Without Mr. April, Do the Yankees Stand a Chance of "Ms.'ing" October?March 13, 2009
OK, is everyone calm? Is everyone still high on the euphoria of the Yankees' December signings?
Everyone has already sat through Yankees fans proclaiming their 27th world championship shortly after they signed A.J., CC, and just for fun, let's call him MT.
We then sat through the backlash of fans of the other 29 teams proclaiming, “You can’t buy championships...you need chemistry, hard work, and etc.”
Then along came the A-Rod/A-Roid/A-Fraud/A-hole scandal with the Joe Torre book and the inclusion of Alex in a steroid scandal.
Now we see that Alex Rodriguez has opted for hip surgery that will keep him out of the line up until most likely mid-May.
Following all this, Yankees fans predictably proclaimed that the team was better off without the MVP slugger at the hot corner.
So why do I point all this out? Well, because it is my prediction that this Yankee season may very well be over by the time A-Rod completes his rehab.
I know, I know, and no, I am not off my rocker. Quite sane actually.
So let’s look at the 2006-2008 Yankees and what has happened over the last three years.
In 2006 the Yankees were 97-65. Let’s look at the first couple months of their season. In April they went 13-10 and batted .299 as a team. The pitchers managed an ERA of 3.65 in those 23 games. In May they were 18-10 and hit .281 with an ERA of 4.43. Now remember, this was their best of the three years.
In 2007 the Yankees were 22-29 after the first two months and managed to end the year with a record of 94-86, but only after going 51-25 after the All-Star break—a run that saw them bat over .300 and hit 112 home runs. Now let’s go back to April and May, where the Yanks hit .268 and .276 and posted ERAs of 5.02 and 4.28 on their way to sub-.500 records.
Then it all fell apart in 2008. The Dynasty was over; the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. After 54 games they were 28-27. The Yanks posted a team batting average of .255 in April with a 4.56 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .269.
Sorry for the long history lesson. By now I am sure you’ve skimmed most of it, but it’s fairly important to my argument, so I’ll wait...OK, now we can go on.
Let me address what I am sure you are all saying to yourself again: This year is different. Look at the offseason. That’s exactly where I am going—let’s look at three pluses and three minuses and see how it all shakes out.
First things first, Carsten Charles Sabathia is a large addition to the Yankees. That is no hyperbole; at 6'7" and listed at 290 lbs., CC, as they call him, is huge. He looks more like an offensive lineman than a hurler. Last year he was 17-10 with 251 strikeouts with an ERA of 2.70.
At first glance it’s pretty impressive, no doubt, but what did CC do in April last year? He went 1-3 with an ERA over seven in five starts. Opponents smacked CC around pretty good; in 26.2 innings the opposition batted .312 against him with 34 hits, four bombs, and 23 runs.
Over the last three years CC has a combined record of 48-28 with a 3.03 ERA. In April he is only 4-4 with an ERA of 5.43. His ERA is 1.20 runs per nine better after the All-Star break than before. Let’s not forget in the stronger AL he was 6-8 before being traded in a contract year.
So as you can see, for a team that has started slower and slower over the last three years, CC fits the pattern of being a little late out of the gate.
That being said, CC has to replace the numbers produced by Mike Mussina, a 20-game winner from 2009, who in the last three years was 17-8 in April and May. In April specifically he is 7-5 with a sub-4 ERA (3.84). So not only does CC have to replace 20 wins, he has to get out of the gate with a decent record in the first month of the season.
If you think in four April starts 2 -2 with a 5.43 is going to cut it for $20,000,000 a year with the New York media, you’re kidding yourself. This is an animal that Sabathia can’t imagine. He’s a West Coast guy that pitched in Cleveland and Milwaukee. His slow start will get him chewed up and spit out.
He couldn’t manage a great start last year when a big-time contract was on the line. What makes anyone think this traditionally slow starter is going to come out gangbusters with a guaranteed $20-plus million in the bank?
Then there's A.J. Burnett, who got five years and $82.5 million after an 18-win, 220-inning campaign. Who does that sound like? Wouldn’t be Carl Pavano, would it? You know, the other pitcher that was injury prone that the Yankees threw a ton of money at after an 18-win and 200-plus inning campaign?
But let’s stick with the theme here. Before his contract year last year, Burnett had only made 30-plus starts twice. In the two seasons after those efforts, Burnett made four and 19 starts respectively.
But let’s just imagine that Allan James Burnett is healthy. Burnett is 4-4 with an ERA of 5.32 over those last three seasons. His ERA differential after the All-Star break is 1.36 better. He’s 4-4 in April and 6-6 in May respectively since 2006.
Oh, and career discounting his 2008 season, he is a career 69-66 pitcher with a fuse shorter than Randy Johnson. He let the fans in Toronto get under his skin; what do you think it going to feel like when the Yankees are sub-.500 and people are sitting in seats they can scarcely afford?
But it can’t be all bad, right, Yankees fans? I mean, you’ve got that potent offense, right? What about Big Tex, you shout. What about him is right—where does he go in before the All-Star break? Did someone let him know the season starts in April this year?
In the last three Aprils he batted .272 with nine total bombs. He hits .298 in May and .276 in June. He bats only .280 pre-All-Star break for his career. Hitting only 38 of his 96 home runs before the All-Star break since 2006 is a telling stat.
Teixeira is in the same boat at CC; he is sitting on a contract worth an average of $22.5 million per season. If you think for one second he’s not going to be expected to fill the statistical hole left by A-Rod, you’re kidding yourself.
Also add to his slow start that he’s batted .224 vs. the Red Sox over the past three seasons and .154 at Fenway in that same time. You want to see public enemy number one—give me a Yankee cashing a $20 million a year paycheck that can’t produce against the Sox. That will only add to Tex’s early season frustration.
Now let us talk A-Rod. I keep hearing, "I am glad he’s hurt, he’s a distraction, and we are better without him." Really, you honestly have talked yourself into that nonsense? A-Rod is batting .303 with 68 of 124 home runs, 51 of 90 doubles, and 278 of 503 hits in the last three seasons. He bats over .300 with 23 home runs in April since 2006. Seems pretty impressive compared to Teixeira’s nine.
That is without mentioning that in 2006 he singlehandedly dragged the Yanks through the first two months of the season, hitting .330 with eight home runs and an OPS of 1.031 in May that year.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget Jason Giambi. Yeah, I hear you snickering, but the numbers don’t lie. Jason Giambi has posted 83 home runs in the last three seasons, 53 of them pre-All-Star game. In Aprils since 2006, Giambi outhit Teixeira, batting .276 with 18 long balls vs. Mark and his .272 with nine taters.
Before you freak out about the Giambi and Mussina points, it’s not about what they would’ve done this year as much as it is what they have given you in years past. You have to replace that to generate similar, if not improved win totals.
So some people will tell you this is a stretch. Consider what a pressure cooker being a Yankee is. Compile that with the opening of the new stadium, the displeasure the fans have already shown with the ticket prices, the expectations that come with the money spent in the offseason, the fact that Derek Jeter/Robinson Cano/Teixeira didn’t get a full spring to work together, and expectation from the media, the fans, and the Steinbrenners, and you have a scary situation.
Now watch the Yankees come out of the gate at 10-13 in April, and you might as well light the match and watch it burn. You think 10-13 is impossible? You might want to reread the article.
This is a very real look at what could be, Yankee fans. With the type of team you’ve built, you’ll soon be looking for Mr. April, because it's very real that without his early season contributions, you may Ms. October.