Why Yankees' Lack of Clutch Gene Will Lead to Another First-Round Knockout
What makes the New York Yankees special?
There are probably hundreds of different answers to that question, and rightfully so. People can hate on the Yankees all they want (and they do), but nobody can deny that the organization is nothing, if not, special.
One thing everyone can agree on no matter which side of the fence they stand on is that the a big part of the general legend of the Yankees is the organization's clutch gene. Yankee teams through the ages have always displayed an uncanny ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Being hard to kill is a longstanding Yankee tradition.
But not this year. The Yankees' characteristic clutch gene is missing from the 2012 club. When the going has gotten tough, they've wilted in ways we're not used to seeing from Yankees clubs.
Everyone should be well aware of the key (see "damning") numbers by now. The Bombers rank 18th in MLB with a .246 team batting average with runners in scoring position, a significant drop from the .273 average they posted in such situations last season. In order to score runs, they need the long ball like they've never needed it before.
That's as good a sign as any that the Yankees are less clutch than they usually are. Another one is the fact that they're 0-37 when trailing after eight innings, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
The Yankees don't tend to put up much of a fight in the ninth inning. Per Baseball-Reference.com, they're hitting just .183/.265/.374 in the ninth as a team, with 12 home runs and 25 RBI. In late and close situations in general, they're hitting .258/.340/.452 as a team.
It boils down to this: if you have a lead on the Yankees heading into the late innings, the game is basically over.
None of this bodes well for the Yankees as they prepare to tackle the postseason for the 17th time in the last 18 years. Clutch hits, and indeed clutch play in general, are of paramount importance come October. This Yankees team has given little indication that it is capable of such heroics.
If you think that a clutch gene can be randomly conjured when October rolls around, think again. Something like that can't be developed overnight.
The 2009 Yankees can vouch. As Yankee fans well remember, the '09 team was remarkably clutch during the postseason, playing their best baseball when the games got into the later innings. Game 2 of the ALDS comes to mind, as does Game 2 of the ALCS and Game 4 of the World Series. Alex Rodriguez, who had entered the postseason with a reputation of being a late-inning weakling, did the bulk of the damage late in games.
In retrospect, that the Yankees played so well late in games on their way to their 27th World Series title isn't much of a shock. It was something they practiced quite a bit during the regular season.
As always, Baseball-Reference.com has the key numbers. As a team, the 2009 Yankees hit .323/.401/.541 in the ninth inning. They hit .316/.403/.542 in late and close situations. They hit .285/.357/.502 when they were behind in games. Ultimately, they finished seventh in MLB with a .272 average with runners in scoring position.
The 2009 Yankees won five games in which they trailed heading into the ninth inning. In games that were tied heading into the ninth, they went 13-4.
In case you've been wondering all this time just what the heck a "clutch gene" is, there you go. No matter the exact words used to define the term, the 2009 Yankees definitely had a clutch gene. In the end, it definitely came in handy as they got deeper and deeper into October.
That clutch gene is gone now, and the numbers tell us that it started dying in 2011.
The 2011 Yankees won just two games in which they trailed heading into the ninth inning, and they went 3-11 in games that were tied heading into the ninth inning. They hit .221/.316/.348 in late and close situations, including .224/.308/.344 in the ninth inning.
The 2012 Yankees are just as bad as the 2011 Yankees in clutch situations. And because the 2011 Yankees got bounced out of the playoffs in the first round, a very simple question must be asked.
If the 2011 Yankees couldn't get out of the first round, why should the 2012 Yankees be able to do any better?
There's no good answer to this question. In fact, believing that the Yankees will survive beyond the first round requires a leap of faith.
That would have been easy in years past, particularly when it comes to Yankees from the Derek Jeter era.
But the 2012 Yankees feel like a distant cousin to other Yankees teams from the Derek Jeter era. This has a lot to do with the fact that The Captain himself has been up and down since his brilliant season in 2009, and he just doesn't have as much support within the Yankees lineup as he usually does.
Case in point, A-Rod is a shell of the player he once was, and hitting with runners in scoring position has been his biggest problem all season. He's hitting just .218 in such situations this season. Whether or not he'll be able to make any kind of impact at all once he gets over his broken hand is anybody's guess.
Though he's in the middle of the finest season of his career, Robinson Cano is hitting just .243 with a .411 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position. Mark Teixeira has also regressed with runners in scoring position, hitting .255 in such situations compared to .268 in 2011.
The Yankees' two best hitters with runners in scoring position this season are Jeter and Curtis Granderson. That would be fine if they were middle-of-the-order hitters, but they're not. They're both top-of-the-order guys.
There are very few ways to put a positive spin on the situation. The Yankees offense is as one-dimensional as it's been in years, and it's anything but clutch. Given the teams they're likely to come up against in the ALDS this season, this doesn't bode well.
Presently, it's looking like the Yankees will finish with the best record in the American League regardless, which would set them up with home-field advantage and a matchup against whoever wins the wild card play-in game.
The tricky part is that none of the three key teams in play for the wild card play-in game at the moment represent good matchups for the Yankees.
The Oakland A's just swept the Yankees in a four-game series in Oakland a couple weeks ago, and they boast both great pitching and an offense that's as clutch as clutch can be. The A's are 9-2 in games that are tied heading into the ninth inning, and they've won five games this season in which they've trailed heading to the ninth inning. They're 9-3 in extra-inning games.
The Detroit Tigers are the team that beat the Yankees in the Division Series last season, and they did that despite the fact that they really only got one start out of Justin Verlander. Him and Doug Fister form one of the best one-two duos in the American League, and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder represent the best middle-of-the-order duo in the AL.
Then there are the Los Angeles Angels, who have as much collective talent as any player in baseball. Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren make for the best starting foursome in the AL. The Angels also have baseball's best player in Mike Trout batting leadoff, and Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo are nearly on the same level as Cabrera and Fielder as far as middle-of-the-order duos are concerned.
Which AL contender represents the toughest matchup for the Yankees?
There's an outside chance the Yankees will play the Texas Rangers in the Division Series, and they match up well against anyone. They could also play the Chicago White Sox, who have played well against the Yankees in 2012.
Even with their clutch gene in tow, even the 2009 Yankees would be in for a battle against the best of the best the American League has to offer this year. The Junior Circuit is as deep as it's been in quite some time now.
The 2012 Yankees are obviously right in the thick of things, but it's impossible to look at them and see a team that has a clear path to the World Series. They haven't been able to make it there in either of the last two seasons, and this Yankees team is no better than the 2010 Yankees or the 2011 Yankees.
The 2011 Yankees weren't able to making it past the Division Series, and that was partially due to the fact that they had a hard time mounting rallies late in games.
That same affliction has carried over to 2012. Given that and the increased quality of the American League's top teams, there's no reason to think that the Yankees will actually be able to do anything in October once they get there.
Let's face it. These Yankees just aren't very special.
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