Baseball's Best Boring Team

This has been an exciting season to be a New York Mets fan. Despite losing one of their best players, Jose Reyes, to the division rival Florida Marlins, the Mets have played well, and as the All Star break approaches are firmly in the race for one of the two NL wild cards.

The Mets win-loss record only tells part of the story. A few weeks ago, Johan Santana, who has successfully come back from surgery which cost him all of the 2011 season, pitched the first no-hitter in the team’s history. Santana, however, has not been the Mets best or most captivating pitcher. That role has been taken by R.A. Dickey: a 37 year old knuckleballer who, in his 16th professional season, has emerged as one of the game’s best pitchers, posting a 12-3 record with a 2.15 ERA while striking out 113 during the first half of the season.

The Mets may be an exciting team, but they are not the best team in New York. The Yankees have quietly, to the extent the Yankees can do anything quietly, amassed a five game lead in what is till probably baseball’s toughest division. They also have the second best record in all of baseball. The Yankees’ excellent season is not receiving much notice not only because it is what most people expect from the Yankees, but also because the Mets have generated so much interest and because the Yankees are, to a great extent, a very good, but very boring team.

Describing a team as boring is subjective, but it is clear that at the halfway point in the season, the Yankees, despite their very good record, have not generated any buzz in New York. Last year fans watched Derek Jeter reach 3,000 hits and saw Mariano Rivera become the all time saves leader. This year they have seen Jeter pass Paul Waner on the hit list while Rafael Soriano has taken over as a good closer, but one about whom few Yankee fans care deeply. It is hard to think of any Yankee games which are even close to as memorable as Santana’s no-hitter, any one of several starts by Dickey, or even some of the early season Yankee-Red Sox games of recent years.

The Yankees are winning due to solid but not great starting pitching, an excellent bullpen, about which the biggest story has been injuries, and a strong veteran offense. The Yankee offense is drawn largely from great performances by stars like Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano who do not have significant public profiles, as well as from good seasons by players like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira whose skills are declining. These players can still hit, but Rodriguez in particular is no longer a claimant to being the best in the game and is now a third baseman and, increasingly, a DH, rather than the extraordinary combination of speed, power and Gold Glove defense that he was a decade or so ago. The Yankees hit home runs but, with Brett Gardner injured, are not a particularly fast team, nor do they play spectacular defense. Even their ace, CC Sabathia, is building a Hall of Fame career defined by being consistently good rather than by being occasionally dominant.

The Yankees have no fun young players, moving comebacks from veterans, colorful and quirky players or off-field dramas. The most interesting players on the team, at least from the perspective of fans and the media, are a trio of veterans who first started playing together in the mid-1990s. Andy Pettitte’s return from retirement had the makings of a great story until his season was cut short by a broken leg. Similarly, an injury to Mariano Rivera meant that the greatest closer ever would miss most of the season. Derek Jeter is still in the lineup, but his slipping productivity following his hot start and his slow ascent up the hit list have yet to capture the imaginations of Yankee fans.

For the Mets, 2012 has already been a great year. The emergence of R.A. Dickey, Santana’s no-hitter and David Wright’s return to being a top flight star will be remembered even if the team misses the playoffs. For the Yankees, who are much more likely to make the playoffs, how this season will be remembered is not yet clear. Winning the World Series will ensure that the 2012 Yankees will earn a place in Yankee history, but if the team gets eliminated in the early rounds of the playoffs, they will have been one of the best, but most boring teams in recent memory.