27th for the Yankees.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
By Sky Andrecheck, Hardballtimes.com
2009 was a victory for the New York Yankees, solidifying them as the team of the decade, not to mention the team of the millennium, and the team of all of baseball history. But one could also argue that the 2009 playoffs were a victory for Major League Baseball.
The Yankees, by all serious accounts, were baseball's best team regardless of the outcome of the playoffs. MLB may say that it craves parity, but what they really mean is parity in the regular season. The playoffs, by consistently producing upset after upset, have gained a reputation as a crap-shoot, in which luck rather than talent rules the day. With the team with the best regular-season record winning just two World Series in the last 18 years, fans can hardly be blamed for regarding the postseason as a roll of the dice, rather than a system of determining the game's best team. Additionally, the expanded playoffs have produced several champions and league champions which could not credibly be considered worthy of their title (I count four World Series champions, and an additional three World Series participants -- I'll leave it to you to pick out which teams I'm thinking of). The crisis has led to reactionary calls to punish wild-card teams by taking away their home field advantage or add a second wild-card team to make it tougher for an inferior team to win. (Ironically, implementing the latter would actually make it easier for an inferior team to win.)
In any case, it's not good for any sport when fans believe that luck, not skill, is the main determinant of who wins the championship. The regular season becomes a drag when fans believe that no matter how good their team is, it matters little when it comes to the playoffs. Just ask Atlanta Braves fans. In general, sports fans enjoy an upset, but when upsets become routine it disturbs the balance of sport.
Luckily for MLB, 2009 shocked the sport back into equilibrium. Teams that were supposed to win won. In six out of the seven series, the team with the better record won the series. Most of all, the consensus best team in baseball won it all. New York's victory, even if you personally detest the Yankees, is good for baseball and the fans because it restores some credibility to the playoffs. A loss by the Yankees, especially an early one, would have further diminished the value of both the regular season and the playoffs, by making fans lose faith in the way MLB determines its champion. If the best team loses year after year, why watch?
Part of the appeal of sport is the possibility of a David over Goliath victory. But in order to keep those moments fresh, Goliath has to win sometimes too. For MLB, Goliath's long losing streak had begun to erode the sport's credibility. 2009 went a long way toward restoring the balance of the game.
So that's that. For just the second time this decade baseball has an undisputed champion, a team that won the most games in the regular season and went on to win the World Series. Whether or not you care for the Yankees, you can't make any kind of argument that they're a paper champion.
As I wrote elsewhere today, there's at least as much reason to think this was the last hurrah of the old Joe Torre Yankees as there is to think this is the beginning of a new dynasty. Even in their newly remodeled version the team is old, and, as they say, what can't continue, won't. There are reasons why catchers and shortstops and closers don't usually play as well as Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera have at their ages, and there isn't any obvious way to replace these irreplaceable players. Meanwhile Boston and Tampa Bay will likely be better next year than they were this year, and there are two whole other divisions to contend with as well. As the Phillies can tell you, it's tough to repeat.
Still, in the wild-card era especially, a true championship is something to savor, and the Yankees won theirs the hard way, beating first the hottest team in the American League, then the one team that has had their number for years, and then the reigning World Series winner. It's 151 days to spring training, when everything starts over again. Until then, the Yankees have earned the right to smile the widest smiles in the world.
games, much to the delight of the Phillie Phanatic.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
By Sky Andrecheck, HardballTimes.com
Chase Utley has put on a massive display of power in the first five games of the World Series. On Monday, he tied Reggie Jackson’s record for home runs in a single World Series with five bombs. While Utley isn’t being called Mr. October yet, how does Utley’s feat compare with the legendary Jackson’s?
While they each hit five homers, Utley performed his feat in just five games and 21 plate appearances, while Jackson homered five times in six games and 23 plate appearances. By that measure, it would seem that Utley's performance was slightly more impressive.
However, 2009 is much more power-friendly than 1977 was. Additionally, the '77 Dodgers pitching staff was superior to the '09 Yankees staff. The '09 Yankees gave up a dinger in 2.9 percent of all plate appearances, while the ’77 Dodgers gave up a long ball just 1.9% percent of the time.
If you use these home run rates, the probability of an average player hitting at least five homers in 21 plate appearances against the 2009 Yankees is just 0.0028 percent. In other words, there’s only a 1 in 3,500 chance of doing so. How does this compare to Jackson’s feat? Because of the depressed home run era in which he played and the excellent Dodger pitching staff he faced, Mr. October earns his nickname. The odds of hitting at least five home runs in the 1977 World Series were nearly five times as great, at 16,000 to 1. So, while Utley may have matched Jackson’s World Series record, his feat was significantly easier.
Going into hypotheticals, what happens if Utley gets another eight plate appearances and jacks another homer to give him a record six World Series home runs? Will his feat then be more impressive than Jackson’s? In fact, no. The odds of hitting six homers in 29 plate appearances against the 2009 Yankees are about one in 7,000, meaning that Reggie’s accomplishment was still twice as tough. To match Mr. October’s feat in terms of difficulty, Chase would have to hit seven homers, in which case the odds of the accomplishment are one in 65,000. I’d love to see him get a chance to do it.
- 11:41 AM ET 11.04
Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI
1. So he's smart. What does that mean?
You'll often hear it said that the secret of a given pitcher's success is that he'll throw any pitch at any time at any count. This is usually not true. Most pitchers, even very good starters, throw only two really effective pitches, with a third that they'll use every so often just to keep hitters a bit nervous.
Pedro Martinez throws five pitches -- a rising fastball, a fastball with lateral movement, two varieties of breaking ball and a changeup -- and he really will throw any of them at any time. In Game 2 of the World Series, for example, he started off Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon with nine changeups in 12 pitches, and set both of them down swinging. The next time through the order he threw three fastballs, three changeups and a slider, and got a called strike three and a fly out. The third time he threw them two breaking balls and got two fly outs.
This is worth unpacking a bit more. It's a tribute to both Martinez's nerve and the quality of his changeup that he would throw it so often at the very beginning of a game. For most pitchers the pitch is effective just because of its timing -- a hitter expects something fast, gets something slow, and so swings badly. The way to use it is to show off the fastball and only then start changing speeds. Martinez will just throw what is effectively a batting practice pitch that flops as it nears the plate, and do well with it.
This also works as a strategy. One thing that makes the Yankee offense go is that they have two of the very best leadoff hitters in baseball atop their lineup. They work counts and get pitchers to show off what they have at the beginning of games, so other hitters can time their pitches and see which are breaking and which aren't. Martinez didn't play into this at all; in 12 pitches at the beginning of the game he showed just part of his arsenal, and so left the rest of the Yankees guessing.
Per a press release, Jim Fannin, a mental coach who claims to have counseled "twenty-four MLB all-stars, five MVPs and four Cy Young Award winners," offers 10 reasons for Alex Rodriguez's recent excellence. My favorite is No. 7 -- "His jaw is unhinged at the plate." Not offered for some reason: "Great hitters hit."