Following last year’s loss to the Rangers in the ALCS, I did a wrap-up that looked at the contributions of the individual players of both teams. After fully digesting the Yankees’ unbearably awful offensive (and pitching) showing in that series, I was compelled to find out just how bad the bats were in comparison with every other playoff series the Yankees had participated in since 1995 (the answer is sixth-worst out of 31). For this post, I’ll be combining those two ideas, as we look at the individual performances and also update the overall offense and pitching tables to reflect the now-32 postseason series the Yankees have participated in since 1995.
For TYA’s month-by-month wrap-ups of the Yankees’ 2011 season in its entirety, please click here.
One thing’s for certain: for the second straight year I was considerably off regarding my series prediction. Last year I had the Yankees beating the Rangers in six and of course it was the other way around; this year I had Yankees in four. Oh well; I’ll always have my perfect three-for-three from the 2009 postseason.
Though I may have been off in my series prediction, I pretty much hit the nail on the head with the four keys I identified for the Tigers prior to the series:
1) Return to Detroit with a split. If the Tigers can split the first two games a la 2006, they’ll negate the Yankees’ home field advantage and have a chance to wrap things up at Comerica, a place where the Yankees have played less-than-inspired baseball for much of that stadium’s existence (22-25 all-time record since the stadium opened in 2000, and more recently, 10-12 since the beginning of 2006 — not including losing both games they played at Detroit in the ’06 ALDS).
2) Justin Verlander. Much like the Yankees will try to do with Sabathia, the Tigers will need their ace to dominate the Yankees in Game 1, especially if Jim Leyland is being truthful about not wanting to bring Verlander back on short rest for a potential Game 4.
3) Non-Miguel Cabrera hitters. Cabrera is obviously a major key, but the Yankees are going to have to be ultra-careful with the way they pitch to the league’s most fearsome hitter, which will likely mean Victor Martinez and Alex Avila coming to the plate with numerous opportunities to drive a pitched-around Cabrera in.
4) Get the bullpen a lead. The Yankees and Tigers are mirror images of each other in many ways, and it’s no different at the very top of the bullpen pecking order, as Joaquin Benoit, Al Alburquerque and Jose Valverde are just as nasty as the Yankees’ big three. The one bonus for the Yankees here may be that they won’t have to experience a Joel Zumaya-type coming out of the ‘pen and absolutely blowing them away with 100mph fastballs in a 2006 ALDS redux, though Alburquerque throws very hard. If Detroit’s starters can get their bullpen a lead in the 7th inning, it’ll likely be game over for the Yankees, who, in an unexpected about-face from many of the Yankee teams of the past decade, struggled to hit bullpens across the league all season (tOPS+ of 83 for Innings 7-9), and actually experienced five-year lows in their run-scoring totals for both the seventh inning and ninth inning.
Of course, I completely whiffed on the fact that Detroit’s all-righthanded starting pitching staff wound up perhaps playing the most decisive role of all, especially as they allowed zero home runs to the Yankees, and none after Game 2.
Here’s how the Yankee bats performed, sorted by OPS:
|Playoff Series Stats|
While it was only two at-bats, kinda funny to see Montero’s name atop the board here, just as it was for the entire month of September. One thing’s for sure, getting a full year of Jesus next year is going to be a real treat. As for the offense on the whole, it was the Posada, Cano, Grandy and Gardy show on offense. It’s actually pretty amazing that the team put up the offensive numbers that it did with four regulars posting sub-.600 OPSes.
With A-Rod, Tex and Swish turning in no-show performances, there has been widespread disappointment, anger and the expected borderline insane ideas turning up in comment sections across the Yankosphere. While A-Rod’s always a favorite target, the level of vitriol reserved for Swisher is downright confounding. Here’s a player who was arguably the second-best right fielder in the AL — not to mention boasted the best OBP on the entire team — and you have people eagerly running him out of town because of five bad games. Yes, I know his entire postseason ledger is ugly, but his performances in small samples of games in Octobers 2009 and 2010 have no bearing on 2011. Short of Jose Bautista, there’s no one the Yankees can install in right field who would be better than the man they already have patrolling it. Settle down, everyone.
Another popular sentiment was that these players “buckled under pressure.” I threw my two cents in about this in the comments section of Steve’s Saturday post, which actually wound up generating a pretty good back-and-forth:
“See I just don’t understand this perspective at all. Why is it that Swisher and A-Rod ‘buckled under the pressure,’ and not ‘Benoit did his job’? As a baseball fan you obviously know hitters are going to fail more often than they succeed. Sure, it would’ve been great (and likely won the series) had either of them put the ball in play in the 7th, but they didn’t, and to me, that’s Benoit — one of the better relievers in the game, regardless of how you feel about his contract — simply getting the job done.
Think about it this way — if the Tigers came up with the bases loaded and one out against Mo in the bottom of the ninth, and got a hit to tie the game, chances are we’d be calling them lucky, because we all feel that Mo is invincible. But if Mo takes care of business, no one’s talking about how the Tiger hitters ‘failed’ or ‘buckled under pressure,’ just that Mo is amazing and unsurprisingly took care of business. Baseball is a two-way street; it’s incredible to me how many have forgotten that in the aftermath of this series.”
There was another interesting point raised by TYA fave Professor Longnose in that same comments section, in which he queried the following: “Is runs scored (or the components of runs scored) enough to evaluate an offense or does run distribution need to be taken into account? Is the Yankees’ run distribution an inherent byproduct of the way their offense is built? And if so, are there better ways to build offenses, or ways to get better results in one-run games with this kind of offense?”
This was my response:
“I think you raise an interesting point, and I’d be curious to see what a “run distribution/sequencing” metric might look like, although I’d bet the Yanks would be pretty close to the top of that as well. You can’t finish second in the league in runs scored by accident, I’m sure their sequencing was fine throughout the year. The record in one-run and extra-inning games sucks, but it’s inherently fluky — there’s nothing you can do to get “better” at winning a close game. Sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don’t.
You could probably make the case that maybe Swish shouldn’t have been batting 6th given his struggles, but at the end of the day who’s to say Posada doesn’t also strike out? We’ll never know. I do applaud Joe for not panicking and sticking with what he felt was his best offensive attack, although in hindsight Alex probably should’ve been swapped with Tex, but these minor lineup shuffles will have almost zero effect over the course of a five-game series.
Here’s another way of looking at it — the Yankees had 178 grand slam opportunities in 2011, second only to Boston’s 188, which means the Yankees averaged roughly 1.12 grand slam opportunities per game. The league average GSO was 142, or under one per game. The Yankees loaded the bases twice in Game 5 and had FOUR grand slam opportunities. They also hit .337/.354/.601 with the bases juiced in 2011 — 39% higher than they did in all situations. They also hit 11% better than normal with one out, for whatever reason. That they went 0-4 in their four bases loaded opportunities — including 0-2 with one out — is about as fluky as it gets, at least for me.
We can talk about sequencing, but after all was said and done the Yankees had hitters who had put up 100 wRC+, 103 wRC+, 122 wRC+ and 125 wRC+ seasons — all above-average hitters — take a crack at the bases loaded, including one player who is one HR shy of tying the all-time grand slam record, and it just didn’t happen. I’m just not sure the Yankees could’ve asked for four better run-scoring situations.”
Considering the level of time we all invest in the Yankees, not to mention how passionate we are about the team, it’s human nature to want to ascribe blame for something as inscrutable as a playoff series loss. However, I truly don’t think there was any one “failing” that can function as the proverbial scapegoat — a number of things didn’t go the way we would’ve hoped, but the Yankees were in as good a position as any to win this thing. I think RAB’s Mike Axisa has it summarized best:
“The Yankees somewhat surprisingly won 97 games during the regular season and finished with the best record in the American League, but they lost three of five to the Tigers in the ALDS to end their season. They outscored Detroit 28-17 during the five-game set, showing that when faced with a small sample, it’s not about how many runs you score, but when you score them. The Yankees posted the lowest ERA (3.27) among the eight teams during the LDS round, but they lost the three games by a total of four runs.“
And hey, the 2011 World Champion Phillies lost to the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs, underscoring the fact that even if you have 30 aces there are no guarantees in baseball.
Here’s what Detroit’s hitters did:
|Playoff Series Stats|
As you know, it was the Delmon Young show on offense, though he did have some help from a handful of unexpected parties. I’m still pleased that the Yankees mostly neutralized the Tigers’ three biggest threats, but getting beaten by Young, Inge, Don Kelly and the corpse of Magglio still stings a bit. I’m not entirely sure what happened to the Yankees’ book on Delmon, as they held him to a .381 OPS in the 2009 DS — though he did hit a second-best-on-the-team .885 in 2010 — and I don’t think many of us expected that solo home runs by Young would more or less be the deciding factor in two Detroit wins.
It also didn’t occur to me until well after I wrote my requiem for the season that it’s entirely possible that the Tigers don’t end up winning the ALDS if Dave Dombrowski doesn’t trade for Doug Fister and Delmon at the trade deadline. Sure, you could make the argument that other players might have ended up filling their roles, but in hindsight those look like two of the best deadline deals a contender has made in years.
Here’s what the Yankee pitching staff did:
|Playoff Series Stats|
Weird to see Sabathia’s name near the bottom of that pile. All in all a pretty terrific showing for the Yankee pitching staff; as noted above the 3.27 staff ERA was the lowest of the eight Division Series participants.
And here’s what the Tiger staff did:
|Playoff Series Stats|
As previously noted, Scherzer really killed the Yankees in this one. Though Fister’s line says otherwise, he really didn’t fare all that poorly against them either, as one bad pitch from Al Alburquerque really destroyed his ledger. If Alburquerque doesn’t give up that slam, Fister’s line for the series drops to four runs over 9.2 innings, for a far more respectable 3.72 performance.
And finally, here’s how the Yankee offense fared in this series compared to all the postseason series the team has played since 1995 (green highlights denote World Series victory; yellow playoff series victory):
As far as offensive showings go, the 2011 ALDS was tied with the 1999 World Series for 14th-best OPS put up by a Yankee team. That’s pretty good. The .749 OPS was a tad less than the team’s .788 on the season, but that was primarily due to their SLG of .399, which was way down from .444. Again, kudos to the Tiger staff for mostly keeping the Yankees in the ballpark.
The pitching was also middle-ground, with the 2011 staff’s holding of Detroit to a .690 OPS the 17th-best showing out of these 32 series, and 14th-best by ERA.