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May 31, 2000

AL East Notebook

Rumbling in the Bronx

by Dave Pease

The Series--and you know what I'm talking about: The Series--is over. Throughout the New York/Boston media axis, sportswriters are returning to their blissful slumber, and as we enter the month of June, the New York Yankees find themselves in unfamiliar territory: second place.

It's really fairly incredible that a three-game series in late May can generate such hoopla. Individual ballgames and series are becoming more and more relevant as the contenders and also-rans slowly separate themselves, but this series generated more ink than

  • the Pirates' run of bad luck in the 1990-92 NLCS

  • Randy Smith lovingly shaping the Detroit Tigers into a group that a Taiwanese little league team could crush

  • Saint Rey Ordonez of the crosstown Mets hitting the DL with a broken arm

(I know what you're thinking. If New Yorkers are more interested in the series than they are in extolling the virtues of Ordonez's defense, that's a big deal.)

According to said sportswriters, the series loss to the Red Sox has given Boss Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman happier feet than Steve Young. Steinbrenner wants to acquire Matt Stairs, Jose Canseco, Ozzie Canseco or your kid brother who just took someone deep in Pony League play. Well, provided he can pass a drug test and doesn't ask for directions from streetwalkers. The Yanks haven't been scoring runs, and Ricky Ledee is catching a lot of heat for that failure.

The Yankees aren't an unbeatable force this year, but do they really need anything they don't already have? The rotation has been the bulwark of the franchise for years, and Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and Ramiro Mendoza have all been solid. David Cone, who started the year terribly, appears to have straightened out: he's sporting a perfectly respectable 4.24 ERA in May. With a pedigree like his, you have to give him the benefit of the doubt. The bullpen has been excellent.

Everyone is talking about the offense, and yes, it has been uncharacteristically poor: the Yanks currently rank 13th in the AL in runs scored. But the team also ranks 13th--in the majors--in Equivalent Average.

One explanation for this disparity is that the top of the lineup has been toxic, but Chuck Knoblauch is slowly shaking his terrible start off and Derek Jeter just returned from a stint on the DL, so there's hope. It is also telling that Jorge Posada, by far the team's best hitter this season, spends most of his time batting sixth.

Thirteenth in the majors in EqA isn't the standard the Yankees normally hold themselves to, but it's still the best mark in the division. Let's take a look at the current EqAs of the core players, as well as Clay Davenport's Wilton projections for them in 2000:

Name              EqA    Proj   Diff

Scott Brosius .221 .239 -18 Derek Jeter .280 .314 -34 Chuck Knoblauch .221 .279 -58 Ricky Ledee .236 .249 -13 Tino Martinez .245 .286 -41 Paul O'Neill .268 .278 -10 Jorge Posada .338 .256 +78 Shane Spencer .245 .249 -4 Bernie Williams .294 .319 -25

The Yankees are building up some serious karmic reserves with their bad luck so far, and the odds say they'll be cashing in soon.

The New York bench is pathetic. Shane Spencer needs a platoon partner more than Richie Phillips needs a personality transplant. These are obvious problems that can be fixed without an expensive shopping spree and a big-ticket outfielder. This team has many promising young players--Alfonso Soriano, D'Angelo Jimenez, Eddie Yarnall, Nick "The Stick" Johnson--and it would be a shame to burn off part of that future for a bat the team might not really need.

Notes

  • Not that anyone is paying attention, but the Blue Jays are just five games in back of the Red Sox in the division. Their rotation, while still performing below expectations, has been better in May than it was in April. Peter Munro's first two starts have been promising, so if Roy Halladay can get straightened out at Syracuse, the team can look forward to a second half without Frank Castillo. The Jays are even making happy noises about Joey Hamilton, which is unrealistic, but could keep them from doing something silly with Vernon Wells in an effort to get a pitcher.

  • The Orioles have followed up their 2-15 stretch by winning six of seven. Don't be fooled: a dead, but still warm, body occasionally twitches. The worst thing the Os can do is play well enough to fool Papa Angelos into thinking they have a chance to play into October. They need to rebuild, the sooner, the better, even if it means trading Mike Mussina to show that they're serious.

Dave Pease can be reached at dpease@baseballprospectus.com.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dave's other articles. You can contact Dave by clicking here

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