Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Underdogs (or Lack Thereof), 2000-'04 (and some other stuff)

I was going to elaborate on the Yankees rookie and underdog situation from 2000-2004 today, but I realized that I’ll just go into some longwinded tirade about what happened during those years that pissed me off. I did this a few weeks ago, and it seems I’m slipping into the same rhetoric again. I think it is important to underline the rookies and underdogs that helped the Yanks win four World Series Titles, and I think I’ve illustrated that.

Suffice it to say that the Yankees weren’t teeming with underdogs come the 2000 season, when most of the guys on the team were part of the “core.” Outside of said core, there was David Justice, who made Jake Westbrook worth trading, as he hit a stellar .305/.391/.585, 20 HR in the second half with the Yanks. Another unsung hero from 2000 was Glenallen Hill, who in 132 at bats hit .333/.378/.736 with 16 dingers. Extrapolate those 16 homers over a 500 at bat season, and you’ve got 60 long fly balls.

You may notice that in the years the Yanks won the title, they had underdogs aplenty, or at least a heavy duty core of players in tact. 2001 left the Yanks with mainly their core guys, infiltrated only by Soriano after Knoblauch did his Giambi impression at second and was moved to left field. And it’s not like Soriano was anything special that year, either. So with an aging core, the Yankees couldn’t pull the final string, and ended up losing the Series in 7.

Gone are Brosius, O’Neill, Knoblauch, and Tino in ’02, and gone are the Yankees from the World Series. Let’s do the math here: take away three core players, add Giambi (though Soriano can be considered an addition by his improvement, .300/.332/.547, 39 HR, 41 SB, though he showed his true colors while chasing that 40th homer), and can you really expect to win?

It was more the swapping of Rondell White for Hideki Matsui in left that was cause for the Yankees to return to the World Series in 2003 than the rookies and underdogs. Though, Nick Johnson – not truly a rookie but his first full year in the bigs – hit .284/.422/.472, which was just good enough to entice the Montreal Expos in the Javy Vazquez deal. And Karim Garcia did his part, hitting .305/.342/.457 over 151 AB. If nothing else, he earned his moniker, Fat Giambi (come on, you can see the resemblance), during the process.

And finally 2004, where Miguel Cairo was definitely an underdog. The guy came into Spring Training as the backup to Enrique Wilson. But Miguel came through, hitting .292/.346/.417 in 360 AB in the two and nine spots, making his departure after the season mind boggling (though I’m not complaining, because it inadvertently led to the discovery of Cano).

There you have it, folks. The Yankees rookies and underdogs from 1996 through 2004. Notice the trend? The years we won, there were quite a few more of those guys than in the latter years, where George would check the All-Star team from two years prior and try to nab those guys. Before I finish this thought, I’ll make my implication a little more explicit.

The 2005 Yanks had the underdogs and rookies. Cano, Want, Chacon, Small, and if you want to just look at September, Bubba Crosby. Accordingly, I expected more from this team because of it. But in order for the underdogs and rookies to work effectively, they have to be supplements to the core players. As I said in the opening paragraph on Monday, I define the 2005 Yanks with these guys, which may have been the problem.

And, as expected, all of these factors will play into my off-season column, which will come after the conclusion of the World Series.

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There are a few news items I’d like to comment on. The first is concerning A-Rod, which is always a hoot. New York Daily News writer Lloyd Grove is reporting that A-Rod was seen dancing and partying with friends, some of whom were female, at a club in Chelsea.

Grove implies that this is inappropriate, given the recent development that A-Rod’s “dog” performance in the ALDS may have been due to grief over his recently deceased uncle. This is because Grove believes the standard mourning period following a relative’s death is 18 weeks, and A-Rod should know that.

Seriously, though, the guy has been through a sh-tstorm lately, with the passing of his uncle compounded with his dogged performance that led to the Yankees exiting the playoffs a tad early. And since both events took place over a week ago, it only seems natural that A-Rod would come out of mourning and use alcohol to help kill the remains of the pain.

Sure, I would have rather seen him out with Jeter, Cano, Chacon, and Sheffield (MAN, I’d want to party with those guys!), but A-Rod is A-Rod, and part of that territory means not getting along with your teammates. My implicit concern with this article is not that A-Rod is using a depressant to chase the blues away, but that he still might not “get it.” Humble yourself, A-Rod; it will go a long away in attaining that ring you supposedly want so badly.

The other news bit is an obvious one, the Yanks run at Leo Mazzone, which proved futile yesterday. I’ve been going nuts over the situation ever since it became a news item back in June or July, reading everything imaginable about Mazzone and concluding that he’s the guy for the job. Alas, he’s Baltimore bound, and the Yanks are still without a pitching coach.

It seems, though, that he main things that Mazzone does differently than most pitching coaches is that he 1) tells guys when they’re throwing like crap, but emphasizes the good pitches over that crappy span and 2) has guys throw two side sessions between starts rather than one. He regulates these sessions by physically standing there and monitoring the pitcher, making sure he doesn’t overthrow.

Logical question: why can’t everyone do this, as it seems to be a method that, you know, works. People’s insistence that their way is the right way baffles me when some one else has proven more successful. Though, anyone who has read Moneyball knows that it’s not a simple task to change the minds of baseball people.

So the Yanks need a pitching coach. How about Billy Connors? He’s supposedly the team’s pitching “guru,” whatever the hell that means. But if he works such wonders with guys like Jaret Wright, why doesn’t he just come up to New York for the summer and help the team directly? It doesn’t make sense, to me, to have your best pitching guy down in Tampa, not directly working with the team’s pitching staff.

On a closing note: bring Cashman back. That is all.