Thursday, May 18, 2017


The Yankees have been surprising  everyone this season with their explosive league-leading run production.

Photo: New York Daily News
A rebuilding year has given us a tantalizing progress report on the team's plans for a new dynasty in which -- like the last one -- a core of  younger players playing side-by-side with the right mix of  veterans can bury teams early and mount epic comebacks late with big innings.

But perhaps the most surprising aspect of this budding new dynasty's construction is that it required burning the very foundation the old one was built on.

In 1990 when Gene Michael became GM, noted the Post's Joel Sherman yesterday, he "went to his office window at Yankee Stadium II, pointed to the short right-field porch and said, “We are too damn right-handed.”

Photo of: Steve Sax
That season, 68.3 percent of the Yankees’ plate appearances came from right-handed hitters, with righties Roberto Kelly, Steve Sax, Jesse Barfield and Alvaro Espinoza leading the club in at-bats. Michael committed to build his offense around on-base skills and what always had been vital to Yankees champs – lefty power to capitalize on the stadium’s dimensions. No single move better defined Michael’s philosophy than what was at the time a much-criticized trade: The impatient, righty-hitting Kelly was dealt to the Reds after the 1992 season for the more deliberate, lefty-swinging Paul O’Neill.

Photo: New York Daily News
"In 1993, O’Neill’s first year with the Yankees and the beginning of 25 straight winning seasons, the Yankees got just 49.5 percent of their plate appearances from righties. They were at 39.7 percent for the 2009 champs and opening of a new stadium and – while the MLB average is annually around 57 percent – the Yankees have not been above 49 percent in the past dozen seasons. Until now.

"They went into Wednesday at 58.5 percent – the highest since the season before O’Neill arrived. Unlike the 1990 team, though, which was last in the AL in runs, this one was tied for first."

So why the about-face on lefties at the bat now after more than a quarter century chasing them and building monumental payrolls around them?

As Sherman puts it, with Yankee Stadium having the smallest area to the right of second in the majors, "shift happens."

Said Brian Cashman" "We acknowledged that shifts have reduced the right-field advantage we have enjoyed and have played toward historically. The shift simply closed down fair territory on the right side of second base. It has reduced the significance of the big hairy monsters we used to go for.”

Basically, Brian explains, the team has just been seeking out better overall hitters regardless of handedness, which makes sense because when you've got the smallest right field it means you've got a whole lot of everything else to aim at.

And with that short right-field porch still sitting out there, good-hitting righties should (and do)  find it with relative ease when the shift goes against them. (Looking at you Judge, Holliday and Castro.)

"Still," Sherman marvels, "the transition is stunning. The Yankees had finished in the bottom three in the majors in the percentage of plate appearances by righties eight times in the past 12 years and in the bottom 10 in each of the past 14 seasons. They were 30th in 2015 (31.2 percent) and 29th last year (40.1). This season, they are 17th. Just 41.5 percent of their plate appearances had come from lefties (a rate that is rising with Didi Gregorius back and should rise again if Greg Bird gets healthy)."

You've got to hand it to Brian. When "shift happened" he went into his lab, torched his mentor's gold-standard, quarter-century-old stadium-centric blueprint that went heavy on "big  hairy monsters" and built a younger, cheaper faster Frankensteinbrenner of his own to power his offense.

I can't wait to see the results of Brian's next trip to the lab:

Bride of Frankensteinbrenner: The Rotation.

 --Barry Millman
BYB Writer
Twitter: @nyyankeefanfore

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