Many fans, writers, players, and analysts argue what being the “Most Valuable Player” truly means. Some argue it requires being the “best player on the best team,” while others suggest it belongs to “the season’s best player.”
I personally fall somewhere in between–choosing to fully recognize the “valuable” component, while not disqualifying a player who fell just short in a pennant race.
In many seasons, such as the 1998 Yankees, the best team is just that–a “team.” They are a unit comprised of multiple high quality players that represent something far greater than the simple sum of its parts.
A “Most Valuable Player” many times cannot be chosen from the game’s best team, as no player distinguishes himself as more important than the men standing next to him.
In other cases, a player has a season immortalized in baseball lore, and his accomplishments can/should sometimes outweigh a great season by a pennant winner–so long as they occur as part of a competitive ball club.
As a result of my slightly modified criteria, I have created a list of five controversial MVP decisions that particularly irritated me. Each personifies my frustration and disappointment with the MVP voting process, and shows why things need to change.
5. Andre Dawson (1987)
The 1987 vote represents most people’s underlying issue and concern with the MVP process–being “most valuable” on one of the league’s worst teams. Everyone loves “The Hawk,” but 1987 in no way represented an MVP-caliber season.
Not only did his Cubs finish dead last in the National League East (a staggering 18.5 games back of first place St. Louis), but Dawson’s stats were one-dimensional.
Dawson sported just a .287 BA and .328 OBP–just the 6th best batting average and 8th best on-base percentage of his career. As a result of his anemic OBP, Dawson scored just 90 runs that season even though he nearly hit 50 home runs.
To put an icing on the “undeserving cake,” Dawson’s strikeout-to-walk ratio was worse than at any point of his career from 1980 to his final year as a starter in 1993.
4. Alex Rodriguez (2003)
Another prime example of an MVP rising from the ashes of a last place team, Alex Rodriguez undeservedly won the award in 2003 with the Texas Rangers.
A-Rod’s Rangers finished 71-91, and were so far in Oakland’s rearview mirror that they stopped keeping track by the All-Star break. The eventual deficit stood at 25 games on the season’s final day.
Exactly how “valuable” can a player be for a last place team? Texas was nearly closer to capturing the worst record in MLB history than they were to catching the AL West Champion Athletics.
Though A-Rod’s numbers were very impressive, they left much to be desired for an eventual MVP winner. He produced 47 HR, 118 RBI, 124 R, and a .298 BA, but the bottom-line stats don’t tell the whole story.
Aside from being buried in last place, A-Rod hit just .276 with runners in scoring position, .260 in late-and-close situations (though I dislike the stat), and drove in just 47 of his 118 runs (39.8 percent) on the road.
A-Rod was no more than a product of a little league park in Arlington on a last place team. The Rangers finished last with him, and they would have finished last without him. There is nothing inherently “valuable” about a season like A-Rod’s in 2003.
3. Dennis Eckersley (1992)
Though this vote may be the one that raises my blood pressure to the most alarming of heights, it cannot possibly rise higher than No. 3 on the list.
This voting process does credit a solid season on a division-winning team, but it opens up a whole new can of worms. There have been players ignored in MVP discussions who had far better seasons than those Eckersley beat out, but this vote makes as little sense as any other.
The 1992 season didn’t represent Eckersley’s best season as a pitcher. It didn’t even represent his best season as a relief pitcher.
Yet this is the year a reliever wins the league’s Most Valuable Player Award?!
Eckersley was 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA while pitching 80 innings, recording 51 saves, and sporting a WHIP of 0.913. A very solid season, but nothing out of the ordinary for any season’s best closer.
To put things into perspective, “Eck” was 4-2 with a 0.61 ERA and 0.614 WHIP in 73.1 IP in 1990. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was an absurd 73:4, and he added an equally impressive 48 saves.
Not only did Eck not win the Cy Young in 1990 (finishing 5th), but he finished just 6th in the AL MVP voting process. His numbers were drastically better in 1990 than 1992, and help to illustrate how unimpressive his 1992 MVP season truly was in comparison.
2. Lou Gehrig (1934)
Lou Gehrig was a player underrated and underappreciated from the day he replaced Wally Pipp as the New York Yankees first baseman. He was overshadowed for much of his career by Babe Ruth–though he may have been just as responsible for Ruth’s breath-taking offensive performances.
Gehrig’s greatness was never ignored more starkly than during the 1934 major league season.
“The Iron Horse” captured the Triple Crown during that campaign–hitting .363 with 49 HR and 165 RBI. He also added 128 R and a .465 OBP–all without the benefit of a dangerous and productive Ruth.
Not only did Gehrig lose the MVP voting in 1934, but he finished fifth. Fifth? How can a Triple Crown winner be determined to have the fifth best season in the American League?
To make matters worse, the 1934 MVP vote went to the Detroit Tigers’ Mickey Cochrane. Gehrig lost out to a man who hit .320 with just 2 HR, 76 RBI, and 74 runs scored.
Cochrane only played in 129 games that season (Gehrig played all 154), and collected just 140 hits in comparison to Gehrig’s 210. Gehrig even stole more bases than Cochrane in 1934 (nine vs. eight).
A player who hit .43 points lower, scored 54 fewer runs, drove in 89 fewer runs, hit 47 fewer home runs, and collected 70 fewer hits was more valuable than Gehrig?
For those of you assuming the Yankees had a poor season, New York was 94-60 in 1934–winning 61 percent of their games.
* Mickey Cochrane was a player-manager and played a more important defensive position at catcher, but this alone cannot overshadow Gehrig’s godlike offensive season.
1. Ted Williams (1941, 1947)
The only thing that could possibly upstage Gehrig’s disappointment is a Hall of Fame player who was robbed of the MVP twice by division rival Joe DiMaggio.
Remember when I explained that some seasons are immortalized in baseball lore, and that these efforts should sometimes overcome a solid season by a pennant winner?
Ted Williams was ignored for epic achievements in both 1941 and 1947.
In 1941, Williams generated one of the most magical numbers in major league history when he hit .406. Never duplicated and rarely even approached since 1941, Williams’ “.406” is still recognized as one of the few statistical anomalies that may never be broken.
Unfortunately for Williams, he was put up against an equally immortalized baseball feat by a man on a pennant-winning club–DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
Even if voters chose to deem the two epic accomplishments as “equal,” Williams lead the league in walks, runs scored, home runs, slugging, on-base percentage (.553), and OPS.
Although a strong DiMaggio proponent, it is impossible for me to justify his MVP selection over a season like Williams’.
To further prolong the “head-scratching” phenomenon, Williams joined Gehrig in “Triple Crown but no MVP” purgatory in 1947.
Again losing the vote to “Joltin’ Joe,” Williams hit .343 with 32 HR, and 114 RBI–also leading the league in runs, walks, OBP, OPS, slugging, and total bases.
DiMaggio received the award even though he did not lead the league is any offensive category. He also played in 15 fewer games than Williams, hitting just .315 with 20 HR 97 RBI, and 97 R.
It can be argued that 1947 represented the worst full season of DiMaggio’s career, and it is rather difficult to argue against that notion. To hand him the MVP award is rather laughable, and an indictment on the voting process in general.
On Tuesday night, I believe he also became the first pitcher to ever throw out the ceremonial first pitch and throw the final pitch of a game. The honor of course stemmed from the achievement of Rivera’s 500th career save.
During last night’s contest against the Seattle Mariners, however, I was reminded of yet another luxury of employing Rivera for ninth inning duties.
It is a phenomenon that cannot be utilized when following the New York Giants, New York Knicks, Michigan Wolverines, or any other of my beloved sports franchises.
Normally a man whose day is constructed around the three-to-four hours of baseball sanctuary that the Yankees provide, it is not uncommon that I will watch every single pitch or batted ball.
As Alex Rodriguez’s “Ruthian” blast held up until the end of the eighth inning, I found myself flipping channels with a normally quarantined remote control. It seemed like a good time to catch up on other entertainment I might have been neglecting on weeknights from 7-10 PM.
My mind was calm, secure, and untroubled, as “Enter Sandman” was inevitably blasting through the stadium’s many speakers.
Rivera had arrived to perform the task he’d completed 535 times before (including postseason) to that point, and the night’s victory had become as certain as the sun rising the next morning.
Distracted by the nonsensical conflicts of The Real World and a few cheap laughs courtesy of Family Guy, I had actually forgotten about my YES Network obsession.
By the time I had retrieved the remote to return from my digital excursion, the inning and game had already ended. Fifteen pitches of effortlessness, and the Yankee win streak had stretched to seven.
Dissenters annually claim that Rivera has “lost it” after a few poor performances–crying out for an immediate replacement. One such “solution” included Rivera sliding into the seventh inning role while Brian Bruney and Joba Chamberlain manned the eighth and ninth respectively.
Rivera has not “lost” much of anything, and in fact continues to gain more as years go on. He adds milestones, accolades, saves, victories, and birthday candles–all while continuing to dominate the rest of the league at age 39.
In the last season and a half, Rivera has 103.1 IP while giving up just 69 hits. His ERA over this period stands at 1.83, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a laughable 117:9–video games cannot produce numbers like this.
When taking into account a 97 percent save conversion percentage over this span (59-for-61), it is difficult to argue that Rivera has suddenly disappeared into the shadows of closer royalty.
Armed with just one major league pitch, and one that has decreased in velocity over the years, Rivera continues to allow channel surfing during most ninth innings.
It has been proven rather simple to embarrass professional hitters so long as your control is as pristine as Whitney Houston’s vocal tones–before being introduced to the lovely world of cocaine addiction.
Rivera admittedly does not have many years of automatic success left in his career, but all discussions of a deterioration need to be rapidly dissolved.
The Yankees already have their “closer of the future,” because as we all know, the future is now in the Bronx.
He may be nearing the end of the road, but I am not looking forward to a time when I will be consuming as many nitrates for chest pain as chips and salsa during ninth innings of Yankee games.
Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx
1. Rest Will Do a Body Good
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees brass continued to ignore Dr. Mark Philippon’s post-surgical rehabilitation guidelines through the first six weeks of his faster-than-anticipated return.
Though initially instructed to rest once a week during this time period, A-Rod instead played on a daily basis–barely permitting Joe Girardi to put him at designated hitter for a “half day of rest.”
In order to avoid the inevitable fatigue A-Rod experienced in his hip, the team will adhere to Dr. Philippon’s regimen for at least the next month.
This will allow him to continue pool rehabilitation that may in fact prevent an expected offseason procedure, according to his surgeon.
2. The Numbers Speak For Themselves
Since the first of the aforementioned “rest periods,” A-Rod is 9-for-27 (.333) with 3 HR and 13 RBI in just eight games played.
This trio of home runs included a 400-plus foot opposite field blast in Citi Field–a place where long balls are usually sent to die like former NFL stars in Oakland. Mets announcer Keith Hernandez admitted he “had never seen anyone hit a ball that far” in the ballpark.
Similar to the gradual turnaround of David Ortiz in Boston, A-Rod has put together a humble six-game hitting streak. Not coincidentally, New York has won all six of these games–again sprinting within striking distance of their biggest divisional rival.
3. Confidence, Confidence, Confidence
Any struggling hitter will tell you that self-assurance makes up half the battle in the trenches of a major league batter’s box. The confidence in knowing that the pitcher has no chance against you makes all the difference in a 3-for-5 night as opposed to a 0-for-5.
Philosophers and theorists feel that “the failure to plan is planning to fail,” and confidence allows hitters to formulate and execute a plan at the plate–as opposed to hoping and wishing for positive results.
Listening to A-Rod answer media questions following Tuesday night’s game spoke volumes about how he is currently feeling. He stated that he feels refreshed, has heightened agility, and can reach pitches he couldn’t in past weeks.
Whether or not all of these things will continue to hold true is anyone’s guess, but he believes it, and that’s all that matters.
4. Pitchers Believe That He Is
Opposing pitchers believing that A-Rod is a dangerous hitter is almost more important than him believing it about himself.
Rodriguez has collected 10 walks in the last six games alone, which helps to portray the level of respect he has regained from a handful of hard hit balls. The combination of careful pitching and better pitch recognition has given A-Rod a .620 OBP over the last six games, as well as a .514 OBP since his rest period in Miami.
A-Rod is once again receiving sliders and changeups on 2-0 counts, and is proving to be enough of a threat to alter a pitcher’s game plan. He is soon to become an automatic intentional walk in big spots, as his successes coupled with Robinson Cano’s repeated failures will force a manager’s hand.
5. Up & In: The Black Hole of a Compromised Slugger
From David Ortiz to Ken Griffey Jr. to Hideki Matsui, the first pitch to expose an injured or deteriorating slugger is the high and inside fastball.
It requires the most hand and bat speed of any pitch in baseball, and causes embarrassing swings on outside off-speed pitches for those who need to cheat to catch up inside. This results in a hitter’s hip opening far too soon, and this “bailout” makes it virtually impossible to protect the outside corner.
A-Rod was particularly affected by this as a result of preseason hip surgery–causing him to compensate inside more than the average case. Pitchers were able to toy with him for the early part of June, and it stripped him of most of his confidence.
Last night, however, A-Rod took a fastball up and in and launched it into the night sky. It was a warning sign to anyone who planned on challenging him in the weeks to come, and will help to restore the fear he once put in the minds of anyone standing on a mound.
6. Bonus: Did You Know?
Regardless of A-Rod’s stint on the disabled list and embarrassing start to June, he is still on pace for 34 HR, 110 RBI, and a nearly .400 OBP.
When putting these numbers in the context of a 162-game average, A-Rod would be able to produce 41 HR and 134 RBI. Though his batting average stands at just .233, his power numbers are rather remarkable considering the 2009 circumstances.
He may not be the A-Rod Yankee fans know and try not to love, but all they need is for him to be a legitimate threat–something he is steadily transforming back into.
Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx
According to Matt Gelb of The Star-Ledger, yesterday marked Chien-Ming Wang’s first major league victory in 379 days.
It was a long and painful road to redemption for the once dominating sinker-baller, and one that many New Yorkers would prefer to forget.
A man once “guaranteed” to provide 200-plus innings per season and 15-20 victories is now nothing more than an unreliable project.
Yankee fans are more often than not holding their breath each time Wang releases a flat sinker–as opposed to using it for more encouraging activities like cheering or yelling “let’s go Wang!”
Wang currently stands at 55 wins in pinstripes–46 of which were collected over two and a half magical seasons at the top of the Yankee rotation.
At the torrid pace he was riding through an unfortunate baserunning injury in 2008, he would have been set to reach the 300-win milestone somewhere around his 42nd or 43rd birthday.
Wang’s current pace has been slightly more tortoise than hare, and would create a far different target date for creating history in the Bronx.
If he continues to achieve one win every 379 days, Wang will be penciled in to earn his 300th victory on Oct. 21, 2263.
The Taiwanese right-hander would be at the ripe old age of 284–older than the present age of the United States of America that enabled him this great opportunity.
Some may scoff at the idea of a starting pitcher throwing 260 years in the big leagues, or even surviving long enough to see the middle of the 23rd century.
With the advancements in medicine, technology, and performance-enhancing drugs, however, Wang’s road to 300 is much more probability than fantasy.
After all, Satchel Paige was able to compete at the major league level in 1965 at the age of 59–without the aid of any enhancers outside of the coffee he was served between innings.
Is it that far-fetched to believe Wang could ride the PED train all the way to 2263? Who knows what kinds of chemical concoctions will exist as we move into the 10s, 20s, and 30s.
The only obstacle seemingly in Wang’s way is the same advancements in medicine and technology that will offer him the chance at making history.
Somewhere between now and 2263, it is highly likely that the technology required to clone humans will be developed and utilized in American society.
Furthermore, when taking into account inflation and marketing opportunities in other galaxies, the Yankees payroll will be somewhere around $370 trillion.
This will make it very difficult for Wang to remain in the Yankee rotation through 2263–as New York will be able to purchase the rights to the embryos of Cy Young, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax.
Wang will be relegated to 8th inning duties, but should be able to record the one victory per season necessary to maintain his pace.
Whether or not Wang is able to achieve the milestone remains to be seen.
If the future cloned version of George Steinbrenner has anything to say about it, however, we will be able to add Wang’s name to a very illustrious list of pitching royalty.
Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx
Arrogant chants of “1918” have been replaced by seated confessions (and denials) before Congress and a spending plan as loose and irresponsible as the US government.
Yankee t-shirts proudly displaying slogans such as “Got Rings?” or “Who’s Your Daddy” are now collecting dust in the back of closets across the tri-state area.
Even mindless banter between rivals has become less enjoyable without a chamber full of witty and damaging verbal bullets.
The vulnerability of MLB’s empire began with the shifting of Gene Michael into the shadows of the Yankee organization.
The deterioration commenced the day Brian Cashman was given laissez-faire authority.
In the years leading up to George Steinbrenner’s ultimate removal as figurehead of the Yankees, Cashman was being given more superiority and freedom to perform his job–without too many strong-arm demands coming from over his shoulder.
Cashman was now somewhat supplanting Steinbrenner in the throne, and all success and failure could be attributed to his name.
As the payroll began to launch skyward like an Apollo mission, the Yankees were left with disappointment after disappointment from their acquisitions.
It technically all started with the signing of an unnecessary replacement for Tino Martinez–a still productive offensive player, unequaled defender, and fan favorite.
Jason Giambi quickly became a one-dimensional slugger and such a defensive liability that he could not even make throws taught on Little League diamonds.
This signing occurred before the era of laissez-faire I am referring to, but signaled a changing of the guard in how the Yankees would do business. It became all about big names, big legacies, and even bigger contracts.
The first regrettable moves made by the General Manager involved the ever-weakening pitching staff.
Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Jimmy Key, Orlando Hernandez, and David Cone were replaced by Jeff Weaver, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Javier Vasquez, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Esteban Loiaza, and Jose Contreras.
Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Nelson, and Mike Stanton were replaced by Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, Tanyon Sturtze, Scott Proctor, Steve Karsay, Felix Heredia, Kyle Farnsworth, Sterling Hitchcock, Antonio Osuna, Chris Hammond, Armando Benitez, Felix Rodriguez, and Octavio Dotel.
There are countless other calamities being omitted in the interest of space, but for a five year span to include a name scroll longer than Wilt Chamberlain’s sexual conquests is nothing short of repulsive.
It didn’t matter in 2005 that Jaret Wright was coming off of the first season he started more than 10 games since 1999, his ERA consistently floated around 7.00, or that he had never once thrown 200 innings in his career.
It certainly didn’t matter that Jeff Weaver was 39-51 in his career with a 4.33 ERA when the Yankees acquired him from Detroit. Wouldn’t it be nice to still have Ted Lilly in the Yankee rotation?
Just when fans in the Bronx wondered how things could possibly get worse–Kei Igawa happened in 2006.
The man who boasts a 6.66 career major league ERA in 16 games, and currently decomposes at the Triple-A level while swimming through a pool of gold coins in his back yard.
Cashman, in all his sagacity, coughed up $26 million just to earn the right to sit at a negotiating table.
Another $20 million later, the Yankees were paying more per season for Igawa than Roy Oswalt, Josh Smoltz, Mariano Rivera, Torii Hunter, and Aramis Ramirez were being paid at the time.
To make matters worse, Cashman admitted that they projected Igawa as “a back of the rotation starter.” Excuse me for a second while I attempt to avoid choking on my own vomit.
The Yankees were then able to “strong-arm” Alex Rodriguez into a 10-year contract worth upwards of $300 plus million–running into the meat of his 40s.
(You certainly showed him who’s boss Brian.)
Cashman’s unlimited resources should allow him to be the best GM in all of baseball. Imagine the Tampa Bay Rays, Twins, Rangers, or Cardinals adding $100 million in payroll for the 2009 stretch run.
Instead, the only moves he gets right are the no-brainers. A gorilla flinging feces at a list of names on a chalkboard could have done a better job.
Not only does are his successes limited to the likes of like Mark Teixeira and Mike Mussina, but his only negotiating tactic is adding years or zeros–eventually leaving New York with a pile of overpaid former stars with diminishing skills.
To put this into perspective, Yankees SP AJ Burnett is being paid a higher annual salary than Albert Pujols–the unquestionable premiere hitter in MLB.
In order to justify this contract, he would have to pitch like Ron Guidry circa 1978–but is instead just 5-4 with a nearly 1.50 WHIP.
Cashman has been a disaster since Hall of Famers and clutch miracles were diving into his lap like kids on a mall’s version of Santa Clause.
It is time that he faces the music, and perhaps embarks on a lonely walk down “the ole dusty trail.”
The Yankees need a man with savvy, a man with baseball intelligence, and a man who can supplement smart-money signings with high-priced free agents.
They need a man who will not ignore the development of home-grown talent for the better part of a decade–only to pretend it has now become his No. 1 priority.
They need a man who will make personnel decisions based on a player’s moxie, dedication to the game, love of the bright lights and big stage, and workmanlike attitude–as opposed to clinging to statistics and star power like an old unwanted girlfriend.
That man is clearly not Cashman, and it is time for a change.
Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx
Girardi was on a mission to not only light a fire under his team, but to also make opposing manager and “ejection extraordinaire” Bobby Cox proud of his tirade.
Being sent to the showers was as surefire as a New Jersey bar belting out lyrics to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” as passionately as a church choir.
The Yankee offense gave Girardi exactly the response he was looking for–an emotional and spirited effort lead by everyone’s favorite backup backstop Francisco Cervelli.
The sudden arrival of a heart transplant in the sixth inning was not the result of the manager’s temper tantrum, however, and involved a much less “rah rah” initiative.
The Yankees were in fact celebrating the departure of the man they refuse to play for.
Girardi’s absence on the dugout steps sent a jolt of energy and strength through their veins like a steroid cycle absorbed in the buttocks. The sheer avoidance of having to see his always confused face and uneasy demeanor provoked a 180 degree turnaround.
The infectious positivity and uplifting presence of Tony Pena for a mere 60 seconds was all it took to push the struggling lineup towards a much-needed victory.
Pena was even able to awaken Alex Rodriguez from a month-long coma–offering a few sentences of Zen into A-Rod’s normally plugged ears.
(I think he said something like, “Hey Alex, you bagged one of the biggest hotties in Hollywood even when she knows you have tiny steroid testicles and are a cheater. You can at least hit a fastball down the middle, right? Think about it.”)
A-Rod’s first clutch hit in a victory since the Phillies were in town was enough to remind him what two hands repeatedly making contact with each other sounded like–thankfully Atlanta was swarming with members of Yankees Universe.
Perhaps no one was happier to see Girardi go than Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera.
Originally slated to start the game, a mysterious closed-door meeting with Nick Swisher transformed the lineup card to leave Cabrera stuck with bench duty–even after Swisher was 0-for-5 the night before and Cabrera had recorded a double.
(That last paragraph actually happened according to the YES Network, and should not be confused with the sarcastic flavor of the piece in general)
Pena inserted Cabrera into the game as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning, and he proceeded to lace a double to the gap–later resulting in New York breaking open the game for good.
Cabrera was sending a loud and clear message to the visitor’s clubhouse as his manager watched the final innings on television.
(I think it was something along the lines of “Hey you clueless jerk, have you already forgotten how I saved your job in April and May? Do you think those game-winning RBI were easy to come by? You have seen A-Rod, Jeter, and Cano choke like George Bush on a pretzel, right? Play me before the Melk Man begins to curdle…you wouldn’t like me when I curdle.)
New York grabbed victory from the jaws of yet another defeat littered with frustration, anger, and disbelief.
What Girardi did after his tirade is the catalyst for the Yankee victory, as opposed to what he did during it. He left.
Pena was my choice for manager once Joe Torre was removed from the position following the 2007 season. Girardi was fourth on my list behind Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa, and the aforementioned Pena, and I was once again reminded as to why.
Girardi was unable to gather as much fight, respect, and trust from his team in one and a half years as manager as Pena received in four innings.
Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx
The problem, however, is that many fans are overlooking the stark differences in Cano’s performance in the heart of a clutch situation.
Time and time again, the talented young slugger will roll over an outside pitch–resulting in a double play or feeble groundout.
The biggest moments seem to paralyze Cano.
He is always one of the first players out of the dugout to hug Melky Cabrera after a thrilling last-second victory, but is never the Yankee wielding a bat when those moments manifest themselves.
Cano has dethroned Alex Rodriguez as the “King of the Meaningless RBI,” as he consistently piles up statistics in games often confused with football scores.
In Yankee victories, Cano is hitting a robust .377 with 23 extra base hits and 39 runs scored. In losses, he has hit just .219 with 6 extra base hits, a .246 OBP, and scored 7 runs.
Though these numbers are alarming and thought-provoking, they do not tell the entire story–as perhaps Cano has been a major catalyst in important, nail-biting victories.
Unfortunately, the numbers agree with the always important “eye test” that this is not the case.
With two outs and runners in scoring position, Cano is hitting just .212–unable to drive in virtually any of the back-breaking runs that help to grind out close games.
To further emphasize Cano’s inability to rise to the occasion, he hits .384 with no outs in an inning, and a startling .391 when the Yankees lead or trail by four or more runs.
Twenty-five percent of his home runs and runs batted in have been generated in these “blowout games.”
When removing these meaningless hits, Cano becomes nothing short of ordinary. He would be just a .288 hitter with a .324 OBP–on pace for 21 HR and 74 RBI.
Many hitters would have similar drop-offs in power numbers when removing blowout victories from their stat lines–and it is unfair to do so–but it is important to show the impact on Cano’s batting average and on-base percentage.
Cano has also failed miserably in key American League East matchups. After excluding games against the hapless Orioles, Cano is batting .228 (18-for-79) against divisional opponents.
Games against Boston, Tampa Bay, and Toronto often determine the Yankees playoff fate–as they face these three teams a combined 54 times.
Largely responsible for protecting A-Rod for the majority of the season, Cano has had a bevy of important RBI opportunities.
The successes of Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira–coupled with the recent failures of A-Rod–have placed key at bats with RISP in the hands of Cano. If he was able to come through at higher rates, the Yankees would be able to capture a few more of the recent closer and heart-breaking losses.
Cano is playing just his fifth Major league season, and has plenty of time to evolve into a dangerous middle of the order hitter. However, it appears as though he might not be ready to carry that torch at this stage of his career.
Although Cano carries himself as a cool, smooth, laid back performer without a care in the world, he needs to find a way to remove the lump from his throat in game-changing situations.
The Yankees need you, and it is time to elevate your game and progression to the next level.
Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx
A lengthy win streak once accredited to Rodriguez’s triumphant and energizing comeback has long since departed, and the Yankees are left wondering what to expect from the wealthiest slugger in baseball.
New York is just 6-8 in its last 14 games, which includes a recent three-game humiliation at the hands of the Washington Nationals–the worst team in Major League Baseball.
Rodriguez has become worse than a one-dimensional “all-or-nothing” slugger–destined to either strike out blindly or launch a pitch into the stands. He is essentially providing an “almost-nothing-or-nothing” dynamic to the center of the Yankees struggling lineup.
The numbers displaying A-Rod’s ineptitude are endless and staggering, and will be condensed in the interest of time. The Yankee slugger is 0-for-14 in his last four games, and just 3-for-34 (0.088) in his last 10.
On a broader scale, Rodriguez is hitting just .145 in the entire month of June, and is sporting an anemic .309 OBP during this time period. He has had just two multi-hit games since his return on May 8, and neither of those has occurred since May 25.
There has been a disconcerting power outage as well, as A-Rod has produced just two home runs in his last 23 games–a pace that would generate just 14 home runs over a 162 game season.
The Yankees and their frustrated fans were not naïve enough to expect the 2007 MVP version of their third baseman–but no one could have expected results this poor.
He looks completely lost and off-balance at the plate–uncomfortable in a batter’s box he once made his own personal sanctuary.
Unfortunately, even Kate Hudson has been unable to relax Rodriguez. Subsequently, he has been greeted with a chorus of boos as loud and persistent as any slump in years past.
Coaching staffs and pitchers have targeted A-Rod’s unquestionable weakness, and have consistently abused it. His hip surgery appears to have vastly limited his ability to rotate and drive the inside pitch–which has resulted in countless two-seam fastballs riding in on his hands.
Furthermore, he seems unable to lift the ball with authority to right field–once his trademark at the Major League level. Balls that once landed in the 15th row are now barely hitting the top of the wall–even while aided by closer fencing alignments, shorter walls, and possible wind assistance.
If he cheats on the inside pitch by opening up slightly early, pitchers are throwing sliders or four-seamers on the outside part of the plate–confident that a single likely represents the worst outcome.
The issue is not the length or timing of the slump, it is the concern that the underlying catalyst of A-Rod’s failures will persist through season’s end.
Unless continuous rehabilitation advances his flexibility, there will remain a rather simple formula to retiring him at the plate.
Mark Teixeira’s hot streak is beginning to tail off, and the Yankees desperately need Rodriguez to snap out of his slump in order to sustain success. If nothing else, they need him to become enough of a threat to adequately protect Teixeira hitting in front of him.
If A-Rod continues to creep closer and closer to the “Mendoza Line,” pitchers will not even take the chance of challenging Teixeira with a base open. This will pass the baton to a man seemingly unable to deliver a knockout punch.
The Yankees and hitting coach Kevin Long need to find a way to reset A-Rod’s circuit breaker, because a continued power outage at 3B could lead to the lights being turned off in Yankee Stadium before the postseason.
Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx
Teixeira is currently on pace for 53 HR, 145 RBI, 119 R, and .618 SLG. These would all be career highs for the new pinstriped addition, as he has become as likely an MVP candidate as any player in MLB.
Cano has rebounded fantastically from a nightmare 2008 campaign–on pace for 28 HR, 104 RBI, 111 R, 41 2B, and just 51 K. All of these production statistics would set or tie career highs for him, and the 51 strikeouts would represent his all-time low.
The way the two stars are producing in other ways, however, could lead to very high praise after the season’s end.
It is how these men are handling the leather–as opposed to the lumber–that is earning them recognition across Major League Baseball. Teixeira and Cano’s “Midas touch” on the defensive end could spell a pair of Gold Gloves in their immediate future.
Already a proud owner of the award, Teixeira has somehow elevated his defensive prowess to new heights.
The new Yankees 1B has erased the clumsy years of Jason Giambi from fans’ minds, helping to reminisce about Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez playing next to flawless at the position.
Teixeira has yet to make an error in 60 games played at first base–of course producing a 1.000 fielding percentage.
His aerial acrobatics and controlled dives have seemingly saved as many runs as he has produced, and he has shown a knack for throwing with accuracy and strength from his knees–or even his stomach.
Teixeira saves a teammate’s errant throw nearly every single night, whether with a perfectly timed stretch or a scoop even Yankees sponsor Turkey Hill would be proud of.
While “Big Tex” has been jaw-dropping at first base, he has been far from alone on the right side of the infield. Cano has partnered with Teixeira in creating the most dynamic defensive combination that New York has seen in quite some time.
It appears the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has added yet another wrinkle, as they will have to wrestle the awards away from Kevin Youkilis and reigning MVP Dustin Pedroia.
While Youkilis has played equally as well at the position thus far in 2009, he has also played 15 fewer games at 1B than Teixeira–putting “Big Tex” slightly ahead in terms of deservingness.
In the second base war, however, Cano has actually out-defended Pedroia. Cano has just three errors, a .989 fielding percentage, and has turned 41 double plays. Pedroia has committed four errors, turned just 36 double plays, and has a .985 fielding percentage.
By no means has it been a stark contrast in skill, as Pedroia is as consistently good as anyone in the league. To this point in the season, Cano has simply supplied a few more karats of gold.
Though I believe Bill James’ new statistical analysis to be a farce along with the rest of sabermetrics, Cano does also have a better “range factor” at 4.50 than Pedroia’s 4.40.
No players were more responsible for New York’s record-breaking errorless streak than Cano and Teixeira, and the publicity generated from the accomplishment should shift Gold Glove votes in their favor.
It remains to be seen if the consistency and impact can continue for 162 games, but it is undeniable how important their glove work has been to the Yankees success.
Every ball lifted into the air to the right side of the stadium may be ending up in the seats, but any ball on the ground is ending up in Cano or Teixeira’s glove.
Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx
Concerns of a recurring injury have subsided, and a steady and explosive velocity has returned to Wang’s arsenal–albeit an arsenal now more feared by scoreboard operators than opposing hitters.
If everything is right physically with Wang, then initial fears of a deterioration taking place between-the-ears have begun to come to fruition.
We have all seen the numbers. Wang’s 14.34 ERA through the first five starts of the season is the worst in Major League Baseball history–sadly not at all a hyperbole.
Nothing short of a liability and an embarrassment, Wang has done virtually nothing to change the level of optimism from “completely empty glass” to “glass half empty”–let alone “glass half full.”
Placed into a very precarious situation by the Yankee hierarchy, Wang was originally slated to face both Boston and the Mets in consecutive starts. The baseball gods saved him from being thrown into the lion’s den, as a rainout slightly shifted his fate.
Wang now faces the lowly Washington Nationals, “proud” owners of a 16-45 record, and currently on pace for 119 losses in 2009.
The Nationals are 19th in runs scored, 16th in team batting average, and 14th in team slugging percentage–even while boasting one of MLB’s best power hitters in Adam Dunn.
If Wang cannot pitch dominantly against the worst team in baseball, the Yankees will have their hand forced. They simply cannot continue to run a mentally-weak hurler out to the mound that is depleting an already bungling bullpen.
To put things into perspective, Wang is 0-4 in his five starts in 2009. In 2006–his best season–it took him 19 starts to suffer his fourth loss.
The pitcher that now wears No. 40 for New York is simply a shell of the man once counted on for length and consistency every five days.
Phil Hughes, on the other hand, has been further forcing the issue with stellar pitching over his last five appearances.
Since May 20, Hughes has pitched 18.2 innings while generating a 2.89 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 20 K, and just 4 BB. This stretch included wonderful outings against divisional leaders Boston and Texas.
Wednesday’s start at Yankee Stadium has now become Judgment Day for Wang, as a confident and eager Hughes is now breathing down his neck for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
One more abysmal performance is likely to spell the end for New York’s former ace–at least for the remainder of 2009. Only an injury would reinsert him into the Major League equation.
Promising young phenoms like Rick Ankiel and Jeff Francouer have had their physical tools overcome by their mental doubts, and Yankees Universe can only hope that Wang is not the next in line.
Perhaps a full offseason of work and a fresh start in 2010 is just what the doctor ordered for Wang’s resurrection. Perhaps he is about to turn a miraculous corner that no one in New York could dare to anticipate.
New York may be “the city that never sleeps,” but it will be Wang’s eyes that will be unable to rest easily if he falters on Wednesday night.
Also seen at: Heartbeat of the Bronx