2006 results: 97-65, Won
Pythagorean record: 95-67
Key free agents: Mike Mussina (team option), Jaret Wright (player option), Craig Wilson, Octavio Dotel, Ron Villone, Bernie Williams
Plan for 2007: DO NOT TRADE ALEX RODRIGUEZ, and be realistic with your playoff expectations
The Yankees suffered another disappointing season (read: anything but a World Series win) in 2006, entering the playoffs as the heavy favorites to win it all, then exiting six days later, having lost three straight to the underdog Tigers, including two embarrassing blowouts.
Immediately after their season ended, all sorts of radical “solutions” were proposed. Before the Yankees team plane had landed in
In the eye of the hurricane of activity, the most important thing for George Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman to understand is that the MLB playoffs are, by and large, a crapshoot. Because of the variance involved in a short baseball series, and especially three short series, the best team entering the playoffs will win it all less than 30% of the time. Consider that even a team that’s a heavy 2-1 favorite in every series will win just (2/3)*(2/3)*(2/3) = 29% of the time. The Yankee organization and its fans had their expectations raised by a run of four championships in five years. At the end of the 2000 season, some speculated that Derek Jeter would run out of fingers to hold World Series rings before his career ended.
Let’s take a look at another permutation of results of the Yankees’ 12 playoff appearances from 1995-2006:
|Actual || |
In real life, the Yankees had a dynastic run from 1996-2000 and have failed to meet expectations every year from 2001-06. In our permutation, they made it to the World Series every other year, and never went more than three years without winning one. Either way, in 12 years the Yankees have made the playoffs 12 times with 11 division titles. They have made it to the World Series six times with four wins and two sweeps. These are all excellent results, the best run of extended success for any team in the modern era.
The Yankees staff needs to treat the team like our adjusted example. No one should complain about advancing to the World Series “only” six times in 12 years, or winning “only” four of those. The Yankees were easily the most talented team in baseball in 2006, and they should enter 2007 in the same position. It’s not necessary to make a massive overhaul to what is already the best team in baseball. In particular, trading Alex Rodriguez is not going to solve their problems. All it will accomplish is giving away one of the top five players in baseball for less than his market value.
For all the talk of players who “can’t handle” playing in
- If a person looks for a specific pattern, he is more likely to observe it. If someone tells you the number 23 tends to turn up in movies a lot, you’ll notice that number a lot more than you ordinarily would.
- The Yankees sign more premier free agents than any other team, and free agents are generally past their prime and likely to decline in value substantially during the life of the contract.
- The Yankees and their fans put more expectations on their free agents than any other team.
- Chuck Knoblauch and Ed Whitson were particularly notable examples of this “effect”. People forget Whitson took more than two years to regain his effectiveness after leaving the Yankees.
- The Yankees often target players whose performance in the year before his signing was widely out of line with past results and future expectations. Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, and Kyle Farnsworth are three recent examples.
Assuming they keep A-Rod around, what can the Yankees do to improve their chances of returning to the World Series? Not much. There aren’t many positions for the Bombers to upgrade, and once they’re in the playoffs, any offseason moves will only improve their chances of winning it all by a percentage point or two.
That said, there are a few things that will help:
- Assemble a good bench.
- Bring back Mike Mussina and sign another top strikeout pitcher, preferably Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Despite Chien-Ming Wang’s great 2006, it is unprecedented for a modern pitcher to continue succeeding with such a low strikeout rate, so the Yankees should plan on some regression. While Randy Johnson’s ERA should be under 5.00 this year, he is clearly no longer an ace. Between Pavano’s injuries and ineffectiveness, the Yankees can’t really count on anything from him at this point. A playoff rotation of Matsuzaka-Mussina-Wang-Johnson/Hughes looks much better than Wang-Johnson-Hughes-Wright.
- Improve the back end of the bullpen.
Bringing back Octavio Dotel is a risk well worth taking. Other free agent options include Eric Gagne, Chad Bradford, Justin Speier, Arthur Rhodes, David Riske, and Jamie Walker. All are risky investments, but the Yankees have no choice, as they don’t have a deep enough farm system to trade for a top reliever.
They should also consider some outside-the-box thinking; perhaps a conversion to relief could be the cure for what ails Kerry Wood, Wade Miller, or Jesse Foppert. It’s possible one of them could follow the Jason Isringhausen career path.
Whatever the Yankees choose, they should enter the 2007 season as the favorites to win the AL East. If they get back to the playoffs, they need to remember that there’s at least a 70% chance it will end in disappointment. If the organization and its fans set their expectations on that level, they won’t be disappointed.