New York Yankees and ALCS Loss: Blame the Batters, Not the Pitchers

Tom AuSenior Analyst IIOctober 29, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 22:  (L-R) Derek Jeter #2 and Andy Pettitte #46 of the New York Yankees look on from the dugout as Alex Rodriguez #13 bats in the top of the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers in Game Six of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 22, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. Rodriguez would strike out looking for the final out as the Rangers won 6-1. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Yankee pitchers did not exactly distinguish themselves in the recent ALCS. But that may not be the main reason that they lost. To understand why, let's look at what happened in individual games.

The Bronx Bombers won only the two games that their ace, CC Sabathia, started. The first game was in spite of Sabathia, and due to the big five-run comeback inning, a typical Yankee feat, that made the final score 6-5. But in the fifth game of the series, the home team scored seven runs while Sabathia, et al. held the visitors to two. Note that the Yankees did score 13 runs in those two games.

Texas was going to win the two games, the second and sixth, started by Phil Hughes against Colby Lewis, because Hughes gave up seven runs in four innings in the second game, and four runs in 4.2 innings in the sixth game, while Lewis gave up all of two and one runs, respectively.

It was the third and fourth games, the third started by Andy Pettitte against Cliff Lee, and the fourth started by AJ Burnett against Tommy Hunter, that were decisive. And in theory, the Yankees could have won either, possibly both of those games, and now be playing the World Series.

The key question was, why did Yankee hitters score a total of only six runs in the four games that they lost (an average of 1.5 runs per)? If we compare the batting statistics, the heirs to the 1927 Murderers' Row batted all of .201 and scored 19 runs in the ACLS, while the Texans batted .304 and scored 38 runs.

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And the Yankee production was concentrated in the two Sabathia-led victories. If you extrapolate the 13 runs scored in those two games to the whole six games, that would have meant 39 runs, enough to win the series, or at least send it to a seventh game.

Let's not make the excuse that the Yankees couldn't have scored against Cliff Lee, because the "light"-hitting San Francisco Giants just did—and in a big way. And despite a midseason groin injury that hurt his second-half performance, Andy Pettitte was the old Andy Pettitte, giving up only two runs in seven innings, while Kerry Wood, the de facto set-up man, pitched a scoreless eighth.

While Yankee relievers melted down in the ninth, does anyone doubt that if the score had been, say, 3-2 Yankees at the end of eight, Mariano Riviera wouldn't have closed the game? As it was, you don't use your closer in the actual situation (down 2-0), but rather your middle relievers because 1) the Yankees lose if they don't score at least two runs in the bottom of the ninth, whether the Rangers score zero or 10 runs in the top of the inning, and 2) if it's exactly tied after nine, you need Riviera for later.

In the fourth game, a struggling AJ Burnett had a 3-2 lead at the end of five innings, which he held after 5.2, albeit with a man on second base, and left handed Dave Murphy coming to bat. Then Joe Girardi has the tiring Burnett intentionally walk Murphy and pitch to Bengie Molina, and the rest was history, when Molina hit a three-run homer.

But why walk Murphy with TWO out, when he represents the third out? Instead, bring in lefty Boone Logan to pitch to Murphy. If it's an out, then you're out of a jam. If not, maybe right-handed Dave Robertson can get the third out pitching to right-handed Molina, fresh from the bullpen.

In the top of the seventh, you may start Logan, and relieve him with Dave Robertson, when he falters, or go to Robertson directly. Let's "tweak" history and say for the sake of argument that either Molina or Josh Harrison (but not both) hits a solo home run in the top of the seventh, but Yankee relievers prevent further Rangers scoring by pitching Wood in the eighth and Riviera in the ninth. Then the score is tied at 3-3.

Except that the Yankees didn't score further in that game, either. Meaning that they might have lost a battle of the bullpens, possibly in extra innings.

But here's what happened. The best Yankee hitters in the ACLS were the two middle fielders, Robinson Cano (.348) at second, and Curtis Granderson (.294) in center field. Jorge Posada, a catcher, hit well (.263) for either a catcher or a shortstop (key defensive players for whom hitting ability is often sacrificed), and Derek Jeter hit ok (.231) for a catcher (the harder of the two positions), but not a shortstop.

But corner players, (the least valuable defensively, hence typically the best hitters), let the team down. Vaunted third baseman, Alex Rodriguez and the corner outfielders, Nick Swisher, Marcus Thames, and Brett Gardner all hit below .200, and first baseman Lance Berkman, a relatively "robust" .250.

In short, the Yankees had the opportunities to win the ACLS, despite tough opposition from a rejuvenated Rangers team. Too bad most of their hitters failed to capitalize on them.