You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.” – Yogi Berra

It ain’t over.

Mourning is the first impulse after a beloved person like Yogi Berra dies, but for those who leave behind such an enduring legacy, the end is really much closer to the beginning.

Yogi is perhaps best known for his hitting exploits, but he his defense was also a big contributor to the Yankees' success. (Photo: SportingNews)

Yogi is perhaps best known for his hitting exploits, but his defense was also a big contributor to the Yankees’ success. (Photo: SportingNews)

Yogi Berra transcended his baseball career, but that was only possible because he happened to be one of the best catchers in the history of the game. Any fitting memorial has to begin with his accomplishment on the field, but Berra’s accolades are really too numerous to count, especially on his fingers, each adorned with a World Series ring. The short and squat catcher was really a giant among immortals at the peak of the Yankees’ dynasty. He won three MVPs, made the All Star Game in every full season of his career, and was front and center at many of the Yankees’ most dramatic and memorable postseason moments. He didn’t play in the shadows of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Even at 5’ 7”, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

Berra is most known for his exploits with the bat, particularly his heroics during the World Series. However, those who watched him play often argue that his defense behind the plate was as meaningful as the swings he took standing next to it. Although Berra would shift to the outfield later in his career, no one disputed how important his role as a catcher was to the Yankees’ success. “Why has our pitching been so great?” the great Casey Stengel once mused. “Our catcher that’s why,” he answered.

Baseball has had many immortals pass from the game into relative obscurity once they retire: players relegated to the record books because they are forgotten by succeeding generations. Yogi Berra wasn’t one of them. During his playing days and coaching career, which lasted another 30 years, Berra became as much known for what he said off the field as how he played on it. Like his accomplishments, there are too many of his oft-recited quotes to list. However, these amusing statements, which affectionately came to be called Yogisms, made Berra known well beyond the sport and long after he left it. In fact, someone endeavoring to learn about the great catcher might glean more by studying Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations than the Baseball Encyclopedia. According to accounts, Berra has more entries in the former than any President of the United States.

As if being an all-time great athlete with a large, and always lovable, personality isn’t enough of an epitaph, Berra’s life was also a great American story. The son of Italian immigrants, Berra grew up in a working class community, but always strove for something better. Baseball would provide the path, but not before a couple of detours.

Yogi with brother John and proud father in 1945 (Photo: yogiberra.com)

Yogi with brother John and proud father in 1945 (Photo: yogiberra.com)

Like every great American tale, there were setbacks and sacrifices. When Berra tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals, he was offered a meager $250 contract. Despite only having an 8th grade education upon which to fall back, he declined. Berra was always smarter than he appeared. Soon thereafter, the Yankees signed him for double that amount. Unfortunately, Adolph Hitler got in the way.

In 1943, Berra put aside his burgeoning baseball career to join the Navy. He was only 18 at the time.  During his four years of service, Berra saw action in North Africa and throughout Europe, but most notably served as a gunner’s mate during the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach. He was also wounded during the Allied assault on southern France, and earned a Purple Heart for his valor. After facing death on the field of battle, is it any wonder that baseball, and life, always seemed to come so easy for him?

Yogi and Carmen in 1949 (Photo:

Yogi and Carmen in 1949.

Perhaps Berra’s greatest, and most overlooked accomplishment took place in 1949, after he had returned from war and established himself as a key figure on the Yankees. On January 26 of that year, Berra married his beloved Carmen, and together they remained for 65 years until her death just after their anniversary in 2014. Berra did more than just lead a decorated life. He also raised a family. In today’s society, fame and fortune are often more lauded, but by all accounts, Yogi was a good husband and father, and, perhaps, that may be how the modest Berra would most like to be remembered.

Yogi Berra was a true American hero, but even that laudable status doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For, not only was Berra a man to be revered, respected and admired, he was also one to be loved. Anyone who have ever come into contact with Yogi Berra has always seemed to leave with the same reaction: a smile. Seeing his big grin light up an almost cartoonish face couldn’t help but cause infectious happiness. So, why indulge sadness when remembering Berra? Although his storybook life has ended, his legacy remains.

Since the tragic death of Indians’ shortstop Ray Chapman, who was beaned in the head by Yankees pitcher Carl Mays, the Yankees have used their uniform as a means of offering tribute to the passing of legendary figures or commemorating tragic events. Below is a list of such honors:

NYY uniform honors

Is December 6, 2013 a day that will live in baseball infamy for the Yankees? On that date, and within 72 hours of signing Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year deal, the Bronx Bombers said goodbye to Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson and then welcomed Carlos Beltran into the fold. The transformation may have been quick, but the impact hasn’t been painless.

The Yankees allowed Cano to go West because of money, but letting Granderson head across town was more of a baseball decision. Regardless of the motives, the Yankees effectively decided to forgo spending $300 million on their two former All Stars (although it’s possible both Cano and Granderson would have taken less to return to the Bronx) and then allocate $200 million of the savings toward Ellsbury and Beltran. Because of the $100 million gap, the trade-off seems like an attractive alternative, but when you factor in the varying lengths and total seasons represented by each deal, the difference isn’t as significant. With these variables considered, the $100 million gap equates to $1.63 million per player season, and the bulk of the difference is deferred until the final three years of Cano’s 10-year contract (no assumptions made for time value or payroll inflation; for a more detailed look at Cano’s contract that considers those factors, click here).

Contract Comparison: Ellsbury/Beltran vs. Cano/Granderson

Source: Cot’s baseball contracts

With the financial framework laid out, we can now examine the early returns. Over the first season-plus, Granderson and Cano have easily outperformed Beltran and Ellsbury. According to bWAR, the difference has been almost 11 wins above replacement, while fWAR suggest a more modest -7.5. If you apply a $6 million value to each win (click here for discussion on placing a dollar value on a win), the Yankees have lost between $45 million and $64 million worth of production in just under two years. Clearly, these calculations can change as the seasons go by, but at this point, the financial savings that the Yankees enjoyed from the swap have quickly been eroded, even before you consider the opportunity cost.

Value Comparison: Ellsbury/Beltran vs. Cano/Granderson

Source: baseball-reference.com, fangraphs.com

Continue Reading »

Mark Teixeira is done for the season. As the Bronx Bombers head down the stretch, and hopefully into the playoffs, they’ll be without their slugging first baseman, who was finally diagnosed with a fracture in his right leg. The loss of Teixeira is certainly a tough break, but with resolution coming four weeks after he initially sustained the injury, it begs the question, when exactly did that break occur?

Thankfully, it is a bone bruise. If there were a break in there we would be in real trouble.”   Brian Cashman, quoted by ESPN, August 18, 2015

Teixeira’s injury was sustained on August 17, when the first baseman fouled a ball off his right shin and was forced to leave the game. The initial diagnosis was a “bad bone bruise”, and the switch hitter was listed as day-to-day. Compared to Brian Mitchell’s bloody encounter with a batted ball that struck his face, Teixeira’s bruise seemed like a minor concern, especially after an x-ray revealed “no structural damage”. Crisis averted, or so it appeared at the time.

Alarms went off” when Teixeira awoke the next day with great pain, putting the team’s initial seven-day time table in jeopardy. However, a full battery of tests, this time including an MRI and CT scan, once again allayed the team’s fears. The bone bruise diagnosis was confirmed and a DL stint was avoided. The improvement that Teixeira reported shortly thereafter was also encouraging. However, the pain persisted. Still, that didn’t stop the Yankees from trying to accelerate his return, and sure enough, almost exactly on schedule, the Yankees “rolled the dice” and re-inserted Teixeira into the starting lineup. After six innings of a 15-1 blowout on August 26, the experiment was over.

We rolled the dice a little bit [Tuesday] because we were facing a lefty and hopefully when we get to Atlanta it will be better.” – Joe Girardi, quoted by Newsday, August 26, 2015

Watching Teixeira try to run in his return was painful, but probably nothing compared to what the first baseman was feeling. The switch hitter continued to report soreness, but, after an examination by the Atlanta Braves team doctor, another battery of tests was postponed. This time the culprit was inflammation.

I thought it was as simple as needing a little bit more time. The day off [Thursday] should have taken care of that. It’s not that simple because it’s not any better.” – Mark Teixeira, quoted by the New York Post, August 28, 2015

Finally, on September 1, the Yankees decided to have Teixeira undergo another thorough examination. This time, the results were not encouraging. Although the bone bruise diagnosis remained, the timetable for it healing was extended considerably. The news was discouraging. The timing was worse. The waiver trade deadline had passed, and the Yankees had done nothing to cushion the blow.

Teixeira’s worst case scenario was confirmed yesterday, when a third battery of tests finally revealed a fracture. Was it there all along, as Brian Cashman suggested, or did it develop over time because of the stress involved in Teixeira’s attempts to return on schedule? That question isn’t easy to answer, especially by those without a medical degree, but either outcome reflects poorly on the Yankees.

If Teixeira’s fracture resulted from the stress of rehabbing and trying to play through the pain, the Yankees failure to exercise greater caution is directly at fault. Regardless of what tests revealed, Teixeira repeatedly reported pain and discomfort, so the Yankees had every reason to take it slow. Instead, they “rolled the dice”.

MRIs and doctors are not infallible, so maybe the fracture was there all along? That’s certainly possible, but even if so, it doesn’t exonerate the Yankees’ handling of the situation. While it’s true that Teixeira would have been lost for the season regardless of when the break was first detected, an earlier discovery would have provided more time for the Yankees to make contingency plans. Had the second battery of tests been conducted before the trade deadline, for example, the team could have added much-needed reinforcements. And, that criticism is valid regardless of when (or even if) the fracture occurred. After all, for two full weeks, the Yankees knew that something was causing Teixeira an extreme and inordinate amount of pain. That alone should have prompted a more proactive response.

At best, the Yankees causal approach to Mark Teixeira’s injury caused them to play short handed for nearly two weeks and also prevented the team from bolstering the roster with a trade or two (even cheaply-obtained right-handed bats like Johnny Gomes and Austin Jackson could have filled some of the void left by Teixeira). At worst, the organization’s carelessness directly contributed to the injury’s severity. Neither reflects well on the organization. Sometimes you make your own breaks. In this instance, the Yankees certainly bare responsibility for theirs breaking bad.


Tommy Lasorda once quipped that if Bruce Benedict had a race with a pregnant woman, he’d come in third. If the now 60-year old former Braves catcher challenged the current Yankees’ lineup to a race instead, he might have better luck.

The Yankees currently rank near the bottom of the American League in several base running statistics, including total number of stolen bases, percentage of extra bases taken, and how often runners score from first or second on a double or single, respectively. The team’s overall sluggishness on the bases hasn’t prevented the Yankees from being the second highest scoring team in baseball, but it does make you wonder how many more runs (and wins) they are leaving on the bases. Last night’s 4-3 loss to Boston is a case in point.

American League Base Running Rankings
base running

Note: XBT% is the percentage of times a baserunner advances more than one base on a single or two bases on a double, when possible.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

With 20 base runners in yesterday’s game, the Yankees’ offense should have been off to the races, but instead only three crossed the plate. Blame a lack of clutch hitting? Not so fast! Literally. It’s easy to look at the 14 men that the Yankees left on base and conclude they just couldn’t muster a big hit, but that’s only part of the story. What really slowed the Yankees’ offense down was their lack of team speed.

Sure, the Yankees would have benefited from one more big hit (or deep fly ball), but they did manage four hits in 14 at bats with runners in scoring position. That might not seem impressive, but it exceeds the American League’s overall rate of .259 for the season. The real problem was only one run scored on those four hits (from third base with bases loaded). Had the Yankees plated just two of the runners on second base in each of those situations, the game’s one-run margin might have been a Yankees’ victory. Instead, the Bronx Bombers ceded an out at the plate on an ill-advised attempt to score, and played station-to-station in the first, fourth and eighth innings. Is it any wonder they came up short in the final outcome?

There’s not much the Yankees can do to overcome their lack of speed. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Greg Bird, Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley are not going to get faster overnight, so other than working on getting better leads and opportunistically using the pinch runners made available by the expanded roster, the Yankees’ best bet to score more runs probably involves jogging around the bases. Otherwise, as witnessed last night, if the Bronx Bombers are forced to rely on their legs, they’re probably not going to get very far.

Nathan Eovaldi started the season as the Yankees’ pet project, but, in the early going, there was very little progress to report…and that was before the right hander was rocked for eight first inning runs during a June outing in Miami. Thankfully, the Bronx Bombers didn’t get frustrated and cut bait on the former Marlin because, since that time, Eovaldi has turned his season around.

Turning Point: Nathan Eovaldi’s Performance Before and After June 16
eov before after
Note: On June 16, Eovaldi surrendered eight earned runs in 2/3 innings.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Eovaldi’s disastrous outing on June 16 seems like the obvious turning point in his season. However, a more seminal moment occurred two starts earlier, when, for the first time, the hard throwing righty began to use his split finger fastball. Before June 5, Eovaldi had only thrown 45 splitters, or less than 5% of his pitch total for the season, but, beginning with that outing, he began to trust it more. Since then, the split finger has consistently comprised about 20% to 30% of Eovaldi’s repertoire, and, more importantly, it has been very effective. According to fangraphs.com, Eovaldi’s splitter has been worth 9.7 runs above average, which makes it one of the better pitches in the game (only 38 individual pitches rate higher among qualified starters).

Nathan Eovaldi’s Pitch Selection, by Start
eov pitch selection
Source: baseballsavant.com

Nathan Eovaldi’s Splitter Percentage vs. LHB/RHB, by Start
Evo Split percent
Source: baseballsavant.com

Eovaldi has increased the number of splitters thrown to both lefties and righties, but employed the pitch somewhat differently to each. To lefties, he has basically replaced the less reliable slider, which had a tendency to break into the hitting zone, with a splitter located more toward the outside corner. The tradeoff has been astounding. Before June 16, Eovaldi’s slider made up 23% of all pitches to lefties, who hit .378 against it. Since then, the split finger has become more prevalent, rising to 21% of all pitches against lefties. The meager .174 batting average that lefties have mustered against the pitch since June 16 argues in favor of the change in repertoire. Continue Reading »

The Yankees are no strangers to building big division leads. What they aren’t accustomed to is blowing them. Since 1901, the Bronx Bombers have taken a lead of at least 6 ½ games in 38 different seasons, not including this one, and each time they ended up in first place. This year, however, history may be put to the test.

Close Calls: Near Collapses in Yankees History

Close Calls

Note: Includes seasons in which the Yankees took at least a 6.5 game lead, only to see it dwindle at least as low as 1.5 games before recovering to win the division. Data as of August 10, 2015. Leads/deficits are as of the end of play on each date.
Source: baseball-reference.com (data) and proprietary (presentation)

On July 26, the Yankees took a 6.5 game lead in the A.L. East, but since then, the Blue Jays, buoyed by the deadline acquisition of David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, have whittled the Bronx Bombers’ advantage down to 1.5. In only seven of 38 seasons with such a large lead have the Yankees ceded that much ground, including most recently in 2012, when they went from a double-digit edge to a flat footed tie with the Orioles. In three other seasons, 1955, 1949, 1928, the Yankees actually dropped into second place (the former by as many as two games and latter coming after building a 13 ½ game lead) before regaining the top spot. Will the 2015 Yankees be as resilient in the face of the Blue Jays’ surge, or will this be the year the precedent is broken? Continue Reading »

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