THE LAST time theYankees didn't qualify for the playoffs, in 1993, Spike Owen and Wade Boggsformed the left side of their infield and the Blue Jays had a higher payroll.New York has played in all 13 Octobers since then. And with anotherAll-Star-laden team, this year will be no different. Winning in October,however, is another story.
This is an article from the March 31, 2008 issue
The Yanks are 4-13in their past 17 playoff games and have lost four consecutive series. They havebeen poorly built for October because they lacked young power pitchers,trotting out aging veterans and a young sinkerballer (Chien-Ming Wang) whopitches to contact. The average Yankees starting pitcher in those 17 postseasongames was 34 years old, lasted only 4 2‚ÅÑ3 innings and struck out threebatters.
Now New York hasan October remedy, a triple dose, in fact: Phil Hughes, 22; Joba Chamberlain,22; and Ian Kennedy, 23. All of them are former first-round picks, but none ofthem have pitched a full big league season, which means what becomes of the2008 Yankees comes down to one question: How effective will the young guns bewhen they get to that all-important seventh month? "All of our youngpitchers have looked good so far," said general manager Brian Cashmanmidway through camp, referring not just to the three young guns but also to acrop of young hard throwers behind them in the bullpen and in the minors."The only concern in camp has been [Mike] Mussina with his velocity beingdown, but he's a veteran."
To keepChamberlain strong--New¬†York wants to limit him to about 150 innings--theYankees will use him out of the bullpen to start the season. However, he couldmake the transition to the rotation as soon as midseason. Should Chamberlain,Hughes and Kennedy each make 15 starts, still a good bet, it would mark thefirst time since 1911 that the franchise has given so many starts to threepitchers no older than 23. That year, the club, then the Highlanders, finishedwith a .500 record.
Only five clubs inthe wild-card era have trusted 15 starts to three 23-and-under pitchers, andthey all had losing records (the 1997 Royals, '98 Marlins, '99 Expos, 2003Indians and '06 Marlins). And only four AL teams won a pennant with such ayoung staff: the 1913 and '14 Philadelphia A's, the '66 Orioles and the '85Royals.
Run support forthe kids won't be a problem. New York scored 968 runs last season, the most bythe club since 1937, so even a slight decline is of no concern. Every keyoffensive contributor is back, including catcher Jorge Posada, who hit .338(61¬†points better than his career average) in his walk year. Though heturned 36 last season, Posada was so impressive that he got a four-year, $52million contract.
"I stayedlocked in pretty much the whole year, but I also got lucky," says Posada,who batted .386 on balls he put into play last season, a huge spike from his.319 career average. "I probably shouldn't say this, because it's nothingagainst the pitcher, but there was one game against Jarrod Washburn [ofSeattle] where I hit two balls as badly as you can hit a ball, and both timesthey just barely went over the first baseman's head for hits. [First baseman]Richie Sexson said to me, 'Wow, are you hot.' I said, 'No, just lucky.'"
New York does haveage issues. Derek Jeter turns 34 in June, and Johnny Damon, 34; Hideki Matsui,33; and Jason Giambi, 37, are all coming off down years. But with Giambi'scontract ($21¬†million in '08) coming off the books this year, as well asthose of Bobby Abreu ($16¬†million), Andy Pettitte ($16¬†million),Mussina ($11.5¬†million), Carl Pavano ($11¬†million) and KyleFarnsworth ($5.5¬†million), the Yankees will have plenty of cash to chasesuch free agents as C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, both of whom turn 28 thisyear.
Getting younger,with a particular emphasis on power pitching, will keep Octobers in play forNew York. Championships will depend on when the young guns are ready.
CONSIDER THIS amodest proposal ...
Nobody wouldmistake former Yankees manager Joe Torre for an avant-garde baseballstrategist. Twice last season, however, Torre used lefthanded starter AndyPettitte in relief on his throwing days, which are typically scheduled for themidpoint between starts. Pettitte (left) did not surrender a hit in either ofthose one-inning stints. That strategy might provide the perfect solution toNew York's inevitable middle-relief issues. The innings of Joba Chamberlain,Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy will be tightly regulated, and veteran Mike Mussinais barely a six-inning pitcher anymore, so middle relief--a Yankees shortcomingin recent years--will be crucial. By using starters such as Pettitte andChien-Ming Wang out of the bullpen on their throwing days, manager Joe Girardican effectively add another good arm to his pen.
20 Wins after theAll-Star break by Chien-Ming Wang over the last two seasons, the highest totalin the majors. But the 27-year-old righthander is no one-half wonder. Duringthose seasons his first- and second-half splits are very similar in wins (18pre-All-Star break and 20 postbreak), ERA (3.71 and 3.61), opponents' battingaverage (.266 and .277), OBP (.317 and .328) and slugging percentage (.365 and.380).
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2007 STATISTICS
MANAGER JOEGIRARDI FIRST SEASON WITH NEW YORK
|SHELLEY DUNCAN (R)||IF-OF|
|RH||Ian Kennedy (R)||97||1||0||7.1||1.16||1.89|
|RH||Joba Chamberlain (R)||110||2||1||12.8||0.75||0.38|
WHIP: Walks plushits per inning pitched
PVR: Player ValueRanking (explanation on page 62)
NOW AT SI.COM
EXCERPTED FROM SI
AUG. 21, 1995
YEAR IN, year out, men and boys in every corner of thecountry were given to understand during this autumnal rite that there reallywas only one baseball team and that there was really only one player: No. 7talked with a twang, knocked the ball a country mile. But it was more thancircumstance that fixed Mickey Mantle in the national psyche; he did hit 18World Series home runs over the course of the most watched games of our lives.--Richard Hoffer
Free access to all Yankees stories and photographs fromthe SI archive, plus video clips.