The Yankees Are Good, and It Has Nothing To Do With A-Rod Playing Peekaboo

The media storyline about the New York Yankees every October of late is a variation on whether they can make good on their enormous payroll and win a World Series. This inevitably devolves into the "Is A-Rod clutch?" discussion and other inanities that question the team's True Yankee Quotient. And, should anything go wrong, the misfortunes of a team playing a sport dominated by luck and small sample sizes gives the piranhas in New York's media fishbowl reason to chow down. ↵
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↵So what's going to happen with this year's loose, fun, and scarily good team? Alex Rodriguez is now both "clutch" -- in the tiny sample size of three games, he's got a ridiculous .455/.500/1.000 slash line, two homers, and six RBI -- and, well, whatever quality this exemplifies: ↵
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↵The Yankees finished off the Twins and the Metrodome with a 4-1 win on Sunday, and will move on to face the Angels in the ALCS, but that was merely an extrapolation of their regular-season success, a product of patience and excellence paid for and not imbued via chemistry.  ↵
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↵After years of spending on albatrosses and sluggers, the Yankees used that mammoth payroll this past offseason to add Mark Teixeira (.383 on base percentage to go with 39 homers) to a team of discerning, effective hitters who had the best BB/K ratio, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and, of course, OPS in baseball this year. For hurlers, the Yankees have coupled top-dollar acquisitions of blue-chipper CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA, 3.39 Fielding Independent Pitching) and good starter A.J. Burnett (4.04 ERA, 4.33 FIP) with successful nurturing of prospects like Phil Hughes (10.05 K/9, 3.03 ERA) and David Robertson (12.98 K/9, 3.30 ERA) and contributions from old hands Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera for the sort of pitching that cruises when the hitting is hot and does enough to compete when it's not. ↵
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↵They rolled to 103 wins without extraordinary luck (their .309 BA on balls in play, especially compared to the Angels' .326 mark, is just about average) and by sacrificing fielding (they're third to last in the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating/150 at -4.7), so they're not without their chinks in the armor. And they've actually lost games to the Angels (5-5 record this year), unlike their ALDS opponent, who they swept 7-0 in the regular season before sweeping in the playoffs. No amount of money can inure a team to the perils of series that are fractions of the size of seasons and can flip conventional wisdom on its head easily. ↵

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↵However, the growing sense around the Yankees is that they are good and loose, and that the latter matters more. Bill Simmons, self-anointed expert on team chemistry, compares them to the '04 Red Sox, and the fun factor has caught on elsewhere, too. That shouldn't logically matter -- it's not as if players being paid millions for their athletic talents are going to do less fantastic things with acquaintances than friends -- but it goes on the pile of evidence, as does the above picture, and will, because chemistry is more easily grasped, for whatever reason, than the abilities to avoid making outs on offense and create them on defense, be the defining quality of these Yankees if they do win it all. ↵

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↵The stats say that if the Yankees win the Fall Classic, that's all well and good and predictable: They're an excellent team with as good a chance as anyone to do so. But if they lose, their same logic applies: The best teams don't always win titles if they aren't great over the short stretches in playoffs that require the highest levels of excellence, and other teams have nearly as good a chance to win 11 games in October when the predictive power of statistics is undone by small sample sizes. ↵

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↵Really, what Yankees fans should be thanking their lucky stars for is the sort of payroll that gives their team a chance to win and the sort of talent purchased with that payroll that makes watching the team fun. It would be silly to throw away a great year if one week goes poorly, right? ↵

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↵(Image via 3:10 to Joba.) ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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