Pettitte I just recalled does have bone spurs or something...so yeah, I stand corrected..I just like to recall most of 2005 when he had the second lowest ERA in MLB...just behind Roger Clemens.
The last month of the season was rather amazing for him as well - but really...as a filler until you can get some other pitchers in there I'd take him over Wright and Pavano...and to some degree maybe even RJ although that's a tad tougher to think.
10/07/2006 10:37 PM ET
Epitaph: Game over, series over, season over
The Yankees need to build with youth
As I begin today's entry, it is only the bottom of the fifth inning in Detroit. With the Yankees down 7-0 and lacking a single hit, it doesn't seem too early to begin. If they rally, if they have a historic, nearly unprecedented rally, I'll gladly throw out my work and start over. I don't sense that will be happening.
I don't know who the fans, my colleagues in the media, or even the Yankees organization (George Steinbrenner on down) will blame for this series loss. Maybe the villain will be Alex Rodriguez again. As he bats now with Robinson Cano on first (the Yankees finally have a hit), it occurs to me that even if Rodriguez were to hit a home run here, the fans and writers will say he finally hit one when the game was out of reach. Scratch that headline... he just grounded into a force-out.
In the end, the only lesson is this: the Yankees need to draft better. They need to run their minor league system with more efficiency. They need to use their advantaged financial position to sign those expensive players who fall in the draft because they're too costly for the Reds or Royals to sign. They need to offer incentives to top prep prospects to forgo college and sign early. They need to stop giving away top draft picks on free agent compensation (this last may be rendered moot by the ongoing collective bargaining agreements, where it is rumored that the free agent compensation system is on the table and may be scrapped).
The Yankees need to develop dynamic young pitching. They are not ever, EVER, going to buy enough of it on the free agent market to make up a championship caliber staff. That's not news. If you were around to watch the Yankees from say 1982 through their 1989 collapse, you've lived through this scenario before, the desperate chasing after veteran pitchers in an effort to acquire what the farm system could not produce. Some of those moves were good, some were tragically bad, but none of them were enough. In no particular order: Phil Neikro, Eddie Lee Whitson, Bill Gullickson, Steve Trout, John Montefusco, Shane Rawley, Marty Bystrom, Rick Reuschel, Doyle Alexander, Tim Leary, and on and on. It doesn't work. You have to be very lucky to succeed with someone else's 30 year old. Worse, every time you're wrong you've added another immovable Carl Pavano or Jaret Wright contract to your roster. Even when you're right, you're always just a few years from having to replace that player.
A lot has changed since then. In the intervening years the Yankees have gotten smarter about running a baseball team. They have a real general manager and manager, instead of conflict partners for the owner. At the same time, their financial position has gotten even better. During those years, you could walk up and get a good ticket for most Yankees game. Manhattan was not seen as a safe place to visit, let alone the South Bronx. Now the Yankees sell out on a nightly basis, bringing in ticket, food, and souvenir money. The new ballpark, with the improved luxury box capacity that ownership has been lusting after for decades, will only help the team's bottom line. The YES Network came into being and has been a tremendous success. The collusive behavior that prevented the Yankees from leveraging that advantage has gone. Bud Selig shrunk the divisions and added the wild card. Even with revenue sharing taking a bite out of the bottom line, the Yankees have not wanted for resources, nor should they in the future.
Those changes mean that with only competent management the Yankees should always be competitive. Since the start of the Joe Torre era they have consistently had an advantage on the rest of baseball in their strength up the middle. As Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada age it won't be easy to maintain that advantage, even with money. That could derail them. Meanwhile, three of the other four teams in the division are willfully stupid. As long as the AL East remains a two team division, the Yankees will always have a good chance of being in the postseason.
There was evidence this season that the division will be more competitive in the future. More on that in the Pinstriped Bible this week.
Once you're in the October lottery, anything can happen. Yet, if the Yankees are going to have a chance that's more than random, they are going to have to develop the kind of pitching that graces the staffs of the Tigers and A's. There's nothing wrong with having a bludgeoning offense. Certainly it's better to have one than not. In the regular season this works well because a good deal of the time you're playing teams with weak pitching. Your staff allows four, five, six, or more runs, but that's okay because you're bombing home runs into the stands and winning 7-4 or 8-5. That formula is less likely to pay off in October because your opposition is made up of teams with good pitching. Your top-flight offense is unlikely to score a touchdown and a field goal. You might have to win with just a few runs.
That's where the pitching staff comes in. Their job has gotten harder too, because not only have your postseason opponents been selected for good pitching, they've been selected for hitting too.
(The Yankees have scored. It's now 8-1.)
As I said above, a lot has changed since the bad old 1980s, but the Yankees are back there again now, and for the same reasons. They have been helpless since the end of 2003, when Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells left all at once. As I've written many times before, that's not something they can be faulted for. Any team losing three great pitchers out of their starting rotation at once (regardless of what happened to any of them after) is going to be at a loss. The Yankees, though, had no options, which led to Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, led to trading Nick Johnson for Javy Vazquez, led to Randy Johnson, led to Sidney Ponson, led to Cory Lidle. Who's next in that sequence? The answer, "Jeopardy"-style, is, "Who's the modern equivalent of Dave LaPoint?" The only difference between then and now is that the Yankees are finishing second to the Tigers in the playoffs instead of finishing second to them in the division.
(Going to the top of the ninth now. The Tigers clubhouse is being wrapped in plastic like an old comic book. Abreu leads off with a single. Miracle comeback in the offing? Craig Monroe makes a great catch on a sinking Gary Sheffield liner. Apparently not.)
So what do the Yankees need to do? The same thing they figured out how to do when Gene Michael was the general manager. Be PATIENT. Don't sign whatever veteran cheese is out there this winter. You want to pick up Mike Mussina's option? Cool. He seems to have some life left in him. Want to make a run at Barry Zito? Sure. He'll be 29 next year and could be safe for the next four years. Failing that, after that, stay out of the damned market. Give Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner a chance at the back end of the rotation. Assuming good results at Triple-A, give Phillip Hughes and Tyler Clippard a shot no later than midseason. If they have good spring camps, try them out sooner.
The American League East is weak enough and the rest of the Yankees team is strong enough, that they can gamble on young pitching without sacrificing competitiveness. The whole point is that they should be more competitive, certainly in the long run if not in 2007. In the short term, they should win anyway. If the worst case scenario is another first round loss, there's no reason not to try.
Take the pledge: no more veteran mediocrities.
Fulfilling that pledge will mean not only keeping the wallet securely holstered, but getting out of Wright's contract (apparently a possibility), coming to some accommodation with Pavano that lets him take his sore buttocks and late night joyriding to some other city, letting Lidle leave as a free agent, and encouraging Johnson to hang 'em up. Not all of these things will happen, but any two will be a step in the right direction.
A team with a $200 million payroll really shouldn't be in the position of starting Ponson at any point in the season. This is going to sound a bit like the old joke about how the food at that restaurant is bad and the portions are too small, but not only do the Yankees have weak pitching, they don't have enough of it.
(Posada hits a home run. I'm so glad Rodriguez didn't hit it.)
The game just ended. Congratulations to the Detroit Tigers. It's been a long time in the wilderness for them. They earned this.
A word about the offense, which failed against the major league leader in ERA, disappearing in Games 3 and 4. As we have seen in the past several postseasons, the Yankees get out of their offensive game plan when they get down early in the postseason (a not altogether self-indulgent plug: Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus wrote a great chapter, obviously still current, about this in our book Mind Game). Detroit's pitching was tremendous, and there's no guarantee the Yankees would have overcome it in any scenario, but it is not unreasonable, not wishful thinking to believe that had Yankees pitching been more competitive the quality of the at bats would have been different. And forget what the Yankees are saying about Bonderman throwing strikes and not giving them a chance to work the count. That's spin. They were swinging at first and second pitches throughout the game.
In addition to swearing off empty calorie Pavano/Wright free agents and giving the pitchers the Yankees do have chances ahead of them, the team will need to refocus its minor league structure, personnel, and priorities. The team has made some changes in this direction, even since this year's draft. They've been very quiet about them, and whether they are significant or constitute a change of philosophy I couldn't say. All I know is, to paraphrase Sam Cooke, a change has to come. Until recently, the minor league staff has not been good at identifying prospects of any kind, let alone pitchers. Now they have a few. Not a lot. A few. And because recent drafts have been overly focused on high school talent in the early rounds rather than major league ready college players, they have forgone the quick reinforcements that college players provide. Worse, so far the minor league instruction in the Yankees system hasn't proved that it can do anything more with high school players than turn them into former high school players.
There will be some other issues to discuss in coming days. Joe Torre had a poor series. He mismanaged the roster and the bullpen again. He put too much faith in Gary Sheffield, benching Jason Giambi in the final game (Giambi had a cortisone shot, but Torre insisted that wasn't the deciding factor). Torre's apparent approval of the A-Rod Sports Illustrated article showed extremely poor judgment. And I don't care what Rodriguez hit in this series. Torre's lineup shenanigans only put more pressure on Rodriguez, not less. I'm not making excuses for the guy, I'm not saying he would have had one more hit in the series if it had been otherwise. I'm only saying that the Yankees didn't help. If we make A-Rod the story of this postseason, we'll be missing the point. In the end, though, what this game, what this series, what this season comes down to, is a pitching strategy that doesn't work and can't be sustained. Again, the Yankees might win anyway, just by getting into the postseason and getting hot at the right moment. If they want a better chance than that, they'll have to change their ways.