Your morning dose of "playing in New York is different" porn

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Joel Sherman discusses the Yankees’ deadline pickups, with specific reference to the Lance Berkman deal. After (correctly) noting that the quality of play in the AL East is much, much better than that in the NL Central, he goes on to note that it’s not just better opponents Berkman will have to get used to:

What players who come to the Yankees – unless they come from Boston or
maybe one or two other places – notice quickly is the intensity of the
games. Every pitch matters when you are a Yankee. It is a lingering
effect of having a team owned by George Steinbrenner, playing in the
largest media market in the world, having the most fans, having the most
enemies, having the largest payroll, by far, and having the most
expectations, by far.

It is a unique cauldron. And players either love and embrace the
intensity or find this is a difficult place to play. It certainly takes
getting used to and Berkman, Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns have to
recalibrate two-thirds of the way through the year. But as bad as the
Indians are, Wood and Kearns were at least playing in the AL. Berkman
was not only playing in the inferior league, but within the softest
division.

Sherman goes on to say — based on two games in pinstripes — that Berkman looked “slow and inadequate” and wonders if moving to the AL East has anything to do with that.

I get Sherman’s general point about there being more pressure and scrutiny in New York, but I think we’ve long since reached the point where those sentiments have become so cartoonishly overstated to be damn near worthless. I know players pay obeisance to the “everything is different in New York” thing when talking to New York reporters, but I can’t help but think that they roll their eyes at it behind the scenes.

They’re professionals. They put their uniform pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. Yes, it’s harder to face the Rays and Red Sox than the Pirates and Cubs, but unless the player really has confidence issues — which should be the tiniest minority of players given how much confidence it takes to get to the big leagues in the first place — the difference in outside scrutiny cannot be nearly as big as New York reporters and many New Yorkers themselves like to tell themselves it is. It’s a difference of degree, not a totally different world.

And might I add that three days in from this trade I cannot believe just how much Lance Berkman — an MVP-level talent in his prime and a guy who has played in the World Series — is being discounted by Yankees fans and watchers?  He’s 34 and he’s in decline, but he’s still a useful player. If you came from another planet and read nothing but the New York tabloids these past few days you’d assume that the Yankees just traded for some reality show contestant. 

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.