The 2012 Yankee Playoff Choke Alert

New York YankeesThe playoffs are finally here, and I’m thrilled to announce on behalf of pessimistic, ungrateful Yankees fans everywhere that three players have earned their way onto the annual postseason choke alert list. The choke alert serves not only to lower our collective expectations, but also to let us know when we should be at our most cynical. As usual, players are evaluated on their postseason performance with the Yankees alone, with no consideration given to past results in far-flung corners of the country.

There were also three players on last year’s list, but there has been one change in personnel. After two straight seasons of top-notch postseason production and a scorching end to the 2012 regular season, we’re sorry to be losing our good friend Robinson Cano. Robbie, you still have a .258 career postseason average and an abysmal 5.6 percent walk rate, but recent results have exonerated you completely. You are now skewing toward the clutch end of the spectrum, and while we hate to see you go, we recognize that it’s a positive development both personally and professionally. Replacing Robbie on our list is the no. 3 choking suspect for 2012. Ladies and gentlemen, back after a two-year hiatus, please welcome Alex Rodriguez.

3. Alex Rodriguez

From 2004–2007, A-Rod played 24 playoff games as a Yankee. The results, as we know from his past reputation as a talented choke artist, were poor: .245/.372./.436. In all that time, he hit four home runs in 114 plate appearances. That’s a 3.5 percent rate compared to his 6.2 percent rate in the regular season over those four years. Over the past two seasons, 2010 and 2011, he’s been even worse, throwing up a .190/.295/.220 line with zero home runs and just two doubles in 61 plate appearances. Combine those stretches, and he’s hitting .222 with an OBP of .345 and an incredibly low slugging percentage. Things started bad in his Yankee tenure, and they keep getting worse, culminating in last year’s 2-18, no-extra-base-hit disaster against Detroit.

The year I’m leaving out, of course, is 2009. The Yankees won the World Series that season, and A-Rod was nothing short of heroic. He had lots of hits, they came at timely moments, and he was a paragon of clutch. We don’t know why it happened; maybe Kate Hudson, his girlfriend at the time, had some sort of positive effect, the mechanisms of which none of us want to consider. What we do know is that his production was both beautiful and frustrating. Beautiful because we wouldn’t have won the World Series without him, and frustrating because it makes us wonder how many championships this team might have won if his playoff production in the other six years was even normal.

It’s hard to discount 2009, and I personally will always have great memories of that stretch, but the last two seasons have shown that the mental hurdles obstructing A-Rod still stand. Until he has another decent playoff run, there’s no reason to look at 2009 as anything but a fortunate anomaly.

2. Nick Swisher

Returning from 2011′s list, Nick Swisher would surely be no. 1 on any other team’s choke alert. This is the player whose irrepressible, fratty, buoyant energy goes from infectious to infuriating in the span of a single postseason at-bat. We’ve watched him flail at dirt-bound curves and sliders for three years now, and over that time he’s amassed a particularly pathetic .160/.257/.330 line in 28 games. You can’t count on Swisher under any circumstance that involves pressure, but you can count on a slew of rally-killing double plays and those baffling strikeouts where his head somehow faces the dugout behind him while he swings. Swisher’s excitable nature clearly works against him in the postseason, when his normally excessive levels of adrenaline, testosterone, and untold other chemicals surge to life-threatening extremes. For three years, he’s been a sure thing in the choke department, but there’s still one man on the roster who puts him to shame …

1. Mark Teixeira

I would never root for someone to get injured, and I mean that without any wink or implication. But it says something, I think, that I can’t help but consider the potential benefits to the team if Teixeira tweaked his problematic calf muscle sometime in the next two days. As counter-intuitive as it may seem for a guy making $22.5 million
in 2012, I legitimately think it would help. And I’m not proud of what I’m about to say, but as a Yankees fan, I loathe him. I hate how his eyes bug out, I hate how he looks like a confused dog, and I even hate when he makes a spectacular defensive play at first, because it momentarily dulls my unchecked hate. And obviously, I hate the stats: Teixeira’s postseason line as a Yankee, in 27 games, is .170/.276/.302.

As you see from above, those numbers are slightly better than Swisher’s in average and OBP, and slightly worse in slugging. But it goes deeper with Teixeira. While Swisher manages to come up with huge clutch hits in the regular season before falling off in the playoffs, Teixeira’s choking is year-round. In fact, it’s practically congenital. He has an intuitive sense of the worst possible result in any situation. If there are runners on base with one out, he will hit into a double play. If there are runners on first and third with zero outs, where a double play would be bad but at least score a run, he will strike out. If there’s a runner on third with one out and we need a sacrifice fly, he will pop up to the infield. When there’s nobody on base, he’ll swing at a slider that lands eight feet out of the batter’s box. It’s uncanny, as is my predilection for screaming things at the television the minute I see his face.

Those are you candidates, America. As a card-carrying doom-and-gloom Yankees fan, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen exactly how the playoffs will go. All year, the Yankees have combined incredible home run power with incredibly poor RISP hitting. History shows us that a team can win in the playoffs when their output primarily comes from the long ball, but I know in my soul that it won’t happen this season. When you sit through enough games in which the Yanks end up with 14 hits and still lose 3-2, you start to realize it’s a habit, and it’s not going to change. The 2009 team boasted a résumé of come-from-behind and walk-off wins, and it felt like something special. But ever since 2004, the club’s theme has been a lack of timely hitting and the absence of a dominant ace. It’s time to prepare ourselves for the same inevitable ending in 2012, led by the stooges above.

We’re all on choke alert, and I’ll leave you with one final question: Why can’t anything good ever happen to this team?

Filed Under: Alex Rodriguez, Baseball, MLB, New York Yankees, Shane Ryan

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Shane Ryan is a contributing writer for Grantland. His book about the young stars of the PGA Tour will be published by Random House in early 2015.

Archive @ ShaneRyanHere