Informed opinions on the 2010 Yankees

The bulk of my recent posts have criticized Baseball Prospectus‘ PECOTA projections for the 2010 season. In short, I don’t agree. But, to paraphrase my sister, anyone can hate but it takes a real (stupid?) man to put it on the line. So, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and putting my personal projections for the 2010 Yankees on your screen.

Except, I’m stopping short of making precise predictions. I won’t actually give exact number estimates of where I think a player will perform. Hence the title of this post, which took me a while to settle on.

There are many risks to making exact projections for anything, let alone baseball. Two come to mind quickly. First, it’s pointless. If I say Derek Jeter will hit .325 and he hits .315 odds are come this November I’ll brag that I nailed the projection, which brings me to the second risk. I would be correct in my assertion that because projections are never precise they are actually based on ranges. Statistics produce these ranges by design. PECOTA itself uses them. On the subscription portion of its site BP posts a full range of performance projections for a player and the corresponding probability they’ll put up that level of performance.

I’m taking a low-tech approach to these numerically informed opinions on what to expect from the 2010 Yankees. Three things are used to make these projections: 1) A player’s career performance, which is the best set of data anyone has to project a player’s future performance. 2) A player’s performance in the most recent season, which is the best indicator of whether a player is trending up or down. 3) Gut, which isn’t so dangerous if numbers 1 and 2 are given the weight they deserve.

Without further ado …

C
Jorge Posada

Rumors of Jorge’s demise have been greatly exaggerated over the years. Is he old? You bet he is. Does he play a physically demanding position? Not well, but yes, technically he does play that position badly 130 games a year or so. Has he shown any signs of slowing down? No, he hasn’t.

Jorge has posted the following OPS+’s in 2007 and 2009, his last full seasons: 153 and 133. Jorge did come down to Earth in 2008, but he was injured, played in only 51 games and still managed a .340 wOBA. Someday, perhaps soon, Jorge won’t be able to catch for the Yankees, but next season is not the year. Posada has shown no reason to believe he is due for a precipitous drop off in 2010.

I expect Jorge to post plus or minus 5% of the following line in 2010: .277/.363/.480. This is a conservative projection. Those are his career batting average and slugging (each of which is lower than what he produced in 2009) and his 2009 OBP, which is lower than his career OBP.

1B
Mark Teixeira

Tex is going to have a monster year. Much has been made of the monster year Mark had in 2009. That’s usually what happens when you lead the league in home runs (sorry, Carlos) and RBI. But a funny thing happened on the way to 39 bombs and 122 runners knocked in: Tex had his worst season since 2006.

A lot of this is splitting hairs. Tex has posted the following wOBAs in 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively: .406, .410, .402. I’ll take any one of those seasons, and his drop off in ’09 is statistical noise at worst. But it happened. Tex exceeded all expectations in 2009 but still posted his lowest BA, OBP and slugging of his last three seasons.

Based on that information I’m willing to suggest that Mark will improve on the .292/.383/.565 he posted in 2009. I’ll stop short of trying to estimate the exact performance level, but I do believe he’ll approach a .300 BA and a .400 OBP. He’ll have a year in the Bronx under his belt, an entire season of A-Rod batting behind him and the pressure of winning a World Series lifted from his shoulders. If that’s not worth 17 OBP points then what is?

2B
Robinson Cano

I don’t believe Robbie will be as good in 2010 as he was in 2009. These are his seasonal wOBAs, in order: .337, .377, .358, .307 (yuck), .370.

Until 2009, Cano had gotten progressively worse each season since 2006, when he hit .342. I like Robinson, but I can’t argue for the use of statistical trends when I feel a player on the Yankees is being sold short and then turn around and ignore those same arguments myself when they suggest a player on the Yankees will decline.

Here’s what we know about Robbie: He has the sweetest swing on the bombers. He does not like playing in the cold and is possibly the slowest starter in baseball. He turns it on every year in the second half. His aggregate splits pre- and post-All Star break from ’07-’09 are .276/.314/.426 and .329/.367/.534. Its like he’s two different players, and only one of them is any good.

Until Robbie proves that he won’t have a slow start to the season we have to assume he will. So long as he does have such volatility during the season he hurts his value and makes it difficult to project his performance. I’m comfortable arguing that he’ll post somewhere between his career line of .306/.339/.480 and 5% below it, which is still excellent. Anything better is gravy.

3B
Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod’s projections on other sites are all strong, but his injuries in ’08 and ’09 appear to influence them negatively. Prior to 2008 he had played in at least 148 games every season since 2000. He missed games in both ’08 and ’09 with leg injuries. Now that his hip is healed I’m willing to suggest that A-Rod will be back to his durable old self in 2010.

But I’m actually going to go one further and say that A-Rod will be superhuman again in 2010. The numbers suggest it. He seems to alternate bad (for him — bad for him) to amazing season by season with the Yankees. In ’04 his wOBA was .385 and in ’05 it was .438. In ’06 it was .391 and in ’07 it was .449. If the trend had continued A-Rod would have competed for the MVP in ’09, except he got hurt (and was still impressive). Over a full season in 2010 I believe he’ll compete with Mauer for the MVP.

Numbers aren’t the only reason I believe this. From watching A-Rod play I’ve come to believe that he DOES respond poorly to pressure. His 500th homer is an excellent example. The only time he went into a slump in ’07 was when he was trying to get a hold of that one. Once it was in the rearview mirror he took off again.

The results are still amazing, but I do believe the pressure was diminishing his output. That pressure is gone. A-Rod has achieved the following:

1) He’s proven he’s clutch.
2) He’s finally won the admiration of the New York fans (something he should have always had, but hey).
3) The steroids issue is out in the open and seemingly behind him.
4) He’s dating A-listers and can hang with Jeter.
5) He won a ring.

Now that A-Rod doesn’t have anything to worry about I’m predicting something along the lines of his 2005 campaign: 45+ homers, a ton of RBI, and a line around .315/.410/.625. You read it here first.

SS
Derek Jeter

Derek is another player on the Yankees whose demise has been incorrectly forecast, again and again. BP, for example, projects Derek to post a .298/.373/.432 on its website (it has published something different in its book), which would be better than 2008, but among his worst seasons ever.

I know many people who feel that Derek is going to put on another clinic in 2010 because it’s a contract year. I actually don’t believe this. For another player, sure, but not Jeter. He’s one of the few athletes who I genuinely believe is motivated every season by his legacy and championships. The money is a lesser way to keep score, and not something he needs.

With that in mind, I’ll take his career line of .317/.388/.459. He is a year older and unlikely to repeat his stellar 2009, but other projections seem to completely ignore the fact that other than 2008 he has hit at least .309 each season since 2005 and was injured in 2008. He’s showed no signs of slowing down when he’s healthy and could easily put up numbers that are better than his career averages.

LF
Brett Gardner

No 9th hitter has received more attention in the history of baseball. If this were any other team in any other situation everyone would shrug and move on. But it’s the Yankees and Gardner is replacing Johnny Damon after Damon posted his best season in pinstripes.

No one knows what Gardner is going to do next season. He could hit .200. He could hit .300. This is his first full season as a starter. When Gardner did play last season he exceeded expectations, posting .270/.345/.379 and using his incredible speed to make up for his lack of power.

I happen to feel that Gardner will do just fine. For him, it’s all about OBP. I predict a range of .325 on the low end to .365 if he really excels. Until there is more data I’m sticking with the broad range.

CF
Curtis Granderson

Here’s one that BP gets right, although forecasting a comeback for Curtis Granderson in his first season in the Bronx is hardly going out on a limb. Here’s what BP says in its book, according to RAB: .268/.351/.491 with 28 bombs. In his career he’s averaged .272/.344/.484, so BP is doing something I hope they’d do more often: paying attention to what a player has done throughout his career.

RF
Nick Swisher

Swisher has played five full seasons in MLB, and posted the following wOBAs, in order: .331, .368, .361, .325, .375. There are two ways to look at these data. One way is to argue that in two of the 5 seasons he hasn’t been very good. A better way to look at the data would be to argue that since his first season he’s been consistent, with the exception of 2008, when his BABIP fell from .301 to .249, before bouncing back to .272 last year.

Although Swisher may not hit 29 homers again, he still figures to be solid in 2010. I think he’ll post something between his career line of .245/.351/.460 and his 2009 line of .249/.371/.498. Along with Nick Johnson he’ll infuriate pitchers, driving up their counts, knocking one out on a regular basis, and always playing his heart out.

DH
Nick Johnson

I’m far from the first prognosticator to say this, but the real question isn’t whether or not Johnson will perform back in the Boogie Down but how long he will be able to perform. When he’s healthy he’s a perennial threat to post a .400 OBP. If he can get into at least 125 games I think we can expect his career line of .273/.402/.447, with more upside potential if he can adequately use the short porch in right. Hopefully the team keeps him healthy.

In the case of Johnson I also want to throw up a recommendation he hit 2nd. RAB did this far more justice than I ever could here, but in short they explain that Johnson annihilates fastballs, and the number 2 hitter in the lineup projects to see a lot of them. I want to put this in print because there may be an inclination to bat Granderson 2nd, since he has a similar game to Johnny Damon. Batting Curtis behind Jeter isn’t a bad idea, but it’s not as good an idea as putting Johnson there. He’ll get better looks and his high OBP will give Tex and A-Rod many RBI opportunities. You don’t bat a .400 OBP lower than 5th, and that’s that.

SP

CC’s season reminded me of Tex’s. Was it great? You bet it was. Was it also his worst season in the past few years? Well, yeah. Since 2006, CC posted the following ERA+’s: 139, 141, 157, 127. I’ll take any one of those four, but I’d still take them in an order and his 2009 127 ERA+ is my least favorite.

As with Tex, I believe CC is due for a monster year. First, he got off to a slow start in 2009, and has claimed he took a while to adjust to New York. That is over now, and in the 2nd half he was an absolute, unstoppable, MVP- (not Cy Young, MVP) caliber monster: 11-2, 2.74 ERA, .232 BAA.

I’ll stop short of projecting that the slow-starting CC will put up that line for the whole season, but I do believe he’ll put up something between an ERA of 3.00 and 3.25, with a WHIP around 1.10, both an improvement on 2009. And I’m also willing to argue that he could surprise on the upside. There’s a lot of gut there, but he’s saying all the right things.
SP

BP is projecting a poor season from A.J., which is a big reason why the system projects the Yankees to fare so badly. But the poor projection is baseless. By now you may have realized that what BP published in its book is not what is currently on its website (I’ll get to that) but this is what the website says A.J.’s ERA will be in 2010: 4.53. And from its book: 4.57.

The number of seasons that A.J. has posted an ERA above 4.50 and also started more than 15 games? Zero. A.J.’s 2009 ERA? 4.04. BP will probably argue that comparable players to A.J. have shown that kind of decline after pitching as many innings as he did in 2009. My counter is that A.J. has never — read that word again, N E V E R — been that bad and no player compares better to A.J. than A.J.

I think what we see with Burnett is what we get. Unhittable when he’s on, regrettable when he’s off, and difficult to predict, I anticipate A.J. will give us a repeat of his 2009, with an ERA around 4, many competitive performances, and the occasional nightmare.
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SP

BP doesn’t like poor old Andy. From the website: 5.07 ERA. From the book: 4.70 ERA. Here’s what Andy has done, each season, since 2006: 4.20, 4.05, 4.54, 4.16. He’s been consistent, with only a slight decline in 2008. And he’s been durable. He pitched his fewest innings over that stretch in 2009, putting up 194 during the regular season.

One argument for why Andy may post such a dramatic decline in 2010 is because his innings jumped to over 225 with the postseason. But Andy has had that kind of workload before. As recently as 2007 he pitched 215 innings, and pitched 214 in 2006. He did pitch more in 2009 through the World Series, but this wasn’t some crazy increase on his old arm. BP is selling low on a durable, consistent pitcher, who continues to get batters out despite losing some velocity.

Andy is getting old, so it’s reasonable to project that he’ll get worse in 2010, but I find it hard to imagine worse means an ERA much higher than 4.30 for the season, with a repeat of 2009’s 4.16 ERA very well possible.

SP

Here’s what Javier Vazquez has done while he’s pitched in the AL:

2004 – 4.91 ERA
2006 – 4.84 ERA
2007 – 3.74 ERA
2008 – 4.67 ERA
2009 was his best season in the majors, but it looks like an outlier and happened in the NL. I don’t think the Yankees wanted Vazquez because he’s outstanding at keeping runs off the board.

Here’s why they got him:

2000 – 217 IP
2001 – 223 IP
2002 – 230 IP
2003 – 230 IP
2004 – 198 IP
2005 – 215 IP
2006 – 202 IP
2007 – 216 IP
2008 – 208 IP
2009 – 219 IP

Those are CC numbers. The Yankees hurt their chances of repeating considerably if they don’t have a reliable 4th starter who can be as much of a work horse as the big three were last season. Vazquez can do that, and he can do it well. I don’t forecast an ERA under 3, or 4 for that matter. The numbers just aren’t there, but I do believe an ERA of 4.15 is the high end of what to expect, while 220 IP is certainly possible. I could easily see him being more dominant, something to the tune of a 3.75 ERA. I’ll give up Melky for that.

SP
Perhaps my real prediction is that Joba will win the 5th spot in the rotation. Frankly, I don’t think it will be close, not because Joba is the best available pitcher, but because the Yankees will need starters who can put up innings more than anything else (particularly with their offense) and Phil Hughes isn’t allowed to do that yet.
Joba was better before the All Star break than after it last year. In 89 pre-All Star innings Joba posted an ERA of 4.25, but a BAA of .282. In 68.1 IP after the break his ERA swelled by a run to 5.40 but his BAA actually fell to .263. Looking closer at the numbers, Joba had great months and awful months. He was great in April, June and July, posting ERAs of 3.13, 3.79 and 2.73, respectively. He was flat-out terrible in May, August and September, posting ERAs of 4.84, 8.22 and 7.15, respectively.

Did he get tired as the season wore on? Did yo-yoing his innings mess with his head as much as was reported? Is he just not cut out to start? No one knows, not even the Yankees, but for my part I believe that Joba tired as much as anything else, but still has what it takes as a starter. I think he’ll demonstrate that in 2010, but mostly by being average. I predict an ERA of around 4.50 for the season, which should be good enough to keep that 5th spot.
RP

Normally I only dissect closers when I run these kinds of posts, but BP has been particularly hard on Phil, usually predicting an ERA above 4. We all know that he was considerably better than that in 2009, and I am positive he will be better than that in 2010, his problems in the postseason aside.

I think Phil will find himself in the majors (where he belongs), but in the bullpen due to his innings limit where his performance will be so outstanding that ill-informed fans will demand he stay in the ‘pen when he clearly has starter’s stuff. As the bridge to Mo I foresee Phil posting something like an ERA of 2.00.

CL
BP is predicting that Mo will have his worst season ever. That, and I’m the next President of the United States because the data bear that one out just about as much as they demonstrate that Mo will have an ERA above 3.30, which BP has been projecting. Mo has posted an ERA under 2 for six of the last 7 years. He’s shown some signs of declining velocity, but that hasn’t translated into a worse performance. Despite this, BP is forecasting what their site refers to as a collapse, which in performs terms is precisely what it sounds like.

The argument would be that Mo is old and old pitchers … collapse. The counter is that no one in the history of baseball has been better at getting a single better out (true fact), the numbers reflect it, and it’s dangerous to predict a collapse without at least some kind of decline preceding it. Hasn’t happened yet, and I’m going to say that it won’t happen next season.
I believe Mo will be his traditional, unhittable self. I predict an ERA between 1.50 and 2.50, which is the range he’s shown for his entire career. A few bad games could easily drive his ERA above 2, even though it has happened so rarely during his career. I certainly hope it doesn’t, because then PECOTA will predict Mo to be Brad Lidge-esque in 2011.

In total, I forecast a super-strong offense from the Yankees. I truly believe they will have a stronger offense than last year’s, resting mostly on improved performances from Tex and A-Rod. This, I believe, should drive them to 1st place, particularly because I’m not sold on the Red Sox offense.
I’m less enamored of our pitching. CC will be outstanding again, I’m certain, but after that I’m forecasting us to
throw up a steady diet of solid but not spectacular pitchers. Notice that I don’t forecast any of the other starters to have an ERA below 4.00. But I also don’t think anyone will have an ERA much higher than 4.50 either, which is more than enough to get this offense where it needs to go.
A final note on BP: On February 20th BP updated its PECOTA projections again, forecasting the Yankees to win only 89 games and miss the playoffs. This is bothersome because it is, by my count, the 4th time they’ve updated their projections, but also because their projections now differ from what RAB is reporting they published in their book, here and here.
If I had purchased Baseball Prospectus 2010 I would be furious. The reason BP can get away with charging for this service is because it is meant to be accurate. However, updating it at least four times means that it is not accurate and BP knows it. Furthermore, the projections that go in the published book have to be the ones you go to war with. Now that BP has updated the site to no longer match its book I doubt it will mail an update to those who paid good money for the published projections, even though BP no longer stands by those projections.
Recalculating its projections again and again is sloppy, since it would not take much to put in the extra effort and hide the initial run-throughs from BP’s readership. That BP recalculated the projections again after selling its book is inexcusable. Its no different than selling someone a novel, and then changing the ending later in the online version.

9 thoughts on “Informed opinions on the 2010 Yankees

  1. Mike Jaggers-Radolf

    Hi. I'm Mike Jaggers-Radolf. I like to complain when people don't say the Yankees are the greatest team in the universe. I'm smarter than BP. Here are my Yankee predictions done using the complex science of gut-ology. They will win 140 games and BP will be forced to suck my balls dry.

  2. Craig K

    This is good stuff Mike. I completely agree on Tex/A-Rod posting monsters (barring any pre-season torn hip labrums). Having either of these guys on your fantasy team can make you a rich man come October. Also, my gut-ology leads me to believe that Granderson's numbers are going to sky rocket on this team and in this lineup; I also like your reasoning for batting Nick the Stick in the the 2 hole. I can't stand BP (which you well know) and their stupid projection systems. You heard it hear first, and you're nuts to think otherwise: The 2010 Yankees are the AL Champ faves and World Series faves, take a look at Vegas Odds if you think I'm wrong. However, as a modest Yanks fan, my expectations remain tempered and I do not enter every season expecting a ring. This is a game played by humans and not number-crunchers.Also, super snarky comment up there #1 guy. Real smooth move showing a pair. All he did was grade his favorite team without using some stupid math equations but on pure logic, quite conservatively I might add. Also with some of his own empirical evidence by having been a devoted fan for the past several seasons.The Yankees are a competitive force right now, deal with it. I don't see anywhere in this post that he comes near saying "The Yankees will go 162-0 this season" nice one asshole.

  3. Eric M.

    Mike, Great Post. BP really dug themselves a hole with their constant second guessing. A projection is not an exact science, no matter how hard you try to make it one. I think every Economist on the planet will agree with me there.As for you Comment Guy #1, you work for BP? A little salty are we?

  4. I agree with the sentiment that Joba should win the #5 starter spot. The Yankees have been gearing up Joba his whole career to become a starter. So what logic is it to bail on this after one very piss poor second half that could easily be attributed to mind games and tiring out, as you pointed out? I say give him another shot and let Hughes get more innings under his belt for next year when we put him in the rotation after Vazquez leaves.

  5. Many thanks to everyone who enjoyed the post and took the time to read all of it. These things have a habit of turning into short novels. Craig, I see what you mean about Granderson. I heard from a friend who follows the Tigers that he was hurt last year the way Jeter was in '08. If that's the case then I do believe he could be leading the AL in triples again when he's not abusing the short porch, but I wanted to keep the piece as data driven as possible, given that I used no harder math to do it. A-Rod, and Tex, however, I am confident at predicting will have monster years. I'll bet on that. Eric, as a BP subscriber I can tell you that I won't be renewing. Its not that hey predicted sub-par seasons for the Yankees. That's fine; that's their business. Its that they came out with four different projections and never stood by anything. Forget that they bounced the Yankees around; look what they did with Jeter, where the printed projection is his worst ever season and the one on the website is much better. Which is it? People are supposed to put fantasy money on the line over this stuff. Do they think he'll be terrible or not? If you pay money for their product this matters. Alex I absolutely believe Joba will be the 5th starter. I couldn't find the link but I believe it was RAB that quoted Girardi as saying performance alone woudln't determine who won the spot, that logic would play a role as well. That sounded like a subtle nod to Joba, who's been groomed to have that spot and has no innings limit. Also, I believe the team is more likely to keep an adequate Vazquez next year, if he performs, and cut ties with an older Pettitte to make room for Hughes. Thanks again to everyone who sacrificed a morning at work reading this.

  6. becca

    The problem with BP, as far as I understand, is that they don't compare a player to himself, they compare a player to other players of that age. They're projecting Jeter to be a 36-year-old shortstop and Andy to be a 38-year-old pitcher, with little to no regard for their past performance. If they could accurately predict Mo… well, he wouldn't be Mo then. Didn't they say something like he would only have 22 saves in 55 opportunities? Uh, if he was blowing that many saves, he would have a 2009 Lidgeian ERA. They also are very, very, very conservative, to say the least, on pitchers in general. CC has pretty much the best projections for any AL pitcher in the book, and they have him pitching only about 215 innings with an ERA of 3.66 I think and only 15 wins (pitcher wins are a truly dumb stat, but yeah). The Greinke projections someone posted on some site are just silly. They were predicting, like, a 4.50 ERA in 31 starts and 42 appearances (?). Andy with an ERA over 5? I just don't think that'll happen. I'm not expecting genius from Andy this year, but yeah. If he was doing that badly for a long period of time, I feel like they'd do something about it.

  7. becca

    I also believe Granderson will hit 30+ HRs this year. He had a terrible year for him last year, he played in Comerica, he still hit 30 HRs. Now he's a lefty coming to Yankee Stadium… yeah.

  8. My home run projections for the 2010 NY Yankees:Posada – 35Tex – 60Cano – 40Jeter – 31.5Arod – 100Granderson – 62Brett Gardner – 30 (all inside the park)Swisher – 50Randy Winn – 40CC – 25 (love interleague play)No one else will get any though…I chose to err on the conservative side when it was close (See Derek Jeter).

  9. You have to admit, "They will win 140 games and BP will be forced to suck my balls dry." is pretty funny.becca, i think you hit the nail right on the head. also, if Mo had a conversion rate of less than 50% in save opportunities, i would guess the yankees would stop running him out there in those situations before he got to 55 opportunities. 20 for 20 sounds pretty bad to me.the bottom line is the projected decline for players that BP is using doesn't seem to be based on a logical formula

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