By Ian Barrett
The New York Yankees are unquestionably the most recognizable baseball franchise in the world. Most places you go, you are likely to see someone sporting a blue cap with the Yankees “NY” logo stitched on the front in white.
The Yankees boast 27 World Series championships and rosters full of the biggest names in the game: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Catfish Hunter, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter, and Aaron Judge (for now), just to name a few.
With such a rich history, one would think the words Yankees and success are linked in steel. That was true until their last championship (2009). Now, maybe the names (and salaries) are big, but where are the trophies and the rings?
Success in baseball is defined as winning the last game of the season, and the Yankees just cannot seem to get that done. Why?
New York’s strategy is simple: They buy the triple-ply Charmin, instead of the Amazon bulk tissue. From Opening Day 1998 to Opening Day 2022, the Yankees have had the 7th highest payroll or higher in the major league. From 1999-2013, they had the highest payroll. In that span, they won four World Series with a ginormous payroll. So, what is the issue?
The Yankees are outdated.
Their ways of winning and building a roster are, simply put, just bad.
If you are an avid baseball fan, you’ve seen the movie Moneyball. The general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane, built a roster around sabermetrics, a method of fielding a talented team with a college student’s ramen budget. He spent $39 million compared to the Yankees $125 million in the 2002 season (Orinick, n.d.).
The result of this strategy from the A’s? Virtually the same as the Yankees, Neither won the last game of the year. However, this did open the door to today’s winning management strategy for many major league teams.
Today’s clubhouse is like a science experiment gone mad. Tablets, monitors and screens, body scanners, motion analysis and so much more technology serve the algorithms that lead to draft pick or a trade.
Innovation is the name of the game, and the Yankees aren’t playing.
New York is a traditional franchise. They grasp respected Yankee traditions such as no facial hair other than a mustache, and a well-trimmed short hairdo. Their front office management is much like their traditions, ancient and out of date.
All of this came to play in the just-competed American League Championship Series won by the Houston Astros in a sweep of the Yankees.
The Astros are building a dynasty with two World Series titles and six consecutive trips to the ALCS since 2017.
Houston earliest front office hire in the current regime was in 2015. The Yankees earliest was in 1998 (Brian Cashman). The last time the Yankees made a change in their front office was in 2007 when they hired Tim Naehring as head of baseball operations and Kevin Reese as the head of player development.
This is like if you were enrolled in a current US government class here at FDU, but the professor insisted you buy a textbook from 2016. It simply does not work. To get back to the level the Yankees were from the late 1990’s to 2010, they must change as the game changes.
Baseball today is all about analytics. Spin rate, spin axis, horizontal and vertical break, velocity, exit velocity, and launch angle to name a few. The Yankees do follow these analytics with their players so why do they still lose? Again, they go on tradition – despite the numbers.
Historically, New York is a team loaded with power hitters and pitchers. The “Murderers Row” lineup of 1927 featured Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Tony Lazzeri who combined for 125 home runs that year. On the pitching side, they won titles on the arms of players like Roger Clemens (nicknamed Rocket for a reason), Mariano Rivera, Don Larsen, Aroldis Chapman and Whitey Ford, to name but a few.
While these are all historically great players, the Yankees invest heavily in players they think will fit the mold of power, which just has not worked out in recent years.
Analytics have taken over baseball and are best used to predict success in the Show. Instead of throwing money at the big-name players – who, if you look at their advanced stats, are mostly overrated – the Yankees should stop eating steak (power players) and eat more veggies (analytics) when putting together the 2023 roster.
While it is nice to have analytics now to help pinpoint what players are elite, that can only go so far.
Let’s compare Aaron Judge and Gerardo Parra. Judge is coming off one of the greatest regular seasons ever, hitting .311 with 62 home runs and 131 RBI. In the playoffs though, he hit a pathetic .138 with 2 home runs and 3 RBIs.
Parra was a career journeyman who happened to barely make the Washington Nationals’ roster in 2019. That year, he hit .250 with eight home runs and 42 RBI. In the postseason he hit .167 with 0 home runs and 0 RBI (Gerardo Parra Stats, n.d.).
Both players had pitiful performances in the playoffs so the general opinion would be that neither should have gotten as many at-bats in the playoffs. A good manager in this situation realizes though the “feel” part of baseball. The Nationals won the World Series that year perhaps because Parra ignited a spark in the clubhouse with a veteran presence.
New York has a veteran presence in their clubhouse in Judge, but was he enough to help lift his team to a win in the playoffs – even when his performance was lacking? A manager needs to realize his club needs the kind of spark Parra brought to the club – and so does the front office.
New York is a conflicted franchise with a deep wallet, spending millions of dollars on big-name players. They make the playoffs most years but just making it is never enough. Franchise success is based on the number of World Series wins (27, but none since 2009).
They will not win another trophy until they change how they run their franchise. It starts from the top down. They must clean house in the front office and the managerial spot. Once they can get a group of individuals together who can build a franchise based on baseball as it is today, they can start building a roster. They need to get rid of players who don’t fit the mold of winning baseball – regardless of their name – and bring in veteran players who have been on winning teams. The Yankees can right the ship and win the World Series, soon.
It’s in the numbers.
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Ian Barrett of Virginia Beach, Va., is a right-handed senior pitcher for Fairleigh Dickinson’s D-1 baseball team.