What We Can Learn From Yankees’ Demise

If the Mets had any news, I wouldn’t be posting about the Yankees for a second straight day. But as this is as much a baseball blog as it is a Mets blog, the overwhelming story of the day in New York is the Yankees loss last night to the Tigers. (Funny, isn’t it? The news is not that the Tigers won, but that the Yankees lost.)

First off, no, I’m not overjoyed by the Yankees’ elimination from the postseason. Knowing there will be an AL team other than the Yankees in the World Series means I’m more likely to watch some of the Fall Classic, but I don’t revel in other people’s misery. However, I would like to take a cursory look at why the Yankees failed in the ALCS, and turn it into discussion.

How could a team full of All-Stars, backed up by All-Stars, not make it to the World Series? Fairly simple: the Yankees were built for the 162-game season, but not necessarily for a short series / the postseason. Their strategy was blunt force: they pitched just well enough to stay in the ballgame, and they waited for the sluggers to beat the opposition’s pitching senseless with homeruns. Such a strategy works well over the long haul, because MLB’s talent pool of pitching is watered-down. Even good starting pitchers are out of the game by the sixth inning, leaving the very worst pitchers to battle it out in the seventh and eighth. When you have one homerun threat after another coming to the plate, you stand a good chance of beating up on the lesser-skilled pitchers to win ballgames — with the long ball in particular.

The Yankees didn’t come up with timely hits in the postseason, but that was no surprise — they hit .256 with RISP during the regular season. Of their 245 homeruns in regular-season play, 140 were solo shots. They lived and died by the homerun, and it’s easier to hit homeruns against lesser pitchers. In the postseason, we rarely see lesser pitchers taking the mound.

The other part of the Yankees’ formula was to find a way to hold down the opposition through seven innings; the 8th and 9th would be handled by the lights-out David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. So, the starters had to pitch just well enough through five or six innings, keep the score close, and then Joe Girardi would mix and match a fairly competent if unspectacular corps of middle relievers through the seventh. From there, let the sluggers take over the ballgame. Their #1 starter C.C. Sabathia is more of a workhorse than a shutdown “ace,” and the rest of their rotation was good, but not great. Third starter Phil Hughes was wildly inconsistent, and their fourth and fifth starters had ERAs over 5.00.

Obviously, the plan worked well through the first 162; the Yankees won 95 games. Obviously, it didn’t work so well in the posteason.

In contrast, the Mets had a lineup full of singles hitters, a similar starting rotation, and much lesser bullpen. Interestingly, the Mets were worse with RISP — .246 — so a lack of power does not necessarily equal “timely hitting.” Yes, the Mets scored an unusually large amount of runs with two outs, but I’ve yet to figure out what that signifies, if anything; perhaps all it means is that they failed miserably with none or one out.

We assume the Mets will beef up their punchless offense with some homerun hitters, but will it matter? The Yankees hit far more homers than anyone, but in the end their strength was their weakness. Building a strategy of seven-inning games is a good goal start with, and one the Mets tried in the past. Most recently, Omar Minaya attempted it in 2009 with disastrous results when J.J. Putz blew out his elbow. Still, the idea was good. Unfortunately, the Mets can’t seem to find one relief pitcher to shut down one inning, much less two.

However, the Mets do seem to have starting rotation pieces that can carry a club to a winning season — so there’s a start. All they need now is to find two lights-out relievers and an entire offense.

What is your thought? Can the Mets learn anything from the Yankees’ strategy, either good or bad? Voice your opinion in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. derek October 19, 2012 at 9:49 am
    it all starts and ends with starting pitching…hopefully the young guys we have coming up, mixed in with what we have continues to improve…not to mention good, young starting pitching called up form minors is CHEAP….

    the a’s moneyball team in 02…we can talk about beane this and sabermetrics that…but u had hudson, mulder, zito all making peanuts and dominating…zito won cy young, tejada was in 5th yr and won mvp and not making that much either…sprinkle in cory lidle and billy kock = perfect storm…

    with mets young arms coming up, bay and santana coming off books we can put money to pay for hitters…have to just wait and see…but that is the route the organization is prob looking at…

    the cards and giants team that won it last few yrs…they were built for playoffs with there starting pitching and good enough duirng reg season to qualify for playoffs….but they def werent vegas favorites…hopefully mets young arms can put us in rt direction and get us going in rt direction…

    • MikeT October 19, 2012 at 10:59 am
      All I can think while reading this: is there no time for grammar anymore? Unless you wrote this on your phone, and even then, you are just being lazy. I realize this is the internet, but take some pride in spelling and grammar. Geez…
      • Joe Janish October 19, 2012 at 12:28 pm
        Easy on the grammar structure in the comments section, as this should be an informal platform for sharing thoughts. Get on me for making mistakes in my posts, but try to be more accepting in this area of the site. Derek has a distinguished and unique background as a pro player, and his thoughts here are a benefit to the conversation — I’m happy to excuse informal punctuation to receive good bits of information.

        Now, if you want to get on the clowns supporting the Braves and Yankees in the comments section of the recent RA Dickey post, that’s another story. To produce writing that poor AND be unintelligible AND be disrespectful AND add nothing of value to the conversation is inexcusable and worthy of a scolding.

  2. MikeT October 19, 2012 at 11:14 am
    Joe, to respond directly to your question, yes there is something the Mets can learn from the Yankees’ strategy. Namely, the following info via @darrenrovell

    “Yankees total payroll 1996-2000: $393.3 Million, 4 titles. Yankees total payroll 2001-2012: $2.17 Billion, 1 title.”

    Spending money does not equal championships. It does help you win, mostly in the regular season, but it does not guarantee success in the post season. Really though, this is misleading. If you put together the right team using an unlimited budget you can win. The Yanks won in 2009, for example (and there are others). However, the spending large amounts on free agents strategy does not sustain winning at a championship level. the very good reason why is age. Most free agents are around 30 years old, be they pitchers or position players. In the (mostly) post-steroids era, there are less productive mid-thirties players in MLB. Signing a guy into his thirties means that by the end of that deal you will have a bunch of money locked into players that are not going to give you the production you need. You might be able to win one or even two, but you will eventually have dead money eating away at your roster. The real reason this is problematic is because in reality no budget is limitless. If you have no payroll flexibility then you are force to grin and bear it with little room to fix your problems. The Yankees are really fortunate to have such a high payroll, but in the end they have the same problems as everyone else: you are stuck with the horses in your stable and there is not much you can do about it. That is why what the Red Sox did this season was so impressive. They got out from under their oppressive deals and now have a clean slate with which to rebuild their roster.

    What does this mean to the Mets? Continue on the current path. Continue to build depth in the minor leagues, keep trying to shed dead weight, and after next year when Bay and Santana are off the books, invest in some talent and make your run. Eventually you will be in a similar place with lots of money tied up in aged stars, but if you are smart then it won’t be as bad or your own minor league system can help sustain you. You have to have both if you want to continue to succeed even after your stars have aged.

    • Joe Janish October 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm
      I realize that the end goal is a World Championship, but I don’t think that tying spending to World Series titles makes much sense. Also, the rise from millions to billions over a 16-year span says as much about inflation as anything else.

      As you admit, money does help with winning in the regular season. Bottom line in regard to spending is this: the Yankees have had the highest (or among the highest) payroll every year since 1996, and they have made it to the postseason in all but one of those years. If nothing else, that is support for the argument that money CAN result in success — consistent, sustained success at that.

      Further, I believe that many people erroneously connect high payroll with “buying” a team via the free-agent route. Sure, the Yankees have made big free-agent signings, but over the years, a good chunk of their dollars have also gone toward retaining home-grown players such as Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, etc., as well as given them the flexibility to trade for players that were too expensive for other teams (A-Rod, Swisher, Granderson).

      The plan you suggest for the Mets is solid. The problem is that since Jeff Wilpon took over operations, the organization has never had any kind of long-term system of player development, and no over-arching philosophy in choosing and training players. It’s all been haphazard, seat-of-the-pants, push them through the system, along with constant turnover in scouting and minor league coaching. Without committing to a unified, standard “way” of doing things, it’s hard to create any kind of sustained success.

      • MikeT October 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm
        To put it more clearly: high spending locks you into a set roster for a long period of time. Even if it is championship caliber, you end up with dead weight and very awkward situations. Even the Yankees kept Jeter, Bernie, and Posada too long. They are/were not what they once were and ended up being role players in uncomfortable situations. I believe there is a balance between keeping your veteran core and spending on new talent, and I think finally the Yankees have tipped that scale.

        Apologies to Derek, but I think that poor grammar and spelling is distracting and the message is lost. I read Derek as some foolish young adult with no clue because he wrote as though he were. I don’t think I’m unreasonable about it.

        As for the Mets plan, past experiences are surely damning, but I think the trend has shown that the current regime is trying to do things “the right way.” Not rushing several prospects this year is evidence of that. The draft strategy of stocking up on up the middle players is evidence that they understand how hard it is to develop a capable major league CF/SS/2B/C. These players move to other less difficult positions over time if they cannot hack it. I like this strategy.

        • Joe Janish October 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm
          Yet somehow the Yankees managed to work around that “locked” roster for almost two decades. I disagree that they’ve reached a tipping point – they were in the ALCS this year, after all, and had just one of their sluggers been on a hot streak, we likely would be seeing them still playing this weekend. Additionally, they do still have a decent amount of homegrown talent making contributions. No Jeters, Posadas, Williams or Pettittes seem to be on the horizon, however, so they may tip within the next year or two. I think they grossly mis-read the impact of PEDs on players over 30.

          Better to use the Red Sox as your example supporting your argument. Wow they fell fast!

          As for the Mets’ current “plan,” color me pessimistic. Been there, heard that — going back to the late 1990s. I’ve yet to see the club remain committed to any kind of real plan for more than a four-year period.

        • Dan B October 19, 2012 at 7:27 pm
          One thing people seem to miss when it comes to payroll, is that a player’s salary is not just tied to his performance. Sometimes it is tied to the income he can generate. ARod, sitting on the bench, generates more press and more airtime then 99% of players who start. This helps the Yankees, if only indirectly, generate revenue. To me, the facinating aspect of the Yankees payroll has nothing to do with wins and losses (which it naturally does) but it also generates the highest revenues in baseball. The Yankees don’t lead the league in payroll because their revenue is high — the Yankees lead the league in revenue because their payroll is high.
        • Joe Janish October 19, 2012 at 10:42 pm
          Excellent point.

          But, are you sure you meant:

          “The Yankees don’t lead the league in payroll because their revenue is high — the Yankees lead the league in revenue because their payroll is high.”

          and not the other way around? I *think* you mean “the Yankees lead the league in payroll because their revenue is high.” No?

        • Dan B October 20, 2012 at 11:46 am
          No. I meant their revenue is high because they are not afraid to spend money. They invest more because they realize the return will justify the expense. Some owners (cough cough Wilpons cough cough) do not have the nerve or skill to spend like that even if it means forgoing potential revenue.
        • Dan B October 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm
          Yankees had three problems: 1) the Yankees had a lot of hitters who thrived on mistake pitches. The further you go in the playoffs, the better the pitchers you see. Even the average pitchers focus more and make less mistakes. 2) Yankees could use a few more “on-base” guys. That because worse after Jeter was hurt. A lot of those solo homeruns needed someone on base in front of them. 3) Sometimes the baseball gods don’t smile on you, sometimes even a good or a great player has a bad series. (we are looking at you, Mr. Cano).
      • Steve October 21, 2012 at 4:38 am
        I think what makes the Yankee’s money take them so far is the willingness to eat bad contracts or gamble on some high priced players. If the Mets took that chance every year, instead of half-committing like 2006-2009, they may be able to do the same thing. Instead they spend on a few players and then bail. The Yankees spend…and then spend more. Then if they don’t feel like they have a good enough bat at a position…they spend more. They may spend too much on stupid moves…but they then spend too much on great moves.
  3. derek October 19, 2012 at 11:58 am
    didnt realize this was a language arts site mike..here i thought it was a baseball blog that we could make quick comments on during day…but from reading a blog post you can say im lazy and i dont have pride? your first response was to attack someone who commented not to answer for yourself or even disagree…rt there is part of the problem…You should be running for political office…i think you sound just like a candidate…

    but im glad you pretty much agreed with what i said… ill give u an A for grammer….and a C for original thoughts…im pretty sure i forgot more baseball today then you know overall…

  4. Reese October 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm
    The Mets are moving in the right direction. The frustration is the length of time the process requires. Unfortunately they have not shown the fortitude to make tough decisions such as trading away David Wright and/or R.A. Dickey to obtain a large group of inexpensive Wil Myers type prospects that could collectively make them competitive for many years. Instead they want to repeat the mistakes of the past — overpaying for actual production — and tying the franchise’s hands for the foreseeable future.
  5. derek October 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm
    i hear ya reese, risk, reward….im curious to see what they have planned…alderson made a nice move getting wheeler.

    but time isnt what you have in a ny market to build slow…need to pull trigger on some trades…i would be for trading wright and or dickey but everyone knows mets are over the barrel too…alderson has his work cut out for him…

    • DaveSchneck October 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm
      Derek,
      Glad to see how much your grammar has improved through your comments – you make get the comeback blogger of the year award. For what it is worth, I agree that the Mets are on the right track, somewhat. With all the commitment to building the system, they let their #2 pick go unsigned. Their AAA affiliate is now the least desired in baseball. Also, D Wrights do not grow on trees, and they rarely grow in farm systems. I see no reason to deal deal him unless his demands become outrageous. At 30, he will be a key piece to the puzzle for years to come. Lastly, there is no reason why spending moderately on FAs to fill obvious holes slows the plan. They can now do it without costing draft picks. No excuses for not putting an improved team on the field in 2013, while conitnuing with he plan of developing from within.
  6. friend October 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm
    I am having difficulty seeing the logic in this analysis. During the regular season the Yankees runs per inning were just as strong in innings 1-6 as they were for innings 7+, contradicting the contention that they mostly preyed upon weaker late inning pitchers.
    • Joe Janish October 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm
      You bring up a good point that is worth investigating further.

      I would argue with a few points.

      First, the poor pitching is not relegated to the middle relievers — it also applies to #5 and many #4 starters.

      Second, I’d be curious to know the stats for innings 1-5 rather than 1-6, because very often, the worst pitchers come into a game in the sixth rather than the seventh.

      Third, I would expect the 9th inning number to be somewhat skewed because that is often the domain of a closer, who is usually one of the better-skilled pitchers on a staff, especially when limited to a one-inning stint.

      Fourth, it could be argued that the 8th inning number can also be somewhat skewed, because there is a decent number of skilled setup men.

      Finally, the very good starters who pitch past the sixth — i.e., the Verlanders, Weavers, Prices, etc. — may also contribute to the skewing of the numbers.

      Maybe more definitive research could be examining the stats of Yankees hitters vs. pitchers with higher than league-average ERAs or WHIPs?

  7. Izzy October 20, 2012 at 9:21 am
    Its easy t dump on the Yankees for a 4 game losing streak at the wron time but to compliment the Mets for going in the right direction!!!!! please. In two years the most ardent of Alderson defenders can point to one whole move for one whole guy… Say the guy actually makes it and becomes a star, at the rate the right direction is moving it will take Alderson 50 years to field a great team and guess what, that first move will be long gone. meanwhile the Yankees, have som many problems because they lost their closer for the year, they lost their speedster for the year, they lost the starter they traded ofr for the year, and had their first baseman and thrid basemna hurt for pretty long parts of the year and they were so bad they only won 95 games and got to the ALCS despite one of the worst team sumps ever. Yeah, they are a disaster and the Mets are awesome for their inactivity with a crap team. We have to have patience one says. Patience for what? The GM failed to trade any piece to build for the future unless the guy was paid hansomely. He FAILED to trade Capuano and got nothing when he left, and he now failed to trade Hairston Cedeno Young etc and they could have broght small gains. He wanted a top three prospect. Like they are all successes and every other kid never makes it. Yeah patience to wait for the fraud to be axed.
    • Dan B October 20, 2012 at 11:58 am
      Iz., I am with you. Since Alderson got here, the Mets have lost more games each year, drew less fans every year, and since all our top prospects are on the MLB roster, our minor league is no better now. The only thing he has done is trim payroll which did not get reinvested. THAT is why I am guessing the Wilpons brought Alderson here. Rebuilding is obviously a distant second goal.
  8. D October 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm
    There is no plan. The plan is to fool fans into thinking there is a plan. Sandy was hired to gove the illusion of hope , & rebuilding. Reyes, & Capuano left with no return last year , & Hairston likely priced himself out of the teams price range with his productivity . Add to that the unsigned 2nd round pick , what rebuilding ? If this was a true rebuild Wright & Dickey would be long gone , & Jason Bay wouldnt be wasting a valuable roster spot. The “plan” is to hold on to Wright to maintain some kind of attendance, and to give the fans the hope that ownership is committed. Its a mirage , after Bay/Santana are gone you most likely won’t see a 100 million dollar payroll for a very long time , if ever under the Wilpons
  9. RK October 20, 2012 at 5:14 pm
    I learned that there is a God.