The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Can the Yankees manage their way out of this current dry spell?

The New York Yankees franchise has won the most World Series championships in baseball history with 27. They are known for their dynastic teams that were dominant in multiple stretches of winning success.

However, sandwiched in between several of those successful stretches were dry spells where the Yankees failed to win a league pennant, much less a World Series. In 2021 the Yankees will start the twelfth year of their latest drought. It is one of three lengthy stretches where Yankees failed to win a pennant. The other two consisted of 14 years (1982-1995) and 11 years (1965-1975).

It’s not as though the Yankees have had really weak teams during this latest drought. In fact, they haven’t had a losing season during the previous 11 years and have made the playoffs eight times. They just haven’t won a pennant. On the other hand, historically mediocre franchises like the Marlins and the Mariners would consider a similar period of performance as huge successes. But more is expected of the Yankees because of their legendary history of championships.

Below are some thoughts on reasons for the Yankees’ latest decline.

There has been balanced competition in the American League. No team in the league has been overly dominant. During the 11-year drought, there have been seven different pennant winners: Boston (2), Houston (2), Tampa (1), Cleveland (1), Kansas City (2), Detroit (1), Texas (2).

The Yankees haven’t been a good playoff team. While they managed to get to the post-season eight times, their combined playoff record was 25-33. They lost four attempts at a pennant in ALCS play.

Starting pitching has been a relative weakness for the team. CC Sabathia (3), Masahiro Tanaka (2), and Luis Severino (2) have been the only starters in the past 11 seasons with more than one all-star season. (On the other hand, one of the key reasons the Yankees have posted winning records is that their bullpens have been among the best in the league.)

The Yankees have lacked a strong catcher. Why highlight that position? It’s not inconsequential that in the Yankees dynasty periods over the years, they had standout catchers, including Jorge Posada (1996-2009), Thurman Munson (1976-1981), Elston Howard and Yogi Berra (1947-1964), Bill Dickey (1936-1943), and Wally Schang (1921-1928), calling the signals behind the plate and contributing to potent offenses. During this latest drought, the Yankees have used Gary Sanchez, Brian McCann, Chris Stewart, Russell Martin, and Francisco Cervelli as their primary catchers. None of them were all-star-caliber players. (McCann was an exception but he was past his prime during his Yankees years.)

The last dynasty (1996-2009) included five core players who were constant during most of that stretch: Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. Each of these players came up through the Yankees farm system, and the rest of the team was built around these all-star players.

In the last 11 years, the Yankees farm system has been less than stellar in producing prospects that eventually helped the team win, especially its pitchers. Robinson Cano was a carryover from the previous dynasty period, but that leaves Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Miguel Andujar as the only regular starters that came up through the Yankees farm system.

So, what are the chances this year’s Yankees team can end the dry spell? They have a good chance to get to the playoffs again, possibly even winning their division. But winning the AL pennant is a different story.

The team appears to be healthy again for Opening Day, except for starter Severino who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and reliever Zach Britton. It will be good to see Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks put in full seasons for a change.

DJ LeMahieu was re-signed over the winter with a four-year deal. He’s been the best player for the Yankees for the past two seasons. Jay Bruce was acquired to bring another much-needed left-handed bat to the roster.

Tanaka went back to Japan, so starting pitching will again be something to worry about. The Yankees will need a lot of innings from its rotation in order to put less stress on its bullpen. But there are serious questions about that expectation. Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber (a former two-time Cy Young Award winner) were acquired during the off-season to start behind ace Gerrit Cole, but they missed the 2020 season. Another starter in the projected rotation, Domingo German (who won 18 games in 2019), also missed the 2020 season due to injury. Severino is expected back sometime later in the year. The book is still out on how effective these starters will be this year. Rounding out the rotation, Jordan Montgomery and Michael King are relatively inexperienced starters at the major-league level.

The Yankees’ saving grace the past few years has been its bullpen. They are in good shape again with the exception of Britton, who recently had surgery on his left elbow to remove bone chips and won’t likely be available until right before the All-Star break. But the Yankees have depth in the pen led by Aroldis Chapman. Veteran reliever Darren O’Day was a good addition over the winter.

Another area of concern is the catcher position. Sanchez, who shows intermittent streaks of power at the plate among his many strikeouts, remains a liability defensively. Backup Kyle Higashioka is much better defensively, but his bat won’t help much. The Yankees need to find a long-term solution at this position.

Overall, I figure there’s a 50-50 chance the Yankees’ drought will continue again this year. I think the Chicago White Sox should be favored to win the AL pennant, with some secondary competition from Tampa Bay, Houston, and Minnesota.

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