Can’t handle the New York heat

Exhibit A:  Melky Cabrera

Pre Yankee Days-N/A

Yankee Days-Cabrera spent four years sporting the pinstripes.  During that time, he batted .269, had an on-base percentage of .331, a slugging percentage of .385, and an OPS of .716.

Post Yankee Days-Melky has played for three teams since leaving the Yankees.  First he went to Atlanta, then Kansas City, and now he is with San Francisco.

Braves: With the Braves, Melky did not do so hot.  He had a batting average of .255, on-base percentage of .317, a slugging sercentage of .354, and an OPS of .671

Royals:  With the Royals, Cabrera batted .305, had an on-base percentage of .339, a slugging percentage of .470, and an OPS of .809.

Giants:  With the Giants, Cabrera is currently second in the National League with a .353 batting average, an on-base percentage of .396, a slugging percentage of .527, and an OPS of .923.

Bottom Line-After a bit of a hiccup in Atlanta which was likely induced by Post-Yankees Stress Syndrome, Cabrera has become an All-Star caliber left-fielder.  He is currently the key cog on a major contender where he is finally living up to his potential.

Exhibit B:  Ian Kennedy

Pre Yankee Days-N/A

Yankee Days-A very highly touted prospect that many expected to be the next Mike Mussina.  After bouncing around the farm system, he made a few short-lived stints with the big club.  During the three-year roller coaster ride, Kennedy went 1 and 4, with a 6.03 ERA, a nearly 1 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio, and a WHIP of 1.676 at the Major League level. After an up and down injury-filled stay with the Yankee organization, Kennedy landed in Arizona following a three-way trade which included the Tigers, Yankees, and Diamondbacks (this trade landed Curtis Granderson in the Bronx).

Post Yankee Days-Kennedy is now in his third season as a Diamondback.  It is safe to say that things have gone well.  Kennedy has a record of 36 and 21 with a 3.51 ERA, a 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio, and a WHIP of 1.178.  In 2011, Kennedy went a staggering 21 and 4 with a 2.88 ERA.

Bottom Line-Perhaps it was Kennedy’s young age, injury issues, or his rushed Minor League experience, but things in New York were not working.  Arizona has provided new beginnings for the former first-round draft pick and has Kennedy on track to be the All-Star pitcher that most expected him to be since his days at USC.

Exhibit C:  A.J. Burnett

Pre Yankee Days-Burnett out of the group is the lone player to have spent the majority of his career wearing a uniform other than the pinstripes.  A.J. spent seven years with Florida and then three years in Toronto before even joining the Bombers.  Burnett was 32-years-old when he made his anxiously awaited debut for the Yankees.

Marlins:  A.J. had a successful seven year stint in Miami that saw him lead the NL in shutouts in 2002 and toss a no hitter on May 12, 2001.  He posted a record of 49 and 50, a 3.73 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.284.  While in Florida, A.J. captured his first World Series ring, but mainly played on bottom-feeder teams that struggled to finish above third-place in the NL East.

Blue Jays:  Burnett followed his time as a Marlin with a three-year stay in Canada.  While with the Blue Jays, A.J. saw great success culminating in leading the AL in strikeouts with 231 strikeouts in 2008.  Burnett posted a very respectable 38 and 26 record, a 3.94 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.284.  Burnett’s amazing 2008 season resulted in the signing of a five-year 82.5 million dollar contract with the New York Yankees.

Yankee Days-Burnett’s stay in the Bronx went from good (sort of), to bad, to ugly.  During his three-year nightmare wearing the pinstripes, Burnett posted a record of 34 and 35, a 4.79 ERA, and a 1.447 WHIP.  A.J. definitely did not perform like a pitcher making over 16.5 million dollars a year.

Post Yankee Day-A.J. has only been gone from the Bronx for less than a year, but most Yankee fans have erased his stay from their memories.  Burnett seems to be more than content with his new team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Pittsburgh is currently sitting atop the NL Central and is looking to end their abysmal 19-year streak of playing under 500 baseball.  A.J. has been a major contributor to this success, with a record of 9 and 2 and an ERA of 3.74.  A.J. looks like a rejuvenated picture and really seems to be embracing his stay in Pittsburgh.

Bottom Line-Burnett has never been a pitcher worthy of a five-year 82.5 million dollar contract.  He was never able to find his proper footing in the Bronx, but has seen success with the three other jerseys he has worn during his solid MLB career.

Conclusion: All three of the players discussed above have seen greater success (as an individual player) when not wearing a Yankees jersey.  This is indisputable from a statistical standpoint.  There are of course other factors that play into why these particular players struggled in New York outside of the bright lights and pressures of the Big Apple. In regards to Cabrera, much of the onus falls on himself from a conditioning stand point.  He seems to have taken a much keener interest in his fitness during his post-Yankee days, which probably would have helped him immensely during his time as a Yankee.  Ian Kennedy was a very young pitcher while with the Yankees.  Not only did Arizona get him at a much better point of his development as a pitcher, they also play in the National League.  The league switch tends to pay dividends for many pitchers that move from the AL to the NL (the same argument could be made for Burnett).  Many of you are also probably thinking that Cabrera and Kennedy struggled in the Bronx due to their young age during their time spent with the Yankees.  This may be true, considering neither player was older than 24-years-old when playing for the Yankees, but both are finally spreading their wings with their new organizations.  Besides, this “Youth Excuse” most definitely does not hold any merit when speaking about A.J. Burnett.  The numbers can’t be ignored though in regards to these three particular players.  Much more success has been seen in the post-Yankee days.  With huge contracts and amazingly high expectations from the fans, players may fizzle.  Some guys like Derek Jeter have embraced the “Heat” of playing in New York.  Others have been unable to handle it.

23 thoughts on “Can’t handle the New York heat

  1. I disagree with Melky. I attribute a lot of his recent success to maturity (and a nice BAPIP). He flopped in Atlanta and Kansas City, too. Maybe flopped is too strong but clearly he wasn't so great there, either.

    • Jason,

      This definitely is valid. Melky now is playing the best baseball of his career though. It quite possibly could have more to do with his maturity than the city itself. But there is no denying that his numbers in KC and SF have been far better than they were in New York.

  2. I agree with Jason about Melky. Also, the Yankees do not have a good history of developing young pitchers. With Kennedy, I think it's not that he "couldn't pitch in New York," but rather "the Yankees have their heads up their butts when it comes to young pitchers." Nova is the first pitcher since Pettitte who is meeting (and exceeding) expectations who came up through the system. I think that's because the Yankees kind of ignored him while hyping Hughes, Joba and Kennedy. I fear they are doing the same thing with Adam Warren — one, bad, first outing, and whoosh, back to Scranton. They mess with their pitchers' heads way too much.

    As for AJ — well, that's a different story. I do agree he's one of those guys who find success elsewhere, but "can't pitch in New York" — Ed Whitson, Kenny Rogers, Kevin Brown — the list is long. Those guys I blame for not having the mental make-up to succeed here.

      • One swallow does not a summer make, and one very good postseason start does not an $82 million contract justify.

        • WEll if the premise is that A.J. just couldn't handle playing in New York, the fact that he did have one pretty good season and a VERY good postseason would sort of seem to undercut that a wee bit, no?

    • "I fear they are doing the same thing with Adam Warren — one, bad, first outing, and whoosh, back to Scranton. They mess with their pitchers' heads way too much. "

      Well, Warren was never really coming up to do anything but give them a spot start, and Warren was "replaced" in the rotation by Phelps, who is essentially on a level with Warren at the moment. If that's "messing with his head," he's probably never going to make it in the big leagues anyway.

      • I may be under a misapprehension then. If they brought up Warren and said, "You're making a spot start, and we're sending you back down after the game no matter what," then I stand corrected. I was under the impression, thought, that this was an audition, and there was some question of whether Phelps or Warren would get to fill in behind Garcia. That's what I was reacting to. It's not fair to say, "Your future as a major leaguer right now is contingent on how you perform in one start." But if I'm wrong about that, then I retract the comment about the handling of Warren.

        • Well, I don't necessarily know what they told him, but remember that they were filling in for C.C., and the plan had been for him to only miss two starts, so at most you were talking about one additional outing. Whether they told Warren it was for one game or not, they decided to give the next start to Phelps, which would have made sense in isolation anyway given that he'd made previous starts for the team, and he DID have a very nice outing in Tampa, so it's hard to be too critical of anyone over a decision like that.

          Again, if Warren is going to be ruined mentally because he got sent down after one start instead of two, then he's not going to ever make it anyway.

          • I didn't say "ruined"; I said "messed with his head." There's a big difference. The Yankees, going back to the Boss Steinbrenner era, have a history of yanking young pitchers around, building them up and then pulling the rug out from under them if they perform at a level less than, say, Andy Pettitte. They did it with Kennedy and have come very close to doing it with Hughes. (As for AJ and the comment above, I think he was the best of the "can't pitch in New York" group, but that's a pretty low standard. It can't be denied that he's had much greater success immediately before and immediately after his time in New York.)

          • Well, perhaps, but I think it's stretching a little bit to say that sending him back down after one spot start instead of two (when he wasn't even on the 40 man roster three days prior, I might add) is "yanking him around." That's just part of being young rotation depth (or, in other words, it's Warren's job at this point in his career). Phelps got transitioned back to the bullpen and then sent back down to pitch, but he came back and had a nice spot start last week. I would imagine his head is fine, because he realizes that that's his role on the roster right now.

            Kennedy and Hughes fit the same bill, IMO. Kennedy got 58.2 innings in 2007-08, and he wasn't very good at all. I'd say that, in retrospect, he just clearly wasn't ready for the big leagues, but the team was short of pitching and needed the help. Then he was hurt for a big chunk of 2009, and then he got traded for Curtis Granderson. That doesn't really scream "yanking him around" to me, except in so much as he had to come up before he was ready to reinforce the big league team. Hughes seems like an even stranger name to invoke. Sure, he had some ups and downs with effectiveness and injury in 07-08, but he's been a big leaguer since May 2009 now and he's been nothing but a starting pitcher since the beginning of 2010. No yanking of any kind.

  3. Melky is just 28, and only played with the Yankees up until age 24. Personally, at that age, the way he hit was rather impressive. Personally, i think it's pretty unfair that he was even considered for this list. Loads of players don't figure "it" out until they are age 26 or 27.

  4. From what I have read and heard, Melky hit a low point in Atlanta and decided to take control of his career and his life. He started getting in shape and working year round on his craft. His current results are the rewards for those efforts. So I guess I agree that the article was great and I enjoyed it, but Melky is a separate case than the others.

  5. Josh, I've never bought into the idea that NY is an unusually difficult place to play baseball. True enough, some players have performed better once they've left the Yankees. Others perform better once they arrive in NY (Nick Swisher being a good example). Others like CC perform as well in NY as they did elsewhere. I'm pretty sure this is the way things work when players depart from and arrive at other teams in other cities.

    • Interesting perspective Larry. Would be a very interesting study to look further into.

  6. i would like to do a test Josh…consider players that used to play for any team..let's call it X and now consider their career after they were with X. there is a reason they are no longer with X and there is a good chance they are doing better. it would be interesting to see if this is true in general or not.

    • This would be a very interesting study Mike. Would be very curious to see the results.

  7. How about guys who leave New York and play worse? Hideki Matsui, Tino Martinez, David Wells, etc. Did they need the NY media microscope in order to have success? The sampling bias here is pretty distracting.

    • Tim this is a valid point. But in regards to the three players listed above. Hideki Matsui was 35 when he played his last game as a Yankee (36 when he made his debut for the Angels). Tino Martinez was 33-years-old when he finished moved on from the Yankees (rejoined at 37-years-old). And David Wells was 35-years-old when he left the Yankees for the first time.

      I understand the point. Not sure any of these three guys are great examples though. They were well past the prime of their careers when they left the Yankees.

  8. You would really have to extend this theory to the other sports teams in NY, most specifically the Knicks (hockey and football are not that big?) in terms of players that "play well elsewhere and can't due to the pressure in NY". Would be interesting to find out if there indeed was any correlation. My guess is no, since it's easy to point out one or two players that did fail but countless others that didn't.