November 15, 2018

Late Summer Concerns of a Yankee Fan

September 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

This summer, I’ve finished up a master’s degree and changed my relationship status to “married.”  I haven’t had a ton of time to watch my beloved Yankees, but I have observed as they’ve compiled the best record in the majors, along with the best run-differential in the league.  They’re in first place in the AL East and are aiming towards another postseason berth.  Yet, I just can’t relax.  Like Lieutenant Chekhov from Wrath of Khan, I feel like there’s a little bug in my ear, gnawing at my brain.  What is it about this 2010 season that has me looking towards October uneasily?

Speaking of the calendar, around this time of year, I always find myself in awe of the chronology of the baseball season.  As an experienced baseball fan, I know you’re not supposed to get bogged down in every detail of every game.  However, just like removing Entourage from my DVR queue, avoiding this is easier said than done.

A week ago, the Yankees were stumbling out of a stretch in the schedule that should have been a breeze.  Between the 12th and 25th of August, the Yankees played thirteen games against Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle, and Toronto, who were a combined 41 games below .500.  (Note: Toronto was actually 6 games above .500).  In that time, the Yankees went 8-6, hit .266 with an .814 OPS, and averaged 7.3 men left on base per game.  They were able to put zero space between themselves and the Tampa Bay Rays, and looked like they were ready to wilt in the heat of August.

I was this close to pulling a Goose and Maverick and hitting the eject button.

Then the Yankees rattled off seven straight wins.  In that time, the bats have come alive.  New York is hitting .314, with a .406 OBP, and a .966 OPS.  C.C. Sabathia has continued his consistent dominance of the American League, and spot-starters Dustin Moseley and Ivan Nova have contributed admirably.  The Yanks have re-taken sole possession of first place in the AL East, and I’m sleeping a little sounder at night.

However, due to a few major concerns, I’m not ready to start ordering my 2011 World Series t-shirts just yet.

Concern 1: Curtis Granderson, Javier Vazquez, and Nick Johnson
The cast from Jersey Shore has MVP (Mike, Vinny, and Paulie); Brian Cashman has the three-headed monster of JVC (Johnson, Vazquez, and Curtis).  These were the three big name pick-ups made by Cashman at the beginning of the season.  Each acquisition came with his own caveat.  Yankee fans from all over could be heard muttering, “If only Granderson could hit lefties,” or “If only Johnson can stay healthy,” or “If only Vazquez could be consistently good like he was last year with the Braves.”

The problem with that type of wishful thinking is that it effectively ignores the past performances and career numbers of three pretty established professional baseball players.  When I watch True Blood on Sunday nights, I know what I’m going to get: Southern accents, sex, violence, a whole lot of blood, and maybe Anna Paquin’s nipples.  I’m not looking for political commentary or a well-researched presentation of post-Katrina Louisiana.

The same should be said about JVC.  During his first tour in pinstripes in 2004, Javier Vazquez went from being the first pitcher in the league to win 10 games to spending much of October in the bullpen.  In the nine seasons Nick Johnson has played in the big leagues, he’s been able to play in an average of 88 games per season.  And in his seven seasons, Curtis Granderson has hit a paltry .217 against left-handed pitchers.  At this point, is it really any surprise that Johnson will spend the rest of the season on the DL, Vazquez is battling Moseley and Nova for his starting job, and Granderson has hit only .250 against lefties?  There’s a reason why we keep these statistics.

To quote Dennis Green, “They are who we thought they were!”

Concern 2: A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte
A.J. Burnett has been downright bad.  I’m talking Two and a Half Men bad.  He’s been almost as bad at pitching as Sasha Grey has been at acting in this season of Entourage.  She’s performed so poorly, she’s made Adrian Grenier look like Marlon Brando.  Burnett’s performed so poorly, he’s made C.C. Sabathia look like Bob Gibson.  A portly Bob Gibson.

Before going on the DL with a strained groin, Pettitte was having one of his best statistical years as a major league pitcher.  He had a 2.88 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 2.37 K/BB ratio, and an 11-2 record.  He’s integral to the Yankees’ postseason success, and he hasn’t thrown a major league pitch in 47 days and counting.

So, going into September, the Yankees have a rotation of Sabathia, Phil Hughes who is up against a strict innings cap, a self-destructing A.J. Burnett, an injured Andy Pettitte, and the question marks of Vazquez, Moseley, and Nova.

(Wandering over to the corner of the living room, assuming the fetal position, and rocking back and forth.)

Concern 3: Derek Jeter
This is the one that stands out over the long term.  Jeter’s contract is up at the end of the season.  He’s 36 years old.  Remember, age 36 in 2010 is not the same as 36 may have been during the steroid era.  Players are aging naturally again.  No more Benjamin Button-like power numbers at forty years old.  Also, Shortstops just don’t age gracefully.  Few have been productive offensively and defensively in their late thirties without moving to another position.

By 37, Barry Larkin’s offensive productivity had severely dropped.  After he turned thirty, Robin Yount made the transition to the outfield.  By his mid-thirties, Cal Ripken Jr. was primarily a third baseman.  Even Phil Rizzuto was splitting time between short and second in his final years.

After a tremendous 2009 season, Jeter’s showing his age a little more this year.  His batting average has dropped from .334 to .266, so has his OBP, falling from .465 to .373.  Despite his struggles, Jeter remains the face of the organization.  If the Yankees did not sign Jeter at the end of the year, there are not enough spin-doctors in the world to be able to help them recover from the PR nightmare that would envelope the Bronx.

However, the Yankees have invested the GDP of a few small countries in Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira at first and third.  Brett Gardner (LF/CF) and Robinson Cano (2B) aren’t going anywhere.  Jeter also seems reluctant to move from his home at short.  This could all come to a head at the negotiating table this winter.

It could also lead to Jeter pressing in big spots in October to try to prove his worth to the club.  If that happens, he could lose his ability to come through in the clutch.

In case you can’t tell, I’m a little nervous for the coming months.  Maybe I’ll watch an episode of True Blood to calm my nerves.

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