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Matter, Meaning, and the Yankees


You all are probably pretty tired of watching, listening to, reading about, tweeting about, and in general just being consciously – or subconsciously – aware of, the New York Yankees’ current postseason predicament. So let’s forget about it. Imagine that it is mid-April, 2013. The sun is shining, spring is in the air, and baseball season has just begun. Life is good. Now that we’re all in a happy mindset, let’s see what the 2013 Yankees are up to…

The Yankees started out the season winning three out of their first five games; however, they have now lost three in a row. They have received exceptionally strong pitching performances from their rotation, both aces and question marks alike, as well as their bullpen. However, their offense has performed very poorly to the tune of a .200/.266/.317 line. Each batter has had about 30 or so plate appearances to put up these numbers.

Each game has been very close, many of them going into extra innings. They’ve lost some of these nail-biters, but they’ve won some too. Especially in the last few games, the Yankees had many chances to win, but failed to do so based on umpiring mistakes, errors, and just bad timing. There have also been some unfortunate injuries that factored into these recent losses.

The season obviously didn’t start out the way the Yankees and their fans wanted it to, but three out of eight games is by no means panic-worthy. Given the close nature of the games, there are many reasons for fans to be optimistic, as pitching was one of their big question marks coming into the season. We all know that the offense has the talent to come out of this slump, since eight games and 30 plate appearances is by no means a significant sample. Despite having a losing record, I, and others too, feel optimistic about the team because of how strong the pitching was right out of the gate.

Given this optimism and the extremely small sample size of the poor offensive performances, it would be absolutely absurd to start calling for the Yankees to bench their star players, to rearrange the lineup in the hope that it would spark something in the players, to cut an above-average third baseman just because of an 8-game slump. As baseball fans, we know that players and teams have ebbs and flows, and that 8 games is not nearly enough time to make rash decisions about a team.

But – and you better be ready to have your mind blown – the above situation, and the fan reaction, is exactly what has happened to the Yankees in the playoffs this year. In an 8-game sample, the Yankees pitching has been spectacular and their offense has been awful. In a regular season, this wouldn’t be a big deal, especially given how close all these games have been. We would know that the offense would bounce back, and there would be no need to bench the star players and call for players to not be re-signed.

Yet this did happen in the playoffs, and so it matters more than if it had happened to begin a season. The fact that the Yankee offense has all but disappeared means that there is a very good chance that they will not make it to the World Series. The struggles of A-Rod, Cano, Swisher, and Granderson do matter more, and so it’s understandable to be upset and frustrated.

But just because the postseason matters more doesn’t mean in means more. Despite the importance of the eight games so far, we have to remember that they are just that: eight games. That just 5% of a full season. To put it another way, 30 plate appearances is about how many batters a starting pitcher faces per game. Would we say that we should cut a pitcher – or, alternatively, give him a huge extension – because of one start? No, of course not. Nor would we attempt to come to any sort of rational conclusion about a player based on 30 plate appearances. There is just too much noise, too much random variation, too much luck, to justify drawing anything from eight games.

Is it okay to be upset right now? Yes. It is okay to vent and scream and curse the Yankee offense? Sure it is. But is it reasonable to say that Alex Rodriguez is done, that Robinson Cano shouldn’t be extended, that Curtis Granderson‘s option shouldn’t be picked up, that Raul Ibanez should bat against a lefty instead of switch-hitter Nick Swisher? Absolutely not. Because even though these games matter more than any others, and even though we are justified in being angry and frustrated at the players, we still can’t rationally draw any conclusions from what has occurred in the past couple weeks.

So let’s hold off on the overreactions, on the knee-jerk responses to the Yankee struggles. Unfortunately, there aren’t always easy solutions to these things. We can’t just bench players or rearrange lineups and expect everything to be better. The Yankee offense is struggling, but I don’t know why, I don’t know how to fix it – or even if it needs fixing – and I just have to accept that, as frustrating as that is.

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Tags: New York Yankees