The 2014 Yankees have been one of the weakest teams in franchise history. Through 125 games, the Bronx Bombers have been outscored by 40 runs, the organization’s 11th lowest run differential over that span. Not only have the Yankees achieved mediocrity in terms of their record, but their aggregate performance suggests they have been very lucky to do so. In the past, such a poor showing on the field would have been a call to action (and spending), especially coming on the heels of a similar performance in the season before. These days, however, it’s hard not wonder if the Yankees have exactly the kind of team that suits their new business model.

Yankees Run Differential After 125 Games, 1901-2014
run diff after 125
Note: Excludes strike shortened seasons of 1981 and 1994.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Despite the Yankees’ lackluster play, the team has been box office gold. Attendance is up 5% and ratings have rebounded nicely. Granted, both increases are coming off substantial declines in 2013 and Derek Jeter’s farewell tour has been a buffer, but if similar levels can be sustained, it could represent a happy medium for a team dedicated to maintaining mediocrity. Is that really the Yankees’ new mission statement? Although the organization continues to profess a standard of excellence, recent decisions made in the board room and the resultant play on the field say otherwise.

After yesterday’s victory over the Astros, in which the Yankees scored four runs or fewer for the 10th straight game, Joe Girardi commented on the league-wide parity that has allowed the Yankees to masquerade as a contender. The Bronx Bombers’ manager attributed the even level of play to revenue sharing and TV contracts, but left out the biggest reason for baseball’s new era of mediocrity: the acquiescence of big market teams like the Yankees. After all, if not for the team’s belt tightening, Robinson Cano and his wRC+ of 142 would be in the middle of the Yankees order, not the team three games ahead in the wild card standings.

The Yankees have been in cost cutting mode the last few seasons, with a recent acceleration over the last two. Although fans and media alike reflexively point to the “half billion” dollars spent during the past offseason, the numbers don’t lie. The Bronx Bombers’ revenue has continued to rise, while the team’s payroll as a percentage of that income has taken a nose dive. There’s plenty of room to debate how much the Yankees should be spending on players, but the fact that they are spending relatively less can’t be contested. Continue Reading »

For the second time in three years, the Red Sox have waived the white flag at the trade deadline, which wouldn’t be remarkable if they hadn’t captured a checkered flag in between. In a season already marred by historic failure from a defending champion, by selling off its team, Boston is now all but assured of placing their 2013 World Series championship between book-end seasons at the bottom of the AL East.

First Shall Be Last, Last Shall Be First
# 1994 season was strike-shortened. *Won World Series. Note: If Blue Jays, who trail A.L. lead by two games, win the division, they will become 12th worst to first team. Red Sox would not be first WS champ to finish last in the following season; 1997 Marlins, who won wild card, finished last in 1998.
Data Source: Baseball-reference.com

Last year, the Red Sox became only the 11th team since 1901 to finish in first place one year after bringing up the rear of their division (and only the second to win the World Series in the process). Now, this season, they are poised to become only the eighth team to go in the opposite direction, as well as the first to sandwich a division title around two stints in the cellar. This roller coaster ride in the standings over the last few years probably has Red Sox Nation feeling a little dizzy, but it doesn’t capture the extent of Boston’s rags to riches Schizophrenia.

World Series Champs with Sub-.500 Records Before and After
Note: Green shading indicates the World Series championship year.
Data Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Brian Cashman had a pretty good July. Without sacrificing the future, he was able to add four players who, at the very least, should allow the Yankees to remain near the pennant race, if not in it. Of course, considering the season’s late stage, and the consolidation of talent among the American League’s elite, these reinforcements could prove to be “too little, too late”.

Brian Cashman was busy at the deadline, but the moves he made may have Yankees fans feeling a little disappointed. (Photo:  Jim McIsaac/Newsday)

Brian Cashman was busy at the deadline, but the moves he made may have Yankees fans feeling a little disappointed. (Photo: Jim McIsaac/Newsday)

Whether or not the Yankees can salvage a poor season with a strong stretch drive won’t be the final verdict for Cashman’s deadline maneuvering. The day of reckoning might not come until next year. By acquiring the likes of Martin Prado, Stephen Drew and Chase Headley, the Yankees may have done much more than supply their late season deficiencies. On Opening Day next year, all three late season additions could be a part of the Yankees’ starting infield.

Prado is signed through 2016, and his flexibility gives the Yankees plenty of options. However, for Headley and Drew, the next two months could be a quasi-tryout. If either or both can perform well during a playoff push in the New York crucible, and the team’s scouts like what they see, there’s every reason to believe the Yankees would be interested in keeping them.

If the Yankees do enter next year with such an infield, it won’t rival the team’s All Star ensembles from the past decade, but it would represent a significant upgrade over the many combinations used this year. Also, if you add Alex Rodriguez to the mix as a DH, and assume he’ll share a significant portion of that role with Carlos Beltran, the Yankees would only have to add one more bat, particularly capable of playing both RF and 1B, before turning their attention back to the starting rotation. Here is where the team’s commitment to being a bona fide contender will be put to the test. With Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields all looking for a new home this winter, and as many as four rotation slots open, the Bronx could prove to be a popular destination, assuming, of course, the team is willing to open its deep wallet.

So much can change between now and November, but it’s hard not to look past August and September and see a blue print for next year. Although the Yankees would obviously prefer otherwise, the final two months may not be about getting back into the pennant race, or even snagging one of the wild cards. Instead, the this year’s trade deadline might be the starting line for 2015.

It’s been a rough year for the Yankees. First they lose four-fifths of their opening day starting rotation to injury, and now the first two years of the franchise’s existence have been erased from the team’s record book at baseball-reference.com.

Before Monday, baseball-reference.com had recognized the 1901-1902 Baltimore Orioles as the predecessors of the current day New York Yankees. However, with the franchise approaching milestones like 10,000 wins and 15,000 home runs, the repository of baseball’s past decided to do an about face. Convinced in large part by MLB historian John Thorn’s argument against franchise continuity, baseball-reference severed the roots of the Yankees organization by removing its Orioles years from the team’s legacy.

Are the 1902 Baltimore Orioles descendants of the Yankees or not?

Are the 1902 Baltimore Orioles antecedents of the Yankees or not?

Thorn’s argument is summed up by a comment he posted on baseball-reference: “When [a] franchise relocates under the same ownership an[d] the [with a] great majority of its players (1958 Dodgers and Giants, 1953 Braves, etc.), the franchise is continuous. If not, not.” Otherwise, Thorn argues, we’d have to assume continuity for other relocations, such as the N.L.’s replacement of the Troy Trojans with the New York Gothams in 1883. Seems pretty simple, but is such a hard and fast rule appropriate for situations that are often very complex? Because the circumstances surrounding many of the franchise movements that took place early in baseball’s history can be convoluted, an individualized examination seems more appropriate. Continue Reading »

When the home plate umpire yells play ball this afternoon at Yankee Stadium, history will be made in the Bronx. With Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki penciled into the lineup, the Yankees will become the first team to start a 40-year old at short stop and centerfield in the same game (during at least the modern era; since 1901).

Jeter and Ichiro will become the first 40-somethings to start a game at the two prime positions up the middle, but two other Hall of Fame pairings previously accomplished the feat, albeit with one player coming off the bench. In 1927, the Philadelphia Athletics had a 40-year old named Ty Cobb, who wasn’t quite ready to relinquish his hold on centerfield. Cobb played 52 games in center that season (while batting .357), and, in one of them, was joined on the field by fellow legend Eddie Collins. Known more his play at second, Collins entered an August game against the Red Sox as a defensive replacement for Chick Galloway. Collins wasn’t in the game long, but it was enough to join with Cobb to become the first pair of 40-year olds to man the middle for the same team.

The following year, Collins reprised his role as a late game short stop replacement, this time as part of a double switch in the second game of a double header against the White Sox. When Collins took his position at short, once again standing behind him was a baseball legend who was past the age of 40. However, this time, it was Tris Speaker in center field for the Athletics, with the now 41-year old Cobb looking on from right.

It’s been over 85 years since two 40-year olds played SS and CF for the same team, but there have been a few near misses, including last year’s Yankee team, which had Ichiro shift over to center while a then 39-year old Jeter was playing short. In terms of starting players, however, only three teams have come close to employing a 40-year old in center field and at short stop. The 2010 Brewers, 2006 Giants, and 1985 Cubs each almost beat the Yankees to the milestone, but came up short…literally. In each instance, the center fielder had more then enough seniority to qualify, but the short stop fell on the wrong side of 40, including Craig Counsell, who missed the mark by only 17 days.

Almost 40-Year Old Pairings at SS and CF, 1901-2014 near 40 Source: baseball-reference.com (using season data from 1901-1913 and game data from 1914-2014). Continue Reading »

Following a mutual off day, the Orioles rank one game ahead of the Yankees in the A.L. East. The season doesn’t end in June, but if it did, Baltimore would be listed above New York in the standings for the first time since 1997. And, if the Orioles do outlast the Yankees, it will represent the culmination of a three-year tug of war with the Bronx Bombers that has seen the two teams remain in remarkable proximity to each other.

Yankees vs. Orioles: Before (1998-2011) and After (2012- Present)
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

From 1998 to 2011, the Yankees and Orioles were miles apart. During that time, the Bronx Bombers won 1,369 games and made the post season in all but one year, while the O’s racked up a paltry 990 victories and never finished higher than fourth place. Since 2012, however, the Yankees have fallen back to the pack and Baltimore has done its part to close the remaining gap. Over that span, the Orioles and Yankees have posted an identical wRC+ and comparable adjusted ERA, leading to cumulative records separated by only one game. The parity between the two teams has also extended to head-to-head play as each club has won 24 of the 48 contests, including the ALDS, since 2012. Continue Reading »

The best defense may be a good offense, but, as it turns out, the worst defense is even better, at least for teams playing the Yankees. Repeatedly throughout the season, the Yankees’ defense has proven to be a greater threat than opposing batters, and never was that more on display than last night in Toronto.

There’s no defense for the way the Yankees played in yesterday’s 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays…literally. The comedy of errors began in the fifth inning when Derek Jeter made two crucial misplays that directly led to three runs. The coup de grâce was delivered by Yangervis Solarte in the ninth, when his throwing error on a bunt allowed the winning run to score. It was the Yankees’ first walk off loss on an error since 1997, but merely the latest of many games this year that have been marred by poor defense.

Yankees Walk Off Losses on Error, 1938-2014
Note: Play by play data is mostly complete since 1950 with gaps beforehand.
Source: baseball-reference.com

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