Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Yankees May Get Plenty Of Rest In The Playoffs

Nowadays, if a person was to question any of the landslide of decisions being made by a team's analytical department, that person would be considered "Old School" or out of touch. I support and appreciate many of today's new numbers. They do help in understanding things. I have spent a fan's life with a love of box scores and for poring over statistics.  But some still seem counter-intuitive to me. Resting position players is one of them.

I have always written as a fan with a typewriter. The Yankees have always been my team. I am a fan of all things baseball, but the Yankees are deep, deep in my blood and my DNA. The first 77 games of the 2018 season were probably the most fun I have had watching the Yanks in over fifty years of doing so. Why the first 77 games? It was the last game the Yankees were in first place. The team's record was 52-25. With all the young players and the addition of Giancarlo Stanton overcame the concern of the lousy starts by Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Sonny Gray.

Since that point, the Yankees have only gone 39-33 and they are 6-8 in September. When they do not hit multiple homers, they cannot score, the pitching has been inconsistent and sometimes the focus seems to come and go. The team does not seem to have a valid plan against the pitcher they are facing. Rather, they stick to their own batting agenda. Those are all observations, so take them or leave them.

The one thing that has rankled more than anything is the emphasis on resting position players. A fan tunes into a game and Aaron Hicks is not playing or Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar. If I am not mistaken, those three are the most versatile hitters on the team. Two of them are incredibly young. What is that fan to think?

The first question is: How much rest does a really young player need? The second is: How do you create statistical wins when a game can be lost because one of those three are being rested? Is a statistical win more critical than an actual one?

Let's take the most recent such events. The Yankees had what seemed like a soft spot on their schedule. They played teams like the Twins, Tigers, Blue Jays, etc. This soft spot was in front of the last two weeks that were going to feature a bunch of games against the Red Sox and Rays, both teams that are tough to beat. You would like to have your foot full on the throttle for those games, right?

The period starts right after the Orioles series that the Yankees swept to start the stretch off on the right foot. Next came the White Sox (beginning August 27). The Yankees were short-handed without Didi Gregorius and Andrew McCutchen was not there yet. So the team can be forgiven for DHing Andujar and starting Walker. But they lost two of three.

Then it was on to Detroit, another bad team that had purged its best players. Shane Robinson started in right field and Kyle Higoshioka was behind the plate. Dillon Betances blew a save in a game where he faced left-handed batters in the bottom of the ninth and Zach Britton faced the right-handed ones in the eighth. Bizarre. They went on to split that series, 2-2.

They had a critical three-game series in Oakland. They lost the first game and won the second. In the third game, Miguel Andujar was "rested." The Yankees lost that one and only managed five hits. What everyone will remember is how badly Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez worked together that game. A little offense might have helped, especially in the first inning when they loaded the bases and were a hit away from popping Mike Fiers.

They Yankees won the first two games of a series in Seattle. Then they lost the third one. Andujar was again riding the pines and Didi, though back, was not allowed to start and only pinch hit as his replacement went 0-3.

It was on to Minnesota and the Yankees won the first game. But Sonny Gray was given a start and it did not go well. Brett Gardner was given a day off and Stanton played left. There was one play Stanton could not make that Gardner would have cleaned up that had a lot to do with the runs the Twins piled up--as did a passed ball by Austin Romine who had to play because Gray was pitching. Jonathan Loaisiga should have started the game. Brett Gardner should have started that game. Gardner again did not start the last game which the Yankees also lost. Sitting Gardner meant sitting a player who had seen the starter, Jake Odorizzi more than any other Yankee.

Finally, the team came home to face the Blue Jays. They won the first game easily, 11-0. The rest of the series was awful. Andujar again (!) did not start on Saturday. He did hit a grand slam pinch hitting later in the game. But perhaps, if he had come up in the bottom of the second when the Yankees had bases loaded and no outs, he would have fared better than a Neil Walker strikeout (followed by two more strikeouts). Say Andujar kept the rally going and pushed across a couple of runs, the Yankees would have made different pitching decisions and not let the game get out of hand.

Dillon Betances blew the save plain and simple in the last game. But the Yankees only scored two runs and Neil Walker came up in the ninth and flied out deep (I'll give him that) because the Yankees had removed Andujar for defensive purposes.

The last one listed, that second Blue Jays game was so not understandable. The Yankees had just had a day off the previous Thursday and had another one coming on Monday after the series. Again, how much rest does a player need?

What this does is defy a sense of urgency. The Oakland A's are breathing down the Yanks' collective necks for home field advantage for the Wild Card Game. The Yankees are one for 2017 and 2018 (combined) at Oakland. Every game needs to be played to the max for the rest of the season. But how do you create that mental image in a player's (and the fans') mind when resting people is more important than winning? There is no science that can measure the psychology such decisions create in players.

Perhaps I am a big old school. Why do teams like the Yankees mess around and have Aaron Judge get his toes wet for a week before letting him hit in a live game? Why is Aroldis Chapman throwing simulated games when Betances has blown two games in the past week? Again, where is the urgency? The Yankees urgently need to play the Wild Card Game at home. And even then, they could go home after one game if they lose.

The Yankees have bought into the idea that players need regular rest. It is an idea that has full sway in MLB team analytical offices. Joel Sherman was quoted in this Mike Axisa article that Theo Epstein, AKA, "The Brilliant One," said that a player getting 650 plate appearances was "passe" and 500 was plenty. What!? You are going to take thirty games of Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, etc., away from their respective teams!? It is absurd. It is also unfair to the paying fans not to see the best players on the field. I am not buying this one. Throw rocks. Call me Gramps. That's fine. But it is absurd.

This season could have been so much more. You can blame it on injuries. Every contending team has had injuries, so I do not want to hear that excuse. I said before the season (on another site) that the Red Sox made the best managerial decision and the Yankees did not. I still believe that. Joe Girardi was fired because he tried to create too much urgency. Aaron Boone does not create enough. I know where Girardi got the team last year. We'll see what happens this.