If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the Yankees have not been a solid team all season. I define a solid team as one where there is a clearly defined core, and that they are playing up to expectations. Too many key players are out due to injury and too many players are playing hurt. It makes you wonder, who is watching over the players’ physical well-being?
The manager is the one who is ultimately responsible for the overall health and success of the team. However, I am looking at the coaches. They are the ones directly responsible for the health and conditioning of the players on the team, and they have a direct responsibility to address players’ issues. So when we look at the last 3 years of injuries and sub-par performances, how is there no scrutiny on the quality of Larry Rothschild’s work? Last year the Yankees fired strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea, yet the injuries and subpar play continues.
There has been a lot of talk about how brittle the players are because they are all old. Not true of the pitching staff. Ivan Nova is 27 years old, and he suffered a partial UCL tear. I am not a medical professional, but the speculation is that it may have been due to stress caused by the motion of the arm. The motion of the arm, and the health of the arm, is something that the coaching staff is supposed to be directly managing. If this was the only example, you might be tempted to say that the coaches can only do so much, that injuries happen from time to time. It is not the only example.
Another example is Michael Pineda, who is only 25 years old. He is missing time on a back/shoulder injury caused by inflammation. You are not supposed to have nagging injuries that young. Some players are made of glass, granted, but we are starting to see a pattern emerging. What about C.C. Sabathia? Sabathia will turn 34 in a few weeks, so he is not old enough to be subject to regular injuries. Jonathan Papelbon, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren are all within a year of C.C.’s age and productive at their respective stages of their careers. How his legs get hurt as often as they do, and knock him out for as long as they do, is baffling. He is now recovering from an injured knee. Last year, his season ended early due to a hamstring injury. The year before, he pitched his last game against the Tigers in the playoffs and he was dreadful – and we found out later that he might have been playing hurt. Coaches are supposed to be on the lookout for things like throwing across the body, or problems with the overall mechanics of the pitching motion. So where was Larry Rothschild in these cases?
Nevertheless, let us not just pick on the pitching coach. How are the hitters faring? They are not performing much better. The Yankees are still 12th out of 15 in the American League in runs scored. They are also below the league average in both hits and home runs. In fact, there is a disturbing trend in the team hitting stats. In 2009 when they won the World Series, the team hit .283 with an OPS of .839. The next three years saw those number drop to the .260’s and .780’s, respectively. This year, the team is hitting .253 with an OPS of .698. They are on pace to hit the fewest home runs in a full season since 1989, when they hit only 130.
Some of it has to do with personnel changes. Some of it is just a drop in productivity. Mark Teixeira is hitting 35 points below his career average. Brian McCann is 50 points below his career average. Is McCann really this poor, or is the coaching problematic? Even with struggling hitters, it is the coach’s job to work with them to get them back on track. So why is there not more scrutiny on Kevin Long?
Injuries are a tricky thing to manage. Sometimes it is just hard luck. That was the popular opinion on the team last year. However, when it starts becoming a regularly occurring event, you have to wonder. Add to that the drop in productivity, and you have to start applying some pressure to the coaching staff. They are not paid to sit on the bench and high-five hitters when they hit home runs. They have a job to do, and when you don’t see the desired results, it is time for some accountability.