Category: Rants Page 1 of 5

A Top Prospect Didn’t Stop the Mets from Signing Carlos Correa

The Yankees have had a successful offseason thus far. Keeping Aaron Judge was mandatory, but adding Carlos Rodón was not something I anticipated heading into this winter. Frankly, I was prepared for a Judge-and-done hot stove season. Kinda like what happened with Gerrit Cole a few years ago. So in that sense, I’m happy to see my expectations exceeded. 

Still, I look across town and am feeling a bit of jealousy. Steve Cohen just signed Carlos Correa. The Mets already had a star shortstop in Francisco Lindor, so Correa will play third. This, in spite of the Mets’ solid incumbent options at third base (Eduardo Escobar, Brett Baty, Luis Guillorme). It’s not a perfect analogy because the Yankees’ didn’t have a third baseman at the time (Aaron Boone got hurt playing pickup basketball), but it is reminiscent of A-Rod moving to the hot corner with Derek Jeter already in tow.

On Process and Results

As many of you–if not all of you–know by now, I’m an English teacher in real life. Teaching is all about adjusting a process in the hopes of better results. Sure, I use the same general formats and texts for my lessons year over year, but every year, my coteacher and I have to tweak them to better suit the kids in front of us. And while we have certain tools, tricks, techniques, and tactics to deploy, none will guarantee perfect results every time. Such is the nature of teaching. Baseball, similarly, features a similar interplay of process and results: they don’t always match up.

You can sting the ball perfectly…and it’ll go right to someone; you can call on the right guy at the right time…and he gets lit up. Conversely, you can squib a ball in front of the plate and wind up on base; you can throw a hanger and the batter could whiff. It’s a part of the game we’ve all come to accept and embrace, both on the field and off. Yesterday, Yankees GM Brian Cashman spoke about process, results, and how those things fit into the team’s organizational philosophy:

While there are a lot of words in there–Cashman spoke for nearly two minutes–I found the response to be lacking. In fact, I found it to kind of be a bit of a rambling word salad. He sounded like one of my students who knows the basic facts of something, knows the general form his answer is supposed to take, but has trouble going beyond the surface and actually analyzing or interpreting said facts.

What I say beyond this comes with an obvious caveat. I’m not inside the Yankees’ organization and don’t know what the internal workings look like there. But that applies to pretty much everything I and we say about baseball. If we’re going to limit comments on things because we don’t have inside access, we may as well not comment at all beyond watching the games and rooting for the teams.

The Yankees have been a good team for a long, long time. The entirety of Brian Cashman’s run as GM has seen them make the playoffs in all but four years. That is a remarkable streak of success, especially in the face of a game that has changed a lot in that twentysomething year span. Certainly, that’s evidence of adaptability in the face of a game that’s much harder to win now than then. But are they good enough at it? While we can’t see inside and say that for sure, look at what keeps happening. Every year, the Yankees are bounced from the playoffs by the same teams and every game and every series feel exactly the same. It’s the same disappointing result over and over again.

Since the Yankees last made and won the World Series in 2009, they’ve watched their chief rival win two championships while remaking the team multiple times. They’ve seen their other big rival win one championship and make it to four of the last six. They’ve seen another club become a regular season juggernaut and win one championship and make it to two others.

In missing out on the World Series beyond 2009, the Yankees have the company of about half the league. That’s obviously not a small number, but none of the teams can boast of the year over year success the Yankees have, which makes their failure to reach the fall classic even once a little more acute.

Winning a World Series is incredibly hard and only one team gets to do it every year. And in baseball, things just happen differently than they do in other sports. It’s subject to more variance, more randomness and more than the other sports, good process doesn’t guarantee good results. However, when the lack of a championship is explained the same way every year–‘we had good process, things just didn’t break our way’–fans are likely to be frustrated and less likely to keep trusting that process. A process can be good and yield less than desirable results, but if the process keeps spitting out less than desirable results, might it be time to change that process?

Whatever process the Yankees are using, it’s yielding generally good results. Like I said, they make the playoffs virtually every year. But all their actions off the field and their execution on it smacks of ‘good enough.’ For a team that espouses a championship or bust mentality, good enough is not good enough.

You want to be a good team and compete every year? Go for it. That’s what every team should strive for and what every fanbase should want. But if what’s going to keep happening is the same thing that’s been happening for the last decade plus, then stop blowing smoke with the ‘championship or bust’ mentality. It doesn’t seem like the process speaks to that stated goal. As for the results? Well, it’s the lack thereof that does all the talking.

Growing Frustration

On Thursday night, the Yankees made folks across the fandom happy by calling up infielder Oswald Peraza, a move many felt was long overdue. People were abuzz and excited about seeing another youngster get his turn, following Oswaldo Cabrera who’s impressed with his versatility in the field since joining the Yankees. Then, Friday evening, the Yankees announced their lineup; notably absent was Oswald Peraza. Immediately, fans were once again abuzz, but not excited this time.

The immediate question this move prompted was why call up Peraza if he wasn’t going to start playing right away? It also makes me wonder why he was playing on Thursday evening before being called up, but that doesn’t matter as much anymore. Close to game time, Bryan Hoch relayed a quote from Aaron Boone (this is going to be a running theme in this post, so thanks to Bryan Hoch for helping me here):

Sure, no one wants to put undue expectations on a young player on a floundering team. But, again, what’s the point of calling him up if he’s not going to play? If it’s just “a great opportunity for him to get up here and be in this environment,” that’s a waste of a roster spot for the club and a waste of time for the player, who’d be better served playing every day. “Some opportunities” is absurd to say. He should be getting the opportunities. Hoch had something similar from Boone earlier in the evening:

Reading this made my eyes bug out and my head spin. It was paired with this:

I get that Boone–like any manager–isn’t going to throw one of his players under the bus. But it is clear that Isiah Kiner-Falefa is not a player the Yankees should be trotting out every day. By almost any measure, he’s one of the worst shortstops in baseball. “Everything [the Yankees are] doing right now” is losing a lot and blowing their division lead over the Rays and, yes, IKF is right in the middle of that, and is, frankly, one of the causes. The organization is either unwilling or unable to face the reality that IKF is not worthy of a starting spot on a team with playoff and championship aspirations; neither of those is a good thing. But the thing that got me the most, the thing that made me the most incensed?

No set plan? NO SET PLAN?! You called up one of your top infield prospects and don’t have a plan for how and when and where he’s going to play? This reflects so incredibly poorly on Boone, on Brian Cashman, and the organization as a whole. The thinking and decision-making processes of this team are mind-boggling and, at the very least, need some deep, deep examination in this offseason, if not completely overhauled.

By calling up a player, you’re signalling that you think he can help your team. Peraza was prized enough that he wasn’t dealt for Major League help at the trade deadline, yet he’s not good enough to take the place of one of the worst regulars in MLB this year?

This is remarkably confusing, as this entire season has been for the Yankees. But one thing is clear: I’m moving closer and closer to embracing the idea that the Yankees need wholesale changes in the front office and most of the dugout (Matt Blake seems fine).

On the VF314 twitter account, I’ve cautioned about the possible post-Cashman front office. Such a front office would likely be even more beholden to Hal Steinbrenner’s self-imposed and self-defeating austerity plan than Brian Cashman is. However, after more than 20 years in charge, it is probably time to move on. Something is flawed, maybe many things, in the way the Yankees go about their business now and a new process may be needed. Whatever it is now, it isn’t working the way it should. In the past, I’ve been very willing to the give Yankees–generally a smart and well-run organization–the benefit of the doubt. But I’m not nearly as willing to do that anymore when that benefit has been squandered over much of the last year or so.

I won’t go as far to say the Yankees don’t try to win, but there’s a difference between trying to win and trying to win a championship. The Yankees do the former, but they no longer seem to do the latter. That’s likely more an ownership problem than a front office problem. But at the end of the day, the Yankees haven’t won a championship since 2009 and have stagnated in their pursuit of one over and over again. Perhaps it’s time to let someone else try under ownership’s constraints instead of Brian Cashman.

Thoughts While on the Brink

It would be insensitive to put a picture of the Doomsday Clock here, but were there a baseball version, believe me, it’s what would lead off this piece. As you all likely know by now, MLB rejected yet another proposal by the MLBPA last night and the players are, predictably, heated. I’ll get to that in a a little bit, as I do want to have a little bit of fun first, though the exercise hardly seems relevant or realistic now. But, alas, let’s at least have some sliver of optimism, right?

Saturday morning, I put out a thought exercise on the Views twitter account–as I often do. It was as follows:

Most respondents picked the third trio as the one they’d take the elite/peak performance from, trusting in the other two to be able to perform well in the randomness of baseball. Let’s take a look at what the peak of each trio would be.

The Yankees Could Really Use a Blowout Win (Or Two)

Watching the Yankees these days is exhausting, isn’t it? And not just because the offense is scuffling, something like 75% of the team has COVID or is otherwise incapacitated, and they’ve been underperforming for a calendar year. They are exhausting because the team seems allergic to playing in a blowout. Every game is a nail-biter! Consider the following statistics and facts about the 2021 Yankees:

  • They have played 62 games decided by 2 runs or less. Given that they’ve played 112 overall, such close games comprise an astounding 55% of their games this season. That is the highest amount and percentage in Major League Baseball this season.
  • Of those 62 games, about half (48%) have been one-run games.
  • While the Yankees are good in these games, going 19-11 (.633) in one-run games and 21-11 (.636) in two-run games, it is exhausting to watch. It must also be exhausting to play.
  • Unsurprisingly, they also play a lot of extra-innings games. Thirteen, in fact, going 6-7 in those games. That’s more than 10% of every game played so far.
  • By contrast, just 24 (21%) of the Yankees’ games are considered blowouts, meaning they’ve been decided by 5 or more runs in either direction. They are 12-12 in those games. Obviously, that’s bad.
  • Oddly, they’ve only had 4 blowouts since the All-Star Break: the awful 14-0 loss to Tampa, and 3 games they played against Baltimore.

Okay. So, that is a quick way to quantify something I bet we all knew already. The Yankees play a lot of close games! They don’t play in many blowouts. But this runs deeper than some fan agita. I think it has a real impact on the team. Back to the bulleted lists we go:

  • Incredibly, the Yankees have thrown 412 innings in relief this season, which ranks 15th in baseball. That’s not a lot, and it’s a lot lower than I expected it to be.
  • But they’ve also only thrown 993.2 innings overall, so just about 41% of the team’s innings have been in relief.
  • Nearly all of those innings have been high-leverage situations. In fact, the average leverage index when the Yankees bring a new pitcher into a game (so it cannot be a starter) in 2021 is 1.24. That is the highest mark in baseball by a considerable margin. (Tampa Bay is next closest, at 1.16. Tampa has also thrown the most relief innings in the league, for what it’s worth.)
  • But it’s not just the relievers who struggle here. It has to take a toll on the entire staff. Consider that the Yankees have thrown 8,907 pitches this season with the go-ahead run at the plate or on-base or with the tying run at the plate, on-base, or on-deck. That is the second most in baseball. It accounts for a ridiculous 55% of all their pitches thrown.
  • If you want to remove the last qualifier there – tying run on deck – the Yankees still fare poorly. They’ve thrown 7,717 pitches in the other scenarios, still second-most in baseball.
  • This actually gets worse. Let’s add in another qualifier, this time accounting for inning. I set the search this time to account for all of the above situations, limited to just the 7th, 8th, 9th, and extra innings. The Yanks lead the league in pitches thrown under those conditions, logging 2,530 such pitches. That’s nearly 100 more than Tampa Bay, the next closest team, and nearly 16% of their overall pitches.

Okay, let’s take a breath. There’s a lot to digest there. The takeaway is pretty clear, though. The Yankees play a lot of close games, and their pitchers are throwing A LOT of pitches in close games as a result. I think this is why we’ve seen so many blown games – there is no margin for error – and I also think it runs the risk of bullpen burnout by the end of the season. It can’t be easy to never enter a game in a laugher, and for every pitch to count even on days when you might not have it.

It also puts Aaron Boone, of whom I’ve been quite critical in 2021, in a tough position with the bullpen. We know they’re strict with usage, but this makes it even tougher. It’s not just back-to-back games or 3 out of 4 anymore. They’re almost entirely high-leverage, and thus high-stress situations. Those are more exhausting for everyone. And when a top reliever is on the shelf for a day, it means putting a worse, less capable arm in a big spot. It’s not ideal.

That’s the glass half-empty argument. The glass half-full argument is that the Yankees have been adept in these situations. They’ve won almost two-thirds of these games, and they’ve been one of the top performing pitching staffs in baseball by every metric. You could argue, and I suspect some will, that this makes the Yankees “playoff ready.” There is an element of truth to this, I am sure: playoff games are close, and it pays to have some experience in those situations.

But consider this: I am tired, and I’m sure the Yankees are too. It would be nice if they could go out and win a blowout game, maybe two. This would have more benefits than making you and I less tired. It might even help keep the team fresh in a grueling stretch – they have just two off-days between now and September 2nd. So, what do you say, Yanks? Think you can win a blowout game for us?

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