According to "The Narrative," Phil Hughes stunk, but did he? (Image: Brad Penner, US Presswire)

A Look Back at the 2012 Season: Debunking “The Narrative”


The baseball season is over, at least for Yankees fans. While it may not have ended the way that we hoped, there was still a lot of great baseball played. Over the course of a 162 game season and the playoffs, a lot has been said, by fans and in the media, about the team. These themes were lovingly referred to by YGY editor Chris Carelli and me as simply, “The Narrative.” So, now that the season is over, let’s take a look at a couple of narratives from this season and see whether or not they hold water:

The “Russell Martin Sucks” Narrative
Looking at the numbers alone on Russell Martin, it would appear that this one may have some merit. No one doubted Martin’s defensive ability, as has been pretty strong behind the dish. Offensively, however, Martin was absolutely brutal in the batter’s box this year. Martin struggled to keep his average over the Mendoza Line all season, and ultimately ended the season with a .211 average after finally coming alive at the conclusion of the year. But, as YGY writer Jimmy Kraft examined earlier in the year, it was less about Marin not making contact and more about having the worst BABIP luck, period. Moreover, this theme doesn’t take into account that Martin smacked 21 home runs during the year, as well as driving in 53 RBI. Martin still maintained a very expected WAR of 1.5. Overall, while Martin struggled this year, saying that doesn’t take into account his BABIP issues. Sorry, but “The Narrative” here doesn’t hold water.

Everyone thought the season would be over without Mariano Rivera… but was it? (Image: Brad Penner, US Presswire)

The “We Cannot Survive Without Mo” Narrative
While I wasn’t this dramatic when the news about Mo’s ACL came out, I didn’t think that it was a good thing, either. Mariano Rivera is a pitching icon for a reason. While the saves stat is a bit overrated, he still has over 600. It was a valid concern, particularly regarding his playoff numbers, that he would be lost for the year. Additionally, he has a ridiculous 2.25 ERA over the course of his career, and an absolutely stupid 0.70 ERA in the playoffs. Understandably, Yankees fans were concerned when Mo went down. However, Rafael Soriano did a sensational job in replacing someone who we previously thought was irreplaceable. Soriano recorded a 2.26 ERA en route to 42 saves over the course of the season, striking out 67 over 69.2 innings. He also only blew four saves on the entire season following his assumption of the closer role, and had a 2-1 record. Overall, he did a very, very nice job of replacing Mo, even though this wasn’t a huge shocker as Soriano led the American League in saves in 2010, which helped secure him a $12 million/year payday as a set-up man for the Yanks. No player is irreplaceable, not even the legendary Mariano. Once again, “The Narrative” fails.

The “Yankees Can’t Hit With Runners in Scoring Position” Narrative
Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! The Yankees inability to hit with runners in scoring position this year has been well-documented. Through the end of September, the Yankees hit .252 with RISP, 18th-best in the major leagues this year. Additionally, in so-called “clutch” situations- RISP with two outs- the Yanks hit .228, also 18th-best in the majors. The team is built around the home run; even Joe Girardi said the team isn’t the Bronx Bunters. The RISP batting average speaks less about the overall offense that is clearly capable of scoring runs at will, but more to the idea that the Yankees offense is unbalanced. That is abundantly clear as we flounder in the postseason. To that end, I don’t even feel the need to go into the Yankees hitting abilities with RISP in the postseason, as I think the offensive tire fire we’ve witnessed the last two weeks speaks for itself. Not only is this version of “The Narrative” accurate, but it may actually have cost them the season.

The “Curtis Granderson Strikes Out Too Much” Narrative
Another winner! Look, Granderson has value. There are not too many guys who can hit 43 home runs, drive in 106 RBI, and score over 100 runs. Take a look at the Tampa Bay Rays season and get back to me about the value of runs. He is absolutely a threat to crush a home run off of right and left-handed pitchers. However, that doesn’t mitigate the fact that the strikeouts are brutal. Granderson struck out a whopping 195 times, setting a new Yankees record — impressively breaking his own strikeout record from the year before. The fact that he strikes out so much allows the preceding batters to be pitched to much more carefully, potentially compromising their offensive output. And, as these playoffs have shown, the strikeouts can absolutely be a damper on the offense. He’s a good player, and plays serviceable defense. Runs are valuable, but not at the trade-off of so many strikeouts. Combined with questionable defense, this might actually compromise a potential long-term extension for Granderson to remain with the Yankees. Here, “The Narrative” is alive and well, with good reason.

The “Phil Hughes Sucks” Narrative
This particular theme is one of my personal favorites. I’ve always been a huge supporter of Hughes, and consequently on the receiving end of much mocking and exasperation. He had a rough April and May (7.88 and 4.66 ERA, respectively), but after that, Hughes was a rock in the rotation. In June, July and August, he had a 2.67, 3.09 and 3.82 ERA, respectively. In 103.3 IP, he allowed 93 hits, and walked only 25 batters. On the season, Hughes maintained a 4.23 ERA and went 16-13, with a 1.265 WHIP. Additionally, throughout the entire course of the season, Hughes only walked 46 batters. The one bugaboo he dealt with all year was the home runs, allowing 35 — second-most behind Ervin Santana, but that is to be expected from a guy who lives and dies by a high fastball, and thus becomes a fly-ball pitcher. However, take a look at the numbers against some impressive teams who made the playoffs this year: against the all-too-familiar-Tigers, 3.38 ERA, including a 1-run shutout against Justin Verlander in June; 1.50 against the Nationals; and 2.35 against the Oakland A’s.  Not for nothing, but those teams didn’t make the playoffs for no reason. Hughes suffered in April and May coming off a poor 2011. Combined with the fact that he does give up home runs, and tends to give up runs in bunches makes for a nice concept that he sucks, but “The Narrative” just doesn’t hold water here. He’s actually a pretty decent, young, affordable pitcher — something that is not easy to come by.

And there we have it, an examination of just some versions of “The Narrative” from the season. Over the course of such a long season, it’s inevitable that these themes arise, and they make for good newspaper back-page optics and water cooler fodder, but often, as we see here, they just aren’t true. So, as we bid adieu to the 2012 season, let’s say goodbye to “The Narratives” that have been a part of this year’s Yankees team, as well.

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  • Jimmy Kraft

    Nice look at this season’s narratives, Alex. I especially like the Martin and Hughes ones since I previously wrote on both of them and agree with your stance! The RISP issue is bad, I mean *really* bad. I’m hoping it’s just a product of one year doesn’t carry over with this group. Many baseball fans will point to the amount of runs the Yankees scored this year and gloss over the fact that the Yankees just couldn’t hit when it mattered most. Hey 8-1 games are great and all, but when you lose 2-1 and leave 17,000,000 men on base in the game…there’s a problem. You hit the nail right on the head, in cliched terms. haha

    Great article!

    • Alex Pugliese

      Thank you, Jimmy! I think Martin had the worst luck possible. Hughes is a lot better than people give him credit for- he throws a good clunker now and again- but he was pretty outstanding outside of April. The HR issue is a problem, but he is a fly ball pitcher, and considering he led the majors in wins at home in a HR-happy park, I can live with that. Moreover, he is an important piece of the future as an affordable young starter who can pitch. If the $189M number is for real, they’re going to need to have Hughes to make that work.

      • Jimmy Kraft

        Couldn’t agree more on both accounts. Hughes, while not the Roger Clemens-clone he was touted as coming out of high school, is still a very valuable piece going forward for the Yankees.