Baseball economics expert Vince Gennaro invited me to Manhattanville College last night to attend the final session of a grad school sports management class he taught. Two groups of students presented their final projects.
The first group did an in-depth study of the Baltimore Orioles and the factors that drive their attendance and what the team could do to improve that. The second project looked at the value of roster depth.
The students charted the win shares and durability of frontline players and bench players and broke them down to hitters, starters and relievers. They then compared all 30 teams.
As you might expect, starting pitching is what separated the elite teams from the rest and there was a wide disparity. That was particularly the case with the Yankees. But what struck me was that the offensive production was in a pretty tight range. The frontline players of most teams played close to the mean.
In other words, starting pitching is what mattered, particularly the depth of starting pitching. The students, who are all fans of the Yankees, commented that Brian Cashman was doing the right thing by focusing on starting pitching.
The reason I bring this up is to question the idea that if the Yankees lose out on the starting pitchers they want, they should go out and sign Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez and try to win with offense.
Based on what I saw last night, there is no “winning with offense.” You win with pitching, particularly starting pitching. The Yankees would have the same problem they had last season, except perhaps they would lose 7-5 more often instead of 3-2.
The idea that they could sign two hitters and simply mash their way to the playoffs is not a solid one or especially valid based on the statistics I saw last night. One way or another, be it through free agency or trade, the Yankees can not lose their focus on the rotation.
Cashman is a smart guy and he has start people working for him. I’m sure they know what those students so ably presented last night. That what’s makes these next few weeks so critical.
Trading Robinson Cano (which I don’t believe will happen) for Matt Kemp only spins the wheels. And please save the theories that Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui could bring back pitching. They’re both making $13 million, are in the final year of their contracts and have no-trade rights. In Matsui’s case, he has had two knee surgeries in the last year. In this market, I don’t see either of them bringing back a front-line starter in return unless it was part of some larger deal.
The power the Yankees right now is financial flexibility and they need to use that to land a couple of those starters. If anybody in the Bronx needs proof of that, I’m sure Vince’s students would be happy to show you their presentation.