I'll get to the Mets in a moment, but first, since I've been out of commission this week due to a business trip, here are some thoughts on what ails the Yankees . . .
First thing's first, it's not the bullpen, which has held opponents to a .233/.308/.343 line and posted a 3.30 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.67 K/9, and 2.28 K/BB, all despite being called on for the second-highest total of relief innings in the majors.
Second, the problems in the starting rotation are both obvious and in the process of being solved. Chien-Ming Wang has eight quality starts in nine tries, a 2.90 ERA, has spiked his K/9 to 5.80 (up from his career mark of 3.83 entering the season), and is averaging nearly 6 2/3 innings per start. Mike Mussina is 5-0 with a 2.76 ERA and just three walks in his last five starts. Darrell Rasner has two wins and two quality starts since being promoted from Scranton. Andy Pettitte was 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA over his first four starts, but is 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA over his last four. Chances are Pettitte and Mussina will meet in the middle somewhere, leaving Ian Kennedy, who aced his reboot start in triple-A and threw strikes in his return last night only to have those strikes hit hard, as the big question mark in the quintet.
As for the offense. Riddle me this, Batman: as of yesterday morning, the Yankees were fourth in the AL in adjusted OPS, and third in the AL in slugging, but a dismal tenth in runs scored per game. What gives?
Here's my answer: too many outs. It's the oldest trick in the sabermetric book; the most precious commodity in the game is each team's allotment of 27 outs. Avoid making outs and you will score runs by default. In each of the last two seasons, the Yankees were first in the majors in on-base percentage (which is really just the inverse of a team's rate of making outs) and first in runs scored per game. This year, the Yankees are ninth in the AL in OBP and tenth in the league in runs scored per game.
Yes, it's that simple.
On-base percentages are dependent upon walks. While it's true that walks rarely drive in runs, they put runners on base and keep innings alive, preventing those runners from being stranded. The Yankees were third in the AL in walks in each of the last two seasons. This year, they're tenth in the league in free passes.
Tenth in walks. Ninth in OBP. Tenth in runs per game.
So don't blame Jason Giambi and his .188 average. Giambi leads the team with 23 walks, which get him up to a solid .351 OBP. Don't blame Hideki Matsui (not that you would seeing as he's by far been the team's best hitter this season). He leads the Yankees with a .399 OBP. Don't blame Johnny Damon, who is second to Giambi with 19 walks and has a .348 OBP which is right around his career average.
Do blame the injuries to Jorge Posada (career .380 OBP) and Alex Rodriguez (career .388 OBP). Jose Molina has just two walks in 25 games and has been an automatic out since coming back from his hamstring injury (45 outs in 47 plate appearances, counting double plays). Morgan Ensberg, has made 45 outs in his last 58 PAs dating back to Rodriguez's first game at DH.
Robinson Cano was another guilty party, but has gone .394/.412/.636 over his last nine games. Unfortunately, his buddy Melky Cabrera, who entered May with a .370 OBP, has taken Cano's place by making 30 outs in 36 PA over those nine games. Together they add up to one valuable hitter and third automatic out in the lineup.
Oh, and there's one other guy you can blame: Derek Jeter. Of the seven Yankees with 100 or more at-bats, Jeter is dead last in walks with just two-thirds of Cano's second-worst total. Jeter's .297 average is the second best mark on the team, but his .331 OBP is fifth among Yankee starters and 57 points below his career mark, which he matched or surpassed in each of the last three seasons. The good news there is that four of those six walks have come in the last 12 games. Still, even over that span Jeter's PA/BB rate has been below his career mark.
Oh yeah, the Mets. If you look at the records below you'll see that the Mets are only a hair better than a .500 team. The Mets were four games over .500 on April 19, but have gone 10-12 since then. Their team OPS+ is 102. Their team ERA+ is 103. That about sums it up. They're not a powerhouse. They're just barely above average.
Their rotation looks a lot like the Yankees' as two men are pitching well (Johan Santana and John Maine), one has been inconsistent (Oliver Perez, who's nearly matched Pettitte's ERA split), and the last two spots are in the hands of a struggling prospect and a minor league veteran (though Mike Pelfrey has out-pitched Ian Kennedy thus far, that's not a high bar to clear). The bullpen is split between the dominant (closer Billy Wagner, LOOGies Pedro Feliciano and Scott Schoeneweis, and ROOGY Joe Smith) and the struggling (at least set-up righties Aaron Heilman and Duaner Sanchez haven't pitched their way off the team the way Jose Sosa did).
As for the offense, the Mets are sixth in OPB and fifth in runs per game. See the connection? David Wright is up to his usual tricks, but the offense has otherwise been relying on hot starts from ex-Nationals Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, neither of which is likely to develop into a genuine career year. Carlos Delgado is still finished. Jose Reyes is starting to make 2006 look like a genuine career year. Luis Castillo is slugging .306. Moises Alou missed all of April and is homerless in May, and Carlos Beltran's power has gone missing.
As for tonight's pitching match-up, I'm sure there will be plenty of ink spilled over the irony of Johan Santana coming to the Bronx as a Met to face Darrell Rasner, who is filling in for the injured Phil Hughes. I still wouldn't have made that deal. If the Yankees lose tonight, it will be because of all those extra outs made by the Yankee offense, not because of the ones Rasner doesn't get.
Manager: Willie Randolph General Manager: Omar Minaya
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Shea Stadium (97/96)
Who's Replacing Whom:
Brian Schneider replaces Paul Lo Duca
Ryan Church replaces Shawn Green and Lastings Milledge
Marlon Anderson takes over Carlos Gomez and Ruben Gotay's playing time
Fernando Tatis replaces Jose Valentin
Johan Santana replaces Tom Glavine
Claudio Vargas replaces Orlando Hernandez (DL) and Pedro Martinez (DL)
Mike Pelfrey replaces Brian Lawrence and Jorge Sosa's starts
Duaner Sanchez (DL) replaces Guillermo Mota
Matt Wise replaces Aaron Sele
1B - Carlos Delgado (L)
2B - Luis Castillo (S)
SS - Jose Reyes (S)
3B - David Wright (R)
C - Brian Schneider (L)
RF - Ryan Church (L)
CF - Carlos Beltran (S)
LF - Moises Alou (R)
L - Marlon Anderson (UT)
R - Damion Easley (IF)
R - Ramon Castro (C)
L - Endy Chavez (OF)
R - Fernando Tatis (IF)
L - Johan Santana
L - Oliver Perez
R - John Maine
R - Claudio Vargas
R - Mike Pelfrey
L - Billy Wagner
R - Aaron Heilman
L - Pedro Feliciano
R - Duaner Sanchez
R - Joe Smith
L - Scott Schoeneweis
R - Matt Wise
15-day DL: S - Angel Pagan (OF), R - Pedro Martinez, R - Orlando Hernandez, R - Ambiorix Bugos, L - Jason Vargas
S - Jose Reyes (SS)
L - Ryan Church (RF)
R - David Wright (3B)
S - Carlos Beltran (CF)
R - Moises Alou (LF)
L - Carlos Delgado (1B)
L - Brian Schneider (C)
S - Luis Castillo (2B)