First of all, let’s leave aside, for the time being, the question of how much of the blame for the Yankees’ recent postseason debacles can be put on Joe Torre. Presumably, that question will be addressed soon and in detail when George Steinbrenner makes a decision.
Let’s also dismiss the notion that the cave-ins of the last three years should be laid on the shoulders of Alex Rodriguez. If A-Rod had been torrid in all of the Yankees’ last three postseason series, would the Yankees have won? Most likely, they’d have won one or two of those series and at least have carried into the second round. But the Yankees’ failure in the last three postseasons hasn’t been A-Rod’s fault. Study the stats below, comparing Rodriguez’s career postseason games, up to and including this year, with Yogi Berra’s postseason games through the 1953 World Series and “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson’s just prior to the 1977 World Series.
A-Rod: 39 games, 41 hits, 147 at-bats, 7 HRs, 17 RBI, and a batting average of .279.
Yogi: 40 games, 38 hits, 146 at-bats, 6 HRs, 14 RBI, and a .260 average.
Reggie: 37 games, 34 hits, 134 at-bats, 5 HRs, 16 RBI, and a .253 average.
The point of the comparison is not to diminish Yogi’s or Reggie’s achievements, but to put A-Rod’s into focus. As amazing as it seems, at similar points in their careers, neither Berra or Jackson had done as well in the postseason as Rodriguez has now, but no one was pointing fingers at them. At this stage, Yogi already owned six World Series rings and Reggie had three, all with the Oakland A’s. Both could (and in fact frequently did) thank their teams’ superior pitching for their good fortune.
In Yogi’s case, it was only after the 1955 and 1956 World Series—in which he batted a collective .388, with four home runs and 12 RBIs—that he was acknowledged as a great postseason performer. In Reggie’s case, it wasn’t until his three home runs in the sixth and final game of the 1977 World Series that his legend was born.
Looked at from another perspective, would A-Rod have been the goat if the Yankees had gone into their last three postseasons with Whitey Ford, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Ed Lopat in the rotation? Not likely.
Which brings us to the obvious crux of the Yankees’ problem. Year after year, the Yankees have gone into the postseason with overwhelming hitting but pitching vastly inferior to that of their opponents. The last three years sums it all up:
In 2005, the Yankees ranked second in runs scored, but only 22nd in ERA. Their opponents, the Angels, were ranked 11th in scoring and fifth in ERA.
In 2006, the Yanks were first in scoring and 22nd in ERA, while the Tigers were eighth in scoring and first in ERA.
And this year, the Yankees were again first in scoring, but 17th in ERA. The Indians, meanwhile, were eighth in scoring and fifth in ERA.
It is not, as the mythmakers would have it, that pitching is “75 percent of the game,” or whatever. As the old Alabama left-hander Bob Veale once said, “Good pitching stops good hitting every time. And vice versa.” Rather, it’s that the effect of pitching in the postseason is exaggerated. The team with better starters usually enters the playoffs with its bullpen better rested and its rotation set, and its relievers can be used more often and can be matched more easily in key situations against their opponents’ best hitters. (Do we see the heads of Yankee fans bobbing up and down in recognition of this syndrome?)
As has been the case with the Yankees every year since 2001, when Roger Clemens went 20-3, the Yankees went into this year’s playoffs without a genuine ace in the starting rotation. The closest thing they’ve had was Chien-Ming Wang, and so thin was their rotation heading into the Division Series with Cleveland that he was pressed into duty in the fourth game on just three days’ rest. How bad was the Yankees’ bullpen? Put it this way: subtract Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees might have switched bullpens with the Mets and actually traded up.
This is not an argument for keeping Joe Tore, but it certainly puts the ineptitude of general manager Brian Cashman in high relief. We all know Freud’s definition of insanity; with the Yankees, doing the wrong things over and over again and expecting different results is called policy.