The New York Yankees are the Houston Rockets
To those that just read the title and are thinking, “What kind of Colin Cowherd analogy sports take is this?”, just stick with me.
The person, and team, given the most credit in modern sports history for changing the way that a game is played is Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Nowadays, it seems almost ancient to think that a team should not shoot more threes than twos in the NBA, because hey, they’re worth more.
The Houston Rockets, led by Daryl Morey and one of the “best” sports analytics offices in professional sports, took this concept to a new level.
James Harden and the rest of the team basically played a simplified version of basketball in which only one thing mattered — the 3-point shot. It’s amazing that almost nothing else mattered to the Rockets in that era.
Harden never obsessed about triple-doubles like other NBA stars, *cough* Westbrook *cough*, and certainly never cared about defense. Even the front office showed how little they cared about defense and being able to rebound, shown most of all by the Clint Capela trade that literally left them playing small-ball in a sport built on height.
The formula worked — to an extent. While the Rockets never got over the hump and won an NBA Championship, they were still consistently regarded as one of the top teams, not only in a tough Western Conference, but in the entire NBA.
As for Harden, he won an MVP and three scoring titles in Houston before going ring-chasing in Brooklyn. That’s nothing to be ashamed about.
The New York Yankees have quietly employed a Rockets-like strategy since 2017. They have essentially simplified the way that they play baseball and built their team around the two most impactful events in the game — the home run and the strikeout.
This first became noticeable in 2017, as it was Aaron Judge’s rookie year and the year they traded for Giancarlo Stanton’s monster contract. That same year they also signed the most touted strikeout reliever in baseball in Aroldis Chapman.
The plan was kicked into overdrive in 2019 with the addition of Gerrit Cole in free agency. It is no coincidence that this year Cole just happens to lead the MLB in strikeouts again. Cole is ranked eighth in the MLB with a 2.73 era, but keep in mind that’s not what’s important to the plan.
The Yankees slow start this season had several in the organization worried that the experiment was over, when really they just needed to embrace who they are even more. They did so with the additions of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo at the deadline. They now sit one-and-a-half games up in the first Wild Card spot above their rivals, the Red Sox, who seemed to be running away with the division earlier in the year.
Their lineup does not currently feature a hitter with a batting average over .300. What it did have Wednesday night, in a 4-1 win over the Angels, is eight players with at least five home runs, four with at least 15 home runs and two with 30 home runs. And that was with Stanton, who has 25 home runs, on the bench and Cole on the mound who fanned 15 hitters.
The Yankees lineup is so stacked with home run hitters right now that every night they have to make a decision to bench either Rizzo, 18 homers, Stanton, 25 homers or Luke Voit, who led the MLB in home runs last season.
Now the question is will this simplified version of team building and strategy result in a championship for the Yankees, or will they just have to settle for being a good team like the Rockets? Some may turn up their noses at the Yankees and rant about the importance of bunting, stealing bases and defense, but even they have to admit, it’s pretty fun to watch.
Jordan Mansberger is a fourth-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.