The Yankees 1965 Redux II May 21, 2012

Here we are with 25% of the season now in the books. Who would have thought that the helpless Mets would have a better record than the Yanks and are playing better ball with a makeshift lineup, with injuries to their catcher, centerfielder and shortstop?

Meanwhile, getting back to that old adage from the late great Connie Mack, that “pitching is 90% of baseball,” for sure the Yankees don’t have it. Aside from the loss of Mariano and Robertson, which normally could be fatal to a contender, their starters are rarely putting the Yanks in position to close a game. Their starters ERAs can’t excite anyone: Nova-5.80, Hughes- 5-23, Kuroda- 4.50, Sabathia 3.78, Garcia -8.27 and the “rookie,” Andy Pettitte at 2.51.

But if that wasn’t bad enough, just look at their hitting, it stinks. Other than Jeter who started hot as a firecracker and has cooled off the last three week, at least he is still batting .347 with 14 XBHs. But, what of the others? ARod is batting .270 with 9 XBHs (extra base hits) with 31 Ks out of 148 Abs. Even Granderson, who is an excellent outfielder, and has been hitting homeruns at fierce pace, has fanned 46 out of 158 ABs. That is a horrendous pace of almost 30%. Russell Martin, who cannot hit, is currently batting .168 with 7 XBHs and has struck out 25% of the time. Andruw Jones, batting .220 has also struck out 22 times in 59 ABs. Teixiera, though under the weather, and currently on the bench, has continued his weak hitting from last year with a .226 BA and 13 XBHs, The only bright stops have been Swisher, Ibanez and Chavez. Without Ibanez 27 RBIs coming from his 30 hits, the Yanks would really be embarrassing.

Since my letter of 4/15, Nunez’s fielding finally caused him to be optioned out to the minor leagues, Gardner is still injured, and the Yanks went from 13-11 to 21-20. They have lost their bullpen and have to depend on Soriano, who at least has had some decent experience as a closer. Again, the Yanks aren’t moving any runners, cannot hit in the clutch, and cannot hit with men on bases, especially with 2 outs. Most of their runs come on homeruns with no one on base. ARod is one of the worst offenders. When did he have a “key” hit? I have little confidence in the boring style of their dull and uninspiring (to me) manager. They do have Lou Piniella in the waiting, and stranger things have happened.

So the rest of the season is ahead of them, and yes, there is time left to be competitive, but they did go through a long stretch with weaker teams featuring fair to mediocre pitching and they hit badly. I sense it will get worse before it gets better.

Speaking of baseball attendance, times have changed in NYC over the last few years. The Yankees are averaging 41.4K per game (5th in MLB). This is a pace of 3.3 million fans per year. But there are rarely 41K in the ballpark and that figure reflects many season tickets sold, and many other seats sold at a deep discount from Stub Hub. The across town Mets are averaging 27.7K per game and are currently at a pace to sell 2.23 million seats. If those figures hold, they will draw 5.5 million souls. The halcyon days of 3-4 years ago, with larger stadiums, are a fading memory, when the Yanks and Mets drew over 8 million fans. Of course, if the Yanks and Mets fade from making a run at the playoffs, the numbers could turn a lot uglier. The Mets have 62 games left and if their attendance falls 20% over those games, they will draw a shade under 2 million. (1.99.) The Yanks have 59 games left, and if their attendance also falls off 20%, they will draw under 3 million (2.953). That would mean NY baseball would draw under 5 million fans. That would represent a significant decline of interest and a reason to lower ticket prices, to re-attract fans. But, the Yanks, with an aging team and huge payroll obligations on the books, would be forced to eat more contracts, pay more penalties, and go further into the “red” with the risky free agent market. Maybe they can bailout the LAA and get Pujols cheap! He’s batting .211 with 11 XBHs.

So stay tuned! Maybe the Yanks have bottomed, and their stars will start to earn their inflated salaries and make things exciting. But don’t bet on it.

The Yankees: 1965 Redux?
April 15, 2012
Richard J. Garfunkel

I spent a very lovely afternoon yesterday at the new Yankee Stadium. My friend Tom Kochman and I took the Hudson Line RR from tarrytown to 153rd Street in the Bronx; the Yankee Stop, for the remarkable price of $4.50 for a round trip ducat. For those who have not taken a train ride down the Hudson, it is an experience filled with picturesque vistas of the Tappan Zee, the Palisades, and the Spuyten Duvvil which is at the confluence of the Hudson and North Rivers. One can also see Columbia University’s famous Baker Field, Wein Stadium, and sometimes the Light Blue’s oarsmen as they move their 8’s oared shells into the churning waters of what the Iroquois Indians called the Great Mohegan.

Yankee Stadium, the world’s largest cash register, usually attracts between 43 and 46 thousand fans to each and every game. One can have the pleasure of paying $40 to park, $9.50 for a beer, $10 for a program, and $8 for a pale of popcorn. To give one even greater perspective, two Nathan’s dogs, two French fries and two cokes cost $36 and that isn’t wampum. It wouldn’t have been that bad if the Yankees played some interesting and inspiring baseball. They didn’t.

Of course, as the great Connie Mack said, long ago, “pitching is 90% baseball.” But that was in the dead ball era. Of course, looking at the baseball power numbers, in the wake of a few years after the Steroid Era, we may be entering another era of “small ball,” or weak offensive production. Home runs and batting averages are way down from the halcyon “juice ball” era that spawned Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Manny Sosa, Jason Giambi, Mike Pizza, Alex Rodriguez and other faux strong boys. The days of “household” names like Andruw Jones (He really spells it that way), Brady Anderson , Luis Gonzales, Greg Vaughn and Albert Belle hitting 50 homers again (they actually accomplished that rare feat) are long over.

Well the Yankees did not get “good” pitching from former wunderkind Phil Hughes and they faced good pitching from the Angels’ CJ Wilson. Hughes, who was 18-10 in 2010 with a very mediocre 4.19 ERA, and great run support (the best in the Majors) did nothing last year. He spent time on the disable list with a “dead arm,” had two stints in the minors and on Saturday he was cuffed around for 6 runs in 4 innings. Everyone raves about his “stuff” this year, especially the Angels who hit balls all over the lot. The “Blankies” looked tired. It certainly wasn’t cold weather that froze their bats, but CJ Wilson, a 31 year old veteran recently liberated from Texas via free agency.

Yes, it is very early in the season, but what can we really expect from ARod, Teixeira, Martin, and an aging pitching staff? Sabathia got crunched in the playoffs last years with 6.23 ERA in three games, after he wilted in September. Freddie Garcia is 35, newly acquired Hiroka Kuroda is 36, Mariano Rivera will be 43 in the late Fall, young Michael Pineda is on the DL, and Andy Pettitte, who, like Lazarus who rose from the dead, is 42 years young. Do they really have to depend on a Senior Citizen for pitching? Hopefully Ivan Nova will continue to impress, but he had a horrible spring.

Derek Jeter is fine, but he’s already peaked, and few 37 year old shortstops have ever even started for a Major League Club. Will Granderson repeat or was his 2011 season, a career year performance? Gardner shows me very little with his bat or on the base paths. Can the Yankees afford a 260 hitting outfielder with 7 homeruns, who is dividing his “picket” duty with Andruw Jones, who is an old 34, cannot run, and in 190 at bats hit only .247 with 8 doubles and 13 homeruns, while facing only left handed pitching. He’s way over the hill to platoon, no less start. Russell Martin cannot hit. He is a career .267 hitter, who hit only .237 last year and that was after a very fast start and a terrific April. He was horrible the rest of the year. Only Teixeira was more disappointing with a .246 batting average. He seems to have forgotten how to hit leftie. But here’s the rub, when you take out his better, but much fewer right handed at bats, he hit only .224 as a left handed batter. No big-time, starting Yankee first baseman has been that bad since before Wally Pipp (1915) who preceded Lou Gehrig. (Pipp did have bad season in 1925 when he was replaced by Gehrig and Joe Collins in the 1950’s as a part timer, had some rotten seasons also.) So we have left Nick Swisher and Alex Rodriguez. Nick is a decent right fielder and an underrated defensive outfielder. We are now left with Alex Rodriguez, who is 36 and has spent plenty of time on the disabled list the last four years. In fact, he has missed 150 games in the last four years as he has weaned himself off the “juice.” His numbers are way off his “salad” years before 2008.

So the big question is whether 2012 is going to be a repeat of 1965 when that latest incarnation of the Yankee Dynasty, which had been in high gear since 1947, started to unravel. Everyone on that team got “old” all of a sudden and the team with new ownership started to flounder. In the post “Boss” Steinbrenner Era, will history repeat itself? Will the next generation of Steinbrenners get bored with the team and eventually take the money and run? Of course, it is still early and anything can happen. Just look at the Mets.

Now we have reached the merry month of May, the Yankees are 13-11 and wallowing in 5th place. Jeter is playing well, Swisher had a great start and is injured and Gardener has been on the DL for weeks. ARod is hitting .267 with very little power and no clutch hitting. Teixeira is hitting .226 with little power and Martin is hitting .150. I never expected much from these three, but what happened to Cano? He’ll come on, but can he, Granderson and Jeter carry this team? Jones is hitting .167 and should be released. Ibanez, Nunez and Chavez have their own problems. Nunez has proven that he cannot field where ever he plays and Chavez and Ibanez are spot players. But without pitching, how can any team contend? The bullpen is being worn down already and Garcia and Hughes do not seem to be able to win a game. Andy Pettitte may have some short term effectiveness, but I doubt he’s a game changer. Ivan Nova, who was quite lucky with his unbeaten streak, but he cannot depend on six runs a game forever. When the traditional bottom dwelling O’s shut you out on five hits, there is very little any pitcher can do. So the next few weeks are the test. They have a relatively easy schedule which continues with KC, the plucky Tampa Bay team and Seattle. They better start hitting or it will be a long summer of discontent.

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