CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Kiss'Em Goodbye: Texas... (09/28)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Post... (09/24)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Today: Dram... (09/29)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Buyer's ... (09/28)

September 28, 2009

Prospectus Today

Clinching

by Joe Sheehan

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Despite my being a lifelong Yankee fan and that team's extensive success over the past 15 seasons, I had never seen the team clinch anything. That's mostly the result of me living in Southern California for two decades. So when Derek Jacques offered me a ticket to Sunday's potential AL East clincher, the decision to accept, even in the face of a daunting weather report, was an easy one. Maybe the Yankees winning the AL East was inevitable, and maybe the game didn't mean all that much in the big picture, but I wanted to be there for the moment.

The Yankees obliged, getting another good start from Andy Pettitte and a sixth-inning rally off of Paul Byrd and Takashi Saito on their way to a 4-2 win. When Mariano Rivera retired Jacoby Ellsbury to close out the win, the crowd exploded and the team streamed out of the dugout, having opened New Yankee Stadium in a way they'd been unable to close out the old one: with a division title. All three iterations of the ballpark, in fact, have hosted successful Yankee teams in their first seasons: the 1923 and 1976 Yankees both won AL pennants, and the '23 team won the franchise's first World Championship.

It remains to be seen whether the '09 version will match that level of success, but it's within their reach now. This Yankees team has been considerable more successful than I expected, on its way to 103, 104 wins in a season where I picked them to win 95. Some of the team's improvement from last year's 89-73 mark were anticipated: CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett improving the rotation, Mark Teixeira providing more offense and much more defense at first base, Jorge Posada coming back from a lost season to make the catcher spot an asset rather than a problem.

On top of all that, though, the Yankees got unexpectedly good seasons from Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, veterans who had been declining in their thirties. Robinson Cano bounced back from his worst season to match his best ones. Derek Jeter is having one of the best seasons of his career, arguably his second-best when you consider that he's getting to more balls at shortstop than he did during his best offensive campaigns. Throw in some good fortune-the Yankees are 21-15 in one-run games and have outperformed their Pythagorean expectation by eight games-and you have a team that has been better and had better luck than in any year in some time.

I think it's amusing that the Yankees clinched the AL East by sweeping the Red Sox. It was just seven weeks ago that I did a bunch of radio in advance of the teams' four-game series at Yankee Stadium, taking an endless stream of variations on the following question: do the Red Sox have some kind of mental edge on the Yankees? The Sox had swept the first three series of the year between the teams, one each in April, May, and June, and there were many people who read into those results that the Yankees lacked some quality-the implication being that it was a mental or emotional one-that would make them unable to beat the Sox. It was a ridiculous notion, and the Yankees demonstrated that by going 9-1 against the Sox in the last three series between the teams. The teams split their season series, which is exactly what you would have expected at the start of the year.

The lesson is to not get caught up in the order of events, or in a small sample of games between teams. The Red Sox didn't have some kind of edge on the Yankees, other than that the Yanks played the first series of the year without Alex Rodriguez. Moreover, the Yankees don't have something on the Sox based on the last three series. It's just baseball, which refuses to allow itself to be defined in anything less than a season, and sometimes not even then.

These lessons are important, because the Yankees are going to enter next week as the favorite in their ALDS series against the Tigers or Twins, and considered by many to be the favorite to win the World Series. Both of these positions are defensible, but the degree of that status is going to be greatly exaggerated by the mainstream media. It's entirely possible for one good team to sweep the other in three short series, and for the team that lost those to sweep two of the next three series they play. When it happens in the regular season, there's overreaction; when it happens in October, there's simply silliness.

Take the Yankees and, for the sake of argument, the Tigers. The Yankees have won 64 percent of their games, while the Tigers have won 54 percent of theirs. That's a significant difference over a full season, and you would never make the argument that the Tigers are better than the Yankees. Bring it down, though, and it means that the Yankees win a little more than three of every five games, and the Tigers win a bit less. Over five games, the difference between these two teams is less than one game. Whatever kind of favorite the Yankees will be listed as next week is going to be an overstatement of their real chance to win the series. The clear and total advantage that comes out over 162 games is minimized in five, and though we didn't need another reminder, the way in which games between the Yankees and Red Sox played out this season serves as one: individual series between two teams can go just about any way without providing any meaningful information about the relationship between the teams. In baseball, a three-game losing streak is nothing; unfortunately, the next one means everything.

---

A couple of notes from a damp afternoon at the ballpark:

  • I really want to like Robinson Cano. I do. He's a legitimate .315 hitter with good power who gives away some runs, maybe more than he should, with the glove. That's a winning player.

    Then he goes and does something ridiculous, as he did in the ninth inning last night, and you wonder if he was given his introduction to baseball while walking over the Macombs Dam Bridge at 12:15. With J.D. Drew on first base, one out, and the Yankees holding a 4-2 lead, Victor Martinez hit a soft one-hopper into the 3-4 hole. Rather than take his time, play the ball calmly while running into right field, and make a strong throw to get the very slow Martinez, Cano got it in his head to try and get the lead runner. Not only was this going to be almost impossible-Drew runs well, the ball wasn't hit hard, and Cano would have been making a weak throw while going in the opposite direction-but there was no earthly reason to try and make the play. The run was meaningless; Martinez's run was the important one, and getting an out was the important play.

    Cano set himself to make a leaping throw back to second base, and instead of getting one out, got none. He started his spin too soon and missed the baseball entirely, allowing Martinez to reach with the tying run. It wasn't the physical execution, but the decision itself. To try and make the difficult play in that situation was senseless, and it's hard to believe that a player 700 games into his big-league career would make that choice.

    Defense is mostly about physical skill, but it's also decision making, and Cano doesn't make good decisions. When you think about ways in which the Yankees could have a much shorter postseason than they're expected to, Robinson Cano making a bad decision in a key spot is one of the paths to that outcome.

  • I can't watch Mariano Rivera enough. I just can't. Put into a dangerous spot by Cano's miscue, he just went back out, threw some cutters, and got two more outs to end the game. Sixteen years into the greatest career of any short reliever ever, Rivera remains unaffected by anything that goes on around him. If I could take one trait from any professional athlete, it would be Rivera's unflappability when in the face of adversity, his calm.

    When the Yankees re-signed Rivera two offseasons ago, it seemed like a bit of an overpay, a contract that reflected Rivera's importance to the capital-F franchise as much as what he would mean to the baseball team over the next three years. We're two-thirds of the way through that deal, and the question has to be asked: Is another one coming? Rivera has struck out 148 men and walked just 17 unintentionally in 135 innings. He made the All-Star team in both years, and will probably finish in the top five of the Cy Young voting in both years. Whatever decline seemed in progress two years ago has been arrested. Is there an argument for working out an extension now, given that you're in a better baseball spot with him than you were after 2007, rather than letting him reach the market a year from now, and all of the complications that will entail?

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

Related Content:  Yankees,  The Who

31 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

warclub
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Always like to read about Yankee success. It's nice when you can rebuild by signing a 20 game winner and a 40 HR guy. That's what every other MLB team does.

Sep 28, 2009 12:28 PM
rating: -16
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I sincerely apologize for being born in New York, being raised 10 minutes from Yankee Stadium is a sports-loving family, and for latching on to a team at a very young age.

Seriously, I know it offends many of you, and it's high time I acknowledged my shortcomings.

Sep 28, 2009 15:12 PM
 
amazin_mess

Not a Yankees fan, but congrats Joe. Glad you got to see it in person.

Sep 28, 2009 12:46 PM
rating: 0
 
chuckmotl

I also *hate* the Yankees, but glad you (and all other hardcore fans in general) had the experience. This is what it's all about. Enjoy it!

Sep 28, 2009 13:44 PM
rating: 1
 
judyblum

You're very fortunate to root for a team where the one guy who sometimes makes poor decisions sticks out like a sore thumb.

Sep 28, 2009 13:02 PM
rating: 2
 
Erik Visokey

I can't believe you are succombing to the *C*loser hype with Rivera. He's been effective to say the least but i can't believe that shortly after going 8 innings while only giving up 2 hits and striking out 11 in one of his final starts in 1995 he was banished to the bullpen. What a waste of talent. I hate the Yankees so it's good to see them pulling the same crap 14 years later.

Sep 28, 2009 13:03 PM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Really!!! I mean, Really!!! (sorry to go Seth Meyers here)

Rivera is the exception that proves the rule regarding short-inning relievers. His value to his team over the past 14 years is soooooooo high, that he would have to be a perrennial ace, on the level of Tom Glavine or better, to have had more value as a starter.

Sep 28, 2009 13:21 PM
rating: 1
 
cdmyers

I dunno, in this, a truly dominant year, he's only 11th on the team in VORP, 4th among pitchers. His consistency means that he consistently contributed about as much as their third starter, but that's still only as much as their third starter.

Sep 28, 2009 13:34 PM
rating: -1
 
Erik Visokey

I think what it proves is how easy it is for a quality pitcher to dominate when only asked to get 3 outs.
I think his greatness has been overstated although his consistency and logevity are certainly a testament to him.
I just think being the greatest Closer is like being the greatest pinch hitter or worlds tallest midget or NIT champion.

Sep 28, 2009 14:22 PM
rating: 1
 
GameOver42

How about having the lowest ERA+ of all-time by some 50 points?

1. Mariano Rivera 202
2. Pedro Martinez 154

Now, are Pedro, Clemens, Grove, et al more valuable? Of course. But Mariano Rivera, inning for inning, is the best pitcher of all-time.

Is that overstatement?

Sep 30, 2009 19:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Drungo

Seeing the Yanks clinch is like sleeping with Lindsay Lohan. I thought everyone had done it, and had long since become bored with the whole idea.

Sep 28, 2009 13:44 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

That's true. Even I have slept with Lindsay.

Sep 28, 2009 14:07 PM
rating: 1
 
Travis Leleu

@cdmeyers he may only be 11th in VORP, but looking at his WXRL, he's best in baseball with nearly 6 wins added. I think you're misusing VORP a little bit when looking at relievers. Plus, one thing you learn from BP is this: a lights-out closer really is only as good as a pretty good mid-rotation healthy starter.

@evisokey it's difficult to say whether he would've been able to make it as a starter. Could he be effective? Could he hold up to the wear and tear? NYY obviously didn't think so, so they exchanged (what looked to be) a mid-rotation guy and turned him into a HoF closer. Impossible to play 'what if', here, really, but it would have been really difficult for him to give more value to the NYY if he were a starter.

Joe isn't advocating that Rivera is as valuable as Greinke or Mauer or anything; he's just saying that it's a privilege to watch a guy like that pitch. And I agree.

Sep 28, 2009 14:20 PM
rating: 3
 
Bob

Just so you know, you can respond to each individual comment under each comment. (And this isn't twitter.)

Sep 28, 2009 14:30 PM
rating: 2
 
TGisriel

I still think that rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the lions against the Christians.

But congratulations nontheless to the baseball loving Yankees fans.

The Yankees went into the off-season last year, and executed a plan that got them the best 3 free agents available by throwing more money at them than any other team could. Give the Yankees management credit for its willingness to take advantage of their situation by spending on their team, and spending wisely, but curse the economic realities which allow one team to consistently dominate because of its economic resources. The Mets are based in the same town, and have a comparable base to exploit, but can't get the same results.

I recognize the quality of Yankees management, but that recognition is soured by the rediculous economic advantages the team has.

Sep 28, 2009 15:31 PM
rating: 3
 
mreed7777

Being a Yankee fan is great because you know the organization doing everything to win the World Series every year. It would be the same as being a Red Sox fan as they have adopted this approach. I have no more fun watching Yankee Red Sox games (win or lose) since Theo/John Henry became in charge.

Sep 28, 2009 16:02 PM
rating: -1
 
royalsnightly

My only quibble with Mo is that he played a fairly large role in the 2004 ALCS collapse, which probably lowered non-Boston baseball fans quality of life more than any other series this decade.

Sep 28, 2009 16:08 PM
rating: 3
 
oira61

Re Mariano Rivera: We'll always have Womack.

Sep 28, 2009 16:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Rob_in_CT

You mean you'll always have the error on the surefire DP ball, several batters before Womack, right? :) It's nice that Womack got around on a cutter, but Mo beat himself in that game.

Though I have to say, there are all sorts of delicious things in there for a Yankee hater. Not only the blown save in game 7 of the WS due to a shocking error, not only the Womack double, but the likelyhood that the Yankees later signed said Womack (Woemack to us Yankees fans) in no small part because of that double. And, of course, his predictable awfulness in NY. The best that can be said of that is that it eventually led to Robinson Cano's debut.

Sep 29, 2009 07:02 AM
rating: -1
 
HeavyHitter

Dooley noted.

Sep 28, 2009 17:23 PM
rating: 2
 
villapalomares

Excellent play on words there. Most younger fans won't get it.

Sep 28, 2009 18:02 PM
rating: 0
 
molnar
(170)

Joe, I'm a lot less convinced that fielding is "mostly about physical skill" after reading The Fielding Bible II. There is clearly huge variation in positioning. Not that you don't have to have physical ability to play second base at the major league level, but once you get there, I don't think the majority of the difference between you and your peers is physical.

Sep 28, 2009 20:06 PM
rating: 0
 
LouisArighi

I think you are right the what separates the best MLB infielder from the worst MLB infielder is probably mostly not skill, but I took Joe to mean that the act of fielding the ball involves a lot of physical skill. If you give me the same positioning as Cano gets, I might not even get to that ball to make the mental mistake.

Sep 29, 2009 13:44 PM
rating: 0
 
baserip4

I don't see how you can say you "missed" on your preseason projection when you had them winning 95 games, they've outperformed by about 8 Pythagorean wins and are on pace to win 103. Sounds more like you nailed it to me.

Sep 29, 2009 08:14 AM
rating: 1
 
yankee

Joe,
First, my apologies for saying you were a Twins fan, where I got that notion I'll never know. I agree with you about Rivera. I really like the way he goes about his business, if they gave points for "style " in baseball he would win hands down. I am troubled by two areas with the Yanks. The team defense and the starting rotation. I have never seen a ball club handle a young pitcher the way the Yankees have Joba Chamberlain. He looked OK against the Sox, but he would be the fourth starter , assuming the Yankees get by Detroit/Minnesota.. Any thoughts ?
Paul

Sep 29, 2009 10:24 AM
rating: 0
 
Jeff P

Joe, why are you convinced that Cano is a bad fielder? FRAA on the DT cards has him as an above-average fielder, UZR as below average, and the Fielding Bible is split (dead-last in 2008, but Top 5 in 2007).

Sep 29, 2009 10:33 AM
rating: -1
 
chuckmotl

Why are Yankee fans always convinced that their bad fielders aren't bad? Why are they the only team that can't have a bad fielder? Or can they just not handle the truth?

Sep 29, 2009 11:47 AM
rating: 0
 
Jeff P

Nice ad hominem, Chuck. I presented an argument that objective fielding metrics disagree about whether Cano is above average, below average, or in the middle. What's wrong with that?

Sep 30, 2009 11:34 AM
rating: 1
 
cbunge6

Some fanbole from Joe about Rivera's unflappability. You'd really take that single trait over any trait from any other athlete, including Tiger's focus or Jordan's competitiveness? I don't buy it.

Sep 29, 2009 13:42 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Yes. It best matches my own greatest weakness.

Sep 30, 2009 07:28 AM
 
cbunge6

Fair enough. I didn't take the "If I could take" statement as literally pertaining to yourself.

Sep 30, 2009 11:21 AM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Kiss'Em Goodbye: Texas... (09/28)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Post... (09/24)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Today: Dram... (09/29)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Buyer's ... (09/28)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article Fantasy Players to Avoid: Starting Pitchers
Fantasy Infographic: Starting Pitchers
Fantasy Article Dynasty League Positional Rankings: Top 175 ...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Diamondbacks Third Baseman is...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: The Bad Bullpen Teams ...
Prospectus Feature: A.J. Preller's Offseason...
Premium Article Raising Aces: The Eyes of March

MORE FROM SEPTEMBER 28, 2009
Premium Article Future Shock: Buyer's Remorse
Kiss'Em Goodbye: Texas Rangers
Premium Article Under The Knife: The Final Stretch
The Week in Quotes: September 21-27

MORE BY JOE SHEEHAN
2009-10-01 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Bitter Endings
2009-09-30 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Selection Bias
2009-09-29 - Prospectus Today: Drama Delayed
2009-09-28 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Clinching
2009-09-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Post-season Bullpens
2009-09-22 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Missing Man
2009-09-21 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Bradleygate?
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS TODAY
2009-10-01 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Bitter Endings
2009-09-30 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Selection Bias
2009-09-29 - Prospectus Today: Drama Delayed
2009-09-28 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Clinching
2009-09-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Post-season Bullpens
2009-09-22 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Missing Man
2009-09-21 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Bradleygate?
More...