 9 games apiece. You can't ask for too much more against those franchises with the 2008 team we put on the field day in and out. It's kind of miraculous really. But we didn't put the hammer down against Baltimore and Toronto and split against those teams in the exact same fashion going 9-9 with Toronto and 11-7 vs. Baltimore. It was no different in interleague games as we finished with a 10-8 record against teams in the NL. We split the season series against KC, got beat down against Anaheim (again) and lost the season series against Detroit, Texas, and Cleveland.

A mere 2 games separated New York and Boston when it was all said and done. A lot more than two wins can easily be mined from some of these performances and match-ups. Sometimes you need to push the envelope and ensure you win the gimme games against Kansas City, Texas, Baltimore, and Cleveland, not just assume the victory.

3. A Hot, Stinky August -Words fail me when I try to talk about August 2008. It was a pathetic display to say the least. The month of August saw the Yankees go 13-15. They scored 135 runs and surrendered an overwhelming 148. In fact, on August 31, 2008 the Yankees sat 12.5 games out of first - the farthest back they were all season. Needless to say, you're going to have a hell of a tough road ahead in September if you lose the majority of the games in August making October a fantasy scenario.

Ugh, just thinking about it makes my stomach queasy.

2. Just Dumb Luck? - This one is tough to take still. After the All Star Break, the Yankees looked like they were on the verge of making a run. They were a mere 4 games out and should have been buoyed by the arrivals of Xavier Nady, Damseo Marte, and Ivan Rodriguez. The prevailing thought in pretty much all of baseball was that it's only a matter of time. It's only a matter of time....

Time passed and the Yankees dropped like a stone. A weak bench contributed to the collapse, but its not enough of a reason. And to be honest, I don't really know what the hell happened down the stretch. It was just a tired, old team that played very flat with their backs up against the wall. A fairly inconceivable result when you take into account the players, salaries, and expectation.

It's slightly less puzzling when you look at what some of the hitters did in August. Damon hit .304, Jeter and Abreu both hit in the .330's. But A-Rod and Giambi struggled in the .240's that month. It's more than a lineup's production though, too. Gotta be something else. All I got left is luck and....

1. Injuries, Duh - The team was wrecked and ravaged by injury in '08. A-Rod went on the 15 day DL. Posada missed a significant portion of the season with the shoulder injury and subsequent surgery. Wang only pitched in 15 games due to a foot ligament. Brain Brueney missed over half the season with a similar foot injury. Joba Chamberlain missed a month, making both bullpen and rotation that much worse considering what side of the stupid debate you were on. Hideki Matsui's knees acted up and he wound up on the DL. The same can be said for Johnny Damon's shoulder. Derek Jeter missed a handful of games due to the wrist thing. Wilson Betemit was on and off the DL twice.
Phil Hughes cracked a rib. Ian Kennedy went on the 15 day. Andy Pettite was hampered both early and late in the season with a bad back and a sore throwing shoulder, the worst part is he couldn't inject the pain away. Our opening day starting rotation made just 99 combined starts. The list goes on.

I know injury is a factor that all clubs deal with, but the mini list I just generated - I'm sure there was more, I just don't know where to go to get DL info - is a very significant cross section of the 2008 club. No team can lose production like that over that period of time and expect to go anywhere in October.

So take note. If you see any semblance of these 10 things in 2009 just know what to expect and how to temper said expectation. That being said I look forward to 2009 with baited anticipation. I expect a big turn-around and another run at a World Title.

And away we go.

1 comment:

R.J. said...

You essentially covered everything very well. It really is a wonder that this team finished with 89 wins, only two games behind the Sox. It was a painful year