Thursday, May 05, 2005

Piling on the Yankees

I generally don't like to indulge the Yankee/Red Sox obsession in the national media by reading about those teams, but this article from Buster Olney is very, very good. I disagree with a couple of his conclusions. First, I don't buy his argument that the Yankees' decline has been, in part, because of focus on stats rather than character. Instead, they've been focusing on the wrong stats. For instance, their dynasty teams were terrific at working counts and waiting for good pitches, the very skill that "Moneyball" touts as the most underrated in baseball. Their current teams are free-swingers, which works against bad pitching, but gets them into trouble when they play quality opposition.

Olney also overrated the Yankees' "decline" because he overrates the importance of the post-season. The Yanks were one game away from making the World Series last year and blew numerous chances to get that one win. They lost a very close World Series to a torrid pitcher in 2003. Is there really that much separating them from the teams that won four of five World Series? Do we really want to read that much into the fact that Jim F***ing Leyritz hit a homer in '96, but A-Rod couldn't hit one on Game Six last year?

All that said, Olney is right when he describes Steinbrenner's aimless spending patterns being a real cause for concern for this team. The Yankees' free agent decisions over the past few years have been nothing more than "which free agents had the best year last year and how much will it cost to sign them?" Carl Pavano? Jaret Wright? Both of them were very good in 2004 and very average (or worse) before that. Why spend so much money on them? Why sign Gary Sheffield, who had a great 2003 and a decent 2002, over Vlad Guerrero, who is consistently very good and who doesn't have Sheffield's history of post-season problems?

More and more, the Yankees' dynasty looks like the result of Steinbrenner's suspension in the early 90s, which allowed the baseball men of that organization to build a young team, rather than throwing money at every hole on the roster. If Steinbrenner would have been in charge, Jeter, Rivera, Pettite, Williams, and Posada all would have been traded for overpriced veterans and the Yankees of the late 90s would have been another old team, susceptible to injuries and poorly constructed to beat quality teams.

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