As September dawned, the Sox and Twins were running neck-and-neck for the Wild Card, apparently the only postseason vacancy remaining in the AL. Chicago held a half-game lead, but the [Baseball Prospectus Postseason] Odds report showed both teams holding a 50% shot of reaching October, either via the Central crown or the Wild Card. The remaining schedules favored Minnesota, with three more home games than the Sox and thehome-field advantage for a season-ending three-game series between the two clubs; at the imposing Metrodome, the Twins had gone 45–22.What happened is that both the offense and the pitching went down the tubes. Specifically, those injuries to Thome and Crede turned out to be much more detrimental than expected, helping the team's scoring rate fell off 36 percent this month (more than that, actually, since the Sox were shut out last night; Crede's slump has expanded to 0-for-25. The bullpen fell apart as well, yielding a 6.58 ERA (that increased last night, too) this month as Bobby Jenks (10.12 ERA, scored upon in four straight appearances) and Brandon McCarthy (19.29 ERA, scored upon in six out of seven appearances) dropped the ball. And while GM Kenny Williams did some good work over the winter in acquiring Thome, he tabbed the wrong rookie centerfielder to replace him, trading Chris Young to Arizona while keeping Brian Anderson, who's hit just 231/.301/.368. He passed up a deadline trade for Alfonso Soriano that would have cost them McCarthy but given the team the option of sliding slumping Scott Podsednik over to centerfield, where the offensive bar was lower.
Nonetheless, conventional wisdom showed reasons to favor the Sox. Not only did they have experience and the championship imprimatur on their side, they held a significant advantage at the training table.
In August, the Twins suffered a pair of devastating blows to their rotation. Brad Radke, who'd battled a torn labrum all season, left his August 25 start against Chicago after just two innings and was subsequently discovered to have a stress fracture in his shoulder. Worse, rookie Francisco Liriano, arguably the best pitcher in the league this year (even better than teammate Johan Santana), was limited to one start in August because of elbow soreness. By comparison, the defending champs were fairly healthy, save for a recent hamstring injury to slugger Jim Thome and intermittent problems with Joe Crede's back.
Yet the Sox are the ones who unraveled. Despite the Twins' injuries — Liriano is done for the year after an abortive return, while Radke may get one more start — Minnesota has raced to a 13–6 record this month, while Chicago has stumbled along at 7–12. What happened?
Instead of developing their own talent, they returned to the tactics that characterized George Steinbrenner during the '80s: trading their best chips for big-name, top-dollar veterans while breaking the bank in their pursuit of glitzy free agents. At the start of the 2005 season the Yankees' farm system was considered to be underwhelming, with no clear help in sight.The difference these days is due to GM Brian Cashman's consolidation of power in the front office, lessening the influence of Steinbrenner's Tampa mafia and exerting more control over scouting and player acquisition.
But nearly two seasons later, thanks to the breakout successes of Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang and Melky Cabrera and a budding crop of farmhands, that perception couldn't be any more different from the truth.
"A year ago at this time, these Yankees seemed to be in a 'win now with this group' mode," says Pete Abraham, who covers the Yankees for The Journal News. "Now they have Cano, Cabrera and Wang as transition players with right-hander Philip Hughes, outfielder Jose Tabata and others on the way. There may be no letup."
Jay Jaffe wrote about the Yankees' farm system two summers ago in an article for Baseball Prospectus titled, "The Claussen Pickle," the upshot of which was that while the Yankees lost some good young players from 1994 to 2004, they didn't lose any Hall of Famers. Mike Lowell is the best position player the Yankees have traded in the past 10 years; perhaps Nick Johnson will surpass him one day.
Eric Milton, a No. 1 draft pick, helped land Chuck Knoblauch; Jake Westbrook and Zach Day fetched David Justice. However, "in the two years since that article was written," Jaffe explained recently, "it's even clearer that they've traded away players that were better than what they came up with for their secondary players. Juan Rivera, Marcus Thames or even Wily Mo Peña would have been superior to Ruben Sierra or Bubba Crosby on last year's team."
IP H ERA K/9 K/BB WXRLThat fresh arm is crucial to the Yanks because Scott Proctor leads the AL in relief appearances (79) and innings (98), Mariano Rivera has missed the past three weeks, and overall, the Yankee bullpen has been worked much harder than any of the other AL contenders. From Buster Olney's piece on Wednesday:
Bruney 17 11 0.53 12.71 2.40 0.374
Dotel 8 13 10.13 7.88 0.70 -0.462
B2B #PThe first column is the number of times the Yanks have run a pitcher out there in back-to-back games. The second is the total number of pitches thrown by the bullpens this season (both figures through Tuesday). As you can see, it isn't even close; Yankee relievers have been ridden harder. Not surprisingly, they've performed worse as well. Baseball Prospectus' WXRL stat (Reliever Expected Wins Added), which measures the increment by which a pitcher increased (or decreased) his team's chances of winning in each plate appearance, shows the A's bullpen leading the AL with 14.345 wins, the Twins a close second at 14.216 (the two have flip-flopped since I wrote that Sun piece), the Tigers fifth (10.257) and the Yanks sixth (9.706). The Yankee bullpen has tossed 478.1 innings, 19 more than the Twins, and 50 more than the TIgers and A's, and their Fair Run Average (which divvies up responsibility for inherited runners according to a run expectancy table) is 4.81, considerably higher than the A's (4.43), Twins (4.34) and Tigers (4.11) as well.
Yankees 128 8078
Oakland 110 7128
Minnesota 79 6954
Detroit 57 6713
Labels: New York Sun
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