Monday, April 27, 2009

Where's the "desperation to win"?

I'm slowly slogging through the Verducci/Torre book for three reasons:

  1. I'm a slow reader
  2. I try to watch the games at night and that takes me away from reading
  3. I'm finding the book depressing
One of the early chapters is called "a desperation to win" and in reading that last weekend, I was struck by the obviousness of it all, now, a decade later. It's precisely what I don't sense with the post-2000 teams. Verducci, in his interview with FOTB Alex Belth:

I think the teams that won generated that same kind of pressure internally, what the book calls "a desperation to win." It was internal for most of the players, and even for Steinbrenner, who I regard in the book as one of the franchise's most dynamic assets. It's very different when that pressure comes externally, especially now when you're talking about so many current Yankees who have no experience at winning in New York. They're reading the road map for the first time, and it's hard to figure out -- unlike anywhere else -- especially when you hear the constant drumbeat of frustration coming from fans and even the media that cover the team. The Yankees are the only one of 30 teams that write down as a failure any season that ends without a world championship. Individual stats don't matter with the Yankees. Putting up a "good season" means less with the Yankees than any other franchise. There are only two seasons for the Yankees: world championship ones and everything else.
I watched Mo blow the save Friday night and as painful as it was, I said "it happens". The Sox have seen this guy so many times, they have gotten used to his cutter and his skill. Just like we can solve Papelbon at times, so too can the Sox solve Mo. It happens. It hurts like hell but it happens. Of course, having bases loaded and coming away with nothing an inning earlier didn't help. And watching Teix chase the high heat of Papelbon with a man on first and third the next inning sure did stink.

Here's what bugged me: Saturday's game. I didn't watch much of this until the very end as I was out enjoying the nice weather and my sons' games. It was only when we got to our friends' house for a BBQ later that I watched the Yanks blow and re-blow the game. I thought I was noticing that desperation to win with the comebacks, but the pitching was just terrible. I'm glad I missed Burnett getting torched. Remember those fancy stats vs. Boston that I was so happy about:
Versus BOS:
  • 8 games
  • ERA: 2.56
  • 56.1 IP, avg 7+ IP/start
  • 53 K's, nearly 1 K/IP
  • WHIP of 1.179 (including IBB)
Watching Ellsbury just totally pants the Yanks made this lack of "desperation to win" so evident. Or maybe it's just that the Sox have that desperation and I'm jealous because I know what it's like to have it and how utterly wonderful it is, as a fan, to root for a team with that dynamic.
For the Yankees, it was symbolic of a weekend in which they were beaten in the cruelest of ways, three losses that leave you wondering if they are as tough as the Red Sox anymore. Is it possible that years of first-round playoff exits and then an empty October in 2008 have stolen whatever grit remained from the Joe Torre glory years?
The Yanks have played 18 games to a .500 record. It's not a statistically significant number yet, but it sure gives us a pretty good view of what this team might be.... good, but not special. One of the things I remember from my early stats classes is that you need a sample size of about 30 before you can made conclusions from the data. We'll be there right about when ARod returns.

I'm not ready to heave Girardi over the edge either just yet, but if this team continues to wander in a fog, I might lose patience sooner than later.


ditmars1929 said...

That last quote about "stolen grit" from the Torre years is just plain stupid. In this day and age, with free agency, rosters turn over constantly from season to season. "Grit" is not something inherited just because this year's team wears the same uniform of last year's team.

I also think Steinbrenner's supposed philosophy of "win it or else" is a bunch of overblown bullshit. The Yankees sucked so bad for 14 years that the only reason to follow them was to see Mattingly. 14 years!

tHeMARksMiTh said...

I think the fact that ARod is coming back makes the Yankees more than a .500 team, and the bullpen has to get better, right?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen a reasonable explanation for the drop in Chamberlain's velocity? Mechanics? Injury? Head problems? Juice shortage?

ditmars1929 said...

Booze and Burger King?

Couldn't be head problems because there is nothing inside of his head.

Zoolander said...

This team has a fatcat feel to it. Most of the vets are overpaid. The only people who can afford the new luxury seats are the players in pinstripes on the field.

dinologic (Dean D) said...

I think a big problem with this team is that they've become predictable. Why was Ellsbury able to steal home? Because they knew that if Pettitte pitched from the windup he'd be unlikely to check the runner at 3rd. They ran on Pettitte, who has been so good at holding runners on over the years, like it was nothing because they knew that if they ran on first movement and guessed right, they'd have a shot. And they seem to guess right all the time. Varitek, he of the .200 batting average (nevermind the 5 HRs he has this season) sat on a BP fastball from Burnett LIKE HE KNEW IT WAS COMING. Either the other teams are stealing signs or the Yanks have just become that predictable. I'm not saying it's Girardi's fault, but I think he needs to step back and change things up a bit when necessary.

Jason @ IIATMS said...


I think you are spot on with that one. Totally predictable.

Is it just with the Sox (know thy enemy?) or is it overall? Are the Sox a superior advanced scouting organization? Tito was beautifully honest about Ellsbury's steal (wasn't due to big thick reports), which was great and yet another reason why I have total respect for that guy.

Ditmars: I agree about the stolen grit line, too, but I wonder if Jeter's "do as I do" approach rather than a more forthright leader is also to blame. Sometimes, it seems that he's too quiet. Posada seems like the obvious clubhouse leader in terms of rallying the troops.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

To be honest, I think it will be interesting to see how "predictable" the Yankees are when they start winning. I realize it's fun to be pessimistic, but everyone has their mediocre stretches.

dinologic (Dean D) said...

There's no excuse. A friend of mine pointed out that this happened to Pettitte once before...

Can I blame management for that? I think so. I'm getting a little down on Girardi so everything is looking like it's his fault to me but I have to pin some of the blame on him for not preparing his team better.

tadthebad said...


I don't know about other teams' scouts, but the advance scouts for the Sox do great work. Papelbon's pick-off of Holliday in Game 2 of the 2007 WS was due to advance scouts noting Holliday's penchant for large leads with 2 outs. Pretty heady stuff, IMHO.