Since AJ Burnett’s awful performance in last night’s game against the Blue Jays, the pundits have ramped up the “Yankees have no pitching” storyline. Of course, these articles tend to ignore the similar lack of depth in all of the AL contenders’ rotations, and make it seem like the Yankees have major pitching issues. As I showed yesterday, this is simply not the case. More on point, it seems that many writers and fans are overstating the importance of the 4th starter in the postseason.
As you can see, the Yankees could use their 4th starter just twice over the entire postseason (Game 4 or 5 in ALCS and World Series), while only using a pitcher on 3 days rest one time (CC Sabathia in Game 4 of the ALDS). So we are talking about two games for AJ Burnett, likely matched up against Wade Davis, Jeff Niemmann, or Tommie Hunter in the first one and a Joe Blanton type in the second. While I clearly do not trust Burnett, the opposing pitchers are not exactly world beaters and the Yankees have the advantage in terms of offense.
Do I wish that Burnett was pitching well and that the Yankees had 4 solid starters? Certainly. But the struggles of their 4th best pitcher is not the death knell for the Yankee season that some are making it out to be.
With 5 games left in the season and a 5.5 game lead over the Red Sox in the Wild Card race (Sox have 6 remaining), the Yankees have a playoff spot all but locked up. The Red Sox have a less than 1% chance of making the postseason, as they would need to win all of their remaining games while the Rays or Yankees would have to lose all of theirs for the Sox to earn a spot in a 1 game playoff. While the 3 game set with the Yankees this weekend might make it seem like Boston has a real chance to make up their deficit, the odds are stacked heavily against them. Despite all this, after spending the better part of a month being smart about the health of their players and prioritizing the postseason, the Yankees will turn to CC Sabathia tonight and put aside setting up their playoff rotation in order to clinch now. This is a mistake born of anxiety to clinch, and presents an example of a team succumbing to pressure, both internal and external.
The initial plan had Sabathia pitching this Friday, to line him up perfectly for a start in Game 1 of the ALDS the following Wednesday. Of course, the plan also had the Yankees clinching by now, but a magic number of 1 should be close enough to allow Joe Girardi to stick to his initial decision to focus upon setting up the playoff rotation. Instead, CC will pitch tonight, and likely will not see any action for over a week prior to his Game 1 start. While CC had two periods of long rest prior to excellent playoff starts last postseason, he has performed a bit worse over his career with extended rest and has mentioned that he would prefer to be on schedule for the postseason.
Ultimately, this is not a huge deal, and I do not think it will have much impact on how CC pitches in the postseason. It just disturbs me that the organization is ignoring the overwhelming odds in their favor and is changing course after a month of preparing for October.
I think proponents of the Yankees going with a 3 man rotation in the ALDS should look at this move as a positive.
Had the Yankees rested CC now and let him go into the postseason on normal rest AND decided to go to CC in game 4 on 3 days rest, he would be looking at pitching 3 games in the span of 9 days.
Now if he starts tonight and you go to a 3 man rotation. You’ll start him tonight, give him rest before game 1 and go back to him for game 4 on 3 days rest. You’re looking at 3 games in the span of 13 days.
Looking at last postseason, CC had at least 8 days off prior to both sets of three day rest starts that he made, as this chart shows:
|ALDS g1||Oct 7||NYY||MIN||W,7-2||GS-7||W(1-0)||99||6.2||8||2||1||0||8||0||1||1.35|
|ALCS g1||Oct 16||NYY||LAA||W,4-1||GS-8||W(2-0)||8||8.0||4||1||1||1||7||0||0||1.23|
|ALCS g4||Oct 20||NYY||@||LAA||W,10-1||GS-8||W(3-0)||3||8.0||5||1||1||2||5||1||0||1.19|
|WS g1||Oct 28||NYY||PHI||L,1-6||GS-7||L(3-1)||7||7.0||4||2||2||3||6||2||0||1.52|
|WS g4||Nov 1||NYY||@||PHI||W,7-4||GS-7||3||6.2||7||3||3||3||6||1||0||1.98|
While I have no way of knowing whether this was a factor considered by the Yankee decision-makers, it does balance the scales a bit and suggest that starting CC tonight may not be quite as bad for the club as I made it out to be.
Where do you come out on this issue?
After last night’s 4-0 loss to the Orioles in which the Rays blew a chance to clinch a playoff spot, Evan Longoria and David Price lashed out at the Rays fanbase. Talking about a sparse crowd of 12,446 for a potential clincher, Price called the situation embarrassing while Longoria referred to it as disheartening. This set off a Twitter war in which many criticized the pair for ripping into a fanbase mired in the throes of an awful recession while others applauded them for noting an obvious problem. Yankees fans, at least the ones that I interacted, tended to be in the first group, lamenting poor attendance for a team that has been competitive for three years now. While I understand that last night’s attendance figure looks atrocious on the surface, I think there are a number of factors that many people critical of the Rays fanbase are missing.
The most important point that I can make is to note that the Rays do very well on television and on the radio. This season, they are 7th in the majors in both television and radio ratings, according to Sports Business Daily (thanks to @capitolavenue for link). This suggests that the fans are far from apathetic, and that there is a strong core group of individuals who follow the Rays on a day-to-day basis. Just from my experience dealing with bloggers on the internet, it is fairly easy to see that there are plenty of passionate, involved Rays fans. The idea that there are no Rays fans is a myth perpetuated by poor attendance numbers. They have the fans, they just cannot get them out to the ballpark. The question then becomes, why not?
There are a number of factors that can explain the lack of fan involvement:
1) Tropicana Field is an ugly ballpark in an awful location. This is the simplest explanation, and in my view, the driving factor for the Rays poor attendance numbers. There are no public transportation options to reach the stadium, and the drive to the ballpark is usually plagued by traffic. Additionally, the park is not actually in the primary population center in the area, separated from Tampa by a bridge. Another problem with the location of the ballpark is that those fans that are very close to the ballpark tend to be elderly or transients, two groups that are not likely to purchase season tickets or purchase many seats on game day. The location of the ballpark makes for a perfect storm that suppresses attendance despite legitimate fan interest.
2) The ailing economy has hit the Tampa/St. Pete area particularly hard, with unemployment numbers in the area exceeding 12%. People without jobs or with less disposable income are likely to stay away from the ballpark and watch the games at home, which is exactly what is going on in Tampa. Remember, the fans did show up for clinching games in 2008, suggesting that something may have changed since then that has impacted the ability of fans to turn up at the ballpark. The current economic climate seems to be one such factor.
3) The Rays were awful for many, many years and have very little positive history on which to draw. It is very difficult to build a season-ticket base in a football state when the team is that bad for that long without ever showing the slightest bit of improvement. As such, while you may build some interest in the club, you are unlikely to get people to invest in the team until they sustain success for an extended period of time. Combine this factor with the fact that they are now contending in the middle of a recession and that the ballpark is difficult to get to and is fairly dingy, and you have a situation where it is unlikely that they will be able to build a significant season ticket base for a while. (Additionally, I am told by @leokitty that their ticket plans are an atrocity, and do not incentivize purchasing tickets).
Last night, I suggested that the Rays need a new ballpark in the Tampa area to survive in that region, and most Rays fans agreed with me. However, the local governments in Tampa are not amenable to building a publicly funded ballpark, and the current owners do not seem likely to build one on their own. The Rays may not be long for Tampa Bay, but it is not due to a lack of fan interest. Rather, it is a structural and economic issue that has limited the team’s ability to draw their fans away from their television sets and radios into the ballpark.
It is very easy to sit back as Yankee fans and criticize the Rays fanbase for its failure to show up to watch a contender. We follow a team that has contended for about 100 years and has a brand new ballpark that is easily reached by various forms of public transportation. There was a time, not too long ago, that the Mets outdrew the Yankees in New York, so the idea that Yankee fans will show up in any circumstances is a myth perpetuated by fans who began following the team in 1996. Fans tend to be fickle, and factors such as stadium accessibility can play a major role in an individual’s decision on whether to go to the ballpark or watch at home. Until the Yankees move their Stadium to an area unreachable by public transportation, it is not our place to judge Rays fans for not going to Tropicana Field, particularly when there are many factors distinct from fan apathy that contribute to the Rays attendance issues.
Losing is something we are not used to as Yankee fans. The Yankees haven’t been a below .500 team since 1992 and have missed the playoffs just once since 1995. Still, though, there are many times when many Yankee fans act as if the team is constantly losing. Those fans are, seemingly, never satisfied. Now, perhaps this is unfair to me. Rooting for a team is an emotional thing to do and when the team is losing, a lot of people overreact.
Despite my knowledge of that, there is still one thing that annoys me to no end: when people accuse the team of not trying simply because the team is losing. I noticed this sentiment because of a particular comment in the River Ave. Blues game thread last night, so I posed this question on Twitter:
How come every time the Yankees play poorly, a large number of people say they’re not trying?
I think throwing that accusation around is absolutely ridiculous. It may look like a team is not trying, but for a fan, watching from a couch or chair or bed or wherever has absolutely no idea what the effort level of the players is. Sometimes, we lose sight of the fact that baseball is essentially a game of failure. Whoever fails fewer times in the game is going to win. Of course, that’s a gross oversimplification but even the guy with the best OBP is going to fail six out of ten times.
We may lose sight o that because the Yankees tend to be very good at avoiding failing: they score a lot of runs, they don’t allow that many runs, and they win a whole heap of games each year. When they have games like last night, games in which the team looks terrible for one reason or another, many jump on the team for a lack of effort and say if they just tried harder, they’d be in the game. Those comments died down when Mark Teixeira hit a three run homer to pull the Yankees within two, but there were plenty up to that point.
After querying the above, I got a few responses I’d like to share:
Friend of the blog SteveH_MandAura said: Because with a $200+ million payroll they should go 162-0. Any loss=not trying
This is something else I saw–from the same commenter–in the River Ave thread. The Yankees, and baseball players in general, tend to get paid a lot of money. Because of that, we expect that they always do well and never disappoint. Well, that’s just not realistic, especially not in sports, and especially not in baseball. The response Steve is mocking is one I wish we’d never see, but sadly, we will a lot.
@EJGoose and @SteeeeveO expressed a similar sentiment: it’s easiest to explain the Yankees’ losses by saying the team isn’t trying. Their collective answer makes sense, and I don’t think either one of them supports it, but I still don’t buy it. The team isn’t showing a lack of effort or caring or trying: they’re just losing. I think that’s the simplest explanation we can give. 60 times a season, a baseball team is going to lose. Sometimes, those losses are going to look ugly. Who are we to say that the Yankees–or any team–are not trying?
A recent piece in Joel Sherman’s Hardball blog gives me a good jumping off point to discuss the Yankee catching situation in light of the recent 4 steal 9th inning. Joel is frustrating as a writer because his reporting can be so good, and his analysis ranges from thoughtful and insightful to just horrendous. This one unfortunately falls into the latter category. He writes:
Among potential AL playoff foes, the Rays already know how to exploit the speed issue, having stolen 22 bases in 23 tries against the Yankees this season. Tampa leads the majors in steals at 167. Texas is seventh at 117. You think of Minnesota as a running team, but the Twins have just 66 steals – 25th in the majors.
However, the Red Sox are 26th in the majors in steals with 59, and yet stole four bases in the ninth inning alone against the combo of Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Posada actually looks as if he has a bit of the yips right now. His throw-out percentage for the season is just 16.3. And here is the scary thing for the Yankees: Among AL catchers who have started as often as Posada just one has a worse throw-out percentage: That would be Francisco Cervelli at 14.5. And Cervelli is the Yankees’ “defensive” specialist.
First, it’s worth noting that Francisco Cervelli threw out 43% as recently as last year. If memory serves, he didn’t have his right shoulder rebuilt by Dr James Andrews in the off season. Let’s try to apply some common sense here. Do you think Cervelli’s massive drop off in CS% might have something to do with who he’s catching?
Posada has caught Andy Pettitte in 10 of his 20 starts, who has a long standing reputation for having one of the best pick off moves in Baseball. That means most baserunners won’t even attempt to steal, and those who do will stay closer to first base, reduces their chances of stealing successfully. Andy’s also left handed, which sort of helps for what I hope are obvious reasons. Jorge has also caught 20 of CC Sabathia’s 35 starts, another lefty whose power arsenal makes it less likely runners will attempt a steal. Base runners typically look to run in breaking ball counts, and CC features his fastball and slider 83% of the time.
By contrast, Cervelli has been AJ Burnett’s personal catcher, logging 23 of his 33 starts behind the dish. When Burnett is on the mound, opponents have stolen 36 bases this year, which is the highest of any pitcher in all of Baseball. AJ has also logged 15 wild pitches (#2 in AL) and hit 16 batters (1st in AL) to go with his 75 Walks (7th in AL). When a pitcher is that wild, it makes it that much harder for the catcher to catch and throw to 2B. Another interesting note is that Posada has caught Phil Hughes in 21 of his 29 starts this year, meaning that Jorge is pretty much Phil’s personal catcher. Hughes has had enormous Run Support this year, enjoying 6+ runs of scoring in a whopping 16 of his 29 starts. Managers generally don’t send runners when facing a big deficit. You don’t attempt to steal bases when you’re down big, base runners are too valuable to risk and the last thing you want to do is a kill a rally.
As you can see, much more goes into CS% than simply looking at the raw numbers. Factors like this are why CS% tends to vary so much from year to year, as it has with Cervelli. Francisco has been given the much harder task, so comparing his rate with Posada’s is apples and oranges.