A Postmortem

October 26, 2010 – 3:31 pm

Seems to me that before you can start talking about what the Yankees need to accomplish during the off-season, you first need to come to some kind of conclusion about exactly what happened over the last six weeks of the season.  Do you look at the last of the season as an aberration and the first four months or so as the true representation of how good this team really is?  Or was the last month or so indicative of something more than just a “bad streak” and something else was going on?  I think that’s a key issue, as the 2010 team up until August was actually performing better than the 2009 team, which clearly was a very, very good team.  Here’s a month by month comparison:

2009 vs. 2010

At the end of July of this year, the Yankees were actually four games better than the 2009 team (66-37 vs. 62-41), and this was even in spite of the East being stronger as a whole than the previous year.  But then they had a mediocre August followed by the disaster in September, and ended up finishing eight games worse than the 2009 team.  And remember that in 2009, they were pretty much on cruise control the last 2-3 weeks whereas in 2010 the division race went down to the last day.  Add it all up and you see just how ugly the collapse was.

There are lots of explanations that you can use to discount what happened.  Andy Pettitte went on the DL in mid-July and missed two critical months there.  Clearly that hurt.  Add to that A.J. Burnett’s crash and burn — through July he had an acceptable ERA of 4.52, but for the remainder of the season his ERA was 6.61.  So basically they went two months without a No. 2 or No. 3 pitcher.  Then there were all the minor injuries to Mark Teixeira that surely starting taking their toll, as he only hit .194 over the last month, some seventy points below his season average up to that point.  And of course, there was his oh-fer in the ALCS, going 0-for-14.

But then there are also a lot of arguments that can be made for the opposite point, that what we saw over the last part of the season is actually pretty representative of where this team is right now.  Probably the biggest is that age is starting to catch up with a lot of the veterans, and that’s certainly a factor that’s just going to get worse.  Jorge Posada’s 2010 BA was .027 off his career average, Derek Jeter was off by .044, and Alex Rodriguez was off by .033.  As much as all the talk seems to have centered around Posada and Jeter, it’s actually A-Rod who has now had declining offensive numbers for the past three years.   As far as the pitching goes, Phil Hughes’ numbers steadily declined over the course of the season.  Is Hughes never going to develop in to a top pitcher, or is his 5.04 ERA over the last month indicative of what his long-term value is?

My take is that offensively, I don’t think things are as bad as the last part of the season and particularly the ALCS would indicate.  I have to believe a healthy Mark Teixeira makes all the difference in the world, and I want to believe that Derek Jeter at least will have a bounce-back year, because if nothing else he is Derek Jeter!  And even if the offense “as is” ends up being not quite as strong next year, heck, there’s room to give, as the Yankees led the AL in runs per game this year (5.30) by a whopping margin (Boston was second at 5.05).  So if they do fall off some there, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

The pitching, though, is a totally different matter.  I don’t think there’s much to be concerned about with CC Sabathia as the No. 1 starter, but beyond that?  If Andy Pettitte returns and if he pitches anywhere close to the way he did this year and if he can stay healthy, then yes, he’s a solid No. 2.  But there are a whole lot of very big “ifs” there.  Then in the No. 3 slot is young Phil Hughes.  If his poor performance over the last half of the season is nothing more than the trials and tribulations of a young pitcher developing in to a top-notch pitcher, then there’s no need for concern there.  But again, there’s that “if” word — although in Hughes’ case it’s not near as problematic as it is for Pettitte.  And finally in the No. 4 slot is the totally unpredictable A.J. Burnett.  Can he at least return to the level of inconsistency he had in 2009, or is what we saw in 2010 what we are going to get for the next three years?

So basically what you have as far as pitching goes are a lot of very big question marks.  Thus I would think that starting pitching will be the number one priority in the off-season.  Do we need someone the caliber of Cliff Lee?  My reaction is no, particularly not for the money it would take.  But bringing in a couple of pitchers that are legitimate No. 2 or No. 3 starters should be a priority for sure.

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