Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Ross Ohlendorf Will Influence The World Series

TigerBlog's third-least favorite sports team is the New York Yankees, and since neither of the first two is a professional team, then the Yanks are TB's least favorite among NBA, Major League, NHL, NFL and every other professional organization out there.

Part of the reason TB doesn't like the Yankees is that their entire operating model is based on being able to outspend every other team by an enormous, overwhelming margin. Clearly, since NY hasn't won a World Series since 2000, it's not a model that guarantees success.

Few things annoy TB more than the latest sellout, who signed with the Yankees because they offered way more than everyone else, as he stands at the podium and says it was always a dream to "wear the pinstripes."

Despite this 30+ year dislike, TigerBlog thinks he's being somewhat objective when he makes this statement: If the Yankees don't win the World Series this year, it will be because they gave up on Princeton's own Ross Ohlendorf.

Major League Baseball has reached the All-Star break, which means that a pretty good body of evidence exists to discuss where the current season is going. Looking at the facts, it's obvious that the Yankees would be better with Ohlendorf in their starting rotation.

Going back a little more than a year, Ohlendorf was a bullpen member for the Yanks about to be traded to his current employer, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Going back 13 months or so, Joba Chamberlain was a lights-out, unhittable, better-not-be-trailing-after-the-seventh relief pitcher.

The Yankees of the last 15 years have always been at their scariest not when they had deep starting pitching or big home run hitters (insert your own steroid joke here) but when they had an untouchable back of the bullpen. Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time (as an aside, closer is the most overrated position of all-time, and TigerBlog maintains that it is the only position in sports where the manager/coach takes into account stats more than the good of the team in making personnel decisions), and when the Yankees were winning the World Series four times in five years, they had an army of guys in front of Rivera who were perfect setup guys (Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, etc.).

The result was that if you didn't have the lead on the Yankees after the sixth, you were finished. And the starters knew they only had to get to the sixth to win.

Chamberlain, when he came up, appeared to be as good as any of those other set-up guys. Certainly he was frightening on the mound, with his velocity and demeanor.

And then? Well, the Yankees moved Chamberlain to the rotation last June and then missed the playoffs. They traded Ohlendorf as an afterthought in the deal that brought them Xavier Nady, who got hurt and may never play again.

In typical Yankee fashion, they went out and signed hugely high-priced free agent pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for the front end of the rotation. With Chamberlain still a starter, the Yankees have relied on far less intimidating arms to set up for Rivera.

As for Ohlendorf, he found a spot in the Pirates' rotation, where he has done very well. In fact, Ohlendorf reached the break with seven wins, one fewer than Sabathia and Burnett (and had it not been for a total meltdown by the Pirate bullpen Friday night in Philly, he'd have the same eight wins that the two high priced pitchers do). Chamberlain has won four games as a starter this season.

Ohlendorf does have the highest ERA of the four pitchers, but not by much. Plus, he's pitching for the Pirates, who rank 21st in Major League Baseball in runs scored, as opposed to the Yankees, who rank first.

There is no doubt in TigerBlog's mind that Ohlendorf could have been a 10-game winner for the year for the Yankees while more importantly allowing Chamberlain to remain in the bullpen. Or, for that matter, had the Yankees put Ohlendorf in the rotation and signed only Sabathia, they could be making a more serious run at Roy Halladay right now.

Most importantly, come October in the playoffs, the Yankees could have had their dominant formula of Chamberlain to set up for Rivera. Now, that's gone, and leads in the seventh and eighth or no longer a lock.

Sometimes, seemingly minor decisions make the biggest impacts. This could be one of them for the Yankees, on the down side.

On the plus side, TigerBlog won't have to worry about how to root for Ohlendorf and against the Yankees, like he had to in the playoffs two years ago.

1 comment:

Jon Solomon said...

Who are #1 and #2?