Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tom Verducci still California dreamin'

The Yankees went 35-8 at home in the regular season after the All-Star break, but Sports Illustrated columnist Tom Verducci credits the Bombers' continued home success in the postseason to geography of another kind.

Last week, when Verducci started pushing his "East Coast Baseball Theory," which argues that West Coast teams fare poorly in playoff games on the East Coast, he emphasized the cold weather as a factor, writing that "when you do get to October, the frequently cold, wet, blustery weather provides something else to battle, too."

Sunday's gametime temperature was a balmy 58 degrees, and the night was clear, so that part of the theory somehow got left off when he tried to explain why the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim lost Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. But Verducci continued to tout the rest of his theory.

Here's the lede of his "Five Cuts" piece Monday on the ALCS:
Let's be honest: The Angels didn't show well in New York. In three games at Yankee Stadium, Los Angeles went 0-3, committed seven errors, walked 17 batters and looked jittery. I am starting to believe that there really is something to my East Coast Baseball theory. West Coast teams went 1-6 this postseason in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. That makes West Coast teams 3-19 (.136) when they come to the Northeast for postseason baseball since 2003, and 10-38 (.208) in the wild-card era. The advantage may be that Northeast teams play in postseason-type environments all year long, where baseball means so much to the fan base that every 0-for-12 streak is a two-hour talk radio rant.
Verducci is right about the errors, and some of those miscues certainly made the Angels look jittery. But the Angels actually walked more batters (20) in their three home games than they did at Yankee Stadium (17). Three of the home walks and one road walk were intentional. So the Angels walked 17 batters unintentionally at home and 16 unintentionally at Yankee Stadium.

As for the notion that Northeast teams enjoy an advantage of playing in "postseason-type enviroments all year long," one would think that advantage would also work against non-West Coast teams from less fervent baseball cities. But the Colorado Rockies took three out of four playoff games in Philadelphia over the last three years (Rockies went 2-0 in 2007 and 1-1 in 2009).

The Chicago Cubs are not an East Coast team, but they have the sort of environment and fan base Verducci describes. But in 2003, the Florida Marlins took three out of four playoff games at Wrigley Field. In the World Series that year, the Marlins beat the Yankees two out of three at Yankee Stadium.

Verducci also brings up the Yankee payroll in a way that contradicts the ideas expressed in "The Yankee Years," the book he wrote with Joe Torre. In that book, Verducci peddles the notion that one of the reasons the Yankees failed to win titles over the last few years was because of acquiring high-priced talent like A-Rod (aka A-Fraud, as the book reveals some players called him). But now Verducci writes:
It was pretty cool to watch what happened in the middle of the infield after the series-clinching out. Rodriguez, finally in the World Series at age 34, yelled so loud the gum popped from his mouth as both he and first baseman Mark Teixeira immediately ran toward shortstop Derek Jeter. The three of them jumped and hugged together -- that's $644 million worth of contracts wrapped up in three men, or more than the valuation of the entire Angels franchise, lock, stock and Rally Monkey, with more than $100 million left to spare.
It is fair to bring up the payroll disparity between the Yankees and Angels in 2009, but it should also be noted that in 2005, the Yankees' overall 2005 payroll was $208M, seven million dollars MORE expensive than this year's $201M payroll. Yet the Angels still beat the Yankees that year, when their own payroll was just $97 million.

The Angels also defeated the Yankees in the 2002 ALDS. In fact, going into the 2009 ALCS, the Angels were the one team that seemed to have the Yankees' number. In the Joe Torre era, the Angels were the only team to have a winning record against the Yankees.

When Torre managed the Yankees, he could not beat the West Coast Angels. But now that Torre manages a West Coast team, the Dodgers have gone 0-5 in Philadelphia over the last two NLCS. Is it a coincidence that his co-author has now come up with the "East Coast Baseball Theory"?

This year, the Yankees finally overcame the Angels. Payroll and geography issues were similar, but one big change is that the Yankees have a different manager. It would be interesting to hear what Verducci has to say about that.

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