The Yankees said, as the 2016 season came to an end, that they were targeting pitching for the coming season and that particularly strengthening their bullpen was their big target. As Spring Training approaches, it would seem that they have failed to even come close to meeting either of those two inter-related targets.
The New York Yankees decided in the second half of 2016 that they were going with youth. It was a little surprising therefore, to see their two major signings in the first half of the post-season be a 36-year-old who would be designated hitter and one of the relief pitchers they traded away in the movements that took place around the trade deadline
(up to and including March 23, 2016)
At the time of our last column, the Yankees stood at 5-8. Since then they have improved to 9-10 and they have seen Brett Gardner able to take regular at-bats and gain his first hits and RBI, and Jacoby Ellsbury take a pitch off his wrist which has limited his participation but, in general, the roster is taking shape.
Let’s survey the pitchers and who is likely to be on that roster as March turns into April.
One of the interesting factors for the New York Yankees over the last several seasons is how they handle the roster expansion in September. This year, as in the past, Joe Girardi seemed to feel under an obligation to try to use everybody, almost as though the season was already over and it was just a case of giving people game time. But this wasn’t Spring Training, it was a crucial chase to catch the Blue Jays and watching players like Chasen Shreve, and Bryan Mitchell coming apart at the seams wasn’t helpful to them or to the cause. Let’s see what happened:
What: New York Yankees versus Tampa Bay Rays
Where: Yankee Stadium, New York, New York, USA
When: September 4 to 6, 2015
New York City is one of my favourite places in the world. London, Whitby (UK not Canada), Stratford-upon-Avon and New York are the places I love and not necessarily in that order. Being back there is always a good thing.
They call it the City That Never Sleeps and you can see why. But I guess in a city that never sleeps then sometimes changes seem to happen at double the speed. Some of my favourite things about this city are gone forever.
There was Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on 59th Street and its mashed potatoes and chicken. It’s not there are any more. There was the food and idiosyncratic shopping at the South Street Seaport. It’s been demolished. Of course, there was the old Yankee Stadium which you will look for in vain. It’s a long time gone. It’s not only Joe DiMaggio who we must ask where he is gone, some other favourites are gone too.
I first caught the baseball bug in the mid 80s but it was the mid 90s before I journeyed to New York to sit in that old Stadium that Ruth built. Then there was a players’ strike but like them I was to be back the following year. 1995.
1995. The year that a still developing centre-fielder called Bernie Williams was joined in the majors by four more developing stars. Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Somebody told me a few days ago that the New York Yankees buy their success. That’s fine rhetoric and oft repeated but the evidence won’t bear it. The Yankees are at their strongest when their farm system is at its strongest – whether it be the “Core Four” of 1995 or the debuts of Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig or Munson. Growing internal greats has always worked out best.
So whilst the bats were labouring the New York Yankees really needed the pitchers to pick up the slack. As it worked out their ERA was only marginally worse – 3.70 to 3.83 but the lack of batting left them with only a 14-14 record on the month which left the field wide open for the Toronto Blue Jays to steal the lead in the American League East which they were quite happy to do. Lurking behind the stats were impressive months for Masahiro Tanaka and Adam Warren particularly but let’s see what the rest of the picture reveals:
The Yankees showed a significant improvement in their pitching in July and if we combine that with their great batting form it is easy to see why they went from 15-12 in June to 17-7 in July. Having Andrew Miller back from injury certainly helped and the trio of Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve delivered more than could be expected of them during the month. The team’s ERA fell to below 4 compared to the 133 run produced in those 24 games. It is not hard to see how so many games ended in the “Wins” column.
The Yankees pitching has been in a steady decline all season. In April, the average ERA of the team’s pitchers was 3.23 with a WHIP of 1.16. In May, that ERA was up to 4.38 and the WHIP was 1.33. In June, the WHIP was exactly the same but the ERA was up again to 4.48.
The bullpen kept the team rolling in April but was overused. In May it had begun to creak. By June some key players were injured but thankfully the batting had improved enough to keep the team alive – but they have used more relief pitchers prior to roster expansion than in any season in the team’s history. For a team at the head, or near to the head of the division, times are proving hard.