Thursday, September 14, 2006

Perception vs. Reality: Yankees can win without Rivera and Jeter

by Scott Silversten

Perception vs. Reality.

Oh, what a fierce battle they wage.

And no place does that fight occur more often than in the Bronx, where supporters of the New York Yankees have for decades felt they were smarter or more cerebral than their counterparts in other cities. If only that was actually the reality of the situation.

In New York, the perception is that Alex Rodriguez NEVER gets a big hit and that David Ortiz ALWAYS comes through in the big spot.

During his years in pinstripes, Paul O’Neill was considered the ultimate warrior who would do anything to win. In reality, if he had worn a different uniform, Yankees fans might have realized that O’Neill hardly ever ran hard when it appeared he would be out, and by taking out his frustrations on the nearest water cooler or bat rack, he often put himself at physical risk.

The perception that pervades Yankee Stadium in current days is that the two most valuable members of the team are Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and that without them in the lineup or on the mound, there is no chance of success. Once again, it is another perception that carries no truth.

Let’s start with Jeter, who according to all the baseball pundits, is in the running for this year’s American League Most Valuable Player honor. In the Bronx, they don’t yell, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Rather, the battle cry is, “It’s the intangibles, stupid.”

Well, call me stupid, because I would have a hard time casting my MVP vote (if I had one) for a player with fewer home runs than Jose Valentin. Jeter is an incredibly gifted player, especially when it comes to baseball intelligence, but does that intelligence really equal the difference in homers between the Yankees shortstop and Chicago outfielder Jermaine Dye (41).

The fact of that matter is that in one of Jeter’s best offensive seasons, his numbers pale in comparison to the likes of Dye, Boston’s David Ortiz and even teammate Rodriguez, who has suffered through arguably his worst campaign at the plate (we’ll save the defensive discussion for another day).

While it came off as petty and stinking of sour grapes, there is a lot of truth to the recent comments by Ortiz that Jeter should try life in the Red Sox lineup. Swap Ortiz for Jeter, and the Red Sox would have been playing meaningless games in June.

The notion that the Yankees can’t win without Jeter is nonsense, simply because of the shear amount of talent with which he is surrounded. When the Yankees lost their shortstop for 36 contests following an Opening Day injury in 2004, all they did was start 26-10.

There is no apologizing for circumstance, but Jeter has always been in a lineup with superior hitters, from O’Neill to Bernie Williams to Jason Giambi to Rodriguez. Not once in his sterling career has he been the most valuable offensive player to his team, let alone in the AL.

As for the intangible aspect, that’s impossible to measure, and it’s also what makes this year’s MVP debate so delicious.

Then there is Rivera, who has often been proclaimed the most valuable Yankee of the Joe Torre era. While I’ll always side with a position player like Williams or Rodriguez who is in the lineup for 160 games and posts tremendous numbers with strong defense, there is no doubting Rivera’s value. He is the best ever at his position.

However, once again, it’s silly to assume the Yankees can’t win without their closer, who has yet to pitch in September this year. And with October creeping up quickly, it would definitely behoove the team to get the right-hander back on the mound soon.

But even without Rivera, I give you five reasons why the Yankees could definitely still win the World Series without him at the back end of the bullpen:

1. The Arizona Diamondbacks
2. The Anaheim Angels
3. The Florida Marlins
4. The Boston Red Sox
5. The Chicago White Sox

Those five teams have won the last five World Series titles, and none of them had Rivera and all of them had fewer marquee stars in both the lineup and on the pitching staff. In fact, I had to look up who closed for the 2003 Marlins (Braden Looper or Ugueth Urbina, depending on your point of view), and let’s not forget the pitiful performance of Arizona’s closer in the 2001 World Series.

The point is this: No one player is so valuable that a strong team cannot overcome his absence. That’s especially for true baseball, an essentially individual sport in which the performance of one player is independent of the performance of his teammates.

Take away Jeter or Rivera for any length of time this season, and a strong case can be made that the Yankees position in the standings would be exactly the same.

If you want to know what a true MVP looks like, take away Ryan Howard from the Philadelphia Phillies. Now that’s an MVP.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if you're aware of this, but there is more than one statistic in baseball. In addition to the home run, there are such things as On Base Percentage, Batting Average, and Runs Batted in, for example. Jeter does have about 100 RBI, and is second in the league in, too. Should he be the MVP? No, that honor should belong to Justin Morneau of the Twins. But your argument against Jeter is very lacking.

Sunday, September 17, 2006  

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