Next up in the Pinch Hitters series is Ed Conde, who looked back at the Yankees teams that played in the World Series since 1976 and found they had a few things in common.
Ed is the head of the federal government’s Alcohol Countermeasures Laboratory in Cambridge, MA. He was born in the Bronx and grew up in New York.
“It is hard living among the enemy,” he wrote. “But it is much better since the World Series ended.”
There have been 11 Yankee teams that have reached the World Series since the original Stadium was renovated for the 1976 season. Three teams reached the Series during the successful 1976-1981 era. Eight more reached the Series during the 1996 to 2009 “Core Four” era.
The late 70’s teams featured a young up-the-middle core of Munson (29), Dent (25), Randolph (22), and Rivers (27). The rotation featured top arms near their prime years – Guidry (26), Figueroa (28), Hunter (30), and Gullett (26). The star pitcher was a left hander (Guidry) who was able to negate the opponent’s lefty sluggers. The bullpen had great closers (Lyle and Gossage) and a good lefty for the late innings (Lyle). The power hitters were mostly left handed or were switch hitters in order to take advantage of the short porch in right (Jackson, Nettles, Chambliss) and the right-handed hitters were high average, line drive types (Piniella, Munson, Randolph).
These teams won it all in 1977 and 1978 and reached the Series in 1976 and 1981. Unfortunately Thurman Munson died in a tragic plane crash in 1979, Gullett and Hunter succumbed to injuries, and the Yankees were unable to replace them. As a result, the Yankees missed the playoffs for 13 straight seasons.
By the 1996 season the Yankees finally got back to the formula that was so successful in the late 70’s. They put together a talented core of young up-the-middle players: Posada (24), Duncan/Knoblauch (29), Jeter (22), and Bernie Williams (27). The rotation featured top arms near or a little past their prime years – Pettitte (24), Cone (33), Wells (34), Clemens (36), Hernandez (32). The star pitcher was a left hander (Pettitte). The bullpen had a great closer (Rivera) and good left handers (Stanton, Lloyd.) The power hitters were mostly left handed or switch hitters (Bernie, O’Neill, Tino, Posada) and the right handed hitters were mostly high average line drive types (Jeter, Knoblauch). These teams won it all in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 and reached the Series in 2001 and 2003.
Bernie, Knoblauch, and Tino lost effectiveness, O’Neill retired, and Pettitte, Clemens, and Wells all left for other teams. The winning formula was shattered. Gone was half of the up-the-middle core and 3/5 of the rotation. Without Pettitte and Wells there were no effective lefties in the rotation. The Yankees tried patching the rotation with righties Vazquez, Brown, Weaver, Pavano, Wright, Mussina, and Contreras with mixed results. An aging Randy Johnson was brought in to get an effective left hander into the rotation. The Yankees tried to make up for a lack of pitching with a formidable lineup, but much of the power was right handed (Sheffield, A-Rod). It didn’t work. The Yankees did not reach the Series for five straight years.
Finally, by 2009 the Yankees had a chance to re-create the winning formula. A resurgent Cano and an effective Cabrera joined Jeter and Posada to re-establish dominance up the middle. A young stud left hander was brought in to lead the rotation (Sabathia). Pettitte returned to the team and gave the Yankees two lefties to shut down the opponent’s left-handed hitters. Burnett was signed, giving the Yankees their first dominant rotation since Clemens, Pettitte, and Wells left after 2003. The star pitcher was a left hander (Sabathia). The bullpen had a great closer (Rivera) and some good lefties (Marte and Coke). The power hitters were again mostly left-handed or switch hitters (Teixeira, Matsui, Swisher, Cano, Damon). The remake worked and the Yankees won it all.
Looking at the numbers from the great baseballreference.com, what can we learn?
1) The 11 World Series teams averaged third in the AL in ERA. All but one finished in the top 5. — You need really good starting pitching to win it all.
2) All 11 World Series teams had a starter who finished in the top 10 in AL ERA. Most of the teams that did not reach the Series did not have a top 10 pitcher. – You need an Ace.
3) The Yankees led the AL in runs in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Of those years, the only times that they reached the Series was in 1998 and 2009 when they also had great pitching. – You can’t bash your way to a Championship.
The best Yankee teams have:
• Been strong up the middle
• Have taken advantage of their ballpark with strong lefty pitching and lefty power hitting
• Have had a strong rotation
• Had an Ace – preferably left handed
• Had a good bullpen with one or two lefties.
• Had a great closer
The 2010 team seems to have all the pieces in place. Brian Cashman has brought in Granderson to shore up the middle and provide left-handed power. Cano is a rising star, Jeter defies age, and Posada remains effective. The up-the-middle positions look like they will remain strong. The rotation should remain strong with an Ace in Sabathia. Rivera keeps rolling with Joba perhaps waiting in the wings. Cliff Lee and Joe Mauer are pending free agents who fit the Yankee profile. It is a great time to be a Yankee Fan!
Thirty days until pitchers and catchers.