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This postseason, we will witness something we have not seen in the last 20 years. Not talking about the Pittsburgh Pirates making consecutive trips to the Fall Classic or the Kansas City Royals clinching a playoff spot. Though both events are remarkably rare, a staple of postseason baseball will not be there this autumn. For the first time in 20 years, the New York Yankees will go consecutive seasons without making a trip to the Major League Baseball playoffs. A franchise that prides itself as the “Evil Empire” that tries to win titles by any means or costs, will be watching the most important games in baseball from the comforts of their own home.
Way back in mid-August, the Yankees were ranked in the top 10 in Felipe’s Ultimate Baseball Advanced Rankings (or FUBAR for short). We’d mentioned that “despite injuries and question marks littering their roster,” the Yankees were still in contention for a playoff spot. They even shot all the way up to sixth in our final August rankings as well.
So the only question that is left to ask is “why is this team not participating in the 2014 playoffs?” All types of excuses are being used by “experts” and Yankee fans alike. However, when talking about the team from the Bronx, excuses are just that. In the Yankeedom, you are either in first place, hoisting that trophy over your head or you’re not. No middle ground, no gray area.
Luckily, for the rest of us, we are curious enough to find out what went wrong. What lies ahead is a review of the Yankees’ 2014 season as we compare their first half numbers with those of the second half and see if we can find some sort of pattern as we figure out their faults that prevented them from making the playoffs. It’s the same treatment we gave the Oakland Athletics when attempting to figure out why their offense has been bad for a majority of the season (with or without Yoenis Cespedes).
Many people will cite that the loss of Masahiro Tanaka was a major reason why the Yankees could not continue to compete for a playoff spot. His absence was too much for the pitching staff to overcome. However, the numbers would suggest differently.
|New York Yankees Starting Pitching Throughout Season|
Tanaka’s last game before it was announced that he would be placed on the disabled list was on July 8. So the Yankees went almost two months without their best pitcher. Yet, the team’s Strikeout Rate (K%) increased while their Walk Rate (BB%) decreased after Tanaka went down. Matter of fact, the 4.8 percent BB% is currently leading the league in the second half of the season. The club’s advanced ERAs (FIP and SIERA) have also improved in the second half of baseball. In case anyone was wondering, yes, when compared to other teams, the Yankees have themselves a top five starting rotation, without Tanaka. Believe it or not, this is what at an elite starting rotation looks like in this 2014, second half of baseball:
All these pitchers have logged in at least 50 innings in the second half of the season. It’s safe to say that the rotation is not the blame for the Yankee Downfall of ’14.
Though David Robertson has led the team with 16 saves in the second half of the season, the real star out of the ‘pen has been fireballer, Dellin Betances. Sporting a fastball that has averaged close to 97 miles per hour in 2014, the pitcher built like an NBA power forward has been shutting the door on opponents before giving way to Robertson. The rest of the bullpen has been pretty stellar all season too:
|New York Yankees Relief Pitching Throughout Season|
The Yankees’ bullpen led the league in K% and SIERA in the first half of the season and has been among the best in the categories listed above. In short, the Yankees also possess a top-level bullpen as well. The Yankees not making the postseason this year is not the bullpen’s fault.
That only leads to one last candidate…
|New York Yankees Offense Throughout Season|
In the first half of the season, the Yankees were holding their own on offense as they seemed to have an adequate lineup. However, in the second half, all those injuries finally caught up to them. In the latter half of the season, the Yankees have ranked near the bottom in batting average and on-base percentage, while also sporting a terrible Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA).
So based on the (lack of) production mentioned, it all boiled down on the offense not showing up when they were needed the most. It’s a similar story to that of the Oakland Athletics, except people are not ridiculing the Yankees like they ridicule the A’s.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, all signs were pointing at a mediocre upcoming season. Based on their offseason activity, they were not interested in competing for the playoffs this season. They had other things in mind.
A very adorable story, the Derek Jeter farewell tour, full of nostalgia and senseless euphoria, has seen the Yankees’ shortstop get all sorts of treats and goodies from all 30 MLB teams. He was even awarded an undeserving spot in this year’s All-Star game. But surely, we’re not insinuating that the Yankees’ Downfall of ’14 can be blamed on Jeter, are we? After all, we all knew his best days were behind him and that he was a washed-up, over-the-hill player that did not deserve to be on any team’s starting lineup, let alone the starting shortstop of the 2014 All-Star Game. But just like we wrote about Paul Konerko being forced to sink with the Chicago White Sox ship this season, Jeter definitely did his part to sink the Yankees’ offense this year:
|Derek Jeter Offense Throughout Season|
Based on the numbers, Jeter ranked among the worst in Slugging Percentage and wOBA, but saved face with an adequate batting average and good on-base percentage in the first half of the season. However, in the second half, Jeter has ranked as one of the least productive shortstops in the entire league. Making matters worse, Jeter has been hitting at the top of the Yankees’ order, usually second in the lineup, with these putrid numbers. No matter the circumstances, you cannot have a hitter be this bad hitting this high in the batting order. Arguably their best hitter in the second half, Martin Prado, was hitting eighth in the lineup on a regular basis. How anyone can justify having a player posting a wOBA of .383 at the bottom of their order is completely inexplicable.
And as tired as this argument is going to sound, Jeter’s defense has been a huge disappointment, yet again, for the Yankees. Based on a large sample size that goes all the way back to 2012 to account for an injury-riddled 2013 campaign, Jeter has played in 2,434 innings at shortstop, ranking him 20th of 26 shortstops in that category during that time span. Needless to say, he’s played plenty of games at that position. But taking into account his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), both advanced defensive metrics, Jeter ranks 25th of 26 shortstops during that time span in both categories.
If manager Joe Girardi did not have the courage to downgrade Jeter from the two-hole and maybe even replace him at short, then the Captain should be a leader and do something else to help the team. Maybe play second base where the lack of range might not hurt the team as much? Maybe hitting sixth or seventh in the lineup would have generated more offense? Where was the accountability and leadership from America’s favorite athletic, corporate spokesperson?
The most popular team in the largest sports’ market, the Yankees not having a chance to compete in the playoffs is definitely an unacceptable outcome from their demanding fanbase. Though the team had the arms to compete with anybody this season, it was the offense that completely let them down this year. A big point of the finger definitely goes out to the front office for not bringing in better players and adding more depth to the ballclub. However, their biggest Achilles’ heel was assuming that Jeter, in his last season, would be serviceable at the position. From a hitting and defensive standpoint, Jeter’s name should be nowhere near a lineup card at the beginning of games.
Nevertheless, the team should have stepped in and acquired the best hitting lineup they could get, including someone to replace Jeter. The fact that they failed in that regard showed that the team, from management down to the players that play the games, were content to ride out Jeter’s last season. His Farewell Tour was more important than having the team make the playoffs and in the process, wasted an opportunity to take advantage of an elite-level pitching staff. For the sake of the organization, let’s hope that seeing Jeter ride out into the sunset was well worth the sacrifice of a lost season.
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