What’s black and pinstripe and red all over? George Steinbrenner after spending $204 million to field a team that is currently 3 games under .500, and only 1/2 a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Yankees have ensured their first losing April since 1991, and in the process have probably sent Joe Torre, and the entire front office running for the Pepto to calm their very uneasy stomachs. After not even a whole month, is it fair to criticize the Yankees for their performance? After all, we are only 13% of the way through the 2005 season, and Bronx Bombers would only need to go 86 and 59 the rest of the way to win 95 games (a .610 winning percentage from here on out). Should anyone be concerned?
The answer is yes, we have the right to criticize, and yes, the Yankees should be worried. When a team spends more than double the league average on payroll, has an all-star at virtually every position (2-former MVP’s), and sports 5 former cy-young candidates in their starting rotation, there is no way they should ever fall below .500, even after just 21 games. They should lead the MLB in runs scored and in ERA (or WHIP, whichever metric you want to use to measure quality pitching) from the beginning of the season to the end. The offense has done its part, scoring 118 runs through the first 21 games, for an average of 5.6 RPG, however the pitching has been non-existent. Through their first 21 games, the Yankees have allowed 121 runs, or 5.76 RPG. To put that into perspective, the Yankees biggest weakness last year was their pitching, and in 2004 they only gave up 4.99 RPG while scoring 5.54 RPG in the process. Their pitching needs to improve dramatically, by roughly a run per game, in order to compete not only for the Division, but also for a Wild Card spot. Having to compete with baseball’s other juggernaut, the Red Sox, and another of baseball’s best hitting clubs in the Orioles for 38 games, does not help matters either.
It is true that we are early in the season and given the relatively small sample size of events to this point, cannot use the first 21 games to learn anything statistically significant about this Yankees team. However, there are some aspects that should downright scare Yankees fans. Randy Johnson, who is used to dominating hitters, has faired ok so far in his short tenure. However, according to many recent reports, his fastball, which has regularly been clocked between 96-98 mph, has averaged 93-95 mph this season. He still has the velocity necessary to dominate, and will probably crank it up a notch come the warm summer, but until that time, he needs to realize that a 93 mph pitch catching the inner ½ of the plate is a home run pitch, where he can get away with a 98 mph pitch catching the same inner ½ against many MLB hitters. Likewise Mike Mussina’s velocity has been down considerably, with gun readings of his fastball in the 86-88 mph range. Kevin Brown has yet to find success in the Bronx, Jaret Wright is on the DL, and that leaves only Carl Pavano, who only has 1 solid year in his track-record (though he has looked good early on). The Yankees bullpen has not faired much batter with Rivera and Gordon, two staples of the pen, of to slow starts.
It is still early and the Yankees have plenty of time to turn things around, especially with the likes of Randy Johnson pitching every fifth day. I don’t believe his struggles will continue because everything in his history indicates that he will find his groove, and when he does, he will be the best pitcher in the AL East. As for the other four starters, if 2 of them don’t find their groove by the beginning of the summer, it will be a very hot, very long summer in the Bronx for the Yankees and their fans, and a very short and disappointing fall as well.
On the brightside, the season is only 21 games old, so no permanent damage has been done, especially considering that they are only 5 games out of first place. The Yankees are 9-12 through their first 21 games. The Pythagorean formula suggests they should be 10-11, so they should theoretically be a game ahead of their current position. However, whether they are 9-12, 10-11, or even 11-10, they are performing far below expectations.