When speaking of the Yankees, one word oft-used to describe the team is “age” and more specifically, “old age”. While the team isn’t so old now—the average age is 28, or about league average—some of the Yankees’ biggest names and contributors are seasoned veterans. Age can be a big negative in the postseason: older players often experience fatigue late in the season and the playoffs, leading to a decrease in performance. At the same time, having a team with some veterans can be a good thing. Postseason experience has been shown to give a slight advantage to teams, but having players who have thrived during their time in the playoffs gives an even bigger boost. The Yankees have plenty of veterans with at bats in October, and while some of them have been disappointing in these big games, others have been stars in the playoffs.
Today there were rumors flying that the Yankees were considering playing John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann in the Wild Card Game. This sounds a bit crazy, but there’s a method to this madness. In terms of playoff performance, McCann has hit .209 in 12 games with 16 strikeouts. In small sample sizes like this, his struggles probably don’t mean much. A career .209 playoff average certainly won’t help his case, though. One other reason for McCann’s possible benching is platoon splits, as McCann has hit worse against lefties in his career, while Murphy is more even against lefties versus righties. McCann also finished the season on a 1 for 22 slide. The Yankees Wild Card starter, Masahiro Tanaka, has been caught by both McCann (119 innings) and Murphy (35 innings). Tanaka has enjoyed slightly more success with Murphy as his battery mate, as he has a 2.83 ERA with Murphy compared to 3.71 ERA with McCann. Even with these factors in mind, McCann is certainly the better catcher and should play. But, if Murphy draws the start, the move could end up working out.
The Yankees infield, like their pitching staff (more on this later), lacks postseason experience. In the middle of the infield, the Yankees are unsure of who to use at second. It may come as solace to fans that they aren’t missing much from Stephen Drew, who has a .212 career average in the playoffs. Chase Headley will finally get his first taste of the postseason this year as despite a long career, the Padres never played in October during his time with San Diego.
Alex Rodriguez struggled in the second half of this season. He hit .278/.382/.515 in the first half, but just .216/.324/.448 in the second. History indicates that Rodriguez shouldn’t be expected to have a huge breakout in the postseason, as his .263/.369/.464 slash line is well below his career averages. A-Rod’s bat speed is all but gone, and he’s had to sit on fastballs to stand a chance at getting hits in the second half. His postseason outlook isn’t rosy.
So far, the Yankees’ veterans haven’t shown a whole lot of success in the postseason. Luckily, the Yankees have Carlos Beltran in the outfield. Beltran and the postseason go hand in hand, as Beltran is one of the best playoff performers of all-time. His .333/.445/.683/1.128 slash line is an incredible one, as are his 16 home runs, 40 RBI, and 35-to-24 walk-to-strikeout ratio over 51 games and 180 at-bats. Sure, Beltran is no longer the base stealing threat or defensive weapon he once was, but he always seems to come up big in the playoffs. Beltran finished this season on a high note, and will hopefully be a big contributor in the Wild Card Game. It’s worth mentioning that Beltran has a nearly even platoon split, but has four hits in ten at-bats (including a home run and a double), against Astros Wild Card starter Dallas Keuchel.
Another Wild Card dilemma the Yankees face is whether to start Chris Young or Brett Gardner. Once again, it seems counterproductive to sit a player like Brett Gardner, who was an All-Star this season, but postseason stats lean towards Young. Young has been spectacular in the postseason, with a .326/.453/1.174 slash line in 12 games (albeit a small sample size). In addition, he is the Yankees lefty killer, which will come in handy against the southpaw Keuchel. Now for Gardner, he had a rough second half and hasn’t been very good in postseason games. Unlike Young, Gardner has played in 33 playoff games, hitting just .215/.257/.231. It may be best for Gardner to sit on Tuesday. If he does, Gardner becomes a pinch running weapon for Girardi to use off the bench.
Beltran and Young have thrived in the playoffs, and this trend continues with Jacoby Ellsbury. He will likely start for the Yankees in the Wild Card Game and could be an impact player. Ellsbury has a .301/.361/.414 slash line in 38 postseason games, and while the lefty is a bit worse against left handed pitchers, he still has hit a respectable .284/.343/.394 against them in his career. (Editor’s note: There’s at least a chance Gardner starts over Ellsbury in center, as he did last Saturday against Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen-N.S.)
In terms of pitching, the Yankees won’t have much playoff experience. Of the few players that have appeared in multiple playoff games is Andrew Miller. Miller has appeared in a grand total of five games, throwing 7 1/3 innings of one hit, one walk, and zero run ball. Does this stat carry much weight? Not really, but it’s at least a small positive that Miller has postseason experience.
In terms of performance in the postseason, the Yankees have been a mixed bag. While they have some players that have struggled mightily, others have been stars. Previous postseason stats may not make a huge difference in the Wild Card Game, but they can indicate how a player may perform on such a big stage in an important matchup.
(Photo: Brad Penner-USA Today Sports)