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The Yankees’ problem? Lack of “killer instinct”

Oct 12, 2011, 11:33 AM EDT

Killer

That’s Bob Klapisch’s view in his column this morning anyway. A-Rod and the Yankees couldn’t get a key hit against Joaquin Benoit or Max Scherzer last Thursday because, well, they just couldn’t will it to be so:

The past-era Yankees had a ferocious trait that couldn’t be quantified. It was an intangible expectation of victory – even if that very term now is politically incorrect among baseball’s intelligentsia. Girardi, who was part of the championship run from 1996-2000, is so brainwashed he suggested those four rings were influenced, in part, by luck. Try running that by Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill and David Cone.

But that’s how the present-day Yankee family is making peace with their collapse against the Tigers – it was the wrong time, the wrong set of circumstances, just the wrong karma.

He blames the 2011 Yankees’ failure to make it out of the first round on “a killer instinct that never was honed.”

Just once — once! — I’d like to see someone identify a killer instinct before the end of a team’s season rather than after it.  Because until that happens I’m going to believe something very shocking: that stuff like this is all ex-post-facto narrative building, not baseball analysis that is useful in the slightest.

Not that anyone would ever cop to that.  Because to do so leaves us in this world, and that would make everyone who claims to be an expert about such matters feel less important and wise.

  1. uyf1950 - Oct 12, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    Since when does losing 3 of 5 games by a combined 4 runs to a team that during that regular season won 2 less games than you qualify as a “collapse”. I might add that characterization does a complete disservice to the Detroit Tigers a very good team.

    • natstowngreg - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM

      You are correct, but these are the Yankees. They are entitled to go to the World Series every year. The quality of the opposition doesn’t matter.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:36 PM

        No, this is the press. Klapisch is actually being critical of Girardi using, you know, sound reasoning in the face of a playoff elimination.

      • natstowngreg - Oct 12, 2011 at 1:05 PM

        Understood; by “the Yankees,” I was speaking broadly, including ownership, the team, fans, and local media.

        As for Girardi, sound reasoning is criticized if it doesn’t work. But to be fair, that’s true for every manager.

      • retief1954 - Oct 12, 2011 at 1:53 PM

        It’s the Yankee sense of entitlement and the arrogance in that entitlement that’s the problem.

    • Dominick Fontana - Oct 13, 2011 at 6:21 AM

      I disagree with you uyf1950. Since the Yankees beat the Mets in the 2000 WS, they have only won 1 WS in the next 11 years (2009). In the past decade (2002 – 2011), they made the postseason 9 times and won 2 pennants. That means they were eliminated in the playoffs 7 times in the last 10 years. As a Yankee fan, I don’t expect them to win every year and as can be seem, they usually do get eliminated in the playoffs lately. The fact is there was no uproar when the Yankees were eliminated the last 6 times before this year. This year was different because it was the way that they lost. So it is not a sense of entitlement.

      Why was this year different from the prior 6 times in the past 10 years that they were eliminated in the playoffs? This is why:

      1) 2002: The Yankees lost to the Angels in 4 games. I didn’t like it, but I expected them to lose because the Yanks always had trouble with the Angels back then. The Angels were the one team that always beat them during the season.

      2) 2004: Series-wise, this was the worst series of all. The Yanks were up 3 games to none against Boston and then lost 4 straight. A real heartbreaker and yet everybody gave Boston credit. They deserved to win. However, the pain happened over a number of days. When Boston tied the series at 3 games apiece, even though the Yanks were home, I felt they were going to lose game 7 because Kevin Brown was pitching for them. Then, game 7 was over before it started. Boston was winning 7-0 after 2 innings and ytou knew the Yanks would lose. So although the entire series was heartbreaking for me, Game 7 wasn’t a shock because I was prepared for them to lose.

      3) 2005: The Yankees again lost to the Angels for the same reasons given above and no fuss was made over their elimination. It was felt that the better team won.

      4) 2006: I expected the Yankees to beat the Tigers, but they were down 2 games to 1 and in Detroit. Kenny Rogers beat them and they lost in 4 games.

      5) 2007: Again, I was hoping the Yanks would beat Cleveland, but there was that incident in Cleveland in game 2 with the bugs on the mound and Joba messed up and they lost the game. The fact is they were down 2 games to none and everybody was prepared for them to lose and they did. No fuss was made over that.

      6) 2010: Just last year when they were eliminated by Texas, nobody made a fuss and it was felt that the better team won. The Yanks haven’t beaten Cliff Lee in the postseason and they were down 3 games to 1. I expected them to lose. They won game 5 and then went to Texas. I thought they would lose game 6, and they did, but the fact is I felt even if they won game 6, they would have lost game 7 to Cliff Lee. Again, everybody was prepared for them to lose.

      The bottom line is that for most of the prior 6 playoff eliminations, the Yanks were behind in games and were eliminated on the road.

      7) 2011: That brings us to this year. The reason for the uproar this year is that it was not felt that the better team won and that the Yankees blew. They were down 2 games to 1 and because of the rain, they had to start Burnett in game 4 in Detroit, which they did not plan to do. If Burnett had pitched poorly and the Yanks lost game 4 in Detroit, it would have been annoying, but there would have been no uproar. However, the Yanks won game 4 by the score of 10 to 1 and then came home for game 5 with Nova, their best pitcher down the stretch, going for them and he hadn’t lost a game since June 3rd. It was a repeat of the opening game matchup and the Yanks clobbered Lister and won 9-3.

      Then Nova was hurt and taken out after 2 innings and 6 Yankee relievers only allowed 1 run. So Detroit got the same 3 runs they had gotten in game 1. The difference is that the Yankee bats fell apart and they only scored 2 runs and lost 3-2. The reason for the uproar is that the Yankees had 12 hits and 4 walks and only scored 2 runs. They also had the bases loaded with one out TWICE and didn’t score a run. Plus, Arod, Teixeira, and Swisher were terrible. Normally, one yop player might slump in any given series, but not you 4 – 5 – and 6 hitters. Then, people didn’t like the way Girardi manged the game. First, he used absolutely no pinch-hitters and he some great ones on the bench. He should have least pinch-hit for Russell Martin with the bases loaded. Finally, there is no way he should have used Sabathia in relief and in the 4th inning no less. The Yanks were down 2-0 with one out in the first and went the next 8-2/3 innings and only gave up 1 run. And who do you think gave up that lone run? Sabathia. And that was the margin of defeat. So that’s why this year the fans and media are making a big deal out of the playoff elimination because it is felt that the Yanks should have won game 5 at home.

      So this claptrap that non-Yankee fans come up with that the Yanks think they are entitled to win every year is just utter nonsense.

      And that’s the name of that tune.

  2. yankeesfanlen - Oct 12, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    For corn’s sake, Klapisch again. Yeah, the Yankees only were allowed only one out in the ninth, so it must be ARod’s fault!
    Seems to me Tex and Cano were on the premises. The Universe had the same problem all year- Not getting any kind of hit with RISP leading to a terrible recod in one-run and extra inning games.
    And now it rubbed off on the Tigers!

  3. proudlycanadian - Oct 12, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    Since when does anyone take the Bergen Record seriously when it comes to baseball? That paper is hopeless.

  4. paperlions - Oct 12, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    Here is video of the Yankees brass on an expedition to locate some killer instinct: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZXHAGpJTWs

  5. cur68 - Oct 12, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    I think there might be something to this. I never saw the Orioles play so hard, so determined, as when they had some Red Sox to dispose of. If the Yankees or Sox had played with that kind of verve…well who knows. This is all post mortem, right? You can pretty much make any damn fool claim you like just to get make a deadline and keep your name in circulation…not that any one writing for this August Blog would do such a thing, of course.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:43 PM

      I never saw the Orioles play so hard, so determined, as when they had some Red Sox to dispose of.

      Perhaps that is more of an indictment of the first 5.5 months of the Baltimore season than genuine praise for the last 2 weeks.

      • 18thstreet - Oct 12, 2011 at 2:08 PM

        I think it’s hyperbole. They looked for the first couple months, too.

        They just aren’t very good at playing baseball.

    • davebrownspiral - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:57 PM

      As a lifelong Yankees fan, I tend to agree with Klapisch. That era of Yankees teams that won from from 1996-2001 (2003 if you want to count it as the last gasp) had a certain something that just cannot be quantified. Guys like O’Neil, Bernie, Tino, Posada, Brosious, Jeter, etc. had a certain determination about them, almost as if losing was not an option. As a fan watching those teams, you expected the clutch hit late in the game, to move the runners over when necessary, or make a big play in the field. You expected guys like Andy Pettitte, El Duque or Wells to toss a gem in a big post season game. Those teams were like a machine. That’s why it was so shocking when they lost in 2001 and even 2003. For me anyway, those expectations aren’t there. You almost expect a guy like A-Rod or Texiera to get out in a clutch situation and are thoroughly surprised when they do come up with a big post season hit. I don’t have the same confidence in Sabathia to pitch a big game as I did in Wells, El Duque, Pettitte or Cone.
      Yes, I’m aware I sound like a rambling fan, but it’s true. No Yankees fan that watched this team from that era can disagree that there is a difference between them and current edition of the Yankees. Maybe it’s just as simple as the Yankees from 1996-2001 were just better collectively, because the roster, in terms of individual players constituting the Yankees of today is much better on paper.

      • retief1954 - Oct 12, 2011 at 1:58 PM

        That eval of the Yankee roster for this season only shows why baseball is so great. Before the season started, nearly everyone had Philly and Boston penciled in for the WS. Look how that turned out. You can just never tell what’s going to happen in this sport.

      • lazlosother - Oct 12, 2011 at 2:24 PM

        IIATMS did an analysis on this, it pretty much destroys Klapisch’s narrative.

        http://itsaboutthemoney.net/archives/2011/10/12/debunking-the-lack-of-killer-instinct-argument/

      • proudlycanadian - Oct 12, 2011 at 3:09 PM

        Thanks for the link. It does prove that Klapisch is once again totally wrong.

  6. nolanwiffle - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:04 PM

    Free Willie Randolph!

  7. kiwicricket - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    “It was an intangible expectation of victory”
    Pretty much sums up my life really.

    I will give the guy partial credit for writing something truly tremendous.

  8. skipperxc - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    I’ve got your example: Rick Sutcliffe identified Papelbon’s killer instinct before he saved the Red Sox season and sent them to the playoffs this year. He saw it in his eyes and everything!

  9. bh0673 - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    MAkes you miss Paul O’Neill doesn’t it?

  10. Old Gator - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    Listen, you want to see an absence of basic libidinal drives? Have a look at the Feesh. They not only didn’t want to kill; they looked like they weren’t even interested in mating.

    • kiwicricket - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:58 PM

      So basically a Panda?

      • Old Gator - Oct 12, 2011 at 3:12 PM

        Pandas, unfortunately, do mate. I can’t stand the damned things. Macondo is just overrun with invasive species. They float up on the beaches on driftwood, rafts of vegetable debris, in old tires. I spent lots of disposable dollars and hours planning and installing a Japanese garden and the miserable things destroy my bamboo. You look at the plants and you see the littler clusters of black and white nymphs chewing away at the leaf stalks. You have to spray all the time to control them. You can’t let them reach maturity. One big female will lay millions of eggs. In the summer they’re an especially difficult nuisance, since the constant rain in Macondo washes off the spray. As it is, I have to spend hours spraying my rainbow eucalyptus to kill off the koalas, too.

        At least we don’t have meerkats – yet. I hate those damned things most of all. And do you know why?

  11. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Oct 12, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    The Yankees had a lot of low batting average guys. Tex, Granderson, Swisher, Martin etc could knock balls out of the park, but they were not consistently finding grass when they hit the ball. Whether it was because of ‘The Shift’ or lifting too many fly balls or grounding into the infield, they did not rack up the hits. So when they needed just a single, they were somewhat ill-equipped to deliver.

    Tex: remember that you used to hit the other way sometimes. Learn to bunt down the 3B line for a hit now and then. Sometimes a guaranteed single is better than a chance at an HR.

    ARod: get healthy, and Joe, let him DH the first game back from an injury.

    Martin: Shorten up the swing a little. There is no shame in doubles power if it means hitting 270-290.

    Gardner: it is OK to swing at a first pitch fastball right down the middle once in a while.

    • yankeesfanlen - Oct 12, 2011 at 1:06 PM

      Thanks for bringing this up. Tex could do better, particularly when it really counts. I can remember most of Grandy’s HRS but very few of Mark’s.

  12. yankeesgameday - Oct 12, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    The guy’s right. But whatever.

    Arod strikes out with the bases loaded to end the game. Nelson Cruz hits a grand slam in the same position. One of them had the killer instinct, the eye of the tiger, whatever, and the other didn’t.

    And it isn’t just Arod, thus is a collective failure.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 12, 2011 at 2:18 PM

      Didn’t Nelson Cruz make an out in the 9th inning of that same game?

  13. yournuts - Oct 12, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    Lets be fair. Arod was hurt and couldn’t drive the ball. It would have been better to have someone else playing than a less than 100% Arod. Nunez was decent and Chavez did well as Arod’s replacements this year. It’s a 5 game series and we just didn’t hit with RISP.
    I’m depressed!

  14. Cran Boy - Oct 12, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    Had the killer instinct: Ricky Ledee (’98-’00 world champs)
    Lacked the killer instinct: Don Mattingly

    • lukeslice - Oct 12, 2011 at 1:56 PM

      Mattingly performed wonderfully the one chance he had in the playoffs (1995). 10 for 24 (.417) in 5 games with a HR and 6 RBIs. OBP/SLG/OPS of .440/.708/1.148 sounds pretty good to me.

      • nolanwiffle - Oct 12, 2011 at 3:08 PM

        No. Those things are quantifiable. The problem with Mattingly was he didn’t expect to win………I think that’s how this works, anyway.

  15. Cran Boy - Oct 12, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    Um, that was sarcasm on my part.

    • lazlosother - Oct 12, 2011 at 2:26 PM

      And it was good sarcasm – it illustrated the absurdity of the whole “killer instinct” narrative.

  16. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Oct 12, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    Killer instinct? Put Pujols in a pinstripes and the Yankees will have all the killer instinct they need.

  17. premiumpit - Oct 12, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    The yankees just looked old…Arod and a few others couldnt get a big hit or catch up with the fastball. Plus you cant sit arod because of what hes getting paid or who he is. But they sure should have.

  18. jwbiii - Oct 12, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    Klapisch wrote an excellent column about six years ago.
    http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2005/09/from_the_press_1.php
    Not much since.

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