Monthly Archives: February 2010

THE STUPIDITY OF MIKE D’ANTONI AND THE NEW YORK KNICKS

                                                                                         Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

It’s hard to believe that the Knicks could do what they did Saturday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the acquisitions of Tracy McGrady, Eddie House and Sergio Rodriguez, Donnie Walsh pumped some instant energy and scoring into the Knicks line-up. With the banishment of Nate Robinson (for obvious reasons) and Jared Jeffries (for salary cap relief), the Knicks are now a better offensive team but, due to the absence of Jeffries, a poorer defensive team. Far more important, of course, is that the Knicks now have enough cap space to sign two max free agents. Those signings (or lack thereof), more than anything else that’s being said or done now, will determine the future of the New York Knicks.

STUPIDITY, PART I: DEFENDING THE THREE

You’ve read about this in this space for years (see Kallas Remarks, 2/16/10). Late in the game up three, no NBA coach (or college coach, for that matter) has taught his team how to defend against the three-point field goal. It’s mind-boggling, and here’s the latest example:

Thunder-Knicks, under 10 seconds left in regulation, Knicks have played out of their minds to be up three against a very good Oklahoma City team. You have to think the Thunder will a) look for a three; and b) will want superstar Kevin Durant to take the three. So what happens?

Big man Nick Collison of the Thunder comes off a pick down low, with David Lee guarding him, and comes to the top of the key. Kevin Durant gets the ball up very high on the left side of the court. As Collison comes to the top of the key and moves even higher (to set a pick on Danilo Gallinari, who’s guarding Durant). David Lee inexplicably comes just above the foul line and then RETREATS below the foul line (why?).

You know what happens next: Collison sets the pick on Gallinari at the three-point line, Durant comes off the pick and, with Lee getting out way too late (why wasn’t David Lee at the three-point line when the pick was set?), Durant buries the open three to send the game into overtime.

Knick legend Walt Frazier, more than most, understands this. On MSG, Frazier explains that Lee should be guarding way out by the three-point line because a two doesn’t get Oklahoma City the tie they want in the waning seconds. But nobody on the New York Knicks’ bench (or any other bench, for that matter) ever seems to understand this.

It’s a basic truism of modern-day basketball (that is, basketball with a three-point shot). While you are taught in biddy ball to stay between your man and the basket, in today’s game, in the waning seconds of a three-point game when your team has the lead, you have to play between your man and the three-point line, NOT THE BASKET.

Somehow, nobody gets this.

If David Lee runs right up to the three-point line with Nick Collison, either Kevin Durant doesn’t even get off a shot or, if he does, it’s contested by a 6”11” guy, making it virtually impossible to make (if Durant passes off to Collison, that’s fine, because he can only make a two). David Lee pauses at the foul line because he plays defense the way that he was taught – to stay between Nick Collison and the basket. This would prove to be a mistake that cost the Knicks a win in regulation.

STUPIDITY, PART II: PLAYING TRACY MCGRADY 32 MINUTES

Everybody was tripping all over themselves commending the “new” Knicks and their contributions against the Thunder. But did anyone stop to ask the obvious: Why in the world did Tracy McGrady play 32 minutes?

An ultra-talented player who has had virtually no playoff success, McGrady has been a walking injury the last three seasons. If he wants to come to the Knicks as a third or fourth option next season, that’s something the Knicks should definitely consider. But where was the calming voice, the voice of reason , the intelligent person to greatly limit McGrady’s minutes his first eight or ten games back this season?

Well, wherever he was, he wasn’t sitting on the Knicks’ bench on Saturday night.

Let’s look at Tracy McGrady’s last few seasons. Anybody who knows anything about NBA basketball knows how talented McGrady is, even at the highest level of the NBA.

In 2007-08, Tracy McGrady played in 66 games while averaging 21.6 points per game, his lowest average in eight seasons. In 2008-09, McGrady only played in 35 games while averaging 15.6 points per game.

Now, remember, although McGrady is “only” going to be 31 this May, he is already playing in his 13th NBA season, something that can’t be good for his basketball health.

So, what happens in 2009-10? Well McGrady had only played in six games for Houston this season. He needed (and got) micro fracture surgery on his knee. He hadn’t played in an NBA game since December 23 (that’s two months between NBA games if you are keeping score at home).

So what does Mike D’Antoni do in his first start? Of course, he plays McGrady 32 minutes his first game back.

Utterly ridiculous!

Oh, did I mention how many minutes McGrady had played for Houston in his six appearances this season? Well, he never played more than EIGHT minutes in any of those games.

Unbelievable.

So, if there is one chance in a hundred that the Knicks want to bring him back as a third or fourth option next year (and it says here that they should), the worst thing you could do to McGrady is to play him too much, too soon. Just bizarre.

And if the response is McGrady said he felt good or we did keep him out at crucial times or he looked healthy on the court, the answer to all of those is: So what? It was irrelevant whether the Knicks won or lost last night (they lost). It was irrelevant, in the big picture for the New York Knicks, whether McGrady could play 32 minutes or not last night. The key thing for Tracy McGrady is to get healthy and be brought back to his past greatness (if possible) SLOWLY.

That’s not too hard to understand, is it?

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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THOUGHTS ON THE YANKEES’ “KEY LOSSES,” THE OLYMPICS, THE KNICKS AND LEBRON, THE RANGERS, DEFENDING THE THREE- POINT SHOT AND OLD HEADLINES

                                                                                           Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

THE YANKEES’ “KEY LOSSES”

From the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” Department: Sunday, during a fantastic piece on Carl Crawford and his amazing work ethic on Baseball Tonight, ESPN had a listing on the right-side of the screen on each team’s “Key Additions” and “Key Losses.” For the New York Yankees, the Key Additions were listed as: Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, Javier Vazquez and Randy Winn. Fair enough. Under “Key Losses,” however, and the list you can’t make up, is: Brian Bruney, Melky Cabrera, Phil Coke, Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy.

Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon didn’t make the list. Seriously.

THE OLYMPICS

You didn’t have to be a luge-course expert to see that the luge course in Vancouver was potentially dangerous with unprotected poles and no protective fences around it. If any Olympic official walked the course before the games and called it safe, that’s a huge problem for them. It’s hard to believe there won’t be some kind of lawsuit and some kind of assumption of the risk defense. But the Olympic press conference, where officials clearly tried to cover their butts with a “blame the victim” mentality, was a joke.

The hypocrisy of it all was obvious. Or maybe the message is: you’d better not make a mistake because, if you do, you could die. Just bizarre for a course that reportedly had led to complaints about its safety from numerous people, including competitors, BEFORE someone died.

After the fact, of course, the powers-that-be ordered that the poles get wrapped in protective padding and that other protective measures be taken. Too little, too late for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the ill-fated luge athlete from the country of Georgia who died last week.

THE KNICKS AND LEBRON

Hard to believe that Lebron James would seriously consider coming to the Knicks next season. What’s he thinking when he walks into the Garden to play a team with no stars, no point guard, no big man? It can’t be good.

But forget all of that. If anything, Mike D’Antoni’s job description this year should have included the following: don’t upset Lebron, his agent or his friends. Lebron and Nate Robinson share the same agent. Robinson was benched for 14 games on a woeful team. While we all would agree that something had to be done about Robinson’s immaturity on the court, his goofing off, his shooting at the wrong basket (with time out), his shot selection, etc., two games, three games, five games would have sent the message. But once Robinson’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, had to get involved, it was a terrible thing for the Knicks.

Next came the Larry Hughes fiasco. Hughes, a close friend of Lebron’s, who actually can step on the court and make an effort defending Lebron, was next into D’Antoni’s doghouse. Hughes voiced his displeasure, which led to the now famous (infamous) D’Antoni comment that I didn’t know I had to talk to the player before I made a change.

It’s 2010, and Mike D’Antoni doesn’t get it.

Throw in the fact that, in the last 18 months or so, Lebron built his dream house about 45-minutes from where he plays his home games, and it’s hard to believe he would give the Knicks much thought as a destination.

Of course, if the Knicks could talk Dwyane Wade into coming to New York, that could trump everything.

THE RANGERS AND THE KING

It seems that, every year around this time, a Ranger fan has to focus on how tired is star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has played 70 or more regular-season games in the last three seasons and is on track to play about 70 again this year. He seems to have to stand on his head most nights to get the Rangers a win. And he does play great games more often than not.

But that wears you down during the regular season and hurts you for the playoffs. The Rangers look like they are going down to the wire in the playoff race so there’s less chance to rest The King.

The Olympics puts an even greater strain on Lundqvist. As Sweden’s goalie, especially if they go deep (Lundqvist has a gold medal for Sweden already), Lundqvist will be in additional, high intensity games.

And that won’t help the Rangers.

So the Rangers, if they do make the playoffs, will need their goalie to play out of his mind to advance. By then, Henrik Lundqvist may be too tired. And that would greatly hurt, if not destroy, the Rangers small chance to make a run in this years’ playoffs.

PITT, LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE, DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO DEFEND THE THREE-POINT SHOT

It happens dozens of times a year (maybe more) at all levels of basketball. You are up three very late in the game (only a few seconds left). Your only job is to NOT give up a three. But a defender doesn’t know what’s going on, a coach can’t get his team to properly defend the three-point line and the other team gets a good look to tie the game.

So it was this past weekend at the exciting triple OT game between Pitt and West Virginia. In a game that Pitt desperately needed to win, they were up three in the first overtime when West Virginia got the ball with just a few seconds left in overtime. Only a three (not a two) could hurt Pitt. As Darryl Bryant of WVU brings the ball quickly across the half-court line, his defender backs up and backs up and backs up, winding up BELOW the three-point line (Why?).

Needless to say, Bryant has no intention of going past the three-point line. So he pulls up behind the arc, gets token defense from the Pitt defender BELOW the arc, and drains the game-tying three with 1.4 seconds left.

Inexplicably, this has long been a problem for basketball teams (see Kallas Remarks, 6/12/09). Coach Jamie Dixon, like every other coach, has to teach his kids to play above the three-point line and NEVER go below it in the last few seconds of a game when your team has a three-point lead (because if anybody scores a two, you win the game by one). That way, a player has to pull up much sooner or face a contested shot that would be virtually impossible to make in that situation.

Pitt needed the game desperately and was very lucky to win it. Late in regulation, Pitt’s Brad Wanamaker saved a ball from going out of bounds which led to a game-tying three. But Wanamaker clearly stepped out of bounds (with an official right there). But no call was made.

And, yes, the game was played at Pitt.

So Pitt got their big win (in triple-overtime), despite not knowing how to defend the three, and with the help of an amazing no-call.

OLD HEADLINES

Flipping through some years-old newspapers, here are a couple of sports headlines from the past:

The New York Times, Tuesday, November 2, 2004:

ISIAH THOMAS, A STREET-FIGHTING MAN ABOUT TOWN, REVIVES THE KNICKS

Well, not exactly. In his first full season running the Knicks, they would go 33-49.

And, believe it or not, no Knick team since then would win more games. That’s scary stuff.

The New York Post, Sunday, August 27, 2006:

WEIS GUYS FINISH FIRST: COACH WILL LEAD NOTRE DAME BACK TO TOP

Charlie Weis, a Notre Dame alum, came to South Bend as a multiple Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. Weis went 9-3 in his first year and the belief was that Notre Dame was back. And, while they would go 10-2 in the 2006 regular season, they were non-competitive with the top teams in NCAA football. They got hammered early (47-21, in their third game) by a good Michigan team, got hammered late (44-24, in their final regular season game) by an excellent USC team and then got hammered in the Sugar Bowl (41-14) by an excellent LSU team.

Notre Dame finished the season ranked #17.

The defensive weaknesses apparent when they played good teams were never corrected by the offensive-minded Weis. Notre Dame went 3-9 in 2007, 6-6 in 2008 and 6-6 in 2009, complete with some of the worst losses in the history of Notre Dame. And Charlie Weis was fired with an eight-figure “thanks for being here” payment.

It’s interesting to read these old headlines, years later. And while I have no problem saying that, at the time, I thought that Isiah would be an upgrade over Scott Layden and that Charlie Weis would be an improvement over Ty Willingham, the reality is that both of these guys (Thomas and Weis) came up unbelievably short.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

DID FIELD-GOAL DECISIONS AND FIELD-GOAL KICKERS DECIDE THE SUPER BOWL?

                                                                                      Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Lost in the shuffle of the Tracy Porter interception return of a Peyton Manning pass late in the game to clinch the Super Bowl (31-17 New Orleans) was the role of the field goal kickers, who they are, how they were there and an ill-fated decision to kick one by Colts coach Jim Caldwell.

WHY MATT STOVER?

The Colts decided to go with Matt Stover over the greatest postseason field goal kicker ever, Adam Vinatieri. Arguably not a tough decision since Vinatieri had had knee surgery in October, unless you were thinking about Stover kicking a 51-yarder, outside his range. Leading up to the Super Bowl, Vinatieri was quoted as saying “I’m in the bullpen right now, getting healthier every day. I could probably go if needed.”

Obviously, Jim Caldwell felt he wasn’t needed.

Matt Stover made Caldwell look good, kicking a 38-yarder early in the game to put the Colts on the board. But, as luck (fate? destiny?) would have it, Caldwell had to make a decision in the fourth quarter – whether to let Stover kick a field goal that very few, other than Caldwell, thought he could make.

So Stover tried to kick a 51-yarder with 10:44 left in the game. With the Colts up 17-16 at the time, it would force the Saints to score a touchdown if the kick was good. Of course, the kick wasn’t good, and the rest is history.

The Saints got great field position at their own 41 and proceeded to go on a nine-play, 59-yard, win-the-Super-Bowl drive.

What would have happened if Adam Vinatieri had been active for the game? Well, of course, we’ll never know. But with two Super Bowl-winning kicks on his resume and with arguably the greatest clutch field goal kick in NFL history (in the snow against the Raiders in the 2002 playoffs), most would rather have had Adam Vinatieri in that spot.

MEET THE NEW ADAM VINATIERI – GARRETT HARTLEY

A little too early for that? Well, maybe, but you can’t be more clutch than Hartley was in the last two games for the Saints. Hartley hit it right down the middle against the Vikings in OT, a 40-yarder that put the Saints into the Super Bowl. He then went out and kicked a 46-yarder and a 44-yarder in the first half of the Super Bowl to keep the Saints close. He then kicked a 47-yarder to give the Saints life, becoming the first kicker in a Super Bowl to kick three field goals over 40 yards in one Super Bowl.

All the field goals, including the OT one against the Vikings, were no-doubt-abouters, straight down the middle and good when kicked. In a postseason where field goal kickers, as a group, were a total disaster, Garrett Hartley, 5-5, stood far above the rest.

Hartley had his own strange trip to Super Bowl hero. As a rookie kicker in 2008 out of Oklahoma, Hartley made an immediate impression, going 13-13 in field goals. But over the summer, he tested positive for a banned stimulant (he said that he took Adderall to stay awake on a long drive) and was suspended for the first four games of this season.

The Saints intelligently signed dependable John Carney, but Hartley regained his job in December and went 9-11 in field goals the rest of the regular season. They also brilliantly signed Carney as a kicking consultant (after releasing him) to specifically work with Hartley. Obviously it helped, as Hartley’s 5-5 in the playoffs now makes him 27-29 in his NFL career, a staggering 93.1% accuracy rate.

SO, TO RECAP

Most people at the time thought it was a mistake to let Matt Stover try to kick a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Whether it was a mistake to not have Adam Vinatieri on the active roster is a question that can’t really be answered. But the combination of kicker selection and play selection (that is, to actually try that field goal) contributed mightily to the Colts’ defeat.

Conversely, to show great confidence in a promising, second-year kicker and to retain a great veteran as a teacher led to not only a game-winning kick to get the Saints to the Super Bowl, but also to three over-40 yard field goals in the Super Bowl. Brilliant decision-making all around by the New Orleans Saints.

OTHER SUPER BOWL THOUGHTS

  1. Give Dwight Freeney a lot of credit: Double-teamed the first quarter, the Saints must have thought they could single-team him in the second quarter. He got good pressure and then a big sack to stop a Saints drive in the second quarter. But he was ineffective in the second half (that long halftime must have hurt him) and, eventually, came out of the game for long stretches.
  2. Peyton Manning is taking a beating as his quest for immortality came up short. The problem for Manning is that he’s considered the greatest quarterback ever – in the regular season. With only one Super Bowl, he’s still an all-time great but his record in the playoffs is 9-9. He totally lost his focus at the end, foolishly calling a timeout and then trying (without success) to wave it off.
  3. Sean Payton has come a long way since inexplicably being relieved of his play-calling duties as offensive coordinator by none other than Jim Fassel (then of the Giants) in 2002. It’s a message for all young coaches at every level – if you are confident in yourself, stay the course. The people in charge are wrong more often than you think. Payton was saved by Bill Parcells in Dallas and, in 2006, New Orleans took a chance on him. The rest, as they say, is history.
  4. You would think that more defensive backs would jump routes like Tracy Porter did when there is an all-out blitz on. Porter took a bit of a gamble, but it’s hard to expect even the great Peyton Manning to throw a deep ball under that kind of pressure. Porter jumped the route – and clinched the Super Bowl at a time when virtually everybody thought there would be overtime.
  5. The first-half Super Bowl commercials were, as a group, very bad. It’s amazing that people get paid a gazillion dollars to think of these things and then corporations pay a gazillion dollars to put them on the air. The Leno-Oprah-Letterman spot was more weird than funny. Brett Favre thinking about retirement at 50 isn’t funny because Brett Favre thinking about retirement at 38, 39 and 40 isn’t funny. In fact, it’s boring. Any entity that paid a fortune to air a commercial in the second half should request a refund, because viewers like this writer and many others just blew off the commercials in the second half as you would during a regular season game.
  6. Jeremy Shockey, whatever you think of him, is an excellent football player who finally got his ring. So, too, Jonathan Vilma, a very talented guy who didn’t fit in with Eric Mangini and the Jets defense. Who’s laughing now?
  7. While the Saints wanted to be “aggressive,” they actually started the game very non-aggressive. Their first play from scrimmage was a handoff to the up back for two yards. Three and out. Conversely, Peyton Manning’s first play from scrimmage was a play-action pass to Dallas Clark for 18 yards. Indeed, the big fourth down “gamble” by the Saints late in the first half turned out to be an aggressive attempt with a passive run play. After failing going over the right side on third down, why not go play action pass down there rather then run right again? It all became irrelevant when Sean Payton called that onside kick for the ages to start the third quarter. Fortunately for him, the Saints recovered and that play changed the game.

FINALLY, DOES THE RUN SET UP THE PASS OR DOES THE PASS SET UP THE RUN?

Here’s the biggest change in the NFL in the last decade or so. Once upon a time, it was the gospel that a team had to “establish the run” to set up the pass. While that is still true sometimes today (see the Jets two playoff wins), there are also situations where the pass sets up the run. The Colts had some very good success running the ball after Peyton Manning had success throwing it early in the game. The Patriots sometimes try and establish the run, but they also (especially in 2007) often pass first and run later. The Chargers are another team that will pass at times and then kill you with the run.

The point is that it can work either way now and that really was untrue in the past and distant past in the NFL It is more a quarterbacks’ league now than ever before and, unless there are changes in the rules (which there won’t be) to help the defenses, the offensive passing numbers will continue to rise.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

NO MATSUI + NO DAMON = MISTAKE; THE ONLY QUESTION IS HOW BIG?

                                                                                        Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

It’s hard to believe that the Yankees let World Series MVP and (arguably more important) lethal against lefties lefty hitter Hideki Matsui go sign with the Angels for the piddling sum of $6.5 million. It’s also hard to believe that the Yankees didn’t sign Johnny Damon in what sure seemed like a spitting contest between Scott Boras and the Yankee organization (you bet Johnnie Damon should have stepped in and done something (see Rodriguez, Alex)).

But the Yankees hurt themselves whether anybody understands it now or not. The problem is, we won’t know the severity of the injury probably until a big spot in the playoffs.

THE YANKEES ARE LOADED, BUT …

Here’s the problem: the Yankees are still the Yankees of Jeter and A-Rod and Mark Teixeira. They are still the Yankees of that great pitching staff that’s added Javier Vazquez, the statisticians’ (but not the voters’) pick for NL Cy Young. But there is potential trouble brewing in Yankeeland which may come back to bite them in a big spot in the playoffs.

Matsui and Damon are two of the best lefties in baseball against left-handed pitching. It’s hard to explain what that can do to the manager in the opposite dugout in a big spot in a big game. Maybe the best example is Game 6 of the 2009 World Series. Matsui had crushed Pedro Martinez his first two times up with a two-run homer and a two-run single.  By the time he came up again, Pedro was on the ropes, the Phillies were trailing, the World Series was about to slip away. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, knowing full well that Matsui had hammered Pedro his first two times up, played it “by the book.” He brought in lefty J.A. Happ and, reportedly with players in the Yankee dugout chuckling that they brought in a lefty, Matsui promptly doubled in two more runs. Ballgame over, World Series over, the Yankees return to the mountaintop.

Manuel was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. And the Yankees knew it. He did what everybody does – bring in the lefty to face a lefty. And paid the price.

How the Yankees could let that sense of security escape for only $6.5 million is an utter mystery.

BUT THE YANKEES WANT TO USE THE DH FOR OTHER PLAYERS

So what? As stated here before (see Kallas Remarks, 9/29/09 and 11/5/09), the Yankees EASILY could have kept Matsui and solved their problems. All he had to do was DH in about 90 games, pinch hit in 40 more (that’s as many at-bats as last year) and maybe, just maybe, play the outfield once in a while (but even that wouldn’t be necessary if he couldn’t). Then you would still have 72 games to DH Jeter a few times or A-Rod a few times or Teixeira a few times or Posada 35-40 times (he still wants to catch all the time) or whatever – it could have been done.

BUT THE YANKEES WANT TO GET YOUNGER

Well they have – kind of. Forget that Randy Winn will be 36 in June or that Nick Johnson will be 32 in September and is prone to injury. Curtis Granderson, apparently the answer to a lot of Yankee problems, will only be 29 next month. So the Yankees are younger but at the expense of the number two and five hitters in their line-up, at the expense of two of the best hitting, lefties against lefties and excellent hitters in general and two of the clutchest hitters who have done it on the biggest stage (the postseason) in the biggest city.

Is “getting younger” really worth it?

LET’S LOOK AT THE NUMBERS

Well, that’s a problem. The Yankees, no matter what you read, will lose a lot offensively. Yes, they will be better defensively, but enough to offset what they lost? Not a chance.

Johnny Damon, a .283 lifetime hitter against lefties with a .346 on-base percentage, was still good against lefties in 2009 as a .269 hitter against lefties with a .332 OBP. He hit almost as many homeruns (percentage wise) against lefties (7 in 171 at-bats, .41) as he did against righties (17 in 379 at-bats, .44). Don’t discount that (because they lost Matsui as well). And when we get to how good Nick Johnson is against lefties (and he is), remember, Johnny Damon can still run and Nick Johnson still can’t run.

But the HUGE loss is Matsui. Forget the World Series for now. During the 2009 regular season, Hideki Matsui hit a home run against lefties every TEN at-bats (13 home runs in 131 at-bats). That’s stunning stuff. He was actually better against lefties (.282 average, .358 OBP, .618 slugging and .976 OPS) than righties (.271 average, .379 OBP, .465 slugging and .835 OPS). Guys like this just aren’t available. And they are not named Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson or Randy Winn.

While Nick Johnson is excellent against lefties (he’s more of a replacement offensively for Damon even though, inexplicably, the Yankees apparently want him to be almost a full-time DH) and an excellent on-base guy (.316 average, .440 OBP in 2009), Curtis Granderson has his issues against lefties (in 2009 a .183 average, .245 OBP, .239 slugging, .484 OPS). That’s not going to cut it.

And the right-handed hitting Winn was also putrid against lefties in 2009 (.158 average, .184 OBP, .200 slugging, .384 OPS). Frankly, that’s not very good at all.

See the problem yet?

BUT WAIT, IT GETS WORSE

Now we have to talk about the most important part for the Yankees – the postseason. Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon are seasoned, fantastic, experienced postseason players. Matsui had a World Series for the ages — .615 average, three homers, eight RBIs, MVP and on and on. Johnny Damon, after not hitting against Minnesota, went .300 average, .323 OBP, .533 slugging and .856 OPS against the Angels. He then went .364 average, .440 OBP, .455 slugging and .895 OPS in the World Series.

The “replacements” in the postseason? Well, not so good. Nick Johnson, as a young Yankee in 2002 and 2003, went .209 average, .303 OBP, .299 slugging, .602 OPS. He hasn’t been back since 2003. Curtis Granderson was very good for the Tigers early on in 2006, his only postseason. But he had a woeful World Series (2-21) so his postseason numbers are .226 average, .288 OBP, .491 slugging, .779 OPS.

Randy Winn? Well, most of you know that Randy Winn has never been in the postseason.

Uh-oh.

SO, THAT’S THE REAL PROBLEM

The combination of little or no postseason experience and little or no postseason success bodes poorly for the Yankees. They will be prone to having problems with lefties in the postseason and even the regular season. While it won’t matter as much in the regular season (they should be good enough to win), it could kill them in the playoffs. Which leads us to …

THE PLAXICO ANALOGY

The what? The Plaxico Burress analogy. Most Giant fans were happy when the Giants sent Plaxico packing after Plaxico went to a nightclub in NYC packing heat. He shot himself, and the rest is mystery. Still in jail now, the Giants really haven’t been the same without him. They tried to replace him. In fact, their wide receivers did pretty well this season. But they still have nobody to do what Plaxico did – catch that fade in the corner of the end zone, catch that jump ball when you needed it most, bail out Eli Manning when he was in trouble and kind of threw it up for grabs. It hurt the Giants a lot in their playoff loss to the Eagles two seasons ago (see Kallas Remarks, 1/13/09). And, of course, the Giants didn’t even make the playoffs this season.

The Giants still haven’t really replaced Plaxico Brress. And it still might hurt them in a big spot next year in the playoffs – if they make them.

SO TOO, POSSIBLY, WITH THE YANKEES IN THE POSTSEASON

You don’t have to be Karnak the Magnificent (where have you gone, Johnny Carson?, late-night TV — or at least NBC — turns its lonely eyes to you)) to see a similar situation for the Yankees in a big playoff game. The game’s on the line – a big at-bat early or late in a playoff game. Curtis Granderson is coming up to the plate. The opposing manager doesn’t think twice – there’s no Hideki Matsui or even Johnny Damon up – in comes the lefty. The Yankees have to pinch hit or swallow hard with Granderson.

That’s potentially a big problem.

CAN THE YANKEES WIN IT ALL IN 2010?

Of course they can, they’re the YANKEES. But don’t downplay the loss of both Damon and Matsui (we’ll mention Melky Cabrera here as well because he swung a magic bat last year with three game-winning hits early on and a few other eighth-inning go ahead hits – none of these new guys will do what Melky did. Having said that, the Yankees did get a very good pitcher for Cabrera so it’s hard to argue with that).

But there might come a time in the postseason when the Yankees regret losing both of these clutch winners. Their replacements just aren’t as good.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.