New York Yankees

Posted by Baseball Bob at 22:36
Feb 032011

The story of the New York Yankees for 2010 is a tale of two seasons, or three if you consider the postseason a separate entity from the regular season. First, let’s set the stage.

The Yankees in 2009 were World Champions, and worthy ones. They won 103 games in the regular season, winning the division by 8 games, the best record in the AL by 6 and the best record in baseball by the same margin. They scored 32 more runs than any other team in baseball, while allowing an ML average number of runs in a hitter’s park. 5 AL teams allowed fewer, but only one (Seattle, in an extreme pitcher’s park) a lot fewer. They then swept the Twins, and beat the Angels and Phillies both by 4 games to 2. New York celebrated its 27th World Championship. Life was good.

They let Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui both go, replacing them with Curtis Granderson (via trade) and Nick Johnson (free agent). They let Chien-Ming Wang go, but bolstered their rotation by signing free agent Javier Vazquez for NYC II, after a great year in Atlanta, and held a spring training competition for the fifth starter spot, won by Phil Hughes over Joba Chamberlain and Sergio Mitre (and, I guess, Chad Gaudin, who was released before opening day). Their 2009 bullpen of Rivera, Hughes, Coke, Robertson, Bruney, Aceves and Mitre became Rivera, Chamberlain, Mitre, Robinson, Aceves, Marte and Chan Ho Park. They were ready.

They came out of the box as if their pants were on fire (when your pants are on fire, people get out of your way!), winning 2 of 3 in Boston, then 2 of 3 in Tampa, besting their two expected rivals. They hosted the nemesis Angels (the only team to have a winning record against the Yankees in the Torre era) and took 2 of 3 from them, as well. A sweep of Texas, two wins (before a loss) at Oakland, and the Yankees were 11-3, though in first place by a mere ½ game. A series loss in Anaheim and the first game in Baltimore put them back in second place, 2½ back of the Rays, but they took 2 straight from the Orioles, 2 of 3 from Chicago, swept the Orioles, took 2 of 3 from the Red Sox in Boston, and found themselves at 21-9, though still ½ game out. They went into Detroit and were shut out twice (the first two of the season), losing 3 of 4 and falling 1½ back, and it was the start of a bump in the road, where they lost 6 of 10 to get to 26-18. The Rays were really rolling, though, and they found themselves 6 back.

No problem. They won 2 of 3 in Minnesota, 3 of 4 at home against the Indians, and swept the Orioles (also at home), an 8 of 10 run that closed to within 2. The split 6 games on the road in Toronto and Baltimore, and then swept Houston to claim a share of the lead on June 13, at 40-23 (tough division!). Cool standings had them at 80% likely to make the postseason (Tampa Bay 76) and projected them for 102 wins. The lost 2 of 3 to the NL Champion Phillies, but took 2 of 3 from the Mets, the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers, finishing interleague play at 11-7, with a 47-28 record and a 2-game lead. They were “only” 75% to make the playoffs because Boston had reasserted its position and passed the Rays, so there were 3 east teams with a legitimate shot.

They ended June with a pair of home losses to the Mariners (Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez can be tough!) but won the finale, then lost the opener to Toronto but won the next two. Traveling to Oakland they swept the A’s, won the first two (to run the win streak to 6, and the lead to 3) in Seattle before splitting the final two games, and came into the all-star break at 56-32, with a 2 game lead on Tampa Bay, 5 on Boston, an 82.4% postseason chance and the best record in baseball.

To be fair, the all-star break is not really a clean line of demarcation – the numbers would be more stark if we chose a slightly later date. They started the second half winning 2 of 3 from the Rays, then splitting a pair with the Angels and winning 3 of 4 from the Royals and 3 of 4 in Cleveland. That is probably the high-water mark of the season (not the biggest lead) when they were 65-36, 29 over .500 on July 29, 91.5% sure to make the playoffs. They were headed to St. Pete to play the second-place Rays, and everything seemed good. (NOTE: I have chosen in my analysis below to use July 11, the all-star break, as my line, because there is so much more data divided that way. But in fact the division would be even more dramatic than it appears below if I had used July 29 instead).

The Yankees engineered several deadline trades. They acquired Austin Kearns to help in the outfield, Lance Berkman to DH (Nick Johnson was long gone to injury), and Kerry Wood to bolster the bullpen. They had reacquired Chad Gaudin (no actual value there), and shipped off no actually useful parts.

The Yankees lost 2 of 3 to the Rays, then 2 of 3 to the Blue Jays, split 4 games against the Red Sox, split 2 against the Rangers, and lost 2 of 3 to the Royals, but retained first place (barely) throughout, ending the KC series a game up. They came home and lost to the Tigers in the opener to fall into a tie, then won 3 straight (including beating Verlander with Sabathia) to go back up by a game. They won 2 of 3 from Seattle, then lost 2 of 3 in Toronto, starting the amazing 8 game stretch in which they and Tampa matched exactly, remaining in a flat-footed tie for 8 straight days. They lost the opener in Chicago but won the next two, and then swept Oakland at home (for a 5-game win streak) which finally broke the stalemate and put them a game up, on September 1st. With Boston faded, the only drama was the division title, but both Tampa and NY claimed they wanted to win it.

They actually extended the winning streak to 7 with a pair of wins against Toronto, losing the finale, but they then lost 2 of 3 to Baltimore, though they were still 2½ up after that series, as Tampa was again matching the Yankees both wins and losses. Having now lost 3 of 4, they went into Texas and lost 3 more, then on to Tampa where they lost 2 of 3 to fall back to second place. They regained the lead with a pair of wins in Baltimore, and began a series with Tampa in NY with first place on the line. They won the first two games, going up by 2½ and being close to wrapping up the title (it was September 21st) but the Rays beat Burnett and Sabathia to make it ½ game again, and when the Red Sox beat the Yankees on September 24th the Yankees fell to second place. In fact, the Yankees went from 92-59 on September 21st to 95-67 at season’s end, a 3-8 run. If they had won ONE of the last two TB games, or any other 2 games, they would have been the division champions, but instead they wound up the wild card, 1 game back of Tampa Bay.

It was not clear if winning the division was worth it. The division winner would get to play Texas, which had acquired Cliff Lee and had a formidable rotation featuring 2 lefties (both NY and TB were a bit vulnerable to left-handers), while the wild card team would face Minnesota (whom the Yankees had beaten in 9 straight playoff games) but would have to go on the road (both NY and TB were good home teams, especially the Yankees).

Writing it down, it doesn’t sound like too much of a collapse, but in fact the Yankees were 56-32 in the first half and 39-35 in the second half. Part of the analysis I will do below is to see what happened, and why their winning ways were so curtailed.

Overall 95-67 A

The Yankees were only 2 games off the best record in baseball, so it seems reasonable that the season should be considered an A. As with most winning teams, they were much more dominant (35-17) in blowouts than in one-run games (20-19) and were 7-7 in extra-inning games. Their best months were April and July (15-7 and 19-7) and their worst month was September (13-17 counting 1-2 in October). They were in first place slightly more than half the dates of the season, almost identical with (and slightly better than) Tampa Bay.

They scored 859 runs while allowing 6.93, which works out to 98 wins – they did slightly worse than their RS/RA projection would suggest. They were 56-32 .636 before the all-star break and 39-35 .527 after, so there WAS a real dropoff.

Andy Pettitte was as good as ever until he was hurt, and when he came back he wasn’t the same pitcher – this was one reason. Nick Johnson was hurt but that was irrelevant: he wasn’t any good when he did play. Jorge Posada was hurt, and Cervelli played better at first than he did as the season wore on, that contributed. But some of the pitchers had better second halves, the Yankees got Berkman, Kearns and Wood for the stretch run, and still they were much worse in the second half.

An interesting phenomenon in the last few seasons in Yankeeland has been their inability to find a 5th starter (often fourth and fifth) to go with a dynamite top of the rotation. I am not talking about Burnett not living up to potential, but consider this:

In 2006 the 5th most starts on the team went to Shawn Chacon (11), ERA 7.00.  Cory Lidle (9 starts 5.16) was next. Finally they got some good starts out of Jeff Karstens (6 3.80) at the end of the year. Excluding the top four starters, their starters earned -2.3 bWAR in 37 starts.

In 2007 the 5th starter role was shared between Kei Igawa (expensive import who started the season) and Phil Hughes (good until hurt) who between them started 25 games, with an ERA of 5.32. And that is only because Roger Clemens came on halfway through the year to claim the fourth spot. If you add the 6 starts each from Matt DeSalvo (6.18), Tyler Clippard (6.33) and Darrell Rasner (4.01) plus the 3 starts each from Ian Kennedy (great 1.89) and Jeff Karstens (11.05) plus the start by Sean Henn then the Yankees had FIFTY starts from these guys, 289 innings of 5.70 and -2.1 bWAR.

In 2008 the pitcher with the 5th most starts for NY was Sidney Ponson, 15 starts at 5.85. Joba made 12 starts in the middle of the year, 60 2/3 IP and showed promise (ERA 2.97) and was hurt. But the original FOURTH AND FIFTH starters were Kennedy (9 8.17) and Hughes (8 6.62), the two worst starters in the AL. Carl Pavano actually made 7 starts for NY (5.77) plus Aceves made 4 starts, Geise made 3, Albaladejo made 2, and Igawa and Bruney one each. Between these guys, and including their relief work (Joba, Bruney, Aceves and Geise were pretty good) because it is a pain to separate the stats, NY entrusted SIXTY-TWO starts to these pitchers (two full rotation slots worth), and they pitched between them 400 innings, with a combined ERA of 4.75, and I am sure their ERA in their starts was much worse. Joba earned 3.2 bWAR, Bruney 1.3 and Aceves 1.0 primarily for relief, so this brings their total up to 3.0 for the starters, but I suspect that if we could separate it out it would again be close to replacement. If you remove Joba, they got 50 starts of 5.25+ ERA and -0.2 WAR.

In 2009 the plan was to have Joba in the rotation all year, and indeed the Yankees got 31 starts from him (ERA 4.75) but that was as the FOURTH starter. Their top 4 made 131 starts, leaving only 31 for the fifth spot, shared between Wang (the original plan; well, Joba was #5) (9 9.64), Mitre (9 6.79), Aceves (1 8.11), Gaudin (6 3.43 late pickup), and Hughes (7 5.45). In these 31 starts the Yankee starters pitched 174 innings with an ERA of 6.41. Hughes was great in relief after the disastrous starting attempt, so he earned 2.0 bWAR for the year, but his starting was doubtless below replacement. Since Aceves only start was 3 1/3 with 3 ER, and only Gaudin of the others was above replacement, it is safe to say that the Yankees got below replacement value from their fifth starter slot.

SO, in 2010 the plan was to have 5 proven winners. Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte were already there. Javier Vazquez was lured via free agency, fresh off an outstanding season in Atlanta. And an open competition between Joba, Hughes, Gaudin and Mitre resulted in choosing Hughes as the fifth starter.

Meanwhile the Yankees traded Austin Jackson and others to acquire Curtis Granderson, to patrol centerfield, moving Brett Gardner to left (though indications are that Gardner is better than Granderson in center) and they signed Nick Johnson to DH.

These plans backfired, all at once. Vazquez never really settled in, and was ridden unmercifully by Yankee fans, though in fact he was not that bad. Johnson never got his bat untracked, and then was hurt and out for the season. Granderson started out terribly, and it looked like a lost season, but a session with the batting coach turned him around dramatically, and he was much better late in the season.

It was a wild year in the Bronx, to be sure.

It ended as they swept the Twins in the ALDS, but couldn’t handle the Texas pitching and succumbed to the Rangers in six games.

Hitters 87.25-74.75 B

Runs Times
<3 29
3 25
4 24
5 11
6 18
>6 55

Bob! How can you rate the highest-scoring offense in baseball a B? There is something wrong with your system!

OK, that may well be true. But the fact is that this WAS the year of the pitcher, and my metric is NOT context-adjusted (in the 1900-1919 era most offenses would have been F). Last year (2009) FOUR teams scored more runs than the 2010 Yankees, ranging in grade from B to A-. This was a good offense, perhaps the best in baseball, but not historically good. And, of course, new Yankee Stadium plays as a hitter’s park, though not as much as originally thought.

Fourteen Yankee hitters had 75 PAs or more. I present here their PAs, their OPS, their OPS+, their PAs and OPS at the all-star break, and their PAs and OPS after the break.

Name PAs OPS OPS+ 1st PAs 1st OPS 2nd PAs 2nd OPS
Jeter 739 710 90 360 790 379 633
Teixeira 712 846 125 400 825 312 874
Cano 696 914 142 378 944 318 878
Swisher 635 870 130 360 901 275 833
Rodriguez 595 847 123 359 826 236 878
Gardner 569 762 106 320 811 249 694
Granderson 528 792 109 250 718 278 861
Posada 451 811 116 233 838 218 783
Cervelli 317 694 88 207 672 110 735
Thames 237 841 122 103 845 134 833
Pena 167 504 36 90 446 77 572
Berkman 123 707 91 0 0 123 707
Kearns 119 668 81 0 0 119 668
Johnson 98 693 89 98 693 0 0
5986 798 111 3158 811 2828 783

It is clear that the Yankee batters did not do as well after the break as before, but the dropoff is not all that dramatic, and is not across the board. Granderson was dramatically better, after his well-publicized batting instruction. Teixeira is a notorious slow starter, and was also better. A-Rod had a brief DL stretch in the second half, but was a bit better. Jeter fell off the table, and contributed to the decline, and Swisher, Cano and Gardner could not keep up their amazing first halves.

Jeter’s poor hitting season (he got a gold glove, so his fielding wasn’t THAT bad!) was much talked about, and many wonder if it is the end for him. I don’t really think so, but I do worry – he was just hitting the ball on the ground so often and hitting so few line drives that his numbers plummeted. And he started swinging more at the first pitch, which made him more vulnerable than ever, and negated one of his strengths – his OBP (career .385, 2010 .340). All aspects of his game were down, as his ISO was .100 whereas his career is .138, and his batting average was .270 (career .314).

The Yankees had some new names atop their bWAR list: Cano at 6.1 led the way, and after Teixeira (4.2) came Gardner (4.0) and Swisher (4.0). A-rod (2.9) and Granderson (2.1) were the only Yankees in the twos, and Posada (1.6) and Jeter (1.3) the only ones in the ones.

This team can hit – it just didn’t do as well as in some previous seasons. Granderson and Gardner did replace Damon and Matsui, but A-Rod and Jeter didn’t replace A-Rod and Jeter, and Cervelli and Posada didn’t replace Cervelli and Posada! My metric rated this offense a B, and B seems to be about right.

Starters 87.75-74.25 B 1st half 57.25-30.75 A+ 2nd half 30-44 F

Starter GS IP ERA W-L Deserves First Second
CC Sabathia 34 237.2 3.18 21-7 21.75-12.25 14-5 7.75-7.25
A.J. Burnett 33 186.2 5.26 10-15 16.5-16.5 10-8 6.5-8.5
Phil Hughes 29 176.1 4.19 18-8 16.5-12.5 10-6 6.5-6.5
Javier Vazquez 26 157.1 5.32 10-10 10.5-15.5 9-7 1.5-8.5
Andy Pettitte 21 129.0 3.28 11-3 14.25-6.75 13.25-3.75 1-3
Dustin Moseley 9 65.1 4.96 4-4 3.5-5.5 0-0 3.5-5.5
Ivan Nova 7 42.0 4.50 1-2 3.25-3.75 0-0 3.25-3.75
Sergio Mitre 3 54.0 3.33 0-3 1-2 1-1 0-1

Wow! I have actually learned something in the analysis that I didn’t see coming AT ALL, and on my own team, yet! I knew that the Yankees had struggled somewhat in the second half, though it wasn’t all that obvious until the last few weeks, but what I DIDN’T know was that the starting pitching was primarily to blame. What happened is obvious: Sabathia, Hughes and Pettitte were all great in the first half, and Burnett and Vazquez were holding their own. The Yankee rotation was really dominant – they could deserve several fewer wins and still rate A+ before the break.

Vazquez had a very rocky start to the year, with GS of 23 (Awful), 42 and 47 (Mediocre), 31 (Bad) and 23 (Awful again) and his ERA was 8.10 at that point. He was skipped a start, relieved (1 batter faced, 1 K), and was put back into the rotation against the Mets. His GS from there were 74 (Excellent), 32 (Bad), 71 (Excellent), 59 (Decent), 68 (Good), 38 (Bad), 54 (Decent), 67 (Good), 76 (Excellent) which brings us to the all-star break. His ERA was down to 4.45, he had evened his record at 7-7 (and that 76 was a ND – major beef) and deserved 9-7 in 16 starts.

Meanwhile Sabathia had been great (he was great all year, a legitimate CY candidate), Pettitte had been truly amazing, and Hughes had started off gangbusters though he had cooled down.

Only Burnett was struggling, and the struggle, at that point, was relative: His GS prior to the break read: 43, 55, 70, 40, 79, 72, 12, 50, 32, 64, 72, 34, 46, 23, 18, 22, 69, 60. Breaking it down, his record was: April 3-0 2.43, May 3-2 4.03, June 0-5 11.35, July (to date) 1-0 1.32. Overall then he was also 7-7, with a 4.75, with two good starts going into the break.

This was a killer rotation, but it all came apart.

Sabathia was actually fairly ordinary down the stretch, as evidenced by his deserved W-L record.

Pettitte started on July 18 against Tampa Bay, but was pulled after 2 1/3 IP with the injury that would essentially cost him the rest of the season. He was 11-2 2.70 going into that start, and deserving of most of that record. He didn’t pitch again until September 19, when he threw a GS 63 against the Orioles, 3 hits in 6 IP. He pitched two more games, both against the Red Sox, and was NOT good: 10 hits and 7 runs in 3 1/3 at home, and 9 hits and 3 runs in 4 innings at Boston.

And his replacements, for the most part, sucked. The Yankees tried Dustin Moseley, Sergio Mitre and the young Ivan Nova. None of them were horrible, but together they started 19 games (some replacing Vazquez) and deserved a record of 7.75-11.25.

Baseball-Reference has Vazquez earning 0.0 bWAR (exactly replacement) as their fourth starter (fifth, really) and, while Pettitte earned 3.1 for his half-season, the three amigos earned 1.7 between them, but primarily for their relief work (see below).

Hughes never fully lost it, but his decline was measurable month by month, and you worry about it going forward, though he is very young (young pitchers, though, can break your heart!): His month-by-month ERAs: April 2.00, May 3.03, June 5.17, July 5.52, August 4.22, September/October 4.67. Not ideal, certainly.

And Burnett and Vazquez both collapsed. Burnett’s post-break ERA was 5.95 and the opposing OPS was 858 (!). Vazquez was worse, with an ERA of 6.64 and an opposing OPS of 958 (!!!). The Yankee offense bailed out Vazquez, who went 3-3 but Burnett posted a 3-8 record, which he more or less deserved.

So: the wheels came off, starting pitching wise. It got to the point where I, as a fan, was apprehensive about FOUR GAMES IN EVERY FIVE – I figured they would win with Sabathia (they often didn’t) but feared every other start. Hughes today? Well, he’s been struggling lately. Burnett? They are roughing him up every time. Vazquez? Heart-burn. Mitre? Oh, no! Nova? Just a kid. Amazing to see a team disintegrate in this key department to this extent, and still have a winning record, and win 95 games on the season, and come within a couple of games of the best record in baseball!

Relievers 106/430 B 1st Half 42/210 B- 2nd Half 64/220 A-

1st Half 2nd Half
Reliever G IP ERA Val Gr G Val Gr G Val Gr
Joba Chamberlain 73 71.2 4.40 14 B- 39 5 C 34 9 B+
David Robertson 64 61.1 3.82 3 D 31 -7 F 33 10 A-
Mariano Rivera 61 60.0 1.80 38 A+ 34 24 A+ 27 14 A+
Boone Logan 51 40.0 2.93 17 A 17 3 C+ 34 14 A+
Chad Gaudin 30 48.0 4.50 0 D- 10 2 B- 20 -2 F
Damaso Marte 30 17.2 4.08 6 B- 30 6 B- 0 0
Chan Ho Park 27 35.1 5.60 -3 F 21 -4 F 6 1 C+
Sergio Mitre 24 54.0 3.33 12 A+ 10 6 A+ 14 6 A+
Kerry Wood 24 26.0 0.69 11 A+ 0 0 24 11 A+
Alfredo Aceves 10 12.0 3.00 6 A+ 10 6 A+ 0 0
Jonathan Albaladejo 10 11.1 3.97 5 A+ 0 0 10 5 A+
Dustin Moseley 7 65.1 4.96 -2 F 2 0 D- 5 -2 F
Javier Vazquez 5 157.1 5.32 1 B- 1 1 A+ 4 0 D-
Royce Ring 5 2.1 15.43 -2 F 0 0 5 -2 F
Ivan Nova 3 42.0 4.50 1 A 2 2 A+ 1 -1 F
Phil Hughes 2 176.1 4.19 2 A+ 0 0 2 2 A+
Romulo Sanchez 2 4.1 0.00 0 D- 1 1 A+ 1 -1 F
Mark Melancon 2 4.0 9.00 -3 F 2 -3 F 0 0

And here is how they did it: while the offense struggled somewhat, and the starters struggled mightily and collapsed, the bullpen got BETTER.

Mariano was amazing throughout the year, but Robertson was BAD the first half, and GREAT the second half – he became Girardi’s go-to guy down the stretch, and he came through most of the time. Joba went from ordinary to very good. Albaladejo came up late in the year and pitched well almost every time out.

Plus, of course, they picked up Keri Wood. While Berkman and Kearns made at most modest contributions (essentially replacement, which was an improvement in some ways) Wood pitched well game after game, and he and Robertson between them could be counted on for the 7th and 8th inning of any game that was close.

Boone Logan was not too good at first, but Marte was OK as the lefty guy. Then Marte went down, and Girardi began using Logan as his ONLY lefty in the pen, and he picked it up and pitched well.

Overall, the bullpen went from neutral in the first half to a real strength in the second half.

Summary

Rotation A+, Hitters B, Bullpen C = Overall A+

Rotation F, Hitters B-, Bullpen A- = Overall C

The formulas work better than I would have guess, and they clearly explain what went on in the Bronx in 2010. In the first half the rotation was devastating, the hitters were good, and the bullpen ordinary but good enough; the result was a dominant record. In the second half the rotation imploded, the hitters eased off a bit, and the team could have collapsed out of contention, but the bullpen was great and the hitting good enough, and they won just over half their games.

Unfortunately, the second-half team showed up in the postseason, and they went 5-4 and out in the second round. Here is the simple breakdown:

Against Minnesota they scored 6, 5, 6 – the hitters deserved 2.75-0.25; the starters had GS of 50, 62, 74 – they deserved a record of 2.75-0.25 also. The relievers had 10 appearances and a score of 3, which is a B+. A+ hitting, A+ starting, B+ relieving, 3-0 record.

Against Texas it was a different story.

The hitters scored 6, 2, 0, 3, 7, 1 and deserved a 2-4 record.

The starters had GS of 29, 14, 64, 41, 49, 39 and deserved a 1.5-4.5 record

The relievers had 21 appearances with a score of 5, which is C.

The Yankees were pretty lucky to win 2 games in this series – all aspects of their game were not up to par.

On to 2011

Russell Martin C $4M
Francisco Cervelli C Pre-arb
Mark Teixeira 1B $22.5M
Eduardo Nunez 1B Pre-arb
Robinson Cano 2B $10M
Alex Rodriguez 3B $31M
Derek Jeter SS $15M
Ramiro Pena UT Pre-arb
Brett Gardner LF Pre-arb
Curtis Granderson CF $8.25M
Nick Swisher RF $9M
Andruw Jones OF $2M
Jorge Posada DH $13.1M
CC Sabathia SP $23M
Phil Hughes SP $2.7M
AJ Burnett SP $16.5M
Ivan Nova SP Pre-arb
Sergio Mitre SP $0.9M
Mariano Rivera CL $15M
Rafael Soriano RP $10M
Joba Chamberlain RP $1.4M
Damaso Marte RP $4M
Boone Logan RP $1.2M
David Robertson RP Pre-arb
Pedro Feliciano RP $4M

It also came as a surprise to me that the Yankees, of all the teams I have done so far, had the LEAST roster turnover, at least based on how much the various players played last year. Starting, for example, with the list of players ranked by plate appearances, the first 9 players on the list are back with NY for 2011 – you have to go to Marcus Thames before you find one who isn’t. In their starting 9, eight of the starters in 2011 will be the same as they were opening day 2010 – the only difference is that DH Nick Johnson will be replaced by C Russell Martin, and Jorge Posada will move from Catcher to DH.

If Andy Pettitte does not re-sign (reports are that he is leaning toward retirement, but I think he will be back) then the rotation will be Sabathia, Burnett, Hughes and two of Nova, Mitre, Garcia or Colon – only 3/5 the same. But if Pettitte DOES re-sign it will be 4/5, and even 60% is a low turnover rate; many teams have that or more.

And even the bullpen, traditionally the place that rosters churn, will feature Rivera, Joba, Robertson, Marte, Mitre, Logan – all on the 2010 edition. Soriano and Feliciano have been added (and Aceves is still unsigned, and probably going to miss 2011 after surgery) but all in all the turnover is minimal.

Yes, the Yankees have added Andruw Jones in the Marcus Thames role, but even Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli, backups on opening day 2011, are back in similar roles. And the likely candidates for the last position player or two are holdovers or NY controlled rookies. Andruw Jones and Russell Martin could be the ONLY position players who did not wear a Yankee uniform in 2010, and Soriano and Feliciano could be the ONLY pitchers, though I think Garcia will make the team.

How will this team perform? Better than I would have guessed prior to doing this analysis.

Hitters

2011 2010
Russell Martin C 2.0 0.3 Cervelli
Mark Teixeira 1B 5.3 4.2
Robinson Cano 2B 5.4 6.1
Alex Rodriguez 3B 3.3 2.9
Derek Jeter SS 3.2 2.4
Brett Gardner LF 2.9 4.0
Curtis Granderson CF 3.0 2.1
Nick Swisher RF 3.1 4.0
Jorge Posada DH 1.5 1.6

The 2011 edition of the lineup, using my standard projection system and with no need to fiddle for rookies or injury gaps or anything, projects to out-perform the 2010 edition (which, you will remember, led MLB in runs scored) by about 2 games. The losses from the regression to the mean of high performers like Cano, Teixeira, Gardner and Swisher are more than offset by the regression to the mean of underperformers like Jeter, A-Rod and Granderson. And Martin projects as a huge upgrade over Cervelli.

And this is not even considering the possibility the Jesus Montero could arrive (he has a big bat, but struggles behind the plate) or a breakout by Juan Miranda. And if Granderson’s late season turnaround is real, and he were to return to anything like his early form at Detroit (he is still young) and Gardner’s jump forward is real (he is much younger) then the offense could return to the levels achieved a few years back.

Starters

Here is where things get dicey, particularly if Pettitte chooses not to sign, or signs but turns out to have aged.

Sabathia is just entering his age 30 season, has shown remarkable durability and consistency, and can be expected to duplicate his 2010, when he was 21-7 3.18 in a hitter’s park. I don’t know if ANYONE is worth the money he got, for as long as he got it, as a pitcher, but so far it has clearly been a gain contract for the Yankees.

Burnett struggled so badly last year that he was nearly worthless, but he has good stuff and should be expected to bounce back.

Hughes started off super and declined throughout the year, but he will only be 25, and it was his first full season of starting. There will be no innings limits next season, and I confidently predict an improvement of his ERA. On the other hand, his FIP was right in line with his ERA (4.25 to 4.19) so perhaps I am just an optimist. But his K/9 and BB/9 are right in line with Sabathia’s, and I think he will make another stride forward.

Here is where it gets interesting. If Pettitte signs, it will be for his age 39 season – some starters have been good at or after that age, and Pettitte was great until hurt last year, but it is pretty hard to predict what he’ll do. He DID have two good postseason starts, which might indicate that he will be good again, but who knows?

And if he DOESN’T sign, then where are we?

Ivan Nova will, apparently, be given a full shot to make the rotation. He just turned 24, and was near league average (ERA+ 96) last year in 43 innings, including 7 starts and 3 relief appearances. His hits (9.4/9) and walks (3.6/9) are a bit high, and his strikeouts (5.6/9) are a bit low, but the sample size is very small, and he was put very much on the spot. His minor league numbers were encouraging: at AAA in 2010 he allowed 8.4 H/9, 7.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 (ERA 2.86) in 23 starts. The year before in 12 AAA starts his numbers mirrored his ML numbers, which suggests that he might improve as he gets comfortable with the new level.

Sergio Mitre is the opposite – he has been around, with at least SOME ML appearances, since 2003 (at age 22). He turns 30 this month, and was a rotation starter in only one season, 2007, when he started 27 games for the Marlins (no relief appearances) with a 4.65 ERA, 4.8 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 10.9 H/9 – you know just what you are going to get with Mitre, and it is mediocre only when on the top of his game. Every other season of his career he has been a swing man – he has SOME starts every year, but usually more relief appearances – excluding 2007 he has appeared in 90 games – 37 starts and 53 in relief. His career ML ERA is 5.27, and he exceeded 60 innings only the one season. Ugh.

Bartolo Colon (signed to a minor league deal, with $0.9M if he makes the club) will turn 38 in May, and did not pitch at all in 2010, at any level. The tactic to sign him to a minor league deal and bring him up if needed was tried by the Red Sox in 2008 with moderate success (he was 4-2 3.92 in 7 starts, 39 IP) and again by the White Sox in 2009 (he was 3-6 4.19 but ERA+ 113 in 12 starts). I think both numbers are a bit misleading, though – for some reason he gives up a lot of UNEARNED runs. Since a pitcher is not actually blameless for unearned runs, this worries me: in Boston he gave up 17 ER but 6 UER and in Chicago he gave up 29 ER but 42 UER. About 8% of runs are unearned, so his percentage is way higher both seasons.

Freddy Garcia (also signed to a minor-league contract, but earns $2M if he makes the team, and can opt out March 29 if he does not) is a little younger than Colon (he turns 36 in June) and at least he pitched last year (he was 12-6 4.64 ERA+ 94 for the White Sox). He has lost velocity on a never-great fastball, and his strikeouts are down pretty dramatically – last year he struck out 5.1/9, lowest of his career. He has always had good control (2.6 BB/9 last year, 2.8 career) but he is missing fewer and fewer bats. He would be a better 5th starter option, I suspect, than Mitre, who is best kept in the swing role, where he can eat some innings (in an extra-inning game or an early hook) as a long man, and pick up a start here and there if someone needs a blow or a short DL stint.

Overall it is not hard to see this group equaling last year’s set, with Hughes and Burnett improving, Sabathia matching himself, Nova being better than Vazquez by a bunch and Garcia/Pettitte not doing as well as Pettitte v2010. It is also not hard to see this group being significantly worse – Sabathia could fall off, Hughes could have found his level, Burnett could remain a head case, Nova could not be ready and Mitre could turn out to be Mitre.

I expect a few game decline in the quality of the Yankee starters.

Relievers

Here, however, you have to be optimistic (if you want them to win; pessimistic otherwise):

While Mariano HAS to age at some point, there was really no evidence of it last year. At 40 he had one of his better years, A+ rated and 1.80 ERA. He “only” saved 33 games because the Yankees had so many games decided by too many runs, but he allowed 5.9 H/9 (!), 1.7 BB/9 (counting IBB), and still struck out 6.8/9.

Joba came on and seemed to find himself, and now there will be Soriano and Feliciano to take some of the pressure off. Robertson was great after a rocky start and will be back. This pen figures to be better than last year’s edition, and deeper as well. In fact, one challenge for Girardi will be to figure out just who makes the club out of spring training.

Summary

I believe the Yankees will win about as many games as in 2010, perhaps a couple fewer. But I also believe that 93 wins will be enough to make the postseason, and that Tampa Bay (see the previous post) will not be able to stay with Boston and NY.

I also believe there is a 25% chance that this team will gel, and win over 100 games. You read it here first.

One Response to “New York Yankees”

  1. Pettitte officially retired today. As a Red Sox fan I give him as much respect as a hardworking, family man, playoff stud deserves. The fact that I am glad he is gone is only proof of how good he is. Good bye Andy Pettitte, you will not be missed. 🙂

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