The Opus

Last week, Yahoo! Sports writer (and guy I follow on Twitter) Jeff Passan wrote an article on the Yankees offseason pitching acquisitions Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda and the perceived negative odds they faced coming to New York. You see, Passan would like to let us know that, more or less, pitchers generally don’t do as well when they come to play for the Yankees.

No other team imports big-talent pitchers with such regularity, with such high hopes, with all of the complications that accompany wearing pinstripes. The failure of outsiders has taken on a mythical status in New York and become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re not a Yankee, it’s awfully difficult to come in mid-career and play to their standards.

It’s a belief that’s going to live on forever. Going back to the days of Ed Whitson (who was the original poster boy for “not being able to handle the spotlight in pinstripes”), fans and sportswriters alike will point the finger to the Yankees free agent and trade failures, just the same as they fall into the trap of “money buys championships”. It’s an easy target – few teams in sports are as polarizing as the New York Yankees, and pointing out the failures of such a team is bound to sell newspapers, draw website hits, and build off of the natural schadenfreude flowing through any non-Yankee fan.

But is it real? Passan drops some favorites: A.J. Burnett, Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa – famous flops in one way or another that most Yankee fans would like to forget. In fact, Passan notes that:

…the legacy of Yankee pitching saviors in the Joe Torre-and-Joe Girardi Era is indeed sordid. In those 15 years, the team has brought in 21 major-league pitchers who spent a significant portion of their time as Yankees in the starting rotation. Only three have pitched better in New York than they did in their other stops.

3 for 21? That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Of course, what’s misleading in that “statistic” is that Passan is looking for players to “improve”. How often does a veteran player improve over his career after being picked up as a free agent? Generally, it’s believed that once a player hits free agency, his time of improvement is over; the team is picking up the player hoping that the player continues their performance in their new location. If he does better – great. But generally, you’re paying for a reproduction of past performance, not a diamond in the rough.

Passan then points out Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, David Cone, and Jimmy Key as further evidence of the “Yankee effect”. Really?

Roger Clemens? His Yankees ERA, 4.01, was more than a point higher than with Boston, Toronto and Houston, and his ERA+ 47 points lower.

Mike Mussina? Better as an Oriole.

Randy Johnson? Medium Unit at best.

Even David Cone and Jimmy Key, two linchpins from the dynasty teams, were no better with the Yankees than anywhere else. Cone’s ERA swelled and his ERA+ is a smidgen lower with the Yankees. Key’s ERA was about a quarter-point higher, while his ERA+ was a tiny bit better.

I got annoyed. I’m used to defending the Yankees (it’s actually fun, since it pisses off so many people), so I hit Baseball-Reference and started doing some research. And if you know me (and you probably do since only friends and relatives read my stuff), you know that me and research (especially on B-R) becomes a giant timesuck. Articles that end up going in this direction end up not being timely because they go so long, and end up in the post graveyard that I have in my drafts folder because I’ve committed too much time to delete them, but I can’t otherwise post them. Sometimes I just post them anyway, like I did with this one. But I’m not doing that with this. 11+ pages typewritten so far, something like 6400 words – I’m not letting it go.

So that’s why I haven’t been posting as much lately; the opus is in progress. It has grown in spectrum since I originally put it together, and when it does get posted, it’ll be a series of posts broken up over a week or something. But I’m not letting it go, and hopefully I’ll be able to give you something worth reading.

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