Memo to Brian Cashman: Starting Pitching Matters
Want proof. Look no further than Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, where Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer pitched brilliantly in leading the Washington Nationals to their first World Series championship.
Or take another look at Gerrit Cole’s, right, performance in Game 5, which brought the Houston Astros to the brink of their second title in three years.
Starting pitching throughout the playoffs ran counter to such noveau strategies as the opener, bullpen games and the super bullpen.
For years now the Yankees have been building a powerhouse teams with a stacked lineup and the best bullpen in baseball, a team capable of winning 100 games each of the past two seasons, and reaching the ALCS two of the past three years.
While spending big bucks on Giancarlo Stanton and fortifying the lineup and bullpen, Cashman and the Yankee brain trust have taken the cut-rate route on starters. Lacking a true number one ace (save for Luis Severino in the first half of 2018), the Yankees have used duct tape and baling wire to piece together a rotation, both at the front and back end.
Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton have been serviceable pitchers, but not aces. Domingo German’s future is uncertain, based on his domestic abuse issues.
Instead, the Yanks banked on CC Sabathia, who had nearly as many injured list visits as victories the past two years, and JA Happ, the so-called Boston killer who has wilted against the Red Sox.
Sonny Gray, a 2017 trade acquisition, turned out to be another Ed Whitson. Lance Lynn didn’t last. Michael Pineda. Jaime Garcie. Need we go on.
It wasn’t enough. While the Astros and Nationals thrived on starting pitching in the playoffs, the Yankees couldn’t hit in the clutch. Eventually their vaunted bullpen wore down, saddled down by innings, opposing batters becoming more familiar and comfortable with each appearance.
Well Hal Steinbrenner, above left, austerity no longer flies with Yankee fans. We know you have the money. Heck, your father wrote an $80,000 check in 1973 when he fronted an investors’ group that bought the Yankees for $8.8 million from CBS.
The Yankees earn 20 percent more than the next wealthiest baseball team, and their $4 billion market value is second in sports, behind only the Dallas Cowboys.
Well Brian Cashman, above right, time to bring on some pitching. Cole would look good in pinstripes. Strasburg and Madison Bumgarner too.
There’s work to be done. 2020 is up next. Time to bully up Yankees.
Justin Verlander joined an elite group when he tossed the third no-hitter of his career yesterday.
Verlander became just the sixth pitcher to throw three or more no-hitters. He joins baseball legends Nolan Ryan (7), Sandy Koufax (4), Cy Young (3), and Bob Feller (3). And then there’s Larry Corcoran. Hardly a household name.
Pitching for the Chicago White Stockings, Corcoran threw no-hitters against the Boston Red Caps in 1880, Worcester Worcesters in 1882 and Providence Grays in 1884.
Corcoran was one of the smallest players in baseball history. Born in 1859 to Irish immigrant parents, the Brooklyn native stood just 5’3” and weighed 127 pounds. Nicknamed “Little Corcoran,” he was one of the early masters of the curveball.
Corcoran won 170 games for the White Stockings over that five-year span, including 43 wins in 1880 and 35 in 1884. Corcoran averaged 456 innings and 34 wins per year during that stretch, helping Chicago to three National League pennants.
But all those innings put a strain on his arm, and his career went downhill after 1884. Corcoran later pitched for the New York Giants, Washington Nationals, and Indianapolis Hoosiers, and wound up his career with a 177-89 mark, a 2.36 ERA and those three no-hitters.
Unable to adapt to life after baseball, Corcoran turned to alcohol. He died in 1881 of kidney failure. Larry Corcoran was just 32 years old.
The moment it happened, the first line of his obituary was forever defined:
“Bill Buckner, made fateful error in 1986 World Series…. “
You know the story. One play, a hopper that got past Buckner and helped the Mets overcome the Red Sox, overshadowed a very good baseball career.
A play that never should have happened. Throughout the season, Red Sox manager John McNamara frequently sent in Dave Stapleton to sub for Buckner late in ballgames for defensive purposes. Buckner was a good first baseman in his prime, but was hobbled by ankle injuries later in his career.
That night, Game 6, Buckner allowed Mookie Wilson’s grounder to slip through his legs and the Mets won 6-5 in 11 innings. Two nights later, the Mets won the World Series and extended the Red Sox drought to 68 years.
Bill Buckner died this week at the age of 69 of Lewy body dementia. Although I’m not here to advocate the Hall of Fame candidacy of Buckner, his career and numbers are eerily similar to those of Harold Baines, who was elected to he HOF by the Veteran’s Committee earlier this year. In my book, Baines is not a Hall of Famer.
Buckner and Baines each played 22 seasons and had lifetime batting averages of .289. Billy Bucks is one of the few players in MLB history to play in four different decades.
Baines had 2,866 hits, Buckner 2,715. Baines had a big edge in the power categories (384 HRs to 174) and better slugging and OPS numbers.
But Buckner stole 183 bases as opposed to 34 for Baines. Buckner won a batting title (.324) with the Cubs in 1980.
Oh and get this. Buckner struck out just 445 times in in 9,397 at bats, and Baines 1441 in 9,908 ABs. The year Baines won the NL batting title, he fanned 18 times in 578 ABs.
Neither player ever won World Series. Buckner was on pennant winners with the Dodgers in 1974 and the Red Sox in 1986; Baines with the A’s in 1990.
One other big differential; Buckner played first base and outfield throughout his career, Baines was primarily a designated hitter.
Take away that one error, and is the Veteran’s Committee looking at Buckner?
1968 will forever be remembered as the “Year of the Pitcher”. Denny McClain of the Tigers won 31 games, the last pitcher to win 30 in a single season. Bob Gibson of the Cardinals pitched to a record low 1.12 ERA; Cleveland’s Luis Tiant led the AL with a 1.60 ERA. San Francisco’s Juan Marichal was 26-9. On and on. Only one batter in the American League, Carl Yastrzemski, batted over ,300….just barely at .301.
And 50 years ago this month, slugger Rocky Colavito, called on in relief, recorded a victory in his final season with the Yankees. Yep, the Rock got the win.
Colavito, a superb outfielder with a strong right arm, hit .374 home runs in a 14-year career, including 42 to lead the AL in 1959.
On August 25, 1968, Colavito pitched 2.2 scoreless innings against Detroit, and wound up with a victory when the Yankees rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5. Colavito came on in relief in the fourth inning, and retired two batters to strand a couple of runners.
The Yankees got a run back in the fourth, and then struck with two outs in the sixth. Bill Robinson hit a three-run homer followed by a Bobby Cox solo blast that tied the score at 5-5. Colavito then walked and scored what proved to be the winning run on a Jake Gibbs single. Lindy McDaniel finished off the Tigers in the ninth to earn the save.
In the second game, Colavito homered against Mickey Lolich to spark another Yankee comeback and a 5-4 win for a doubleheader sweep.
The Tigers were good enough to win the World Series in 1968, but had a tough August weekend in the Bronx. In a Friday twi-night doubleheader (I was there), the Yankees won the opener 2-1, and then the two teams battled to a 3-3, 19 inning tie ended with curfew, with McDaniel pitching seven perfect innings in relief. On Saturday, the Yankees beat McClain 2-1 behind Mel Stottlemyre.
According to the rules of the time, the Friday game counted as a tie but had to be played again as part of the Sunday doubleheader where Colavito made history.
The Yankees played yet another doubleheader on Monday and shortstop Gene Michael pitched three innings in a 10-2 loss to California. The Stick gave up five runs to the Angels, but none of them were earned. On Tuesday the Yankees again split with the Angels. It was the Yanks fourth doubleheader in five days, including the 19-inning tie.
Rocky Colavito had an outstanding career. He hit four home runs in a game in Baltimore in 1959. Before the 1960 season, Colavito was traded to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn. For the only time in baseball history, a HR champ was traded for a batting champion. There was outcry in Cleveland following the deal.
Rocky Colavito also pitched three scoreless innings in a 1959 mound appearance with Cleveland. His lifetime ERA is 0.00. You can’t do better than that.
GM Brian Cashman has made many shrewd moves the past several years in making the Yankees a contender once again. The acquisition of Sonny Gray isn’t one of them.
Cashman dealt three prospects – James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler — to the Oakland A’s for Gray before the trade deadline last July. At the time, most thought the Yankees were getting a solid, young No. 2 starter.
Instead, Sonny has evoked nightmare visions of guys like Ed Whitson, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Javier Vasquez and Kevin Brown, all of whom flopped in pinstripes.
Facing the Red Sox on the last day of June, Gray crumbled in the first inning. After retiring the first two batters, Gray loaded the bases and then surrendered a grand slam to Rafael Devers. He couldn’t get off the mound fast enough midway through the third inning, trailing 6-0 with boos cascading down from irate Yankee fans..
“That was embarrassing for me and for everybody in here,” Gray said in the home clubhouse after the 11-0 loss. “If I was out there, I probably would’ve booed me louder.”
Statistics tell the story, and it’s not good one. In fact, Gray’s performance as a Yankee has been historically bad. All Yankee pitchers are expected to pitch well at home….and show a propensity for beating the Red Sox. Gary has done neither.
Since coming to the Bronx, Gray has a 4-6 record and a 7.10 ERA, highest of any Yankee pitcher in history who has started at least eight games at Yankee Stadium.
This year, Sonny has an 8.25 ERA in eight home starts, the worst in Yankees history. Pavano was the previous leader in this dubious category with a 6.89 ERA.
Against Boston, the Yankees have lost all four of Gray’s starts in the past two seasons. His ERA against the Red Sox is 9.35, better only than Jose Contreras (16.43) and Andy Hawkins (14.44).
In eight career starts against the Red Sox overall, including his lone win while a member of the A’s, Gray is 1-6 with a 6.98 ERA.
“I mean, I haven’t beaten a lot of teams since I’ve been here. I’ve been bad against the Red Sox. I’ve been bad against a lot of teams,” Gray said. “So I don’t think you can say one particular team has my number. I’ve been bad against multiple teams.”
At least you got something right, Sonny.
It was 20 years ago today that I witnessed a piece of baseball history. On a chilly Sunday afternoon, Beanie Baby day at Yankee Stadium, Yankees southpaw David Wells carved out a slice of baseball immortality by pitching a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.
My sister Aimee came up with four tickets in the lower stands in right field, and my son Dan, then 12, nephew Sean, 7,and brother-in-law Jack saw a game for the ages.
That day, Wells threw the first perfect game for the Yankees in nearly 42 years, going back to Don Larsen’s masterpiece against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Amazingly, Wells and Larsen graduated from the same high school, Point Loma, near San Diego.
There were several interesting sidelights to that game. For one, I just missed catching a home run ball by Bernie Williams in the fifth inning. If you go back and look at the videotape, I’m the guy in the orange windbreaker who gets shoved out of the way on Bernie’s blast.
A father sitting in the row in front of us kept getting up to buy food for his kids. Then after seven innings he announced he was leaving. My brother-in-law and I were incredulous. We both asked him if he knew what was going. He realized a no-hitter was in progress, but responded that he wanted to beat the traffic. Jack and I just shook our heads and laughed.
Lastly as we left the Stadium, I turned to Sean, who had just seen the second major league game in his life. I told him he could go to a game every day for the rest of his years and never see another perfect game.
You have to go back nearly 60 years to find a Yankee debut like the one Giancarlo Stanton had in his first game in pinstripes. On April 19, 1960, the Yankees opened the season at Fenway Park with a 9-4 victory over the Red Sox.
That day, a guy named Roger Maris, an outfielder acquired from the Kansas City A’s in the off-season, batted lead-off for the Yankees that day and doubled.
Maris later hit a pair of of home runs and singled in another run. He finished with four hits, four RBIs and a 5-2-4-4 line.
The Rajah won the AL MVP in 1960, and lost the World Series in seven games to Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates. The following year Maris hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s record, won the MVP again, and helped the Yankees beat the Reds in five games in the World Series.
For the record, Stanton homered twice, doubled and drove in four runs to lead the Yankees to a 6-1 win over the Blue Jays in the opener. He finished 5-3-3-4 for the game.