Friday, October 09, 2009

Who are the "Yankees"?

Teams that play in the postseason are rarely in the same division. This can cause a problem for fans, because they aren't as familiar with teams that they only see once or twice per year. That is likely the case this week for Twins fans, as the hometown nine faces an obscure team from over a thousand miles away with a strange name - the "Yankees."

The Yankees are from our nation's biggest city and have a rather rich baseball history, once boasting the major league's career home run hitter. They are very popular out east, and even nationwide among people with low opinions of themselves. You will often hear these folks talk about their Yankees to boost their own low self-esteem. That can be especially true when one's career has stagnated at a tertiary sports network, such as TBS.

But one gains little real information from such ramblings, so I thought it might be a good idea to present a primer of what we can expect to see when the Twins face them this weekend.

The Lineup
The strength of the Yankees is in their offense, and has been for the entire decade. Actually, that's not quite true. The real strength of the Yankees is in having a 100+ year history in the richest city on earth. But this most clearly manifests itself in their lineup. They ranked ranked first overall in runs scored and they ranked first overall in OPS.

But what's impressive about this lineup is how deep it is. There just aren't many weaknesses. For instance, versus the right-handers the Yankees ranked first overall in OPS. And the also ranked first overall versus left-handers.

And that balance isn't just at a high level - it goes down to the individuals. It used to be that you could, in late innings, mix-and-match a little to get the upper hand. For instance, the Twins almost always carried an extra southpaw when they played the Yankees because Jason Giambi would struggle against left-handers.

That's not the case anymore. Up and down the lineup there is no magic formula for getting every other guy out. Now you need to look at individual types of pitches. Hideki Matsui is really fooled by changeups. Mark Teixeira doesn't hit curveballs. Nick Swisher has trouble against anything offspeed.

In other words, this isn't a lineup you manage. This is a lineup you fight your way through, and you do it with a healthy dose of courage (to throw the offspeed stuff) and luck (to throw anything else). They are deep through the #8 hitter when Jorge Posada is catching, and through #7 when he's not.

The Pitching
People will say, however, that the offense has been a constant. Instead, this year, the pitching is the difference. That might be true, but that doesn't mean it's world class. Overall, it's been about average. The team sported a 4.26 ERA this year which ranked 12th in the majors. In terms of runs against, the Yankees ranked 14th, giving up just twelve fewer runs than the Twins staff. And we worried about the Twins staff all year.

For this weekend, we don't care so much about the overall staff. We mostly care about the next two starting pitchers, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte.

Burnett has been quite the topic in New York this year. They signed him for $82.5 million, guaranteeing five years to a 32-year-old who has battled injuries his whole career. But he stayed healthy this year, and to the Yankees credit, they've been very careful about extending him past 100-110 pitches in his starts. Most of his starts have gone well, but he's mixed in enough stinkers to leave his ERA at 4.04.

A lot of those clunkers came at the end of August and the beginning of September, which naturally caused a little insomnia in the city that never sleeps, seeing as they were counting on him for the playoffs. But his last really crummy start was September 12th, and he's been very good since.

He does, however, give up baserunners, because he walks quite a few and still gives up hits. I expected to find out that his personal catcher, Jose Molina, who will be starting tonight, would limit the damage those runners can do on the basepaths. But he isn't any better about stopping a running game than Posada, whose defense looked laughable in Game 1. Molina has thrown out just nine of 32 stolen base attempts.

The Twins ran a little in Game 1. It might behoove them to really focus on it in Game 2. It looks like a weakness on a Yankees team that doesn't have many. And candidly, the Twins don't have that much to lose by throwing caution to the wind.

The cliche about Pettite is that he gets a lot better as the season goes on, and sure enough his ERA is 3.30 after the all-star break, as opposed to 4.85 before. He's exactly the kind of Yankees pitcher that has baffled the Twins for the last decade. He's a veteran. He never challenges batters, preferring to keep making his pitch until he finds an impatient batter. And he's left-handed.

If you only watch one-pitch per at-bat with Pettitte on the mound, make it the first one. It's usually a strike, and if it's good enough to hit, the batter will do fairly well (.360 batting average). But if Pettitte gets strike one, batters have hit just .212 against him this year. On the other hand, if he falls behind 1-0, batters have posted an 876 OPS against him.

Links
I mentioned last week that Michael “Sammy” Samuelson had a get-together at Sunday’s game. Sammy is a life long baseball fan who, along with Julian Loscalzo, is responsible for the irreverent Hot Stove League Banquet each January. For Sunday’s game, he was followed by a video team from StarTribune.com, and the video has been posted here.

A great baseball game can bring out the best in us. As proof I offer “Ode to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome” by Andrew Berg. Well worth the click.

Finally, please consider signing up to follow me on Twitter this weekend. I don't know where I'll be watching (or attending) the games, but whatever is going on, I'll be talking about it in short 140 character snippets. I'd love you to be a part of that.

10 comments:

Topper said...

John, I actually happen to live out east among fans of this team you call the "Yankees". It definitely is quite an interesting social observation to see a bunch of them among their own kind. Talking to some of them, I was surprised (and I think you'd be suprised), that a vast majority of them can only refer to a "Derek Jeter" and an "A-Rod" and have no clue who else is on their team... It looks like Minnesotans aren't the only people who don't know much about this ballclub...

I'm going to the game tonight! I'll be wearing my Minnesota Twins Rick Aguilera jersey and waving my homer hanky, so if you see someone getting murdered in the stands it was probably me.

Anonymous said...

So if you live outside of the NY area and root for the Yanks, you therefore must suffer from low self-esteem? Seriously, that's as dumb a comment as I have ever heard.

And for the record, both Posada and Molina have a better CS% than Mauer this year, so running might not be the best idea. Molina can't hit a lick, but he's an excellent receiver and has an accurate arm.

Many Yanks fans are absolutely blind homers, the kind you like to mock. Hell, I do too. But not everyone is the "Vinny from Da Bronx" that you think.

Jason said...

you just think this post might be maybe just have the slightest hint of sarcasm and humor to it? apparently fans of the "Yankees" also suffer from extremely thin skin

John said...

No, Jason, Anonymous is right. I'm dead serious.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the fact that a Yanqui "fan" took the time to criticize your post is just proof of the low self-esteem of which you speak.

Anonymous said...

One way to explicate the self-esteem issues of non-native Yankee fans is by thinking of the TV show Cheers. They are like Norm and Cliff. They have no identity of their own, no lives, no indpendent existence, really, and no self esteem, or reason to have any. They live vicariously through a baseball player. Unlike them, he is is attractive, he is successful, he has a life. Rather than pursue a meaningful life of their own, they sit in a circle around him, and watch. The more pathetic and empty their own life is, the more they build their identity around their fantasy stand-in

Most baseball fans root for a team that represents where they live. This signifies a healthy sense of community and pride in their lives, their community, who THEY are.

To root for the Yankees without living in New York or having lived their as a child reeks of desperation. Your own life, your own community, your own identity, feel too pathetic to accept, to them, at least.

So they grovel before the biggest bully they can find, reveling in their submission, proud just to be associated with their magnificent abuser.

So wow, they allowed you to buy a hat and a shirt with "Jeter" on it. That must mean you're FRIENDS! Congratulations. We're all really impressed with you now.

The appeal is quite powerful, apparently. Why did Italians love Mussolini, even as he stripped them of their personal freedom, rights and dignity? Why do people cling to abusive partners, as if celebrating that person's power over them somehow made up for the lack of their own dignity? Why does a whore feel "protected" by her pimp?

The alternative seems so obvious: step out of that domineering shadow, and free yourself to live a life of dignity, equality, and wholesome, balanced, real, satisfying pride in the everyday virtues of living in a midwestern town. Do ignorant, unbalanced, arrogant, coastal provincials view us with scorn? Sometimes, yes. But whose problem is that? Not mine. Not yours, unless you let it. But suppose you burn with shame at their contempt. Is internalizing it, and embracing their rejection of you, really a path to genuine self-respect?

It's not too late. No one here holds a grudge. We're used to it. We can handle it. Just walk away. Free yourself from the call of the dark side and step into the light.

MN said...

It's kind of embarrassing to me the kind of ridiculous Yankee-inferiority compensation complex that afflicts Twins bloggers. It's not funny and it got old by 2004.

The Yankees are simply a better team than the Twins.

But that doesn't mean the Twins can't win. They don't have to be a better team than the Yankees, they just have to be better for the next 3 games.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a lot of respect for most Yankee fans outside of New York. They're either obnoxious or have very little baseball knowledge. You should be able to name 6 players of the team you are a "fan" of, especially if your team is filled with superstars. And the ones who do know about baseball have such a sense of entitlement when it comes to winning or getting players.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's really accurate to call the Yankees a "team." They won last night because a $300 million mercenary and a $180 million mercenary hit home runs. But other than those two moments, the Twins outplayed the Yankees in every way. I left gladder than ever to be a Twins fan. Put those two free agents on either team and that team wins. Take them away and it's not even close which team is more likable.

Army of Dad said...

How is MLB allowing Cuzzi to continue to work this series!? Or even work at all. That sorry homer needs to be canned, while I had my doubts MLB would do the right thing I thought they would at least sit this sorry excuse for a human being down for the rest of this series.

There has to be a legally blind monkey out there they can get to do a better job than that waste of oxygen. Oh God I pray he suffers a "huntng accident".