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Yankees School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

May 14, 2013, 9:28 AM EDT


Every now and again — well, let’s face it, pretty much every day now — I get another email telling me that Vernon Wells — Vernon Bleepin’ Wells — just got another two hits with another homer with another three RBIs and so on.

The emails are from Michael Schur, Parks and Recreation executive producer, and the emails have a purpose: Michael is convinced that it is time that I just admit that I am wrong, and he is right about the New York Yankees being a magical species, not unlike house elves. He is fairly enraged that I will not just admit defeat. I picked the Yankees to collapse under their own weight this year. He thinks I’m a flat-earther who will not face the obvious truth — that the Yankees will always, continuously, endlessly, constantly, incessantly and unceasingly win forever and ever, amen. He thinks it is way past time for me to admit it doesn’t really matter who is actually ON the Yankees — doesn’t matter if every single baseball player on earth gets hurt and they are forced to have Shecky Greene hit second and play centerfield. In this case, Mike is convinced that Shecky Greene would hit .289 with 24 homers and win a Gold Glove.

His latest evidence for this Yankees sorcery is, of course, Vernon Wells, who at this moment for the Yankees is hitting .299/.349/.526 with nine homers — he’s ninth in the American League in home runs per at-bat after a career of never once being in the Top 10 in that category. He is roughly on pace for 100 runs and 100 RBIs, something he did only once, a long time ago, when he was 24 and full of promise.

Vernon Wells, the last two seasons, made a compelling a case for being the worst semi-regular player in baseball. I don’t think it was quite a winning case — it seems to me there are probably a half dozen players like Adam Dunn and the ever popular Yuniesky Betancourt* who were worse — but the point is he was in the discussion.

*Four times this year — FOUR TIMES THIS YEAR — the Milwaukee Brewers have hit Yuniesky Betancourt in their cleanup spot. There … um … you know … it seems … but … the thing … I’m sorry, the mind’s spluttering, I can’t even come up with a joke for this.

How bad was Wells? Well, usually you can’t define someone by a single number but Wells’ on-base percentage in 2011 and 2012 was .258. That is not just bad. That is legendarily bad. At the very core of offensive baseball is the game’s golden rule “Do not make outs.” Vernon Wells has been one of the great transgressors in baseball history.

Adding to the Wellsian knot was the seven-year, $126 million deal Toronto gave him beginning in 2008. Wells was a pretty good player in 2008, but he was also 29 years old and he only played 108 games. Bad signs sparked like fireworks. But by then the deal was signed and it was too late. He was fairly dreadful in 2009, a good player in 2010, and then the roof caved in, but not before Toronto managed to unload him on the Angels, who seem desperate to corner the market on terrible contracts. You can almost imagine an Angels-inspired movie, sort of the anti-Moneyball, with Bruce McGill as a GM shouting, “How in the heck did Philadelphia beat us on this terrible Ryan Howard contract? Were you guys even paying attention? Was the bank closed that day?”

Wells hit 25 homers for the Angels in 2011 but posted an astounding .248 on-base percentage, which was the lowest for a corner outfielder since the legendary George Barclay, nicknamed Deerfoot, posted a .241 OBP in 1904. Wells only played 77 games in 2012, hit about the same in those games, and then then Angels were so desperate to get rid of him they gave him to the Yankees and agreed to pay about 70% of his remaining contract.

It should be added that the Yankees were so injured and desperate, that they took Wells and agreed to pay 30% of his remaining salary, which still comes out to $13 million, which still would be a huge overpay for the Vernon Wells of the last two seasons.

But, Michael — a huge Red Sox fan who has watched such Yankees miracles from a front row seat — immediately predicted that Wells would end up having a really good year. His prediction was not based on Wells looking good in spring or being in the best shape of his life or anything like that. It was simple math. The Angels are in that low funk where everything they do is just kind of stupid. And the Yankees, of course, are magical.

And it seems that Michael, despite what seem to me obvious flaws in his thought process, is right again.

Not that he ever doubted it. Michael now includes a list of players in his Vernon Wells emails. You look at this list and decide:

1. Shawn Chacon. He was a generally struggling pitcher for the Rockies who in 2004 had gone 1-9 with a 7.11 ERA. The league slugged .500 against him that year. In July of 2005, the Yankees — who hovered only a few games over .500 and in second or third place all year and were desperate for starting pitching — traded for Chacon. His first start, he threw six innings of shutout baseball. His first seven appearances, the Yankees won six of them. They were battling for first place. And in mid September, Chacon threw back-to-back starts of eight innings, zero runs, as the Yankees overtook first place and, eventually, won 95 games. The league hit .225 and slugged .348 against Chacon with the Yankees.

The next year, Chacon returned to being  generally struggling pitcher.

2. Aaron Small. A Michael Schur favorite. He was 33 years old and in that same year, 2005, and he had started all of three games in his big league career. He started nine games for the Yankees and the Yankees won eight of them. In September that year, he threw a five-hit shutout against Oakland and came in against Toronto in the second inning and threw 6 2/3 shutout innings. His record, that year, was 10-0.

The next year, he pitched 11 games with an 8.46 ERA and did not pitch another big league game.

3. Raul Ibanez. One of my favorite people in the game, Raul has had a nice career, but he was 40 years old his one year with the Yankees. He hit 19 homers in 384 at-bats. But veterans will sometimes do that, you know, swing for the fences and give a team a few home runs. What made Ibanez magical was the time. In October he was like a walking miracle. Against the Red Sox on Oct. 2, with the Yankees in a huge fight for their postseason lives, Ibanez hit a two-run homer to tie Boston in the ninth then hit a walk-off RBI single to win it in the 12th.

A week later, in the ALDS against Baltimore, he pinch-hit for A-Rod in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees down one and hit the game-tying homer. Leading off the 12th, he homered again to win it.

Three days later, with the Yankees losing to Detroit by two in the ninth, he homered again to tie the score..

For about 10 days, Raul Ibanez was Roy Hobbs. “Could this have happened on any other team but the Yankees?” Michael asks.

4. Eric Chavez. He was a terrific player as a young man, but once the injuries started it seemed like they would never end. After winning six Gold Gloves and hitting 227 homers before he turned 30, Chavez did indeed turn 30 and for the next three years he played only 64 games and hit .222 with three homers. He was thoroughly done, and then the Yankees got him, Then, at age 34, last year, he hit 16 homers, slugged .496 and helped the Yankees reach the postseason again.

5. Ichiro. He was 38 years old last year.

Ichiro for Seattle in 2012: .261/..288/.353.

Ichiro for Yankees in 2012: .322/.340/.454

6. Bartolo Colon. He did not pitch at all 2010 and had not made 25 starts in a season in six years. He made 26 starts for the Yankees and the team won more than than half of them, and while there was all sorts of talk about HGH and stem cells and various other nefarious methods that Colon might have used to get back, Michael is convinced it was simply Yankees black magic.

Now, at this exact moment, the Yankees are by any objective measure a dreadful team. Look at a typical lineup.

Leading off: Brett Gardner (CF). Missed almost all of last year with injury.

Batting second: Robinson Cano (2B). Truly great player.

Batting third: Vernon Wells (LF), who the Angels paid $29 million to go away.

Batting fourth: Travis Hafner (DH), who is 36, and hasn’t slugged .500 in seven years. He’s slugging .500 now.

Batting fifth: Ichiro Suzuki (RF), who the Mariners dumped last year. Batting FIFTH?

Batting sixth: Jayson Nix (3B). Thirty-year-old on his fifth big league team, replacing injured Kevin Youkilis who was dumped by both Red Sox and White Sox last year.

Batting seventh: Lyle Overbay (1B). Thirty-six year old on his fifth team since 2010. He’s slugging .480.

Batting eighth: Alberto Gonzalez (SS). Thirty-year-old backup shortstop for five teams, he replaced Eduardo Nunez, who was hitting .200 while replacing Derek Jeter, whose ankle may or may not be getting better.

Batting ninth: Christ Stewart (Cat.). Thirty-one year old backup catcher for fifth organization.

Now, seriously, what if that team was playing in Kansas City. Or Seattle. Or Milwaukee. Take away Cano, and you can imagine it very easily. How many games would that team win? More to the point, how many would they lose? Ninety-five? A hundred? In New York, that lineup — and a pitching staff with 41-year-old Andy Pettitte and 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda trying to get the game to 43-year-old Mariano Rivera — is in first place with the best record in the American League.

I continue to tell Michael It won’t last. But the truth is, I’m losing faith in the science-based baseball world. I know that sooner or later, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter will return. And, I must admit, that’s magic even I have no choice but to believe in.

  1. paperlions - May 14, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    So, I guess the fact that Boesch, Francisco, Nelson, Nix, Suzuki, and Stuart have all been bad to horrible should just be ignored? And the fact that Youkilis is still hurt a lot?

    • nategearhart - May 14, 2013 at 12:30 PM

      No, it’s actually kind of the point of the post. How the hell do they have the AL’s best record with these players?

      • sparky1002 - May 15, 2013 at 9:54 AM


    • bigharold - May 14, 2013 at 1:57 PM

      “So, I guess the fact that … have all been bad to horrible should just be ignored?”


  2. stanpapishmear - May 14, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    I’ve known about this for years. I’ve always called it the “Aaron Small effect” or “Yankee fairy dust”. If you traded Vernon Wells to the Giants tomorrow, he’d immediately hit .180/.230/.270. If Hafner was still with the Indians, he’d have hurt himself weeks ago. If any other team made these moves, they would never, ever work.

    • turdfurgerson68 - May 14, 2013 at 2:21 PM

      Ha ha, hard to argue with your logic….can you toss Shane Spencer in that lot as well? And Ramiro Mendoza too?

    • cackalackyank - May 14, 2013 at 3:08 PM

      It goes back much, much further. Run these names through your memory banks…Bucky (effin) Dent, or Brian Doyle….

      • badintent - May 15, 2013 at 1:24 AM

        It’s a deep drive off Torres, it could, it might , it is ! Holy freaking COW !! Bucky Dent has just give the Yankees the lead . Lighting in a bottle. And I’m drinking from that bottle.!!!
        My bad, just had a flashback watching Ted Nugent play Stranglehold Live.

    • tsi431 - May 14, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      I think I could hit 15-20 home runs in that band box.

      The pitchers mentioned were also terrible the following year with the very same Yankees, forgot to mention that in the article.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 14, 2013 at 3:42 PM

        The pitchers mentioned were also terrible the following year with the very same Yankees, forgot to mention that in the article.

        “The next year, Chacon returned to being generally struggling pitcher.”

        “The next year, he pitched 11 games with an 8.46 ERA and did not pitch another big league game.”

        Reading is difficult for you, isn’t it?

      • 18thstreet - May 14, 2013 at 4:53 PM

        Yes, but did he mention that Chacon was terrible the next year? I stopped reading after the first 140 characters.

      • scoocha - May 17, 2013 at 7:14 PM

        Its definitely not a band box. RF is cheap for sure but look at how many HRs are hit by opposing players in CF/power alleys, its a rare occurrence. Dimensions aren’t everything since balls simply fly out of places like Fenway, Coors, Camden. Check their players home/away splits for evidence of this. Also remember that the NYY hit homers everywhere.

  3. timmmah10 - May 14, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    Chavez is off to a decent start this year, it might just be the veteran stability driving their success. There is zero youthful jitters on that team.

    This smoke and mirrors will end once we get to the point where these old guys really can’t play anymore, because their farm system is below average and all signs point to the loss of their only star Cano.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 14, 2013 at 12:45 PM

      because their farm system is below average

      No it’s not, unless you know something that BPro, Klaw and Baseball America don’t know.

      • bklynbaseball - May 14, 2013 at 1:04 PM

        don’t you just love how the haters spew hate and throw in some wishful thinking – “all signs point to the loss of their only star Cano” – and try to pass it off as fact?

    • basedrum777 - May 14, 2013 at 2:42 PM

      Seriously anyone who thinks cano isn’t a long-term Yankee hasn’t been paying much attention is or using wishful thinking…

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 14, 2013 at 3:48 PM

        I’m really have no idea what way Cashman is going to go this off-season with Cano. If they sign him to a long term deal, let’s try to get it done including this year to buy another year of his prime. I’d rather they went long on the money and short on years than vice versa (which also means project $189 is done with considering all the holes that need to be filled next year).

    • cackalackyank - May 14, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      “farm system is below average ”
      I’m sure there are metrics somewhere that might support this statement….but how ’bout that farmhand that came up and pitched 5 scoreless yesterday?

      • djpostl - May 14, 2013 at 6:03 PM

        Yup, they have a shoddy farm system lol.

        How about Phelps, Nuno, Warren, Preston Claiborne the last season & change?

        Throw in the chance that Banuelos/Campos/Pineda work their way back from injuries and even get anywhere near their ceilings and you still haven’t even talked Williams, Austin, Heathcott, Almonte, Bichette Jr.,Hensley, Montgomery, Sanchez, Marshall, De Paula. Mitchell, Ramirez etc…

        Whatever clown said they don’t have a decent farm system is quite the tool.

  4. bklynbaseball - May 14, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    Lifelong Yankees fan here. Someone once told me rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for the ‘house’ in Vegas. Still probably the most accurate definition of what it’s like as a Yankees fan. Funniest too.

  5. sjhaack - May 14, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    It’s what happens when you have Christ Stewart on your team. Them’s just the signs.

  6. randygnyc - May 14, 2013 at 1:48 PM

    18thstreet- the steroid era has made me very cynical. The last official Yankee jersey I bought was number 13. I won’t wear it any longer. I hate cheaters, regardless of uniform. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn half or more of the yankees are using them this afternoon. Pettitte really ruined it for me. If its ever discovered Jeter did it, I’m out.

    • turdfurgerson68 - May 14, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      I hate the Yankees more than anyone, but Jeter isa class act and deserves nothing but respect from all baseball fans.

      I agree, if it ever comes out that be took PED’s it would shake my love of the game to the core.

      • 18thstreet - May 14, 2013 at 4:54 PM

        A guy named Turd, who uses ‘gay’ as an insult, is determining who is a class act.

        Sure, why not?

  7. indaburg - May 14, 2013 at 2:10 PM

    I firmly believe in logic, reason, statistics, and critical analysis. I also believe in the power of the human mind, and that there may be forces out there which we don’t understand (at least, I can’t prove that they don’t exist). Vernon Wells and the Yankees fall squarely in the latter category.

    • 18thstreet - May 14, 2013 at 5:48 PM

      To me, the whole point of Sabermetrics is to figure that stuff out.

      • indaburg - May 14, 2013 at 9:44 PM

        I embrace sabermetrics wholeheartedly–I am part of the analytics revolution– but I also believe that there are limits to what numbers can tell us. We need the narrative to round things out.

      • badintent - May 15, 2013 at 1:32 AM

        Sabermetrics could Never figure out why Stawberry played good ball for the Yankees inspite of heavy drug use. Clutch hits in season and the playoffs. I remember him hitting a monster homer run against Boston in Boston in a playoff game and shutting up all their fans in Boston for the rest of the game. Could have heard a pin drop after his blast.

  8. slim16839 - May 14, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    Life long Yankee fan here…

    As much as I love the resurgence of those players mentioned in this article, it’s also worth noting there were players that just couldn’t play in pinstripes. To name a few:

    1. A.J Burnett: 18W10L, 221.1IP, 231K, 4.07ERA (2008 last year in Tor) – 11W11L, 190.1IP, 178K, 5.15ERA (2011 last year in NY), 16W10L, 202.1IP, 180K, 3.51ERA (2012 in Pit)
    2. Javier Vasquez: 13W12L, 230.2IP, 241K, 3.24ERA (2003 last year in Mon) – 14W10L, 198.0IP, 150K, 4.91ERA (2004 NY), 10W10L, 157.1IP, 121K, 5.32ERA (2010 NYY), 13W11L, 192.2IP, 162K, 3.69ERA (2011)
    3. Ian Kennedy: 0W4L, 39.2IP, 27K, 8.17ERA (2008 last full year in NY not counting the 1GP in 2009) – 9W10L, 194IP, 168K, 3.80ERA (2011 NYY)
    4. Kevin Brown: 14W9L, 211.0IP, 185K, 2.39ERA (2003 last year in LAD) – 10W6L, 132.0IP, 83K, 4.09ERA (2004 in NYY)

    You can make the argument that these pitchers made the transition from AL to NL too, but it’s interesting to see that these players that weren’t good…bad as a matter of fact for NYY, were considered NL Cy Young candidates before/after NY!

    There are the gems like the players mentioned in article, but there are also those that just couldn’t play in NY…

    That being said, Go Yanks!!

    • cackalackyank - May 14, 2013 at 3:14 PM

      You left out Eddie Lee Whitson.

    • sparky1002 - May 15, 2013 at 10:12 AM

      There you have it. Putting on the “Yankee Pinstripes” can inspire some and intimidate others regardless of their prior good or bad performances, and that goes for the teams they play against as well. To see a legendary franchise win or lose is what places so many more baseball fans in the seats regardless of where they play.

  9. pbyrne11 - May 14, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    Bigmeechy you are a buffoon. Umps in the back pocket. C’mon man have something more. Stop with the conspiracy theories. The Yankees had dominant teams in the 90’s that’s why they won. I’m sure you watched every game to get that borderline ball\strike call stat. Give credit where it’s due the 90’s Yankees were great.

  10. pesky99 - May 15, 2013 at 3:23 PM

    Yankees also have the most PED violations in all of baseball- and there you have it, the truth about the yankees!

    • sparky1002 - May 19, 2013 at 11:14 AM

      Doesn`t it stand up to reason that the Yankees might have more PED violations as the result of more players trying to remain at the top of their game because they are playing for a legendary franchise that has no real equal in the game? Isn`t it unjust to paint an entire team with the PED label out of nothing more than jealousy? Doesn`t it say something about the caliber of individual who would be that lame?

  11. scoocha - May 17, 2013 at 7:18 PM

    This is definitely an interesting article but not necessarily a completely fair one. For every Small, Chacon, Wells, there has been a Pavano, Whitson, Rogers, Teixeira (to some extent) that dominated when they were on other teams, only to fail once they adorned the heaviest jersey in sports.
    Is Wells currently in a contract year? If so, I think his numbers are more due to the Contract Year Theory then simply playing for the NYY. Its still early too, remember Colon fizzled out after the ASG in 2011 as well.

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