Yankee Blues: when money can’t buy success

The New York Yankees’ proud tradition of excellence has been preserved in this century only at great cost and with decidedly mixed results. Since closing out the last century with 4 WS titles in a 5 year span, New York has had to settle for just three AL titles and one WS crown in the 13 years since. A windfall for some franchises, but not for the Yankees.

As they did last year, the Yankees are again significantly outperforming their Pythagorean projection, a feat of legerdemain that can seldom be preserved for extended periods. It’s likely that the Yankee players will need to perform much better the rest of the way if New York is to avoid its first losing season since 1992. After the jump, more on what ails the Bombers.

As most of our readers are aware, the Yankees open their wallets every year and add one or two or more veteran players to replace the veterans they have decided to part ways with. While that perception might incline one to the view that there is significant turnover in the Yankee lineup each season, all the free agent signings often amount to just noise as New York has actually had fairly stable lineups, at least by today’s standards. Here are the players to log qualifying seasons at each position since 2001.

[table id=226 /]

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So, most seasons, the Yankees have had players in at least 6 positions who turned in qualifying seasons of 502 PAs. And, in many instances, they’ve had the same player repeat for at least a few seasons led, of course, by team captain and franchise icon Derek Jeter. That changed in a big way in the disaster of 2013 when injuries contributed to emergency replacements at most positions. New York is healthier this year but their lineup is sporting new regulars at 4 positions, plus Alfonso Soriano appearing in his first full season since his return to the AL. If you look closely at the table above, prior to this season there have not been more than two lineup positions in any season filled by a player in the first full season of a stint as a Yankee, much less four or five new regulars. The big turnover this year has produced very modest results thus far, with six players currently at 85 OPS+ or worse in 125+ PAs. That has resulted in a team OPS+ of only 94 and a team OPS ranked 10th of 15 AL teams. With more than one-third of the season completed, New York has compiled only 4.6 batting WAR, on track for an even worse result than last year’s 13.4 and projecting to much less than half of the 29.9 WAR in of 2012.

Part of the reason for the underwhelming results this season is the age of the Yankee roster, averaging almost 33 years a man. That, of course, is nothing new as can be seen by the table below. It’s the same table as the one above except that it only shows seasons by players before their age 30 season.

[table id=227 /]

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A rather different picture, wouldn’t you say? Yet, if filling your lineup with old guys has worked before, why not so much the last two years?  Last year, the answer was that injuries forced the Yankees to use second tier or lower players like Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells for far more innings than their performance would normally warrant. This year, two of the Yankee marquis players (McCann, Beltran) have started slowly, another (Roberts)  is of that second tier yet looks poised to top 300 PA for the first time in 5 years (probably by the A-S break), while Jeter soldiers on gamely but without showing that he is close to regaining his pre-injury form of the 2012 season.

Jeter and Ichiro have already become just the eleventh pair of teammates (excl. pitchers) with 50+ games in their age 40+ seasons, and just the 3rd pair to reach that 50 game plateau in their team’s first 65 games (the others are Ty Cobb and Eddie Collins in 1927, and Barry Bonds and Omar Vizquel in 2007). Ichiro, to his credit, has improved from a 76 OPS+ age 39 season to stand at about 100 OPS+ this season. The odds, though, are not with him to maintain that performance for the whole season as no player with a qualifying season (modern definition) of OPS+ below 80 when aged 39+ has ever had more than 99 PA in a subsequent season of 100 OPS+ (Jimmy Dykes holds that “record” with his 105 OPS+ season in 1938). Jeter’s start this season has been less auspicious and he is currently on pace to record just the eighth age 40+ qualifying season (modern definition) with OPS+ below 80. His -5 Rfield already makes the 40 worst age 40+ seasons and is tracking to finish among the worst 5 such seasons with an Rfield total below -14.

So, that’s what ails this year’s team. More generally, though, what distinguishes the past two Yankee seasons from the others of this century is the absence of a core of two or three elite-level players, previously provided by Jeter, A-Rod, Cano and Posada. But that elite core is gone and, as the Yankees themselves have shown, free agency nearly always serves to just complement such a core, not to create one where none exists.

The coming departures of Jeter and Ichiro (and A-Rod) will free up more roster spots for the Yankees. Question is, will they continue to fill them with age 30+ veterans commanding mega-millions. Or will they perhaps adopt the model of most other teams by introducing capable younger players like rookie Yangervis Solarte. I said younger rather than just young as Solarte’s 26 years will most likely significantly limit his long-term value. Still, the Yankees will take what he has to offer as Solarte is on pace to become just the 7th Yankee rookie with a qualifying 120 OPS+ season, and the first since Thurman Munson in 1970. Even just keeping his OPS+ at 100 would make Solarte just the fourth such Yankee rookie since Munson, following Jeter, Cano and Hideki Matsui. How many more players like Solarte the Yankees will be able to field remains to be seen.

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20 Comments on "Yankee Blues: when money can’t buy success"

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David P
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Yankees have scored 4 or fewer runs in 11 straight games, their longest such streak since a 12 game streak in 1991.

Voomo Zanzibar
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What’s all the more alarming is that Solarte is only getting a shot because they half-unexpectedly lost both the their 2B and 3B during the offseason.

While they are doing a halfway-decent job at developing pitchers, 5 of their 8 position players (and 4 of their backups) are free agents. Meaning, guys with a marquee name that got big Yankee money when they were past their prime.

I’ve despised their business model since 2001, and yet I am life-committed to scanning the scores with tension/hope 162 days a year. Ugh.

brp
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I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of sympathy as a Yankee fan. The two teams I follow regularly have never even appeared in a WS in my lifetime.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

_______

Right right right right right.
Those of us born in The Bronx don’t deserve sympathy.
I think I heard that one before.

Luckily for me, I’m not reaching out on the internet in “Voomo” persona seeking sympathy.

I do, however, have an endless fountain of sympathy for you brp, for being aligned with chronically crappy baseball teams. Insert smiley face emoticon.

brp
Guest

I didn’t say you don’t deserve it, just that you probably aren’t going to get it.

Find the upside to lean years: they kill off fairweather fans.

mosc
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so… I don’t get it. The point is the yankees should be using more replacement to average level home-grown young players? That would make them a better team? Or are we just in a different universe where above average major leaguers under the age of 30 can be had for peanuts. Like, if they had just traded away Cano for say, Darwin Barney or Gordon Beckham as last year’s trade deadline ended they’d be in better shape now. The cardinals are supposed to be the antithesis of the yankees strategy right? You think they’re sticking with Kolten Wong instead of… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
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That all makes sense. But where the Yanx seem to have lost the thread is in OVER-relying on buying the proven talent. And the team gets older and older. Is Zoilo Almonte ever going to be Carlos Beltran? Probably not, but we’ll never know, not in pinstripes at least. Is Carlos Beltran ever going to be Carlos Beltran? Definitely not. __________ And it doesn’t matter how rich the team is, the fanbase in every city wants homegrown players. The Yankees have a place called Monument Park devoted to the concept. The 2014 Yankee lineup has Brett Gardner and the ghost… Read more »
mosc
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2009 they brought in Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett out of the main 14 (9 bats and 5 starters). Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and even a returned from Houston Andy Pettitte were all recent acquisitions as well. Together they make up 8 of the 14 regulars. Considering the 5th starter spot was a complete hodgepodge (13 regulars), they really only had Jeter, Posada, Melky, Cano, and Jobba as your 5 traditionally grown up regulars. I’d also point out that even two of those guys were international free agents which is a real different system today.… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
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Right, one World Series.
One out of the last 13 years.

After moving away from a system that won 4 out of 5.

And I’m speaking to what works, but also to what feels good as a fan. Something about free agents doesnt feel as good as homegrown.
Or players traded-for players, for that matter.

In 2000, the Yankees had 5 homegrown position starters,
aged 26-31 at the End of the championship run.

And 4 who were traded for.

Their ages when acquired:
31 Brosius
30 O’Nneill
29 Knobs
28 Tino

Brendan Bingham
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On outperforming Pythag… This year it seems the Yankees have the perfect recipe for pulling off this feat: below average hitting and wildly variable quality among their starting pitchers. When Tanaka pitches, the team almost always wins, but often by only a slender margin. When Kuroda or one of their three fill-ins starts (thanks to injuries to 60% of their expected rotation), wins are much less frequent, and a blow-out loss is not an unusual outcome. As a result, the team is now three games above .500, despite having scored 25 runs less than they have allowed.

mosc
Guest

Starting pitching variations are the reason pythagorean run totals don’t always work. As I frequently complain about with Koufax, the marginal value of a run varies greatly depending on the scoring environment. You take the value of a run when a number 5 starter is out there vs the value of a run when a number 1 starter is out there and they’re going to be quite different. I agree, the perfect storm for pythagorean imbalance is having really good and really bad starters while facing less variation yourself.

oneblankspace
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Major League Début teams for Yankees with their numbers retired: 1 Mgr B.Martin — Twins, as mgr 3 B. Ruth — Red Sox 4 L. Gehrig — Yankees 5 J. DiMaggio — Yankees 7 M. Mantle — Yankees 8 B. Dickey — Yankees 8 Y. Berra — Yankees 9 R. Maris — Indians 10 P. Rizzuto — Yankees 15 T. Munson — Yankees 16 W. Ford — Yankees 23 D. Mattingly — Yankees 32 E. Howard — Yankees 37 Mgr Casey Stengel — Dodgers as mgr 42 M. Rivera — Yankees 42 J. Robinson — Dodgers 44 Re. Jackson —… Read more »
Mike L
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The Yankees began to change philosophy from what rebuilt them in the 1990s after the 2001 season. They stopped looking for valuable players, like O’Neill, Brosius, and even Tino when they first traded for him, and started looking for superstars. The problem for them was that the extra cost, both in players in a trade and in raw dollars and contract years, didn’t justify the incremental step up in performance. The Giambi deal was an example. Giamb was clearly better than a 32 year old Tino, but Tino still was a productive player. They could probably have signed Tino for… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

No reports of Ichiro injured today.

Alfonso Soriano in Right Field vs Mark Buehrle.
Ichiro on the bench.

vs Mark B:

Ichiro. 59 PA
Soriano.47 PA

Ichiro
.421 .424 .474 .897

Soriano
.200 .213 .422 .635

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

……..Reverse hex activated!
Soriano with a ribby single in his first at bat.
!
!
!
!
Well done Voomo.
Guess this is why Girardi is wearing the pinstriped executive jockstrap.

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