Sox won this one in winter
In performing the post-mortems on American League Division Series – specifically what went wrong for the Yankees and what went right for the Red Sox — it is now fair to say these teams were defined by what they did last winter.
The Yankees went into the offseason with a focus on acquiring starting pitching, but when Derek Jeter announced he was actively shopping his MVP slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, the prospect of adding an established megastar to complement Aaron Judge without having to part with any prize prospects was irresistible – no matter how much they really didn’t need Stanton and how thrilled they were to finally be out from under Alex Rodriguez’s onerous, payroll-stifling contract. They never did get that desired starting pitcher until the July 31 trading deadline, refusing what they termed the Pirates’ excessive prospects demands for Gerrit Cole.
At the same time, the Red Sox, whose No. 1 need was a middle-of-the-order hitter, patiently waited out agent Scott Boras’ exorbitant contract demands for J.D. Martinez until finally landing him with a fiveyear $110 million deal, February 26. We will never know if the Red Sox privately would have preferred Stanton had they been included on his list of teams to whom he’d approve a trade and had the Yankees not pounced so quickly to acquire him. What we do know is Martinez is a vastly different player and – at least this year – a vastly better hitter.
All season long, the Yankees were perceived as a home run-or-bust team (90-41 when they homered, 10-21 when they did not) that struck out way too much — as opposed to the Red Sox, who led the majors in runs, hits, doubles, on-base PCT., OPS and total bases, as a team that put the ball in play and used the whole game, sacrificing, stealing bases, moving runners along etc. etc. Indeed, the Red Sox finished third in the majors with 125 stolen bases (to the Yankees’ 63) and had the 26th fewest strikeouts (1,253) to the Yankees’ ninth most 1,421.
All of this was most personified in the head-to-head stats of Stanton and Martinez (see chart).
The key stats here are the strikeouts to hits. Martinez had 42 more hits than strikeouts while Stanton had 47 FEWER hits than strikeouts. Moreover, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, of 154 batters who had at least 100 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Martinez hit a thirdhighest .386 in those situations while Stanton hit .241, (114th).
Which brings us to the ALDS and Stanton’s two rally-killing $25 million strikeouts – in the seventh inning of Game 1 with the bases loaded, and in the Yankees’ fateful ninth inning of Game 4, when struggling Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrell fanned him on a pitch a good five inches outside after the first two Yankee batters, Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorious, had reached on a walk and a single. For the series, Martinez hit .357 with a homer, six RBI and no strikeouts to Stanton’s .222, no HR or RBI and six strikeouts.
This is what the Yankees bought when they rushed to take Stanton and the $295 million remaining on his contract off Jeter’s hands, replacing A-Rod’s pact with a potentially even worse one long term. It is not going to get better as they continue to pay him upwards of $25 million per year up to age 37, with the inevitability of injuries and the slowing of the reflexes. In fairness to Stanton, he’s been a good teammate and there was a stretch in late Julyearly August where he carried the team in Judge’s absence (9 HR, 20 RBI in 30 games), and we’ll also never know how much he was hampered by that sore hamstring late in the season.
Amazing how a short five-game series can expose so many flaws in a team that won 100 games in the regular season. As demonstrated against the Red Sox, the Yankees still have major starting pitching issues that were not addressed last winter, and now they find themselves needing to find a way