Tuesday, October 21, 2014


The Kansas City Royals aren’t the league’s most powerful team.  In fact, they hit the lowest number of home runs in MLB this season, not even reaching 100 – the only team not to do so.  Instead, the Royals have used a combination of speed (they led the majors in stolen bases), hitting with runners in scoring position (they ranked 4th in MLB), and as my colleague Suzie Pinstripe pointed out in WHY CAN'T THE YANKEES BE MORE LIKE THE ROYALS? – chemistry and hustle to create a winning formula.

Does that mean every team should look to play “small ball” to win?  Of course not.  What it does mean is that a winning formula has to be developed according to the personnel you have and the stadium you play in.

The Royals’ most frequent lineup was an average age of 27.8 years-old.  It included 24-year-old stars Salvador Perez (Catcher) and Eric Hosmer (1B) as well as four other “20-somethings”.  There’s lots of energy there to be had, and they’ve used it in their run to the World Series.  They play in a large park, so it only makes sense that they play a station-to-station type of game.

With a strong starting staff anchored by James Shields and 23-year-old fireballer Yordano Ventura, and bullpen that ranked 6th in baseball, the Royals aren’t a fluke.  They are a team built for their stadium and managed to their talents.

Can the Yankees find that same type of recipe? They can, but they’ll need a change in mindset.

Beleaguered by injuries over the past two seasons, the Bombers have ranked 22nd and 12th in home runs.

The previous three seasons they were 1st, 3rd, and 1st.  The bottom line is that their advanced age – the average age of the Yankees most frequent lineup was 33.7 (with no one under the age of 30) – is resulting in a higher frequency of downtime and sapping their power.  The replacements for the fallen starters have included the likes of Chris Stewart, Lyle Overbay, Brendan Ryan, Ichiro Suzuki, and many others whose best power was seasons long in the past.

When a starting nine that once included Robinson Cano, a healthy Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and Jorge Posada is replaced with players like those mentioned above, you need to adjust your style of baseball.  You no longer have consistent power, and need to compensate for that.

Instead, the team has ignored the hand it has been dealt and attempted to recreate the success of 2009 with players of a different caliber.  There is no statement more telling of that ignorance than a quote from manager Joe Girardi in 2013.  In responding to reports that hitting coach Kevin Long suggested the team play more “small ball”, Girardi was quoted as saying “We’re the Bronx Bombers, not the Bronx Bunters”.  At the time, the team featured Stewart behind the plate, Overbay at first (Teixeira was down with a wrist injury), Jayson Nix at third base and Eduardo Nunez at shortstop (Derek Jeter was out with an ankle injury for most of the year).  In 2013 only one player – Robinson Cano – hit more than 20 home runs.  How could they NOT be the Bronx Bunters?

I’m not just focusing on 2013 as the “stubbornness” seemingly has continued through the most recent season.  In spite of an injury to Carlos Beltran that clearly hampered his talent at the plate (.233 average with 15 hr in just 109 games) and the continued decline of Mark Teixeira (.216 average with 22 home runs and 62 RBI), Girardi repeatedly left them in the middle of the order (Beltran had 88 games in either the 3rd, 4th, or 5th spot, Teixeira had 109 games in either the 4th or 5th spot) as the team hopelessly battled for the final playoff berth.  As much as it pains me to say it, the manager’s refusal to move Derek Jeter from the number two spot in the lineup (where he hit .258 with a .306 on-base percentage) was yet another example of failure to adapt to the talent at hand.  It is one thing to be loyal to your players, but to do so at the expense of the team is tantamount to sabotage.

Without dwelling on the mistakes that are now water under the bridge (I could go on about Stephen Drew, or David Huff, or Matt Thornton, or any other desperate attempt to find a left handed pitcher just for the sake of having a left handed pitcher), what change of direction can the Yankees take to create the success that the Royals have?

First, they need to trust some of the players that have proven themselves in the minor league system and promote from within.  The 2014 Royals starting lineup features five “home grown” players.  Their rotation has two starters that began their MLB careers as Royals and their All-Star closer, Greg Holland, has never known another major league team.

Do the Yankees have that kind of talent in the minors?  How are we going to know if they aren’t given a chance?  Already, out of necessity (due to numerous injuries to the staff), the team stumbled upon a couple of gems on the mound in Chase Whitley and Shane Greene.   Both are 25-years-old and both can expect more time in the Bronx next season.  Greene may actually break into the starting rotation.  Need I even bring up what Dellin Betances did in 2014?

Instead of lamenting the need for a shortstop, let Jose Pirela have a shot at proving he belongs in “the show” (he has over 300 games at short in MiLB and hit over .300 with Scranton).  Bring up Rob Refsnyder and start him at second base.  He has proven himself at Triple A (hitting .300 in 77 games with the RailRiders).  At the ages of 24 and 23 respectively, they would not only fill needs on the field, but inject some youthful energy into our stale, old team.
Aside from personnel, the Yankees game management needs to be more flexible.  If one of the aging stars is in a prolonged period of..well…aging…then move them to a different spot in the order!  Realize what you have at that moment, and adjust accordingly.  Broken egos are much easier to recover than lost games.

Should we end up with a team made up of hitters more capable of hitting doubles than home runs, then we need to manage the game to make that sort of character a strength.  Why do I get the feeling that as a toddler, young Joe Girardi repeatedly attempted to pound the square block through the round hole?
It is my hope that our GM and manager are following what the Kansas City Royals are accomplishing and how they are doing it.  Let’s learn from an organization that has somehow passed us by and rekindle our future simply by utilizing what we have.


--Steve Skinner, BYB Senior Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1


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