Friday, June 15, 2007

The Uprising of the Yankees

By Rich Lyons

Going into their series with the Red Sox on June 1, the Yankees were 13 1/2 games back behind Boston in the AL East, and another seven games behind the Tigers in the AL wildcard. Now, after one series and one fateful home run by Alex Rodriguez, it appears as though the Yankees have begun to make their inevitable climb towards the top of the division. Everyone in Red Sox Nation now has to adjust their rear-view mirrors because the once-dead Bombers are starting to win again, which is something that everyone, especially the first-place Sox, have begun to take notice.

After splitting the first two games of the Boston series, the Yankees were at the crossroads of their season. Sure, it's only June, but still, there are certain holes that some teams, even the mighty Yankees, cannot dig themselves out of. If New York had lost on that Sunday night, they would have found themselves down 14 1/2, and although the season is early, their ambitions of winning their 10th consecutive division title would have been all but lost, and probably would have seen them be relegated to contending for the wildcard against about six other teams. But then the Yankee magic once again found its way to the diamond, and from that home run, those "dead" Yankees have found new life.

Since their win last Sunday, New York has been on a tear. After their improbable comeback against two of the Sox's best relievers (Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon), the Yankees continued on their road trip, and promptly beat the White Sox in three out of four games at U.S. Cellular. Upon returning home, their schedule eased up considerably by facing the lowly Pirates at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks outscored the Bucs 27-13 in their three-game sweep, which added onto their season-high nine-game winning streak. Along with this, the deficit is now at 7½ in the East, the first time Boston's lead in the East has been under double-digits since May 17.

There are a few factors that have lead to the Yankees' sudden transformation. The most striking has to be that the Yanks have been able to stay away from their biggest weakness, the bullpen, and instead have relied on their offense to carry the bulk of the load. When you think about salary allocation, it makes sense that the focus of the last couple of offseasons has been on acquiring offense, and trying to rely on applying a patchwork starting rotation and bullpen as an attempt to try and keep them in the game for as long as possible. Here is a look at the 2007 salary figures for both the starting lineup and their pitching staff for this season:

Starting lineup:
1	Johnny Damon		$13,000,000
2	Derek Jeter		$21,600,000
3	Bobby Abreu		$13,000,000
4	Alex Rodriguez		$27,708,525
5	Jason Giambi		$23,428,571
6	Hideki Matsui		$13,000,000
7	Jorge Posada		$12,000,000
8	Robinson Cano		$490,800
9	Josh Phelps		$600,000
	Total:			$124,827,896
			
Starting pitching:	
1	Mike Mussina		$11,070,423
2	Carl Pavano		$10,000,000
3	Andy Pettitte		$16,000,000
4	Chien-Ming Wang		$489,500
5	Kei Igawa		$4,000,000
6	Darrell Rasner		$384,523
7	Jeff Karstens		$389,495
8	Tyler Clippard*		$380,0001
9	Phillip Hughes*		$380,0001
10	Roger Clemens		$17,629,6302
	Total:			$62,989,554
			
Bullpen:		
MR	Scott Proctor		$445,923
MR	Kyle Farnsworth		$5,666,667
MR	Luis Viscaino		$3,000,000
MR	Brian Bruney		$395,545
MR	Mike Myers		$1,250,000
CL	Mariano Rivera		$10,500,000
	Total:			$21,258,135
			
	Total Pitching Salaries: $84,247,689

*Because Clippard and Hughes both came up through the minors, and their salaries are unknown, I simply put the player minimum as their salary.

Note: Salary is pro-rated from $28,000,000; the amount of games calculated is 102.

So, after this analysis, I calculated that the Yankees have allocated 60% of their total 2007 payroll to their starting lineup, which does not even account for any bench players they have. Also, I included every pitcher who has started for the Yankees this year and their bullpen, yet those numbers still come up short in comparison to just their starting nine. Now, here are the numbers for the division-leading Red Sox:

Starting lineup:		
1	Julio Lugo		$8,250,000
2	Kevin Youkilis		$424,500
3	David Ortiz		$13,250,000
4	Manny Ramirez		$17,016,381
5	J.D. Drew		$14,400,000
6	Mike Lowell		$9,000,000
7	Jason Varitek		$11,000,000
8	Coco Crisp		$3,833,333
9	Dustin Pedroia		$380,000
	Total:			$77,554,214
			
Starting pitching:		
1	Curt Schilling		$13,000,000
2	Josh Beckett		$6,666,667
3	Daisuke Matsuzaka	$6,333,333
4	Tim Wakefield		$4,000,000
5	Julian Tavarez		$3,350,000
6	Matt Clement		$9,500,000
	Total:			$42,850,000
			
Bullpen:		
MR	Joel Piniero		$4,000,000
MR	Mike Timlin		$2,800,000
MR	Brendan Donnelly	$1,400,000
MR 	Hideki Okajima		$1,225,000
MR	Kyle Snyder		$535,000
MR	Javier Lopez		$402,500
CL	Jonathan Papelbon	$425,500
	Total:			$10,788,000
			
	Total Pitching Salaries: $53,638,000

Despite the Sox paying little-to-nothing for their bullpen help, and grossly underpaying for the services of Papelbon, arguably the game's best closer, percentage-wise, the Red Sox spend more on pitching than the Yankees do (40.88% to 40.30%). This all means that the Yankees rely heavily on their bats, even more so than the Red Sox, so when their bats were running cold, it's a fair indicator of how the team will fare.

From May 10th to May 30th, the Yankees went 6-12, and their bats cooled considerably. In that time, the team average dropped by nine points (.281 to .272), their on base percentage dropped by 12 points (.361 to .349), and their OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) dropped 20 points (.795 to .775). This translated into a drastic change in the amount of runs produced. Going into May 10th, the Yanks were averaging 5.8 runs per game, but in those 18 games, the Yankees only averaged 4.2 runs, and saw their season mark fall to 5.2 runs an outing. In mentioning this, it also can be noted that the Yankees' pitching actually improved over this same length of time. The team ERA dropped from 4.80 to 4.62.

It's an easy thing to say that the Yankees had a "grueling" schedule over that stretch, and you would be right in assuming so (the opposition they faced in that period are a combined 45 games over .500 compared to the teams they played before, who are just 14 games over .500), but in saying that, there is no way of justifying why their hitting went down and their pitching improved. Over that stretch, they had all of their most talented hitters in the lineup, with the exception of Jason Giambi, who sat out a few games because of his on-going heel problem, and yet their ERA went down even when they were pitching with spare parts (Wang, Pavano, and Mussina were all on the DL at this time).

Now let's further break down the problems of the offense and how they have been able to right the ship after the Red Sox series. There is no way of getting around it, Alex Rodriguez is the best player in baseball, and when he does not show up, the Yankees are going to be in for some serious trouble. Here are some of the splits he has this season:

Period			AVG	HR	RBI	OBP	OPS
April 1-May 9		.352	15	39	.428	1.212
May 10-May 30		.186	4	6	.313	.699
June 1-June 10		.371	5	18	.511	1.368

Granted, A-Rod got off to one of the best starts in major league history, but he is still the game's highest paid player, so he should probably play like he doesn't have an equal. A-Rod, like him or not, is the catalyst of the Yankee offense. Sure, they did great things without him, but this is now his fourth season with New York, believe it or not, and he has become engraved into the cleanup spot, and the Yankees go if A-Rod goes. It's as simple as that.

Guys like Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter are having career years at the plate so far, but the Yankees were not winning, and in my approximation, it was not due to the fact that the schedule was difficult. These are the Yankees, the supposed best team in baseball, with the highest payroll, and, basically, unlimited sources to get the best players in the game. So if the schedule is tough at certain points, it is still no excuse for a team to play six games under .500 for 18 games.

Another reason that the Yankees could possibly be turning the corner this year is their bullpen. Take a look at the relievers on the roster and what their numbers have been like over the past few months:

		IP	ERA		WHIP 		OBA

Scott Proctor
April: 14 5.14 1.43 0.235
May-June: 18.2 2.41 1.22 0.194

Kyle Farnsworth
April: 9.1 5.79 1.71 0.270
May-June: 16 4.50 1.56 0.266

Brian Bruney
April: 13.1 2.70 1.05 0.170
May-June: 14.2 1.84 1.50 0.224

Luis Viscaino
April: 14 5.79 1.57 0.196
May-June: 16 7.31 1.88 0.300

Mike Myers
April: 10.2 1.69 1.13 0.162
May-June: 15.2 3.45 1.34 0.300

Mariano Rivera
April: 7.2 10.57 1.94 0.333
May-June: 16.1 1.10 0.81 0.193

You have to appreciate the differences in the numbers, especially of those of their best relievers: Proctor, Bruney, and Rivera. This is especially true about Rivera. Here is my opinion on why he has become so effective: at the beginning of the season, the Yankees were so scared about overworking Rivera that they did not use him unless it was absolutely necessary. It has to be tough for a guy to go that many innings in between appearances to really get into any kind of groove, and so, his work suffered.

Now that Mo has been able to get some work in, he has been lights out over the past month and a half. Rivera had just one save in April, and blew two others. That has to get to someone's confidence, even if he is one of the best of all time. Since then, he has gone 1-1, and in save opportunities, is six-for-six.

Bruney has become increasingly reliable over the same time, and has really taken some of the load off of Proctor, whose 33 appearances is just one behind the league leaders (Chad Bradford and Shawn Camp). So what was once the biggest weakness has become a strength, especially when taking leads into the late innings.

However, this only deals with the best arms the Yanks have. When you look at the others, Myers, Viscaino, and Farnsworth, you're talking about guys who come in early when the starters can't go deep into games. A complimentary item to the bullpen will be the amount of innings that the starters can give them before they have to start digging into the bullpen. With Roger Clemens now on board, the Yankees trot out a rotation comprised of Clemens, Mussina, Pettitte, Wang, and Clippard, or whoever will be able to fill-in the fifth starter's role.

The Yankees are now attempting to make a surge, and in doing so, they are hoping they won't relapse into what was one of the worst stretches in recent history for the Bombers. The keys are Alex Rodriguez and the bullpen. If these one of the two, or both, start to deteriorate as the season goes on, the Yankees will have no chance to make the postseason. Although this team is full of talented guys, it all comes down to those two key items for the Yankees to make a serious run.

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